Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Some Thoughts on Scroll Saws

I started with a cheap Taiwanese cast iron saw. It immediately became apparent that the pin end blades were not going to hack it. I installed a modification that let me use good quality pinless blades and I was on my way. I made some nice Victorian fretwork pieces with that setup. Blade changes were difficult.

Oak Scrollsaw Fretwork Shelf Cut On An AMT Castiron Scrollsaw
Oak Scrollsaw Fretwork Shelf Cut On An AMT Castiron Scrollsaw
These were made in Taiwan and sold under several different brands. They also made several models. There are a lot these scroll saws still available on the used market. You can pick one up for $50 or even less. Pinless upgrades were still available last time I looked.

The blade changing left a lot to be desired and the built-in blower was worthless. I replaced the blower with an old aquarium pump. It's a good idea to have a few extra blade clamps. When a blade breaks the clamps sometimes flying across the shop.

As far as cut quality goes it cut very well. Glass smooth surfaces were easy to get in hardwoods and sometimes even in pine. If you can tolerate the blade changes it will do a good job for you.

Cast Iron AMT 4600 Scroll Saw
Cast Iron AMT 4600 Scroll Saw 

Years later I picked up an older RBI Hawk that needed a little work. After refurbishing it I was off and running. It was a way better saw and I could stand up and cut. I have never been a fan of sitting down to cut

Blade changes were still a problem. I upgraded it to toolless blade holders and that helped a lot but I still had to take the bottom clamp out to change the blade. The bottom clamp must be removed from this saw to change the blade and it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. If the blade breaks the lower clamp might go flying. I've spent some time on my knees looking for the clamp.

The saw cuts great. The blower works. Replacement parts and support are available. RBI saws are designed for continuous use one might say industrial use.  

The only thing I really don't like about RBI saws is the table. It is made out of aluminum. I would much rather have iron or steel. Castiron with a little wax on it is slick and smooth. No matter how much you wax and polish aluminum it will never be as smooth as cast iron. I use magnetic lamps and like to use magnets for jigs and fixtures. Magnets will not stick to aluminum tables.

These are not common on the used market but they do turn up from time to time. I paid $100 for this one and spent nearly that much refurbishing it.  If you are patient you can find these in good condition for 300 to 400 dollars.

RBI Hawk Scroll Saw
RBI Hawk Scroll Saw


Then I saw a video of someone making through cuts on and Excalibur EX21. I must have one so I set up automated searches on Craigslist and eBay. After about a year I scored one for $400.

The blade clamps are fixed to the machine. No more chasing blade clamps around the garage. Blade changes are simple once you get used to it you can change blades very fast.

Bottom or top feed? You can do either. I like to bottom feed probably because that is the way I always did it before I got this saw. However, once in awhile I have a project that requires top feeding. With this saw, you can do both.

The blade tilts not the table.

The table is steel so my magnets work great with it.

Blade tensioning is almost automatic. There is an alignment procedure in the manual. If the saw is properly aligned the blade is tensioned with the flip of the lever.


Excalubur EX21 Scrollsaw - RBI on Left - AMT On The Right Side
Excalibur EX21 Scrollsaw - RBI on Left - AMT On The Right Side



For about a year these three machines were side by side in my shop so I did some experimenting. The larger more expensive machines cut thick stock better. I routinely cut 1.5-inch wood for my toys.

For smoothness of cuts. The RBI wins but the Taiwanese cast iron saw was right behind it. The cheap saw would cut a piece of 1/4 inch oak and leave a glassy smooth edge. EX21 was a close last for smoothness. Not that it doesn't cut smooth. It's possible to adjust the aggressiveness of the cut on the EX21. This might smooth out the cut. I have never adjusted it.

Don't buy a saw that uses pin end blades no matter how cheap it is.

Buy good quality blades. It doesn't matter how good your saw is if your blades are junk it will not cut well. This is true for any saw.

Buy used. In my area, the population density is low and good used tools are hard to find. I keep several searches going all the time on Craigslist for scroll saws and other tools. About once a week I see new listings for scroll saws. Dremel and Craftsman saws seem to be in the majority. Many are barely touched and occasionally there is one new in the box.

Practice! Using a scrollsaw is a skill that you must learn by doing. The more you cut the better you will get at it. When I first started I cut out small animals from one of Patrick Spielman's books. They were simple, small so they use very little wood, and best of all when I was done I had a toy that I could give to kids to play with. My kids are grown and now my grandson plays with these.

Wooden Toy Animals and Puzzles Made While Learning To Use My First Scrollsaw
Wooden Toy Animals and Puzzles Made While Learning To Use My First Scrollsaw

There are lots of practice patterns but when you are done you have firewood or trash. I say jump right in and make some small things. If you ruin it you haven't wasted any more time or wood than you would be using for a practice pattern.  You can get a free toy pattern at ToyMakingPlans.com.

Woodent Toy Car - Mini Van - Play Pal - Edge Painted - Blue
Wooden Toy Car - Mini Van - Play Pal - Edge Painted - Blue

You can make nice stuff with a cheaper low end saw but they also cost you time. You can't get the time/life back. You can get more money. For this reason, I almost always use the EX21 for anything that has a number of inside/through cuts.

The RBI gets used mostly for outside cuts where I don't need to remount the blade much. It is also tall and I like to cut standing up.

The AMT I gave away to a friend. I didn't use it anymore and needed the floor space.

If I were in the market to buy a new scrollsaw today and money were no object. I think I would buy a new RBI.  A lot of the shortcomings have been addressed. they are simpler (less moving parts) and they are industrial grade saws made to run continusly. Made in the USA too. Support and parts availability are a big deal for me. RBI has this even for older saws.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Using a Plane When Making Wooden Toys

Stanley Block Plane Used to Smooth the Flat Surfaces of This Wooden Toy Car Body
Stanley Block Plane Used to Smooth the Flat Surfaces of This Wooden Toy Car Body


I don't know why I never thought of this before. Possibly, because I have been conditioned to think of planes as something you use for making furnture or trimming a stuck door. I have watched many YouTube videos about making wooden toys. I can only recall one instance where a plane was used. I saw this yesterday.

Lots of toys have flat surfaces that could be planed. Some of them will require a bit of ingenuity to figure out how to hold the irregular shapes.

 I can cut a pretty good line with a scroll saw. However, it's almost never perfect. This is especially true with the thicker bodies where the blade will sometimes try to follow the grain. I can cut it smooth enough that I can't see the ripples with my naked eye, but my fingers know the difference. The imperfections can be amplified when you apply paint or other finish and it really shows when you sand between coats. Better and easier to fix it now than after the painting has started.

I usually use a belt sander for smoothing the flat surfaces on my toys. Belt sanders work well for this job but they are noisy and create a lot of dust and I can't use them when my grandson is in the shop with me I don't want to use most power tools. Planes are quiet. They don't make any dust and as long as I do my part correctly they can produce a dead flat surface ready to paint that is much smoother than I could ever get with sandpaper.
I planed the flat parts of 19 car bodies using two block planes. An old (antique) Stanley and a cheap Scotties store branded block plane made in Taiwan. The Stanley did a much better job due primarily to the adjustable mouth.

Shanley and Tiwanese Scotties Branded Block Planes I Used
Shanley and Tiwanese Scotties Branded Block Planes I Used


Lessons learned. No Knots! I a couple of the bodies had small knots. I could not get an acceptable surface on these and they will need to be sanded anyway. You need very sharp blades. You are not hogging off wood. You want to remove very thin shavings with little or no tear out. Dull blades also increase the risk of breaking smaller parts.

Planes are always going to be used in my future toy making. Now I'm wondering if I could use my scrapers for the curved toy parts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tools - Jorgesen Heavy Duty Bar Clamp 

Jorgensen Clamps are the best clamps I own. Especially the Heavy Duty versions. I had a few of and was picking up a few at a time until I I found out they were moving production to China. I went to every Home Depot in my area and bought all of the Made in USA clamps I could find.  They were pretty easy to spot because they all had wood handles while the Chinese made ones had the newer style rubber coated plastic handles.

When I heard the company folded I hit the stores again and bought what they had left that I thought were good enough.  These were all made in China. The fit and finish were not as good as the made in USA clamps but so far I really haven't had an issue with them.

These are big heavy clamps and I don't use them for everything. Every once in awhile when you really need to squeeze something hard these will do the Job. With 1500 pounds of clamping pressure it's almost like clamping. In a vise.

I still search for used ones. When I find them, for sale on eBay or Craigslist you would think they were made of gold. I read somewhere that someone had bought the brand and was going to bring them back. Home Depot still has them in their web store but none are in stock. Hopefully, they will return someday and I'll get a nice surprise.

3706 HD Jorgesen Heavy Duty Bar Clamp
3706 HD Jorgesen Heavy Duty Bar Clamp