Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing #5: Cutting Outside Curves

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 07-30-2011 12:34 AM 17877 reads 5 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Let the Scrolling Begin - Casting on and Casting Off Part 5 of Online Scroll Saw Class - Incredibly Fun Adventures in Scroll Sawing series Part 6: Cutting Sharp (Acute) Outside Corners »

Now that we have had a chance to practice casting on and off, we are going to practice a bit more on cutting outside curves.

Cutting curves is probably one of the easiest things to do on a scroll saw. Most designs consist mainly of curved lines, with occasional straight runs from time to time. Once you get used to cutting curves and turning corners accurately, you are well on your way to being a great scroller.

One thing that is important to remember is that the blade is stationary and you are going to be moving your pieces through and around it. Unlike other types of tools like a circular saw or a router, where you actually move the tool over your piece, you will be doing the opposite when using your scroll saw by turning, pivoting and guiding your piece through the blade. I know that may seem obvious when you first read this, but it is important to tune your mind into that way of thinking and it will make scrolling much easier for you to accomplish.

Because of this way of thinking, the more control you have over moving your piece through the blade, the more accurate your cutting will be. This is something that is not always easy at first for some people, but with a little time and patience will become almost second nature. In order to show you some of the little tips I have learned over the years, Let’s begin cutting a shape.

Let’s start with the simple ’s’ shape that I provided in the practice patterns in Lesson #2. This piece, although simple, has both left and right turns for you to practice on.

Begin by casting on from the right side, aiming for the mark that I indicated as a starting point on the pattern. Remember to use the time you are moving from the edge to the point of beginning the design as a time to make any necessary adjustments to your saw such as speed and to get a feel for they type of wood you are doing. Also remember to slow down a bit before you get to the line, so you give time for the blade to relax and get ready to turn. This will soon come naturally to you and you won’t have to even think about it anymore.

Turn the piece in a counter-clockwise direction and begin to cut out your shape and follow the line. I have had several inquiries regarding whether I cut ‘inside the line’ or ‘outside the line’ and although that I know of several scroller that use one of these methods, I prefer to cut directly ON the line and follow it as close as possible.

While you are cutting, remember to keep your elbows down and your arms relaxed. Have your saw going at a comfortable pace – not too aggressive at first so you can become accustom to moving through the wood. You will have plenty of time to speed up later on if you wish as you are more comfortable with what you are doing. Keep your wrists relaxed, too and use your fingertips to gently guide the wood through the saw. Continue using gentle and even pressure around the slight curve until you are coming up to point ‘A’ in the diagram.

As you approach point ‘A’, you are going to begin to apply slightly more pressure with your left hand to make a pivot point and use your right hand to gently guide the wood around that pivot point, causing your wood to turn to the left. Since this is a wide curve, the action is subtle and does not need to be over done. Use a slight shift in the weight of your hands and the movements will come to you naturally, like turning the wheel of a car. As you approach point ‘B’, redistribute the weight of your hands so that it is again almost equal by the time you are at point ‘B’. This will all occur very quickly, but will also begin to come to you naturally as you practice. (I have indicated when most of the pivoting will occur by using a dotted line)

Continue around the figure, once again leveling off your pressure as you work around the curved area from point ‘B’ to point ‘C’.

Once you begin to approach point ‘C’, again begin to place slightly heavier pressure on your left, or pivoting hand and begin turning the piece counter-clockwise with your right hand. This time we are doing a full curve, so you will want to turn in steps, carefully lifting and replacing your right hand further toward the bottom of the piece so that you can guide it through the blade. For the most part, during this turn your left hand will remain in place, holding the piece down as you are turning. (Again, the place where you will be pivoting most is indicated by the dotted line)

As you pass point ‘D’, you will again begin to relax both hands and equalize the pressure you are using from both hand to continue to guide your piece through the blade. Continue to cut until you approach point ‘E’.

As you get close to point ‘E’, this time you will once again begin to put a little more pressure on your left hand, but this time you will begin turning the wood in a clockwise direction, following the line to point ‘F’ where you once again equalize the pressure between your two hands. (Pivoting most where the dotted lines indicate, between points ‘E’ and ‘F’)

Continue around the piece until you approach your entry point. You will continually be adjusting the pressure of both hands and steering the piece through the blade. As you get close to your entry point, slow down and aim for the point where you started your cutting on the line. Allow the saw to do the work and guide the piece so the blade meets up with the entry spot as seamlessly as possible.

I have a short video which shows me cutting the piece out. I apologize for it being slightly dark, as I was experimenting to see if you would be able to see the lines better without my bright light. Problem was that I also was not able to see as well as usual to stay on the line! :) I may try to reshoot tomorrow, but I am not sure if it is necessary or not. Let me know if you get a chance what you think. I think that it gets all the points that I wanted to across so I left it as is.

I suggest you practice on some of your shapes that I provided for you on the training pattern in Lesson 2. The rounded shape such as the circles, ovals and stars will help you get a good feel for the blade and saw in general. I am going to stop here, and next time we will be learning about outside soft corners and hard corners. Remember if you have any questions or comments I will be keeping watch so that I can help you quickly. I am sure that others here will have some thoughts to share too.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you are enjoying things so far.

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

23 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3324 days

#1 posted 07-30-2011 01:50 AM

Great lesson.
You mentioned practice.
I am a seasoned scroll sawyer. Yet, when I haven’t been at my saw in a while, I still sometimes do a practice piece to “get my scrolling groove back”.
I’ll take a scrap piece of wood. I’ll draw circles, squiggles, zigzags, just whatever on it, and cut it. This is a great way to get anyone, beginner or experienced, to practice. Practice makes anything better.


View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3642 days

#2 posted 07-30-2011 03:20 AM

MUCH better on the video Sheila. I could see clearly what you were doing. I’ll watch it again later with the sound ON. :D My wife is sleeping right now. I’ll cut some curves next time I get back in front of the saw.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View tomd's profile


2210 posts in 4252 days

#3 posted 07-30-2011 04:36 AM

Thank you for the time and effort you put into this tutorial, I appreciate it and I’m sure others do too. No matter how slow I turn the saw down to, it still seems too fast for me.

-- Tom D

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3402 days

#4 posted 07-30-2011 11:55 AM

Thank you all!
Yes, William – I think the best thing to do is keep trying on different woods and seeing how different blades sizes react. Experience is the best teacher and we can’t be afraid to make some designer firewood every now and then!

-Thank you too, Rance. I tried shooting without the light from the saw on. I know the video is darker overall, but I do feel that you can at least see the lines and what is going on. As I said though, I had some trouble seeing the lines! LOL My old eyes aren’t like they used to be! I may or may not shoot the video over, as it does get across the points I was trying to make. I will just have to see. :)

-And Tom – sometimes you can go too slow on the saw. If the wood catches on the blade and it chatters, it will scare the bejesus out of you. Instead of slowing down the saw speed, slow down the rate that you push the wood through the saw. Use less forward pressure and as I said, pivot more than go forward on the curves. Soon you will feel much more comfortable.

I appreciate the comments that you have made and hope this helped you a bit. :)


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

View huntter2022's profile


275 posts in 3097 days

#5 posted 07-30-2011 02:12 PM

Shelia ! Shelia ! What have you done , great job on another lesson.

If you have a problem seeing the line print the pattern cut lines in another color like red . This way the blade does not blend in with the line

All this slowing up here and there and pivoting may seem like alot but after you have cut a little while it comes natural and you don’t really realize your doing it

Tom , turn your speed about halfway (at least or more), and guide the wood as you were slow dancing with a lady and hoping the music never stops

-- David ; "BE SAFE BE HAPPY" Brockport , NY

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3402 days

#6 posted 07-30-2011 02:21 PM

Thanks David! The reason that I can’t see isn’t the color, it was because I cut the saw light. Although I do hear from some that they like red lines. That is a great point you brought up. I am glad you liked the lesson. :)


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

View stevebuk's profile


57 posts in 3166 days

#7 posted 07-31-2011 12:38 AM

thought that was great video sheila, showed just what it needed to. I must say that the blower must be doing a great job as when i cut, the whole top of the table is covered is sawdust..

View Rick13403's profile


270 posts in 3986 days

#8 posted 07-31-2011 05:54 PM

Great job Sheila. We are enjoying these classes. I have trouble with seeing the lines too and have started to use a magnifier visor that really makes the lines pop. Thanks for doing these classes.

-- Rick - DeWalt 788 & Ex21 -

View oldmailman's profile


1 post in 2974 days

#9 posted 07-31-2011 06:08 PM

Just joined and have read all of the lessons up to today, looking foward to the next lesson.

Great job and thanks..

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3402 days

#10 posted 08-01-2011 01:45 AM

Hi, Rick! I am glad you stopped in. I have a magnifier too, but for the videos I can’t use it – it would get in the way of the camera. That’s why I had the light off too. :) But that is OK. I think I got ‘close enough” LOL.

I am glad you liked the video Steve. Hopefully they will get a bit easier to make as I go along. I just have to pretend that I am talking to all you guys and not get myself worked up about the camera. :)

You are very welcome oldmailman! I am glad you can make it. It will be in lots of short lessons like this in order to give everyone a chance to try things out during these busy summer days and also I didn’t want to overload anyone with too much information at once. Thanks for joining us! :)


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

View Vicki's profile


1117 posts in 3826 days

#11 posted 08-04-2011 04:59 AM

Thank you for another extremely helpful video. Comparing the light of the two videos, I like this second one better. Much easier to see your blade and pattern line. Practice really does help. In the past I scrolled just now and then. The past couple of weeks I’ve made 14 or so items for an upcoming craft bizzare. I’m still not a pro or anything, but with your videos and all this practice I have improved. One thing I had trouble with today and I’m sure you will cover in a future class is cutting small areas of an inch or so. Inside cuts that will fall out and have tiny angles and points. For instance the bottom of a pant leg and the shoe. Lots of little turns and angles and curves. I slow the blade way down and have it good and tight and sometimes I still overshoot the line and what I wanted to be a straight piece 1/4” or less becomes a bit curved. No way to straighten that out. Any tips on getting the shape right with tiny areas would be appreciated.

-- Vicki on the Eastern Shore of MD

View huntter2022's profile


275 posts in 3097 days

#12 posted 08-04-2011 03:05 PM

Hi Vicki ! You might want to change your blade size .

I don’t want to get ahead of Sheila in the classes . so I will leave it . But if it is something you cannot wait on as you need it done message me and I will be more than happy to help .

-- David ; "BE SAFE BE HAPPY" Brockport , NY

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3402 days

#13 posted 08-04-2011 03:11 PM

Thanks, David! I think that is a good option.

The next class will start to look into corners in depth. I will be starting with outside corners, but if space allows, I will also move to inside corners. It depends on how involved things get, as I don’t want the lessons to get too long here or give too much information at once. I usually try to post the next lesson by the weekend, so watch for it then. Hopefully it will help you get through things a bit better. In the mean time, try the smaller blade and see if that helps. Hopefully we will cover what you need to continue improving. If I don’t, please don’t hesitate to ask me! :)


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

View Davisjr's profile


12 posts in 2986 days

#14 posted 08-04-2011 11:31 PM

To Hunter2022 – I tried cutting a my very first piece a few weeks ago before it got really hot out. It was a Christmas ornament. Something I copied from a book with my All-in-one printer.

On another scroll sawing website I mentioned that I was having seeing the lines as I was cutting. One thing that was suggested was try using with red lines. Now I do have a few patterns on my computer and I am also trying to scan in some patterns from books for future use. Most, as we know, patterns are in black ink. How would one print them out in black? Even the ones I scanned in or off the net?

Also I went to my local Harbor Freight and picked up a magnifying lamp. I am hoping that will help with my issue also.

View CherieLee's profile


60 posts in 3000 days

#15 posted 08-08-2011 02:54 AM

Another lesson learned well. I have found with much practice, you get faster. But remember, just when you think you know it and are too confident, that is when you make a mistake. Probably one you shouldn’t have done. LOL. Been there, done that many times.
Great lessons Shelia!!

-- Cherie Lee

showing 1 through 15 of 23 comments

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