Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing #8: Lesson 8 - Cutting Inside Curves and Swirls

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 09-05-2011 02:00 AM 10438 reads 5 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Cutting Inside Corners and Angles Part 8 of Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing series Part 9: Lesson 9 - Cutting Bevels on the Scroll Saw »

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 ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

14 comments so far

View huntter2022's profile


275 posts in 2759 days

#1 posted 09-05-2011 01:27 PM

Shelia , You did a great job explaining a hard subject . Thank you for taking the time and sharing it with us all . Your doing a great job on the videos .

By now alot of the people have done some scrolling or have tried . pleases post any work you have done or if you have a question or a problem doing something ask . Don’t sit back there and say well they will think I’m stupid or silly . Sometimes when a question is ask and another scroller explains it in a different way or even Shelia your able to understand

-- David ; "BE SAFE BE HAPPY" Brockport , NY

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9237 posts in 3063 days

#2 posted 09-05-2011 01:32 PM

Thanks, David:
You are right in asking for people to speak up. Many times people have questions and are afraid to ask. Others may also have the same questions too and by asking them, it helps everyone. I also welcome others to add to the discussions and answer things at any time. There are many different correct ways to do things and different points of view are always helpful.

Sheila :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Vicki's profile


1104 posts in 3488 days

#3 posted 09-06-2011 05:03 AM

Hi Sheila,
Another awesome and helpful video and tutorial. Thank you. You’re helping me improve my work and skillset. I’m gaining more confidence and cutting pieces I wouldn’t have dared to before.

I wanted to share a tip with the group. You’ve taught us to make the little circle cut out by spinning the workpiece to facillitate sharp corners. I can’t seem to spin fast enough and make a bigger hole than I’d like. So I go a 1/16th or 1/8th of an inch past where I should turn the corner, back the blade up about an 1/8th of an inch and cut out a little curve of waste that gives the blade room to turn the corner. Hope that makes sense. I think the time involed is about the same so the only advantage is that if you have a bum shoulder or some problem that prevents you from turning the piece in a full cirlce this might help.

We had discussed my excessive blade breakage before and you recommended wrapping the project with packing tape. The culprit that time was the warped wood, so I only used packing tape once. I kept thinking about it though and what I did today was skip the masking tape and used the packing tape instead and glued the pattern to that. It made the blade last a lot longer, in fact it hasn’t broken after todays cutting. I didn’t use it before because I was too lazy for the extra step, but this way it works and there’s no extra step. Now what to do with all the masking tape I bought? lol

-- Vicki on the Eastern Shore of MD

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9237 posts in 3063 days

#4 posted 09-06-2011 11:31 AM

I am really happy to hear that the classes are helpful Vicki. :)

I also like your idea about your way of turning. That would also work well. Some folks drill tiny holes right at the corners in the waste areas too and that gives them room to turn without having to spin around. I think they are all effective ways to make nice sharp corners and I appreciate you sharing your favorite way. I am sure many will want to try that too.

As far as the taping goes – don’t throw out the masking tape yet. Up until April I used to use packaging tape exclusively, and both my partner and I have tried putting it on the piece first and then gluing the pattern over it. I did find that it helped with burning and blade life, but sometimes it was difficult to remove. On really delicate pieces you have to be very careful not to break pieces when removing it because it sticks too much at times.

May I suggest using the masking tape first, and then applying the pattern and if you feel that the need, then add the clear tape on top? This seems like a lot, but when I used only clear tape, there were times when the wood was extra hard or for some reason still burned and I wound up putting the tape on both the top and the bottom of the piece before cutting. This also helped a lot and since you have the extra tape, it may be worth giving it a try.

Thank you so much for the input. If you think of anything else, you know where to find me. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Bill42's profile


2 posts in 2591 days

#5 posted 09-16-2011 04:16 AM

I have been enjoying learning from the lessons but I have run into a problem. I have found that I can not cut a small circle. I will try to describe what happens. I am also using an excalber ex-21. I have found that on my saw that if I raise the blade up to the top and lay a ruler at the back of the blade then push the blade down I end up with an 1/8 inch gap at the back of the blade. So when trying to make a turn as soon as the back of the blade comes into contact with the wood the blade pushes the pattern back then when the blade comes up it caused an 1/8 inch cut into the pattern. Is this just me or is ther a problem with the saw? Does your saw have this same front to back drift?

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 3063 days

#6 posted 09-16-2011 04:39 AM

The front-to back motion of the blade can be adjusted on the Excalibur. I’ll post a link to an article that explains how to do it. Before you follow the instructions, I would like to mention a couple points that weren’t talked about in it.

#1 Set the upper arm so that it is parallel to the table using the knob at the back of the saw. This arm is often referred to as a tension knob because it can be used to change tension after mounting a blade but this term is a little misleading because as soon as you unattached and re-attach one end of the blade, the tension will be back to normal only your upper arm will be slightly lower or higher than before depending on which way you turned the knob. You should rarely, if ever, need to use the knob for tension adjustments. but if you do use it, be sure to set the upper arm back to parallel afterwards. The knob can move on it’s own at times when not tensioned so be sure to keep an eye on it.

The vibration of the saw and front-to-back motion of the blade are minimized at this point. Also when you make the adjustment that the article below explains, the front-to-back motion will only be minimized in the position that you had the upper arm in when you made the adjustment.

#2 When adjusting the motor as shown in the article, you don’t need to run the saw to see the blade motion. You can simply use a slotted screwdriver to turn the shaft of the motor. This way you bget a better view of the motion of the blade.

Here is the article (scroll down to the bottom of the page):

If you still have problems after doing this, you may have a little side-to-side movement as well which I can help you with as well if required. This movement would be very slight and not nearly as annoying as the front-to-back.

edit: If you bought your saw from Seyco, this adjustment is done in house before shipping.

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View Bill42's profile


2 posts in 2591 days

#7 posted 09-16-2011 08:44 PM

Thank you Keith. I did buy my saw from Seyco but mine was not set as I had to turn the moror about a third of a turn from where it was set. Your info was dead on right thank you.

View BilltheDiver's profile


260 posts in 3029 days

#8 posted 09-16-2011 09:57 PM

Another lesson well done Sheila, Thanks! I hope when you are finished you intend to set all of these as a collection and maintain them somewhere so they will be available to new scrollers as they come into the hobby. I would think here as well as on Steve’s site would both be excellent.

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View Blakep's profile


232 posts in 2946 days

#9 posted 09-22-2011 05:07 PM

I am very late but i just bought a scroll saw last week and have been catching up slowly. You are doing a great job Sheila. After i got my saw and practiced for a few days i was about ready to throw it in the trash and give up on scrolling. Before i did this though i decided that i would try some spiral blades first. I started cutting with the spiral blades and thought they were great until i saw the finished product. I then switched back to regular blades and for some reason almost like magic i had gotten the hang of it. I am still very slow and can’t quiet figure out what it was but for some reason using the spiral blades for a short time made me better with the regular blades. I may be crazy but for some reason it helped me. I still have a lot of learning to do and am still catching up on the class when i find time but the class is great and thank you for doing it Sheila.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9237 posts in 3063 days

#10 posted 09-22-2011 05:13 PM

You are very welcome, Blakep. I am happy that you joined us. I will be posting the next lesson in the next couple of days. So much of scroll sawing is practice. It isn’t an exact science and getting a feel for it is part of the process. Patience and practice are your best friends!

Best of luck and please feel free to ask if you have any questions. There are lots of us here to help! :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View buffalojim's profile


19 posts in 3189 days

#11 posted 10-26-2011 10:06 PM

thanks Shelia, your lessons have solved 2 of my major faults in fret work.


View davez's profile


1 post in 2533 days

#12 posted 11-10-2011 04:26 PM

Hi: I’m new to the site & was just watching lesson 6 of Sheila Landry’s tutorials.
My question is .Are the other 5 lessons still available for viewing
somewhere in this site?

View helluvawreck's profile


32083 posts in 3010 days

#13 posted 11-10-2011 04:32 PM

Your tutorial is great, Sheila. I thank you for getting me into using my saw. I still use it mostly with my carvings but am starting to do other things as well. Thanks.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9237 posts in 3063 days

#14 posted 11-10-2011 04:41 PM

Hi, Dave and WELCOME! All the lessons are available, (and will be archived, I believe for ‘the duration’ of the site) The link to all the lessons is HERE

I still have a couple of additional lessons I want to add, but it has been so busy for me, I am afraid that I have been a bit behind. They will get posted eventually though, as soon as I have the time to make a couple of more videos and I am always here to answer questions you may have on anything. :)

I hope you enjoy them and I am glad you are learning from them.

And you are very welcome, helluvawreck. I am glad that they are beneficial. I still think the scroll saw is one of the most versatile and fun tools in the shop! :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

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