Scrollsaw Portraits in a NutShell #1: The Prep Work

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Blog entry by KnotCurser posted 06-04-2011 07:33 PM 13441 reads 19 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Scrollsaw Portraits in a NutShell series Part 2: Lesson #2 - Creating Patterns on the Computer »

I was asked by at least a dozen people over the last few months how I do my portraits. Particularly, how I get up to the point of actually putting blade to wood. In other words…… the Prep Work.

I thought I would make Part 1 of my “Portrait Scrollsawing in a NutShell Blog” cover just that topic – getting everything ready to actually start sawing.

The only “prep work” part I won’t cover in this section is designing the pattern itself – that will be at LEAST one, if not multiple future blogs.

On with the show…………..

First, I decide on a pattern to cut – in this case it’s “Ceiling Cat” from the LolCats Website. I was asked to do this by someone else, so I thought it would be nice and simple for the blog.

Now, to choose what ‘canvas’ to use – For this image I don’t want something really busy, nor huge. My Father gave me a log from a Locust tree and I was curious as to what this looked like. Never used it before, but I am told it has a decent grain pattern and is a light color, so……. To the band saw!

I sliced a thin strip off the bottom of the log to steady it, then ran a few half inch planks from the log until I got a nice sized piece to use.

NOTE: Normally I would slice this entire log into thin planks, stack it with proper air flow in between the pieces, store it in my shop’s rafters for a couple of months and THEN use it. I “lucked out” on this piece as it’s very dry already and I was really impatient! ;-)

Now, on to the planer – I generally plane the side I don’t intend to use first and only until it’s generally flat.

The other side I plane down until it’s perfectly smooth. I plan on leaving the live edge on this one, so I have to take very thin passes so the bark don’t shatter.

Locust, it seems, looks really nice and is hard as a rock – this should work out nicely!

Now, it’s on to the radial arm saw to size the wood and get rid of any cracks.

All I really did here was to chop the short sides off until it was a decent size, which wound up around nine inches long.

Now, I use my ROS with 220 grit paper until its perfect.

This method forces you to finish the wood before you start – with the exception of any oils or stains. You have to fully sand and edge the wood first!

Now we go back inside the house for some more work on both the computer and the cutting mat…………

The first thing I usually do is to lay the wood down on my cutting mat and see what size the pattern needs to be prior to printing it out.

Looks like it needs to be around 5 ½ inches wide by around 3 ½ inches high.

Using my Image Editor of Choice (Adobe Photoshop in this case), I resize the image based on the above measurements. Notice I choose to “Constrain Proportions” which ensures the image doesn’t get stretched out.

I now print the image with the highest quality setting and choosing “Grayscale Only” – who cares about color when we have a black and white image.

Next step is to trim off the excess paper, while keeping the image fairly square – here’s where the cutting mat comes in really handy!

Now I set aside the image and pick up a roll of “Scotch” Brand Sealing Tape – the brand doesn’t matter as long as it’s good quality stuff. Cover the entire surface of the wood with overlapping rows of tape. The tape does two things for you. It covers the entire surface for glue-up later and it lubricates the saw blade – no burn marks at all!

When you are done, trim all the tape pretty close to the edges, but leave at tiny bit of overhang.

Now, take your image and get it aligned perfectly. Using a marker, draw registration marks on a couple of sides. Remember, the top is taped over so you can draw on this as much as you want! :-)

Now, back to the shop…………….

I set up my home-made glue easel (it’s really just a strip of wood attached to a corrugated plastic sign) and place my wood and image on them.

Spray them liberally with glue. I tend to use 3M products, but as long as it’s a glue that advertizes “permanent bond” it will work just fine. You can spray the entire surface now that it’s covered in tape – cool!

Let the stuff sit for at least 30 seconds to set up………

Then, using your registration marks you drew earlier, align the image and affix it to the surface. Be Careful – You only get one chance!

Now, you might be wondering how I go about getting rid of all that sticky glue still left on the surface?

Take your work and treat it like a sticky piece of dough – dust it with flour! Really. Honest.

I keep a bag of flour handy to dust each piece I am making. If the work is small enough, I just toss it in the bag and shake lightly. Bigger pieces I sprinkle it on and rub it around.

A quick spray with the air hose and we are ready for drilling!

This should not be new news to anyone who has done scroll work before, but it IS part of the prep-work, so I will quickly go over the process.

I start with a 1/16” drill bit and bore a hole into each separate piece that I need to cut out. This will be used to thread the saw blade through when you are cutting.

For those pieces that are smaller than 1/16” wide, I then switch to a #60 bit and drill the tiny pieces. A #60 bit is the smallest size that I can thread a blade through, so I naturally can’t go any smaller with my holes.

All drilled and FINALLY ready to cut!

This does seem like a lot of work, but each step is pretty quick and it gives you a really easy piece to cut later.

The best part comes later when you are finished cutting and need to remove the pattern from the wood. All you need to do is simply peel the tape off of the surface of the wood!

-No Residue!
-No Heat Guns!
-No Solvents!

Just take your time and the tape peels off easily!

Well, we are now finally ready to actually take the work to the scroll saw and start cutting. That will be covered in a future blog.

I hope this blog wasn’t too long and as well provided a few tips to those looking to do this kind of work.

Remember, this is what I do – not what EVERYONE does. Do what is best and easiest for you as there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do this.

I learned most of these steps on my own or from reading about them here on LumberJocks.

If you have a tip or trick that you think would work as well or better, PLEASE let me know!

Above all…............ Enjoy your scroll sawing!


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

17 comments so far

View flintbone's profile


201 posts in 3156 days

#1 posted 06-04-2011 08:18 PM

Good job Bob. Nice and easy to follow.

-- If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. - Albert Einstein

View 308Gap's profile


337 posts in 3002 days

#2 posted 06-06-2011 01:49 AM

Where do I send the check!.. this is great but I have so many questions and I type slow. I just got my first bandsaw and my first planer, the scroll saws been in the shed since…well I have my Dads, funny I bought it for him 15yrs ago.
1. what blade was that in the bandsaw
2. did you season the flour
3. Thank you for the class

-- Thank You Veterans!

View KnotCurser's profile


2025 posts in 3068 days

#3 posted 06-06-2011 02:46 AM


The blade I had in the bandsaw was actually WAY too tiny for that kind of work. You want the largest blade you can put into your saw – 3/4” or larger is ideal. A 3 or 4 tooth per inch is also recommended.

Here’s a very good website that give some tips:

No, just use plain white flour – I think the project comes out way too spicy if you used seasoned. I guess whole wheat would work in a pinch though…....

You are very welcome! Instead of a check, just post your first work on LJ’s and give me some props! ;-)


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 3829 days

#4 posted 06-07-2011 03:34 AM

Hi Bob, thanks for the very informative blog. Hope you don’t mind a few questions!

Why do you trim the paper pattern down to a small size and then flour the rest of the workpiece to cover up the spray adhesive? Why not just size the paper to the workpiece and cover the entire thing? I really like the sealing tape technique, when I do Marquetry I do the same thing but I use the 2” wide marquetry tape to cover the veneer.

Secondly, I’m surprised that you are able to cut a 1/2” thick piece from the log and begin working it to a finished surface right away. Have you ever had any problems with warping or movement as the piece drys?

Third, what is the smallest size blade that you can use with your scrollsaw?

Thanks again, I will be watching for the next update.

-- Aim high. Ride easy. Trust God. Neale Donald Walsch

View shipwright's profile


7980 posts in 2797 days

#5 posted 06-07-2011 04:19 AM

Good piece Bob. There are so many similarities to marquetry, most notably the extreme importance of what you do before you cut.

Thanks for the lesson

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View KnotCurser's profile


2025 posts in 3068 days

#6 posted 06-07-2011 12:32 PM


I never mind questions – or comments!

You asked why I don’t trim the paper to the size of the project – mainly out of laziness! ;-) I find it’s far quicker to simply place a smaller pattern on the larger wood surface and just quickly dust it with flour. Also, if you use a larger piece of paper it gets pretty difficult to align the pattern to the wood. I don’t see a problem with it though.

You also asked about how quick I was able to take a piece straight from the band saw to the planer and saw and why it didn’t warp. To tell you the truth…....... I does indeed warp, but only a very tiny bit. The log I used was aged over two years and painted on each end to prevent cracking. I cut a very thin piece and then planed it down even thinner. When I cover it in tape, I think it prevents a lot of warping.

I usually cut an entire log at once and store it in my shop’s rafters at least a couple of months before I use them. Sorry to lead you down the wrong path – I will note that above!

Your question about blade size is an easy one. Whatever size is available I can put in my saw. I have used 2/0 blades with ease and I know of cutters who use even smaller blades. If I can pinch it between the blade clamps, I can use it! :-)


I do agree with you – there is a lot to do before you cut, very similar to proper marquetry. You could also compare this to box making, or turning, or even painting a wall. To ensure a GOOD job, prep work is everything! Thanks for the comment!


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

665 posts in 3267 days

#7 posted 06-07-2011 04:41 PM

i see a few differences between the first pic and the others so im assuming you modified it to be scroll saw friendly but dont see you mention it. some people might not know that not every picture can be used directly on a scroll saw

also i justs pray the adhesive on the paper itself and it seems to stick just fine. not sure its really required to spray the work piece as well

View KnotCurser's profile


2025 posts in 3068 days

#8 posted 06-07-2011 05:38 PM


Two good points!

Yes, I most certainly modified the original to be “scroll saw friendly” as you put it. Pattern making is a huge topic I didn’t want to get into as this blog was long enough. ACTUALLY, the pattern I show printed above has two parts that had to be modified prior to cutting – I’ll leave them up to you to discover. ;-) Maybe part two or three….......

Depending on the adhesive, you can most certainly get away with only spraying one side and if you only spray the paper the you don’t need the flour treatment! Good point!

I have had issues with paper peeling during my cutting if I don’t hit both surfaces, so I spray both by habit.

Thanks for the comments!


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

View Sodabowski's profile


2374 posts in 2832 days

#9 posted 06-08-2011 10:49 AM

Em Bob, why don’t you use thin sawdust instead of the flour? After all, it’s plentiful, free, and not edible.

Oh wait, I get it: you lick your scrollwork when done to remove the flour, right?


-- Thomas - Pondering the inclusion of woodworking into physics and chemistry classes...

View KnotCurser's profile


2025 posts in 3068 days

#10 posted 06-08-2011 12:25 PM


I most certainly have used sawdust before, but I find that simply keeping a zip-loc bag of flour under my scroll saw is far easier. Flour is always fine enough to coat and stick to all the glue. It also makes the back of the piece nice and slick when I start sawing.

I have gotten big pieces of sawdust stuck in the glue in times past and it was irritating to me when I would brush against it.

I suppose if I were to save the sawdust from my ROS it might be usable – but then I would have to make sure it wasn’t a wood species I were allergic to or pressure treated lumber, etc…......

Flour is really inexpensive and a cup of it goes a LONG way – you can coat a dozen or more portraits with a single cup of flour easily.

And I do NOT lick my scrollwork when I’m done – I lick my fingers while I work. Instant pastry! ;-)


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3036 days

#11 posted 06-08-2011 03:04 PM

Oh, so thats how you do it.

Seriously though, a fine, thorough explanation of your technique.

Remember Ceiling cat is watching you. Atheist cat isn’t bothered though.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5621 posts in 3712 days

#12 posted 06-18-2011 04:16 PM

Thank you for this great explanation and tutorial.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View sharad's profile


1117 posts in 3804 days

#13 posted 10-14-2011 05:30 PM

A very nice blog on Scroll saw portraits.


-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18271 posts in 3675 days

#14 posted 10-18-2011 03:51 AM

Nice blog, thanks ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View boysie39's profile


7 posts in 2068 days

#15 posted 11-28-2012 09:34 AM

As a 74 yr. old beginner I find this very useful as I had no idea how to go about getting my subject piece onto the wood . I am in a very remote area and have not found any scrollers as of yet . Thank you for posting will de on the watch out for anything that can help me get going at this art. Most of what I read is aimed at people who are established in scrolling as I have joined the “gang” too late it is difficult to to find a starter forum .

-- Better to be 5 mins. late than dead on time

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