We often hear the saying that “something is better than nothing” and I for one, am one of those people who truly believe that. Recently, I had a problem with my Excalibur scroll saw and while it is out of commission as I wait for the part, at least I have my back up DeWalt saw to use so that I can still get my work done. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy.
I spent the last couple of days drawing and working on other things. But yesterday I got to the point where I was ready to cut things out on the saw. l probably could have done more drawing, but I didn’t want a back log of things to cut out and patterns to complete. Besides I wanted to see how things would work out with what I had come up with so far and the best way for me to do this was to actually cut the pieces out.
The designs that I were working on were relatively simple. I have recently added the pattern of a calendar topper to my pattern, and there have been many requests for additional themes. The pieces are cut of 1/8” stock and have metal washers glued onto the back of them so that they can be mounted on the topper with rare earth magnets, which are embedded in the topper itself. I have several requests for themes such as birthday, anniversary, Canada Day and several other year-round themes like horses and of course, cats. I decided to begin with the birthday set because I also have felt like doing some simple painting and I plan to show two versions of the designs in each add-on pack – a natural wood one and one stained with acrylic paints. This would give people the option of adding color or not, depending on their preference.
I have several ideas for decorative items that I want to make into patterns. I plan to offer matching patterns of word art and other favors that can be used as table decorations or can sit on shelves or mantles or even used as wall hangings for those who wish to do so. They could be given as part of the gifts, too and kept as a reminder of the event. And they would be fun and easy to do, and cut very quickly.
On Saturday I drew up the pieces for the calendar. I also drew the lettering for the word art saying “Happy Birthday.” it wasn’t rocket science, but it still took some work to make the letters into something that would look balanced and stand up nicely. The cutting itself, as I said was not difficult and it should be a project that just about anyone would be able to do.
I decided that the word art should be of at least 3/4” stock in order to stand properly. I don’t have a lot of it on hand, but I did find a nice piece of maple that would look good oiled. I didn’t want to use maple to paint on, and decided to pull on a piece of 3/4” MDF that I had. While MDF is not my favorite material to work with by any means, it does paint up nicely. Besides, I didn’t want to waste good maple if I was going to be painting it. While I don’t mind using a sheer stain on pretty wood, painting it is another story.
I laid out all the pieces and got them ready for the saw. It seemed odd to be at the old DeWalt again. The first thing that I noticed was that the blade seemed much farther from the front edge of the table than the Ex, which it was. It is funny how I had gotten so used to having my work piece so close.
I began cutting the thicker pieces first. I knew it would be slow going because of the thickness and also the hardness of the maple. I used a #9 PGT (precision ground) blade, which was the best blade I had for this type of work. Things went OK, but I must admit I did have some problems.
The front to back motion of the blade on the DeWalt is far more than it is on my Excalibur saw. I realize that this is in part due to the way the saw is made and cannot be helped, but it made things much harder to cut – especially on the thicker stock. Between the front and back motion, and the size of the blade (which is considered ‘large’ by scroll saw standards) the saw continually grabbed the piece and caused it to “chatter” or slam up and down on the table.
I tried a couple of things, like smaller blades and speeding up the saw, as this usually happens when you have either a blade that is too large or the saw is going too slow and the teeth have a chance to grab the work, but neither really helped that much. With the Excalibur, there is very little front to back movement, and I am able to hold down the piece with just a light pressure from my finger tips, and working on this saw required quite a bit more pressure to control the piece.
The smaller blades weren’t the answer either, as they either didn’t want to follow the line because they bent too much when I was trying to maneuver the piece, or they burned the wood. After trying a couple of smaller sizes, I went back to the #9’s, as they did better.
I got through the thick pieces OK, but it certainly wasn’t my usual level of cutting. I was very happy that these were balloon type letters and strict precision wasn’t absolutely necessary. There are some corners where I had to go back and repair and shave them a bit better because the saw jumped and dove in on its own.
The pictures below illustrate some of the things I was talking about. At the bottom of the ‘a’ on the lower right side, you can see where the saw just jumped:
At the top of the ‘h’ it did the same thing:
It seems that at most of the corners it gave me a rough time:
Now I know that this saw is older and yes, it has been sitting in the basement for almost a year, but nothing really has bumped it around or anything like that to make it out of adjustment like this. After all, it was showing signs of age (it is quite noisy compared to my Ex) and that is why I decided to get a new saw in the first place. I am sure that it isn’t performing at its best at this point.
But there are few adjustments that we can do on it at this point, and while it does cut wood, I doubt that I would have been able to cut the delicate bell ornaments that I made last week on it – at least not with it in this state.
Am I becoming a “scroll saw snob?”
I don’t think so. I have said from the very beginning that I felt like having the Excalibur has brought my scrolling to a new level, and I do believe that is so. Since the new saw has virtually no back to front movement, I have come to the habit of leaning my work piece on the back of the blade while pivoting to turn, and since the blade movement is nearly all vertical, it works fine. With the slight horizontal movement of the blade, it tends to push the piece forward or back just enough for the teeth to catch on the up stroke and grab the piece.
While I was able to make things work, it took much more pressure for me to hold the piece down, meaning that turns were more difficult and the whole process was much more stressful for me. By the end of cutting the two thicker pieces, I was once again getting the hang of it, but it certainly wasn’t what I would call ‘fun.’
I finished the two stand up pieces and they did come out to be acceptable:
They did require a bit of grooming and sanding, but they look OK. As I said in the beginning, it is better than not having a saw at all.
I even began painting the MDF piece and I think it looks bright and cheery and really nice:
That is only the base coats blocked in, and I will be finishing up the shading and details today. But even if people decided to leave it like this, all it would need would be a little black outlining and it would be great to go.
I also cut the thin pieces for calendar overlays and I will be showing them tomorrow. They were cut of two layers of 1/8” maple (or birch, I couldn’t really tell) and while they were a bit easier than the thicker stock, it still took some practice to get the hang of the saw.
I think that this was good for me to go back to the old saw. It reminded me how much of a difference that having the proper tools can make. I realize that the Excalibur is a more expensive saw, but there is a reason that you pay more. Overall, for someone like me who spends a lot of time cutting, I wouldn’t want to have anything less. It isn’t that I just want to throw money away on an expensive saw for bragging rights. There are several other models of scroll saws that cost more, some of which I have owned and since given away. I just feel that the performance and features that this saw has are great and using it really makes my time there relaxing and pleasurable, not exasperating and frustrating. I truly felt like a fish out of water at that saw, and it took a while for me to once again get used to it.
I stand by my recommendation to get the ‘best tools you can afford.’ While the cheaper tools can get you by in a pinch, there is nothing like having a well made tool to do the job. It could be the difference between keeping involved in the hobby and moving on to something else.
But it will do for me until my part arrives.
Have a wonderful Monday!
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"