Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing #10: Lesson 10 - Cutting Negative Designs

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 10-01-2011 04:56 PM 16084 reads 4 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Lesson 9 - Cutting Bevels on the Scroll Saw Part 10 of Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing series Part 11: Class is Resuming! - "Reindeer Games" Layered Ornaments Part 1 »

In scroll sawing, there are several different types of ways to make a nice design. Some people make beautiful portraits by playing with lights and shadows. Here is an example of portrait designs:

The above portrait was designed by my partner Keith. I have not yet done much portrait cutting, but there are many scrollers here such as Scroll3r, KnotCurser and William who do really nice work on them.

Another type of design is what is referred to as a ‘positive’ design. In that piece, the design consists of what material is left behind after scroll sawing. Here is an example of a positive design that I created:

You can also have what is called a ‘negative’ type of design. In this type of scroll work, the part of the design that is at focus is the area where the material is removed from. Here is the negative version of the above design:

As you can see, these are essentially the same scenes but they have two very different looks. The positive design is a bit more delicate, as there are several thin pieces that may be prone to breaking. I decided to use a thin veneer backer on that piece so that it would be stronger, and also to give it a solid, contrasting background so that the design would show up nicely.

Both versions are nice, but for today’s lesson we are going to focus on cutting a negative type design and look into the most efficient way to create them.

In Lesson 9 I had a link for you to download a pattern that I prepared for you which was a self-framing plaque. The design had a positive scroll saw design on the frame and the inner part of the frame is a negative type of scroll saw design. If you haven’t yet downloaded it, you can do so here.

You may want to make a few copies and just practice on the center portion of the design, if you wish. If you already cut the frame, you can just apply the pattern to the center area if you already haven’t (we covered separating the frame from the center area in the last lesson on bevel cutting self-framing plaques). Either way, you can choose which will work best for you.

In the illustration below, the red dots indicate suggested entry points. Use the smallest bit you can to accommodate a 2/0 reverse tooth scroll saw blade and drill your holes. I also like using brad point drill bits whenever possible, as I find that it is easier to drill accurately with them.

When choosing where to drill the entry holes, in general, I look for the thickest part of the lines – especially on the long, thin areas.

When you are dealing with very small circles or tear drop shapes, as you have in this design, I find it is best to drill on the far rounded edge, just up to the line. That way you can complete the cutting of the shape from first one side of the hole, stopping at the point, and then back the blade back to the entry hole and complete the cut coming from the other side. This is shown by the drawing below and then later demonstrated in the video:

Once your holes are drilled, be sure to sand the back of your design so that it will lay flat on the table when you cut. This is very important when you have designs with small details such as this, as you don’t want it to rock while you are trying to cut.

When cutting long curves and swirls, I recommend that you cut the line to the inside of the curve first. Cut along the inside line until you reach the point (marked by the ‘x’)

Without turning the piece, back the blade along the line you just scrolled until you reach the entry hole:

Then cut the opposite side of the line until you meet up at the point again, as indicated once again by the ‘x’.

Continue to cut all the swirl pieces in the same manner.

One thing that I wanted to note – when doing designs such as these, I drill holes into the buds or pods and cut them separately from when I cut the stem. Even though they do meet up with the stem, if you cut into them from the stem, it makes it a much more difficult cut. I find it is best to drill at the furthest (rounded) part of the bud or pod and then scroll one side of the bud at a time, stopping at the point of the teardrop on the first side, and continuing through to the stem on the second pass.

The following illustrations will show this more clearly:

I also made you a video showing me demonstrating many of these points. I hope you enjoy watching it and it helps you understand the process clearly.

By following these steps and a little bit of practice, you are well on your way to cutting negative scroll saw designs.

Now there was nothing ‘negative’ about that, was there?

I hope you enjoyed the lesson! :)

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

8 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile (online now)

Joe Lyddon

10156 posts in 4109 days

#1 posted 10-01-2011 07:57 PM

Sheila, you’re a WONDERFUL instructor!

You make everything look so simple!

You change the blade holes so easily! I know I’d be breaking blades all over the place! LOL

You’re getting my juices flowing to see if I can make my cheapy scroll saw work…
... got it way back when I was just getting back into woodwk’g… on eBay for $45 … never did have any real instruction on it… I’m also probably missing something in setting it up, etc.

Thank you again for your FINE work… You are “Poetry in Motion”.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6860 posts in 4037 days

#2 posted 10-01-2011 07:58 PM

Very helpful, Shelia!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Rick13403's profile


256 posts in 3562 days

#3 posted 10-01-2011 08:17 PM

Thanks for posting this lesson, Sheila. You did a great job on it.

-- Rick - DeWalt 788 & Ex21 -

View macfil20's profile


6 posts in 2559 days

#4 posted 10-02-2011 12:16 AM

Great video Sheila. I now know what I was doing wrong. I have not cut in 1 year so I need lots of practice.

-- JP

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3075 days

#5 posted 10-02-2011 05:12 AM

I was most impressed with the negative picture of the cat! That is an awesome picture!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View knottywoodcrafts's profile


5 posts in 2486 days

#6 posted 10-02-2011 09:42 AM

Sheila, I must say that you are one of my most favorite artisit. Your work is amazing and I look forward to future instructions.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2977 days

#7 posted 10-02-2011 11:50 AM

I am glad you all liked the class. Sometimes I feel like I am ‘stating the obvious’ and then I hear that you are learning from what I am saying and I realize that I am helping somewhat. It is a good feeling. Everything is really simple when it is broken down into steps. We need to look at the parts of things rather than the whole when we are learning new techniques. It makes it all so much easier. :)

Erwin – I also loved that picture. It is an incredible display of light and dark and has a tremendous amount of depth. I tried to search for the credits for it and have come up with nothing. I would like to acknowledge the creator if at all possible. It is a form of art in itself, I think.

Thank you for the nice comments everyone. I am glad you appreciate the lessons. :)


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

View tomd's profile


2160 posts in 3827 days

#8 posted 10-03-2011 07:12 AM

Thanks for the lessons, very informative, Great class. I’m making a serious effort to get better at this.

-- Tom D

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