By now you have had some time to practice cutting inside and outside corners. While getting nice sharp corners is really important to your scroll working, one of the signatures of traditional fretwork pieces are the graceful curves and swirls that you are able to cut with the scroll saw.
In Victorian times, fretwork was cut either by hand or by using foot powered pedal saws. It was a delicate and painstaking process and took years of practice to master and accomplish.
With the introduction of better scroll saws and blades, we are now able to replicate these beautiful fretwork designs, and even take them to a higher level. Since many of the newer saws have very low vibration, it is now possible to have pinpoint control and create wonderful and intricate designs easily. In addition, the use of pinless or ‘flat end’ scroll saw blades allows us to cut tiny details that were never before possible. With a little practice, we can all cut these types of designs nearly effortlessly.
Because of the thin size and nature of the scroll saw blades, it is actually easier to cut a curve on the scroll saw than a straight line. Certain factors such as the direction of the grain of the wood, the thickness of the wood, and the speed of the saw can greatly affect the performance of a particular blade with a particular species of wood. There are many correct combinations of wood, blade size and speed that you can use, depending on several factors such as the amount of detail in the design and also the thickness and hardness of the wood. These are all variables that can be confusing, but as you work with more and more different types of wood and blades you will soon learn your preference and comfort level of working and learn what will work best for you. The suggestions that I give you here and also in my patterns are only base guidelines and you should feel free to use something different if you feel it works better for you.
Another thing to remember when you are cutting curves is that if you do happen to drift a bit off the line, it is very important that you correct your path gradually. Many times designs that have lots of curves are very forgiving and once the pattern paper is removed from your piece, many of your ‘mistakes’ will magically disappear. If your blade seems to want to follow the wood grain instead of the line, instead of making a sharp turn back into the line, gradually drift it back on course. Chances are that no one will ever notice. If this happens too often, it is very possible that the blade is too small for the piece of wood you are cutting. Simply move up a blade size and see if that will help. The larger the blade, the more stable it is and the less chance it has of following the grain instead of the line. This is particularly true when you are following along in the direction of the grain, or using a wood that has a great variance in the density of the grain from place to place.
Be kind to yourself and allow room for some error – especially when you are just starting out. Before long you will find it easier and easier to follow the line exactly.
When you are choosing a blade for a certain piece that you are cutting, you should try to choose the smallest blade possible that allows you to follow your lines correctly. This will result in nice crisp and clear corners and easier maneuverability. Remember to factor in the density, thickness and even the moisture content of the wood you are cutting when choosing a blade. Drier wood tends to cut more easily, but also can be brittle and prone to breaking. Wood with a higher moisture content can cause a blade to ‘drag’ and make it a bit harder to control. Plywood contains lots of glue that holds the layers of wood together. While this is beneficial as far as strength and control (since the grain is in several directions, there is much less drift caused from the grain) cutting plywood is much harder on blades and they tend to dull quicker than they do with hardwood.
As you can see, the more you are aware of these factors and understand their role in the process of scroll sawing, the easier it is to adjust your speed, blade and wood so that you can have optimal results.
Now on to the lesson:
When cutting curves and swirls, I find that it is easier to cut the inside edge of the curve first and then the outer perimeter. There is much less of a chance of breaking the piece that way, as you are not putting pressure from the inside edge of a piece that has a free standing outer edge. While many designs have swirls that go in both directions within the same cut, which make it impossible to follow this rule every single time, I find that it is good practice to try to cut the inside edge of a curve whenever it is possible.
In the sample patter I gave you for Lesson 7 (which you can download HERE) there are many nice gentle curves and swirls for you to practice on. The following drawings will show you my preferred method of cutting these types of curves and swirls.
First of all, thread the blade through the entry hole and start scrolling so you enter the line on a corner:
This will help hide any type of slight ridge that you may make from the entry and exit spot as explained in the earlier lessons.
When you get to the corner, turn your blade to the LEFT and begin cutting the inside edge of the curve as indicated by the dotted line with the arrow:
When you get to the pointed edge, do NOT turn to the right at this point. Continue cutting slightly out to the waste area and then turn your piece counter-clockwise as shown on the diagram to make a little turning pocket as I showed in the previous lessons. Remember, this is a very small turn and you should just make a small hole with enough room to align your blade up to continue on:
Now you will follow around the rest of the curved edge, arriving at the sharp edge as indicated in the drawing:
Finally, you now make a sharp corner as I showed you in the previous lesson and arrive at the entry point:
Now wasn’t that easy?
I was asked previously by several of you if I always went in a clockwise direction. While that is my preferred direction that I am most comfortable with, I realize that I also need to go in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise) at times for the best way of cutting things. I believe that is why it is important that you practice going in BOTH directions so that you are comfortable with cutting each way and can feel good in any situation.
In order to help you better understand the process, I created a short video for you showing you how I cut a segment of the design similar to the one that I diagrammed above. Hopefully, with these drawings and also the video at your disposal, you will be able to have a good idea of how this process works.
As always, I hope you will take the time to practice and do some homework before going on to the next lesson. For my piece of wood, I would use a half inch thick piece of solid maple and a #2 or #3 reverse tooth scroll saw blade. Remember though that this is only a suggestion. You may want to try with some pine, plywood or other wood that you may have around your shop.
Thank you again for participating in my class. Please feel free to ask me questions or even take pictures of your practice pieces and show them off here. I hope I have helped give you a better idea of cutting curves and swirls and most of all, I hope you are really having FUN!
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"