My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #572: Some Intricate Cutting Tips

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 01-03-2012 03:27 PM 4079 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 571: Better Late Than Never Part 572 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 573: Progress Report »

I am on the final day of cutting my new little Valentine’s day ornaments. While it is a bit slow going, it isn’t at all unpleasant, and I have been enjoying making them very much.

Since I am cutting these pieces several layers high (four to be exact) and using a very small blade in order to make the detailed cuts necessary, it is very much a lesson in patience, and I have to resign myself to the fact that I am not going to be zipping around the pieces at the speed I do when only cutting one layer.

I have no problem doing this, but I fear that others may find this to be much too slow for their personal preference. Of course you could easily remedy this by removing one or more of the layers, but then you would be doing twice the work in order to receive the same result.

One of the most beneficial reasons to stack cut pieces such as this (besides the obvious reason of cutting multiple pieces at a time) is the remarkable amount of precision that you can achieve.

The above picture shows the cutaway side of one of the sets of ornaments. The top two layers are maple and the bottom two are 1/8” Baltic birch. The maple pieces are slightly thicker than 1/8” but that is inconsequential for these purposes. The blade that I used is a #2 regular reverse-tooth blade by Olsen, which is the second smallest size that I typically utilize. (the 2/0 reverse tooth being smaller).

I initially started cutting the first pieces using the Olson Mach blades in a #3 size, but I found that spinning the piece for the ends of the curls brought me a bit wider than I wanted to be and I had to work a bit harder to stay where I needed to go. So I opted to go down a size, knowing that it would also slow my progression a bit, in order to be at the level of precision that I was striving for.

When cutting pieces such as this, where precision is the number one priority, it is also quite important not to ‘force’ the wood through the blade and allow the blade to do the work for you. Pushing too hard and forcing the piece through the blade will not only cause excess heat build up and premature breaking of the blade, but also distortion of the design – especially on the lower pieces – due to flexing of the blade from excess pressure. These blades are quite thin as you can see:

The teeth on them are tiny.

While this allows you to maneuver very accurately, you do need to give them a chance to work and not force the issue. They need to have a good amount of tension on them too, as any flex in them will in all probability distort the design on the bottom and give you undesirable results on your lower pieces.

The trick here is to find the right amount of resistance that will slow things down enough for you to have the control you need to accomplish the design. If I were to cut only one layer, I find that the tiny blade goes through the wood like a hot knife through butter and it is much harder to control the cutting. Since I am making two full sets of these twelve ornaments (one set in plywood to stain and the other in maple which will be natural color) I found that cutting all four at once was not only possible, but a very relaxing way to do things. It may have taken me a bit longer, but in the end, the results was very good and I am very happy with it.

Here is a shot from the back of the pile. You can see that the curls are all in good shape and the design is true.

Now I need to separate the pieces and reassemble them in pairs so that I can cut the lettering into the centers. I had stacked the pieces with the two maple layers on the top and the two plywood on the bottom, instead of alternating them maple-plywood-maple-plywood. I had done this because there was a very slight cupping in the maple pieces and it gave me a better chance of holding together well by stacking them this way. Now that the cutting relieved most of the tension in the small pieces, there should be no problem at all stacking the maple with the plywood. I will simply use the hot melt glue gun to re-glue the layers together in pairs of two for the lettering. I will also probably drop down one blade size to the 2/0 reverse tooth blade size for the small lettering.

I hope that this gives you a little bit better idea of what to consider when doing cutting of this type. It really isn’t difficult at all. As with much of woodworking, it is knowing how to set up your work and what wood tolerates which blade size and all the stuff that comes from “practice”.

I was considering shooting a video of setting some things up like this and showing how easy it is to control the blade and cut these out. I was pretty focused on finishing though yesterday and didn’t get to it. If some of you think it would be helpful, just let me know and I will see what I can do. I think once you see how easy it is to control things when set up properly, you will give it a try.

So it is back to the saw for me today. It’s a good way to spend the day I think!

Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone!

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

5 comments so far

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3004 days

#1 posted 01-03-2012 04:04 PM


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

View ellen35's profile


2734 posts in 3400 days

#2 posted 01-03-2012 05:26 PM

Spending the day with my saw would be a treat!
These look beautiful, Sheila.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View stevebuk's profile


57 posts in 2652 days

#3 posted 01-03-2012 11:14 PM

hmm it must just be the way i would do it but, there must be a reason why you leave the writing on the inside until you have cut the outside first, i thought there would be more chance of damaging the outside that way, but hey i love to learn from the best, and they dont come any better than you..

View scoops's profile


56 posts in 2392 days

#4 posted 01-04-2012 12:34 AM

Thank you Sheila! I have been asked to do a tutorial on Scrollsawing for beginners later this yea. and I am in the very early stages of preparing for it. Some of the things I was going to cover was stack cutting, blade selection and allowing the blade to do the work. Lo and behold, you’ve covered it perfectly here. Thanks, Sheila!

-- yesterday today was tomorrow

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9222 posts in 2888 days

#5 posted 01-04-2012 02:02 AM

Thanks to all of you. I had a ball today cutting out the lettering for all the hearts. It WAS certainly a treat! Steve – the reason that I cut the outsides first was due to my own laziness. I wanted to stack the hearts four high but I only needed two of each saying. So I cut the edges first and then separated the pieces and cut the lettering part two high. They really aren’t as fragile as they appear to be and since the lettering was quite in the middle away from the decorative edge, there was no real danger of damaging it. I will have some more pictures in tomorrows’ blog I believe.

Scoops – I am glad you liked the explanation. Be sure to check out my online class here too and you will see some other tips and videos about lots of areas of scrolling that will interest beginners. :)


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

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