My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #694: A Fish Out of Water

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 05-07-2012 11:27 AM 4076 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 693: Drawing Part 694 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 695: Lots to Keep Me Busy! »

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

9 comments so far

View jerrells's profile


918 posts in 2911 days

#1 posted 05-07-2012 12:41 PM

So Shelia – what causes one saw to do that (jump) andnot another. I am sure quality is not the major issue. Explain if you will.

-- Just learning the craft my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ practiced.

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2830 days

#2 posted 05-07-2012 12:42 PM

These letters are very fun lookin, and make the Happy Birthday saying actually Happy! You’re a scrolling magician Sheila, no bout adout it.. :)

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 2946 days

#3 posted 05-07-2012 03:24 PM

Jerrel, the blade on the Dewalt moves from front-to-back as it goes up and down. Much more so than with the Excalibur which barely has any front-to-back motion when you have it adjusted properly. There is no such adjustment to be made easily on the Dewalt.

This is why many people say the Dewalt is an “agressive” saw… The front-to-back motion makes it cut quite a bit more aggressively(faster cutting) than a straight up and down motion but can cause problems in tight corners. This is because the blade can slide back and catch up to 1/8” back in your turn if you don’t maintain enough forward pressure on the blade so that it isn’t really able move from front-to-back. So, with the Dewalt, any hesitation in sharp turns can sometimes make a mess as soon as you stop feeding wood into the blade.

I hope I explained this clearly enough.

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3330 days

#4 posted 05-07-2012 03:38 PM

well im glad you had kept the saw and had it for a back up, but i totally agree that there is a big difference in the quality of a tool and its performance, and folks need to make the best choice they can when buying, there are many factors to take in when doing this , but when you have , say a person like you who is using this in a professional mode, and give it a good recommendation, then to me, that means a lot, and i should give it the attention it deserves..when i bought my scroll saw i was new to wood working and didnt know what to look for , so i bought what i thought would be a good saw, and for the most part it has some really nice qualities, but, getting the blade on is a royal pain, and i dont like it , and i would gladly go with a different saw, so im glad you can give your saw a good review and if i was going to buy a new saw, i would try to get the best one i could and take into consideration all the things that are important with a scroll saw, well my post is long…but i do agree with you on all points…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10123 posts in 4079 days

#5 posted 05-07-2012 04:28 PM

I was afraid of something like that…

It shouldn’t take very long to mail you that small part… let’s hope you’ll get today or tomorrow…

Very Frustrating… I can see… especially for such a perfectionist as you!

Don’t let it bite you too badly… LOL

Take care…

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

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18290 posts in 3702 days

#6 posted 05-08-2012 05:37 AM

Kieth, Is this a problem with any other saws?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2946 days

#7 posted 05-08-2012 11:16 AM

Hi everyone – I knew that this saw would be a different experience. And believe me, I am not trying to trash the saw. It served me well for many years and it is getting older and wearing after lots of use. I had it for probably 12 years before I got the new one. The only thing I can assimilate using it to is like you are used to driving say, a Mustang and it is in the shop and you are given a Tempo. It doesn’t mean the Tempo is crap and that it won’t get you to where you are going, but there are certain things that make the Mustang easier and nicer to drive.

We all get ‘used to’ the tools we have. We get to know them like we do a friend. I cut some pretty intricate things on the DeWalt in its day and I am proud of that. But after changing to the Ex 21, I think my own style of cutting has changed and adapted to the saw. Now going back is somewhat of an issue. I think the biggest thing that is happening for me is that on my Ex21, I am able to lean the piece on the back of the blade to make the tight turns. Since the movement of the blade is almost true (none are completely true, except the piston style eclipse saws) I can use very little pressure, or none at all to hold the piece from being caught by the blade movement and jumping. I am sure that because I have been doing things this way for a year now, I have become accustom to not putting lots of pressure.

When I try the DeWalt, it takes a conscious effort on my part to keep enough pressure on the piece to stop it from jumping. Especially with the thicker lettering, as the thicker the piece, the more likely it is to catch. I cut the thinner pieces after this and it wasn’t as bad. It was still there, but not as apparent.

It is just the nature of the beast. Lots of people say that the Ex21 is a slower cutting saw. I find this to be true also because of the near true blade motion. On the DeWalt and other saws like it, the addition of front to back motion naturally gets you through the wood faster because it is cutting with both up and down motion as well as a slight forward motion. Some people like this. I personally go for accuracy and design many intricate patterns. In tight areas such as veining or inside cuts you tend to notice this front to back action more. But we do learn to compensate as we use our tools.

Overall – both saws are good, but I feel that the Excalibur is better. Especially for the type of work that I do. It costs a couple hundred dollars more than the DeWalt, but to me it is worth the extra money and the one I choose to have. Do I still recommend the DeWalt? I think it is a good step up from the cheap saws and a good saw for the money. I only worry about the customer service you get when purchasing one, as I have heard lots of stories (LOTS of stories!) where people have trouble with them from the start and get no support. Yes, there are sometimes issues with the Excalibur, but the customer service from Seyco and General International is good and they do help you though your issues without you feeling left out in the cold (except in Australia, which I mentioned earlier)

I hope this gives you a better picture of what I mean.

Take care, Sheila

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

View lumberdustjohn's profile


1263 posts in 3193 days

#8 posted 05-08-2012 11:35 AM

Thanks for the info.

-- Safety first because someone needs you.

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 2946 days

#9 posted 05-09-2012 12:27 PM

Topamax, I don’t know how much of an issue this is with other saws since I haven’t personally used them. I am sure that the vast majority of the lower priced ones are much like the Dewalt since they don’t have the adjustment that the Excalibur has for fine tuning this motion. Also, right out of the box, unless you buy your Excalibur from, it is probably not set optimally and will have this motion as well.

I think this is less of a problem with the more expensive saws like the Hegner and RBI’s because the moving arms are much longer so they will have less of an arc. This is just a guess on my part though.

Also, it should be noted that when you do the adjustment for blade motion on the Excalibur, that you must have your upper arm set parallel to the table (The arm height is adjustable via the tension knob) since moving the upper arm will change the motion of the blade. So your blade motion will only be optimal if you keep the upper arm where it was when you made the adjustment and this is best done with the arm parallel.

-- Scroll saw patterns @

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