When it comes to woodworking projects, especially furniture, pine is a top choice. It’s a great all-around timber that’s relatively cheap and can give some amazing results. You are might be looking to cut out some patterns this weekend but all you have handy is a scroll saw. Can you cut pine on a scroll saw?
Pine can be cut on a scroll saw although it is not the best option if you are only a beginner. The hard and soft layers of the growth rings in pine can cause the blade to wander and follow these rings and in some cases break unexpectantly. A jigsaw is a much better tool for the job as the blade is thicker and stronger.
In this article, I will explain how scroll saws work in detail as well as which materials are better for cutting with one of these saws. I will also talk about how to cut pine so you can get your woodworking project underway!
What Is a Scroll Saw?
First, I’ll discuss scroll saws so you can better understand the tool you’re working with. A scroll saw has a very fine blade that’s used for delicate yet precise cuts. Compared to a power jigsaw, the precision of your cuts is even more pronounced with a scroll saw.
The reason it’s known as a scroll saw is that once upon a time, these saws were used for creating scrollwork. That’s due in part to how scroll saws can create edges and curves if you turn the table that’s connected to the saw. To operate the saw itself, you can use either a pedal version that requires manual effort or you can buy an electric scroll saw. Included also with your scroll saw should be a dust blower nozzle. This will keep your workstation nice and clean of sawdust.
Scroll saws feature a reciprocating blade much like a reciprocating saw or a bandsaw. This blade style requires the scroll saw to pull and push back and forth to create movement. If you wanted to take the blade off and insert it into a starting hole that you drill ahead of time, that’s an option with a scroll saw. This way, you can add cutouts to the interior of your woodworking project and skip the entry slot.
Depending on the size of the scroll saw’s throat depth, you can make bigger cuts. The throat depth refers to the space from the saw’s rear frame to its blade, so it’s not a depth measurement at all, but rather, one of length. If your scroll saw has a throat depth of 12 inches, that’s considered the lower end of the spectrum. A saw with a throat depth of 30 inches is about as big as it gets.
Can You Cut Pine on a Scroll Saw?
You can cut pine on a scroll saw although it is not the best tool for the job. I know you think I’m crazy as pine is so soft…right? Pine has such varied densities in its growth rings which can make cutting a challenge, especially on a scroll saw that has such a fine blade.
Pine is a favorable alternative to working with oak since the former is more inexpensive. As we mentioned in the intro, pine is also beloved for its durability and hardness. Yet it’s those characteristics that make it a poor choice for cutting with a scroll saw.
Pine has a light and dark-colored growth rings which are widely spaced. This shows where the different seasons of growth occurred. The fast-growing seasons have softer wood and the slow-growing season has dark harder wood. These varied hardness levels can be a nightmare for any beginner to try and cut.
Pine might also be referred to as Whitewood. Check out my article explaining what Whitewood is.
In the next-worst scenario, your whole scroll saw could stop working because you put too much pressure on it to cut through the pinewood. Whether you blew out the motor or wrecked other internal components, the saw is likely a goner. You’ll have to order a new one, which can be quite a financial ding considering that high-end scroll saws cost upwards of $2,000.
The absolute worst-case scenario when using a scroll saw on pine is that you can hurt yourself. Misusing the saw such as pushing on it to cut through wood that it’s not adept to slice through increases your risk of injury.
It can be misleading to learn that scroll saws can’t cut pine since it’s classified as softwood, but softwood only means that the wood came from a conifer, not that it’s necessarily pliable and easier to work with.
What Materials Can Be Cut with a Scroll Saw?
Okay, so you can’t cut pine with a scroll saw easily, but please don’t discard yours. Scroll saws have lots of uses, so let’s talk about which materials these scrolls can easily slice through.
Wait, I just said that a scroll saw can’t cut through pine. That’s true, but pine isn’t the only softwood. Plywood is one such softwood that a scroll saw can cut through expertly. If you’re new to using scroll saws and you want to get some practice in, plywood is cheap and plentiful. You won’t care if you make a bunch of mistakes.
Cedar is a slightly higher-quality softwood that also makes a handy practice material. You can also use cedar to carve or slice with a scroll saw in earnest.
Poplar wood is among your best options. Compared to pine, poplar has a higher woodgrain count. When cutting poplar with a scroll saw, you’ll have a consistent cutting pace that makes working with poplar a joy.
Wood produced from dicot tree species is referred to as hardwood, and these wood products are another great material to use with your scroll saw. If you have a certain pattern you’re trying to achieve with your cuts, hardwood will maintain that pattern. However, lots of hardwood doesn’t cut easily, so we’d suggest trying softwood first before upgrading to hardwood.
Oak is among the cream of the crop when it comes to cuttable hardwoods. It’s tough like pine but not so much so that you can’t use your scroll saw on it. Do remember that oak is typically pricey to procure, so make sure you have the experience before you dive into your woodworking project and waste your money.
Hickory might be a good hardwood to practice with since it’s far lower-priced. For its weight, hickory is a strong type of hardwood, but again, not so much that it’s impossible to cut when using a scroll saw.
Birch makes for a beautiful woodworking material once you learn how to work with it. The problem with birchwood is that its grain is curlier than softwoods and even a lot of hardwoods. Then, when you go to stain it, parts of the birchwood might absorb the stain but not other parts, which can be frustrating.
If you want a smoother grain with high appeal, try hardwoods like cherry, walnut, and red oak. Maple and ash are two other good hardwoods to use, however, you should have already worked with hardwoods using a scroll saw by the time you begin with these materials.
Make sure that you watch your speed when cutting ash or maple. If you go too fast, you could make your scroll saw smoke. The blade could jump, which is a safety risk, or the wood will vibrate. This will cause uneven, jagged cuts.
If you have metal sheets that are at least 1/8th inches and not much thicker, then you’d be surprised with what a scroll saw can do. You can slice through brass, copper, and bronze for a rustic metalworking project. You can also try materials such as aluminum and cold-rolled steel. Yes, that’s right, steel. AS LONG AS YOU ARE USING THE APPROPRIATE BLADE.
If you do cut steel with a scroll saw, we again recommend you watch the thickness of the metal so you don’t damage the blade or jam up the saw.
What Should You Use to Cut Pine Instead?
You don’t have to cancel your pine woodworking project altogether; you just need a tool outside of a scroll saw. Here are some more appropriate saws to try instead. Here is how to cut without power tools.
A jigsaw can cut similar shapes and profiles that a scroll saw can. The benefit of a jigsaw is that the blade is generally thicker and stronger and will handle cutting through the variations in the growth rings.
Power saws like bandsaws make an awesome choice when cutting pine. A bandsaw has a long band with sharp teeth throughout the blade. Since the tooth load is better distributed, you get more consistent cuts with a bandsaw, even when working with harder materials such as pine. If you want curved shapes like with a scroll saw, you can use a bandsaw for these purposes as well.
However, make sure you get the cut you need the first time, as re-sawing pine with a bandsaw can cause resistance that affects the final product.
Radial Arm Saws
Since you have a scroll saw, you probably don’t mind a saw on a table. That’s why we’d also recommend a radial arm saw, another great choice for cutting pine. A radial arm saw features a circular saw attached to an arm that moves horizontally. If you want to make crosscuts in your pine, make sure your radial arm saw has 60 to 80 carbide teeth and a blade length of 10 inches.
For ripping into pine with a radial arm saw, the blade must have between 20 and 30 teeth and gullets for preventing overheating. The blade length should also be 10 inches. This type of saw obviously cannot cut shapes but is certainly a good tool to have in your shop.
If you have nothing else, a simple hand saw should also slice through pine, but be ready to put in a whole lot of elbow grease into this project. A crosscut hand saw works best for these purposes. The teeth of the blade should be smaller, around four or seven points per inch.
If you have a scroll saw handy, save it for other softwoods outside of pine. You can also cut a huge variety of hardwoods using a scroll saw as well as thinner metals, including steel.
By all means, start experimenting with pine on your scroll saw. The thin blade and the varying hardness levels of growth rings will make it challenging but with practice, it can be done.