My Scrollsaw Journey

In 1997 I purchased my first new task specific power tool.   I went to the local large box retailer and purchased a Delta variable speed scroll saw right off the sales floor. While I was in the store I purchased a combination pack of blades for the saw and headed home to eagerly try my new tool.

I mounted the saw to a bench, read the manual and proceeded to try out the saw and blades. I had a copy of Patrick Spielman’s Scroll Saw Basics book handy and promptly cut a dozen or so practice patterns from the back of the book. I was immediately struck by how easy it was to make cuts on the saw, but the quality of the cuts and the accuracy was not something that would pass for fine work.

I began to doubt that my skills were totally to blame for the poor results and did some additional research through books and websites. I determined the relationship between the piece that was being cut and the saw set up was vastly more critical than I had initially thought. See the FAQ section for more details on this relationship.

Having more knowledge about setting the saw up let me now focus on the skills and techniques of cutting on the saw. I refer to this period of my scroll saw journey as the “If I can see it, I can cut it out” phase. I purchased pattern books, magazines and even created several unique patterns to challenge my improving skills. There was no board in my garage that was under 2 inches thick that did not get nervous when I opened the door. This was a production phase of my scroll saw journey. I cut out hundreds of toys, puzzles, ornaments and name tags. Pine forests everywhere trembled at the thought of me starting a new project!

Better woods, more complex projects and a desire to make more sophisticated projects was the next phase. The projects that I had completed to this point were either functional or casual in appearance. Fun things to make and play with and proudly displayed, but not worthy of the title “fine woodworking”. Purchasing more exotic woods than simple pine and incorporating Baltic plywood into my projects brought another epiphany to my scroll saw journey. Certain projects vexed my best attempts at creating masterpieces right off the saw. I was sanding more often again, just like I had when I first started my beginner projects. Frustration started to creep into my scroll saw cutting sessions.   I again went to research the techniques that I was using with the new woods and materials and re-evaluated the set up process and techniques I was using [SEE THE FAQ Section]. After making the much needed adjustments to my projects I entered the “High Confidence” phase. I was having fun with the scroll saw again!

Clubs, both virtual and physical are the one experience a new scroll sawyer can use to advance their skills the quickest and see almost immediate results of the interaction with other sawyers. Meeting people who loved the scroll saw as much as I did was the singular event that broadened the approach to my projects and the diversity of projects I would embark upon.   I found new materials to use, evaluated new equipment and was introduced to new vendors. I was able to watch others use their saws to create exciting new projects using techniques that were both efficient and safe [SEE THE FAQ Section]. I refer to this period as my “True Journeyman” phase. I was able to understand, plan and execute complex projects and also offer advice to others. Making exquisite stuff was the new goal!

Teaching students to use a scroll saw was the next natural evolution in my scroll saw adventure. This time period intersects with my carving journey. Visit the carving page to get a glimpse at my incredibly fortunate exposure to generously gifted wood carvers! I was invited to teach beginning scroll saw classes at the highly regarded John C Campbell Folk School. I want to start out by saying, the day I purchased my first scroll saw, I had no idea how it would impact my woodworking, my life or my relationships with fellow kindred woodworking friends. An adage that I found to be completely true was “If you ever want to find out how much you don’t know about a subject, teach it”. I can still remember the acceptance letter I received from the Folk School. I was very excited and yet I was very humbled that I would be allowed to teach at a school with so many highly regarded instructors. I was now tasked with creating a curriculum that would inspire students to safely and enthusiastically start their scroll saw journey. My first class was a 3 day weekend class that I believe to this day only lasted 2 hours. I remember starting the class on Friday evening and the next thing I remember is was Sunday afternoon! To say the weekend went quickly would be an understatement! I remember setting the saws up and I also remember 6 students very happily displaying their many projects completed during the weekend. I remember packing up my supplies at the end of the weekend and the 5 minutes of exhaling with relief that we had a safe and enjoyable weekend. Many years later, not only do I count the number of successful classes, but also a great number of new woodworking friends that have enthusiastically embarked on the scroll saw journey of their very own.

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