Blades for Newbies

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Chippygeoff

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Much has been written on scroll saw blades and for someone new to the art of scroll sawing blades can be very confusing. In a bygone era when I was just a wee lad I believe that blades were bought by the number of teeth on a blade or what is known as TPI, teeth per inch. I remember that there was very little choice then and most of the blades we used just had all the teeth facing down, I think we also had skip-toothed blades as well. Today though the choice of blades is vast as well as the size of blades as well and it is little wonder that the newbie gets confused. Hopefully I will explain in a way that is easy to understand.
Firstly though there is a lot of myth as to how blades are made, many believe that the blades are stamped out of a sheet of thin steel, this is not the case. With the better known companies that produce blades such as Olsen, Pegus, Flying Dutchman etc they have invested huge amounts of money into the manufacturing process and although the manufacturing process itself is very simple it still demands the latest technology to produce the blades we use today.

At the factories where the blades are produced round carbon wire is delivered on huge drums up to 5 feet wide holding thousands of feet of wire. The wire is hardened by heating it to a certain temperature and it then passes through a large container filled with oil. The wire is then passed through a press to make it flat and to the width of the blade. Then the wire is transferred to a milling machine where the teeth of the blade are “milled, “ This milling process is performed by using a drum that is configured to the type of blade being milled and there is a separate drum for each type of blade.

One of the problems that blade manufacturers still suffer from is that now and again they produce a number of blades that are not up to the mark and apparently it is difficult to tell the difference between bad blades and good ones. The problem lies in the wire and the consistency of it’s quality, something I feel should have been sorted in this day and age. The more experienced scrollers will have found that from time to time they use a new blade only to find they have to increase the angle they push the wood at, as the blade wants to cut more to the right than normal. Also we may put a new blade in the clamps and after cutting just a short distance into the wood the blade snaps. All the blade manufacturers suffer from this where the quality of the wire differs on the same reel.

Pegus blades are produced in Switzerland so I presume their wire in made there as well and the Swiss are renowned for the quality of the goods they produce. I have a Swiss army knife I have had for many years and it still as good as the day I bought it. Flying Dutchman blades are made in Germany and Olsen blades are made in California. I tried finding out more about Olsen blades but failed but found it interesting that Olsen manufacturing was acquired by an American conglomerate called Blackstone Industries, who own many different companies.

I have been looking at various blades that are available to us scrollers and had a few surprises. As I mentioned there are a vast number of blades available to us and each type of blade will vary in the thickness of the steel as well as the width, so a number 5 double toothed blade and a number 5 reverse toothed blade can have small variations in the thickness and the width of the steel.

If we take a Pegus number 5 skip toothed blade it will be .145 thick and .042 wide and will have 16.5 teeth to the inch but if we take the equivalent blade made by Olsen it will be .016 thick, .038 wide and have 13 teeth to the inch so there is quite a bit of difference but in reality it will make little difference to us.

So, after all that what sort of blades would the beginner want to go for? Actually this is a huge question as there are so many factors that go into the equation. It depends on what material is being cut, how thick it is and how hard it is. If I was advising a beginner who wanted to make a range of items from a range of materials then I would say go for number 3, 5 and 7 blades, this will cover a wide range of materials of varying thicknesses. When the newbie has some experience under his or her belt they will know what blade they will use the most. Some members of the forum who specialize in certain types of scroll saw work go very small, like a 2/0 blade. There are blades that are just used for making jigsaws and blades for cutting various metals.

Most scroll saw users however use what is called a reverse toothed blade. If you look at one of these blades under a magnifying glass you will see the 4 or five teeth at the bottom of the blade are facing upward and the remainder are facing downward so when we are using this type of blade is is cutting both on the upstroke as well as the down stroke. The end result is that the sides of the wood are left very smooth and do not need any sanding afterwards and the underside of the wood has few fuzzies and the few fuzzies that are there can be quickly and easily removed with a piece of sandpaper.

So what number blade do I need for the wood I am cutting? Good question. Before I answer this question there are a couple of other factors we must take into account, one is speed and the other is tension.

The ideal scroll saw will be fitted with a variable speed control and this is very handy, especially when cutting thin material like 3mm thick plywood. For this we need a slower speed in order to move the wood at a comfortable pace so as not to wander from the line of the pattern we are cutting. For 10mm thick hardwood a mid-range speed will suffice and for thicker hardwood full speed will be best. Even at full speed cutting some hardwoods will be like watching paint dry, it will be slow, this is why we cover the pattern on the wood with clear packing tape which lubricates the blade and makes for faster cutting.

Having the right tension is very important, especially when cutting thicker materials. If for instance you were making a jigsaw out of 20mm thick hardwood and there was not enough tension on the blade you would find that when completed the pieces will only slide out one way. This is because as you have made a turn the blade had followed the pattern on the top of the wood but no so on the bottom side. As you have turned the wood the bottom of the blade has gone off course because there was not enough tension on the blade. When cutting the thinner material such as the 3mm thick plywood it would not be so noticeable. I always use as much tension as I can and the main reason for this is that I find the blade will cut faster and also it is a lot easier to stay on the line of a pattern when cutting.

Now to blades. Many of the members make Christmas tree decorations from thin plywood and this can be from say 2mm to 6mm thick and for this a number 3 blade will do nicely but if you find you are struggling to keep the blade on the line while cutting the outside shape then a number 5 will give you better control. On the other hand a number 3 blade can be quite big if you have several very small intricate inside cuts to make in which case you may well want to go a couple of sizes smaller but if you get to this stage in your learning curve I would advise you have quite a bit of experience first before making a start on the more complex patterns. By the way. The higher the number then bigger the blade, so a number 7 blade is bigger than a number 5 blade.

If you are a beginner and are ready to make a start on your first piece it may pay to visit one of the builders merchants in your area and get some cheap pine, they may even have off cuts you can buy cheap. Peronally I never use pine for any of my projects as it is a difficult wood to get a decent finish on and when put on the router table it rips the grain to pieces but for practicing pine is perfect. It is round about 20mm thick and you can get several patterns that do not require internal cuts, shapes basically. For this I would use a number 7 blade until you get used to staying on the line of a pattern and once you are confident you could revert to a smaller number 5 blade. Again, when you are confident to start doing internal cuts using the same pine then a five blade will do nicely but if the internal cuts are very small then a number 3 blade will be better.

In the main I cut 20mm thick hardwood and some of it, especially the oak can be like steel, very hard and I use all the blades mentioned above, 3s, 5s and 7s, it depends on what part of the pattern I am cutting. Generally for cutting the outside shape I will use a 7 blade, for internal cuts I will use a 5 blade but for some of the internal cuts like small writing I may well use a 3 blade. Yesterday I was working on quite a complex design that had flowers and leaves on it. I wanted to highlight the veins on the leaves so they could be seen better by my customers so I used a number 9 blade and got a perfect result.

I hope this has been of some help to the newbie. What I have said is a generalized guide if you like. As you become more experienced you will know what blade you want to use for a particular job, it comes naturally. I have just laid the foundations based on many years of my own personal experience. There are many different types of blades available to us and the list may seem endless. I have never used spiral blades, many that have used them have found them to be a nightmare while others will favor a spiral blade above all others. All blades have there uses for different kinds of scroll saw work but whatever type of scroll saw work you want to do start off with reverse toothed blades and then take it from there. Happy Scrolling.
 

Alexam

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That was very informative and useful Geoff. When using maximum tension, is it best to have pinned blades rataher than the smooth ones that could more easily pull out?

When you mentioned the leaves, I would have thought that a No9 was much thicker and a smaller blade would have been used. I'm very new to scrolling and any photos of the leaves would be helpful.

I have a few blades, as I sent off for some of the Flying Dutchman, but will try the Pegasus blades and see how they compare.

Alex
 

JimiJimi

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Thanks for that Geoff. I have been scrolling for about a year now and your excellent article taught me lots that I didn't know. Sometimes it is what seems to be the most basic stuff that we miss out on but vitally need to know.

Jimi
 

Chippygeoff

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Alex. Not many of us use pinned blades mainly because you need quite a large entry hold when doing pierced work, or internal cuts, also you are very limited with the type of pinned blades you can get so most of us use pinless blades. You need very little pressure when tightening the clamps with pinless blades, just tighten the camp until you feel the contact with the blade and then just a pinch more. Yes, a number 9 blade is quite thick, which was the idea of the exercise. Not many of us use the Flying Dutchman blades now as the quality has gone down hill. I am enclosing a photo of a candle holder which is very similar to what i was working on the other day. I don't have a photo of that particular project at the moment but you will see what I mean from the photo.
 

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martinka

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Great write-up, Geoff, but with a little typo that would make fretwork difficult.
Pegus number 5 skip toothed blade it will be .145 thick and .425 wide
I think it should be .0145 thick and .0425 wide, otherwise you would be drilling entry holes with an 1/2" bit. :wink:

These write-ups of yours really ought to be collected into one post and made into a sticky. Keep 'em coming.
 

Alexam

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Chippygeoff":id6t46u0 said:
Alex. Not many of us use pinned blades mainly because you need quite a large entry hold when doing pierced work, or internal cuts, also you are very limited with the type of pinned blades you can get so most of us use pinless blades. You need very little pressure when tightening the clamps with pinless blades, just tighten the camp until you feel the contact with the blade and then just a pinch more. Yes, a number 9 blade is quite thick, which was the idea of the exercise. Not many of us use the Flying Dutchman blades now as the quality has gone down hill. I am enclosing a photo of a candle holder which is very similar to what i was working on the other day. I don't have a photo of that particular project at the moment but you will see what I mean from the photo.


Thanks Geoff, the photo gives a clear picture of what you were saying.

So, would Pegasus be the best now and if so, do you have a link handy?

Would you know if the blade grip can be changed to a quick release on the Record 16" model? IT would save time where a number of inner cuts are needed.
 

martinka

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Alexam":3h30k984 said:
So, would Pegasus be the best now and if so, do you have a link handy?

Alex, the company is actually called Pegas, just in case you try searching for them. There's some PDF's for Pegas blades at http://scies.ch/en/hobby.htm with the Selection Chart one being useful for beginners.

Would you know if the blade grip can be changed to a quick release on the Record 16" model? IT would save time where a number of inner cuts are needed.

That's going to depend on the actual saw. There's been more than one Record 16" saw, but they all can have a couple of little mods done to make them easier to use.
 

scrimper

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Can I just mention the Niqua fretsaw blades that are marketed by Hobbies and other companies, they are generally cheaper than some of the top brands but cut perfectly well, I have been using Niqua blades for well over 30 years and most of my projects have been cut with them. I did try some Flying Dutchman blades from the US but unfortunately I had a lot of problems with premature breakage.

http://www.alwayshobbies.com/tools/hand ... ccessories

http://www.hegner.co.uk/products/spares ... lades.html

The plaque below was cut using Niqua reverse tooth blades
 

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Chippygeoff

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Thanks for pointing out the typo error Martin. It must have been one of those senior moments. Alex. I have tried Pegus blades and most other brands available and it's really down to personal choice. Olsen are just as good in my opinion and as John pointed out there are the Niqua blades, which are also good and readily available from the UK, namely Hobbies and Hegner sell them as well. If you go for the Niqua blades I believe they are cheaper on e-bay.
 

tersan

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Once again Geoff, your observations and advice is so interesting and informative, thank you,i have found out so much from this site,thanks to you and others, happy new year and all the best with regards to your health probs Geoff.
 

jonluv

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Have never used the lubricant stick but for many years have kept a block of Beeswax on the bench and used that to cool and lubricate the blades --- it works for me

John
 

Walney Col

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A minor point perhaps...
Chippygeoff":1rnq19er said:
The wire is hardened by heating it to a certain temperature and it then passes through a large container filled with oil. The wire is then passed through a press to make it flat and to the width of the blade.
You might want to double check that information. I used to work in heat treatment (hardening, annealing, case hardening, whatever was required) an invariably the heat treatment was done AFTER the forming process to avoid leaving stressed areas in the finished product.

FYI unless you know the temperatures concerned hardening and softening (annealing) metals can both look the same i.e. you heat it up then cool it down in a controlled manner. Oil and air cooling are USUALLY a good indicater of an annealing process (rather than a hardening one) which would also be more in line with the work flow you indicate above.

Col.
 
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