Many woodworkers will never use a scroll saw, but these tools are very useful for specialty work such as inlay and marquetry, fretwork, instrument making and for detailing period furniture and architectural millwork.

What Counts:
• Blade alignment
• Distance between blade and support arm (the throat)
• Variable-speed option
• Tilting table for angled work

How they work
Scroll saws cut with a short up-and-down motion, just like a coping saw, in material up to about 2 in. thick. Blade speed on newer machines can be adjusted, making it possible to tune the saw for different materials (in general, slower speed are better for soft materials and higher speeds with hard materials). One-speed machines are not as versatile.

The blade moves up and down at the center of a small table, some of which are adjustable in two directions for making angled cuts. One limiting factor is the distance between the blade and the support arm at the back of the machine. This measurement is known as throat size.

Old-style scroll saws were notorious blade-eaters, but newer designs keep blade tension constant and reduce breakage. Good blade alignment -- the ability of a blade to track straight up and straight down -- makes smooth cuts more likely and helps blades last longer. Tool-free blade changing is another helpful feature.

A choice of blades
The 5-in. blades that most scroll saws use come in different widths and thicknesses, from very fine jeweler’s blades with as many as 50 teeth per inch to 6 tpi blades for cutting thick hardwood. Saws can cut a variety of material, including bone, wood, rubber, metal, leather, and wood. Because the blades are so fine, a scroll saw can cut extremely intricate designs with tiny kerfs and, like a coping saw, can make fully enclosed cuts. Woodworking supply houses also sell small files that can be used in place of scroll-saw blades.