House Technique Woodworking

Scroll Saw

What to do when you’re given a new toy to play with…

Father-in-Law has a well-stocked workshop. He keeps his kit in excellent working order, and continues to look for ever better tools to work with. This means that every now and then, he has spares that are otherwise redundant. Would I like any of them? Generally, yes I would, thanks! depending on whether I can fit them in the limited space I have in my garage workshop. I had to turn down the electric bench planer and the bench sander for being just too big to cope with. But then he offered a Scroll Saw which looked manageable, and small enough to pack away when not in use. I was grateful to accept this to play with.

I have often used a handheld jigsaw to cut curves and make long rip cuts (cutting parallel to the wood grain). It’s a neat tool, but not for fine cutting – it won’t manage a tight curve radius, and it would tend to tear thin wood and board to pieces – so I can’t use it for any detailed work. A scroll saw would let me start to add detail and let me work at a much finer level.

The first thing to do was to practice. So I tried cutting along curves and following lines draw at random on scraps.

“If you’re looking for something to do with it, you could make me some round pottery stands” said MakeWalkRead. So, I found some thick-ish board, drew large circles on it, and had a go.

As well as cutting around edges, scroll saws can cut out holes. The cutting is the same, but the process has a few extra steps. You start by drilling a hole in the wood inside the area that is to be cut out, then take the blade off, thread it through this hole and reattach it. Then do the whole lot in reverse once you’re finished.

Now I needed a more significant project to work on. At about this time I was building a new Laundry Basket. I wondered if I could do anything that would make that more interesting. The basket was to be made by building wooden frames that would be filled in using hardboard panels. I could possibly draw pictures on these panels and cut them out. I decided against this in the end as it would’ve taken me a long time and we needed the basket quite quickly. But not before trying out one idea on a piece of spare board…

(picture: Associated Press, 2017)

The picture I chose to make was of the Uffington White Horse. This is a beautiful and ancient hill carving close to where we live. I grew up on visits to the White Horse, and it has always been a part of my life. we take our son up there as often as possible still, whether to go star gazing, to fly a kite or just to get some fresh air.

It is a quite brilliant design. Though over 3000 years old, it has always appeared, and still appears to be a thoroughly modern image. “Taint what a horse looks like, it’s what a horse be.” As Terry Pratchett observed in his book, A Hat Full of Sky. I particularly like the fact that, though it’s carved on a steep slope, it is only fully visible from the air. My kind of artwork.

A quick search online gave me an image of the White Horse on which I could base my work:

The first step was to make sure this picture would work in the wood. If I were to cut out all the white areas, would the design hold together and would the wood be strong enough? Well, to begin with, the head is an island of green. If I saw around that, it would fall out, and I’d lose the eye. Also, I was worried that several sections would end up a bit flimsy, such as the strip between the back leg and tail, and the area between the front leg and the head. I applied a bit of artistic license to these areas, slightly separating the legs and breaking up the head to avoid these weak spots and produce a more robust piece.

I printed out this design, and cut out the white areas to create a stencil. I could then trace the design onto the wood ready for cutting.

There were a few areas of the design that were going to be tricky. In particular, the head had a few places, such as the ears and nose, where the saw would need to cut to points. Even given the fine, thin blade of the scroll saw I did not think I could turn the piece through a small enough curve to cut these out. I would need to practice using a sort of chiselling technique to gradually shave off the wood with the saw blade.

I managed to make a convincing horse head, and so felt brave enough to have a go at the whole piece. It took a while, but it came out just as I had hoped.

So, I had produced a representation of our White Horse. I wouldn’t use it on the Laundry Basket, but I was sure I would find a place for it somewhere.

In the end it took me a year to find that idea, and a summer of lockdown in which to complete it. I shall write about that in the next blog post.

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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