Intarsia Basics #3: Let’s Do Some Cutting!

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Blog entry by KoryK posted 04-19-2012 02:25 AM 21671 reads 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Preparing Your Wood and Pattern for Cutting Part 3 of Intarsia Basics series Part 4: Part 4 Coming Soon (Sorry)!!!! »

Thanks for joining us for the third installment of “Intarsia Basics” and this is where it starts to get really fun. Cutting out the pattern is one of the best parts of doing this kind of art. It takes a little practice to get used to using your saw. You can look up some practice patterns or just make some zig zags, loop the loops, straight lines, gentle curves, and circles on a piece of paper and glue to a practice board. Cut out some of these and you will start getting used to the “feel “of your saw.

You can start out like I did with a Porter Cable or Hitachi from Lowe’s or Home Depot for less than $180. After a couple of years and a few saws that I wore out I took the plunge and purchased an Excalibur for upwards of $1000.

Yes, it has some advantages (straighter cuts, faster blade changes) over the less expensive models. Make sure this is what you want to put a lot of time into before spending that kind of money. No matter what saw you have I suggest a foot petal on an off switch. It makes it easy to start and stop your machine without having to remove your hands from your project. You can purchase one at Woodcraft for $25 or go to Harbor Freight and they have the same thing for about $8.

After that, blades come next. I use the Olsen Double/Reverse PGT (Precision Ground Tooth) in a .049” wide X .018” thick X 6/9 Rev. TPI for most of the work with thicker or harder woods.

Your blade selection is COMPLETELY up to your personal preference. I suggest you purchase a few different kinds and play with them to find out what will work best for you and your scroll saw. I started with the Double/Reverse blade and that is what I am most comfortable with, it might be a different blade for you. Make sure to clean your blades before putting them in your saw if your using pinless blades. There is oil on them and if you clean it off it will prevent your blade from slipping.

The next thing you need to do is check to make sure you table is square and DO THIS OFTEN. With scroll saws that the table tilts the vibration of the saw will cause the table to shift during cutting. Do not depend on the scale on the saw to adjust it to 0, use a square.

If your table is off just a little while working with the thicker wood, it will cause you pieces not to fit together when you’re done.

Here is a quick video of me cutting out a piece and it will show you some methods I use for some cuts that will make your project look better and save some time.

Note: At the end of cutting out a piece I will check to make sure it slides easly back and forth. If it does not then your table is not square and your cutting at an angle.

As you can see when I have a 90 degree outside cut I prefer to cut past the pattern and turn your blade around in the excess wood, then continue your cutting.

This all takes practice and I will not tell you there is a right or wrong way to cut out your pattern. Here are some examples of how I will tackle an angle that is too tight to just turn your piece.

Jagged Edges

Inside Tight

There are going to be some areas that require you to drill a pilot hole and do an inside cut when one piece is surrounded by another. Most commonly this will be in eyes and nostrils. This might require a smaller blade than what you’re using on the rest of the project.

After each piece is cut you can see each piece individually.

Poplar to be stained

After everything is cut out you can put your pieces together and see how your project is starting to look like. At this time, check to make sure you have a good fit with all your pieces.

One tip that will help if your pieces are not matching up perfectly is to TIGHTLY hold the two pieces together and run you blade between them on a slower speed and shave off small sections to make pieces match up better. Practice this because this is really easy to mess up if you get off just a little. If it is just a minor gap you can sand out the difference.

Next time we will start looking at shaping and adding shims to give your project some depth, hope to see ya there.

-- If you not making sawdust, your probably wasting your time. Kory

9 comments so far

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4793 days

#1 posted 04-19-2012 08:45 AM

Great blog Kory. Cutting past the point and turning in the waste sure saves a lot of grief. I cut about the same way as you do. I also have an Excalibur, which I consider the best quality tool in my shop. I really splurged for that one, but I have never regretted it. Foot pedals are not allowed in Norway (at least for hobbyists), I wish I had one, but it hasn’t been a big problem so far.

I have converted a quite detailed fantasy drawing by my son to an intarsia pattern which I am currently sawing out the parts for. I am trying to get the grain directions more or less correct and I will need to lower/elevate some of the pieces, but I am finding out that it is not so easy deciding which ones to do. That is part of the artistry bit that I lack, so I am looking forward to how you make those judgements.

This has me really fired up and I am enjoying the work. I will have to use mostly pine for my work. I found a website where they use pine and there are many great examples in their various galleries showing very clever use of the grain patterns to augment their designs. Here is the link in case you want to have a look. They have more than intarsia so you have to scroll through their galleries to see their intarsia work.

Looking forward to the next lesson.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 4379 days

#2 posted 04-19-2012 12:21 PM

Wonderful blog, Kory! Lots of great points. Although I am not able to make this right now, I am following (and learning) along with the rest. Thank you for taking so much time to make this possible for us all. :)


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

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 4477 days

#3 posted 04-19-2012 07:43 PM

Thank you Kory, for doing this! I am not able to work along at this time as we have a show coming up next weekend and I have to get things prepped for that.

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 5044 days

#4 posted 04-19-2012 07:54 PM

I love your work and what a saw how does it differ from your previous models apart from the obvious price. I have the nice big delta. Question is it easier to cut the eyes out your way by sawing or just drill them out on the drill press as I do?Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 4379 days

#5 posted 04-20-2012 01:17 AM

I was wondering the same thing that Alistair asked. Could you use the drill press to do the eyes and then fill them with pieces cut from dowel rods? Or would you consider that ‘cheating?’


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

View KoryK's profile


229 posts in 4148 days

#6 posted 04-20-2012 06:20 PM

Good point on the drilling out the pupil, I usually make them in a oval shape and have to cut them out. To be honest, I’m so used to doing it that way I just cut it out of habit. I have used dowel rods in the past but found that I could not get the color right because the part your seeing is the end grain and it soaks up your stain and/or your finish. I don’t consider anything to be cheating, if you are happy with the results and have fun doing it, that is what matters. No snobs allowed.

-- If you not making sawdust, your probably wasting your time. Kory

View Brian Strothcamp's profile

Brian Strothcamp

114 posts in 4152 days

#7 posted 04-24-2012 01:26 AM

One thing I have done with pupils is to just drill a dimple then place a few drops of black enamel paint… or you can use a black bead…

I have yet to do it but… if the job calls for it, I have wanted to use taxidermy eyes:

There is a whole eye section on the left menu

View EPJartisan's profile


1123 posts in 4584 days

#8 posted 04-28-2012 05:30 PM

I was checking out all your latest work last night and was reading this blog before I fell asleep, and I woke up with a great improvement to a project of mine. Thank you very much. can’t wait to see the final steps.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4301 days

#9 posted 05-17-2012 04:28 PM

Hope I can find this blog when I start my project. Thanks for doing it. :-)

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

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