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Cutting Intricate Shapes In Wood

There is nothing more enjoyable than letting creativity take over and take a raw piece of wood and turning it into something of value. Projects like making letters of your child’s name or personalized picture frame will require precision cuts in wood. Here is our how-to guide and saws we like best for cutting intricate shapes in wood.

Choosing The Right Saw

There are a variety of different saws on the market that will help you when cutting intricate shapes. We’ve picked out our favorites below and let you know why they meet our high standards. There are basically three saws on the market to help you cut intricate shapes in wood – band saws, scroll saws, and jigsaws. Although they all serve a similar purpose, you will find that different projects will require different saws.

Band Saw

A band saw is powered by wheels and a motor. It operates on a loop with a continuous blade. Band saws are used to cut curves in wood with varying thickness. Table legs, ripping lumber, and crosscutting of short pieces are uses. Band saws are most commonly used for cutting irregular shapes in wood. Band saws are known for their extremely smooth cuts when the correct blade is used and can be used to cut plastics, PVC, and metal. It prevents threading since the blade runs on a loop. 

A bench-top saw is a portable band saw that can be placed on a workbench or can be mounted on a support stand. Although portable, they lack power compared to the much larger floor models but cost much less.  

The WEN 3939T 2.8-Amp 9-Inch Benchtop Band Saw is a fantastic option for cutting. One of the highest rated models on Amazon, the 9″ model features a 2.8 amp motor with a blade that rotates up to 2460 feet per minute. Using a 62″ blade with a thickness of 1/8″ to 3/8″, the work table is 12″ x 12″ and rotates up to 45 degrees. Easily one of the best bandsaws out there

Cutting Curves With A Band Saw

Cutting curves using a band saw is pretty easy. Once you set up the machine, the first step is to match the blade to the curve. If that is done, follow the steps below to cut curves:

  • Use a narrower blade for every tight cut. However, keep in mind that a narrow blade can make it difficult for you to cut shallower curve.
  • Keep it lightly when cutting, but be aware that readjusting the wood won’t give you a smooth cut.
  • It is best to cut along the line. It’s also okay to cut outside the line since you can sand the remaining part to complete your project. But cutting inside the line would be very difficult to fix. 
  • For tight cuts, it is important to make some relief cuts first, so that as you cut pass the relief cuts, the scrap will fall off to give more room for the blade to move freely.

Other Important Tips To Consider

  • Before buying a band saw, ensure you check the distance between the saw and its blade. We recommend buying a 9” or 10” size band saw. 
  • When cutting shapes in wood, you’d be turning the wood while you cut. If the wood you are cutting is too large, it will hit the body of the saw and thus prevent you from cutting other areas you’ve already marked. But, if you use a larger saw, say 17” saw, you won’t experience this problem. 
  • If you want to cut intricate shapes in plywood, first use a template to draw the shapes on both sides before cutting. This will enable you to flip the wood over. 

A band saw is perfect for cutting curves if you use a mouthed thinner blade. However, a scroll saw can do a better job than a band saw. 

Scroll Saws

A scroll saw is an electric saw that is used for cutting intricate curves in metal, wood, and various other materials. 

The blade on a scroll is extremely fine and allows for more detailed and delicate cuts over a jigsaw.

A scroll saw is similar to a band in that both allow for cutting intricate pieces; however, they do have differences. 

A scroll saw uses a reciprocating blade, unlike a band saws reciprocating loop. Also, the variable speed that a jigsaw offers allow for more control over the intricate cuts when working with sensitive materials.

Pictured above is our favorite band saw made by DEWALT. The DEWALT Scroll Saw, Variable-Speed, 1.3 Amp, 20-Inch saw features a double parallel link arm which is designed to reduce noise and vibration. The tool free blade clamp allows for blade changes in seconds and can cut up to 2″ in depth. This model has a blade tensioning lever on the upper front arm, flexible dust blower, and has electronic variable speeds. DEWALT has a fantastic reputation for tools in the industry so you know you are getting a good product.

Using Scroll Saws To Cut Intricate Shapes In Wood

  • The first thing to do is to draw your pattern or design onto the wood you want to cut. Use a sharp pencil so that the markings would be visible. You can add mark areas on the design to create positive and negative areas for cutting.
  • Wear your safety gear like goggles and other equipment to protect your eyes from sawdust irritation or broken blade. 
  • Check to confirm that the scroll saw is firmly secure on the surface of the wood. You can refer to the owner’s manual to learn how to clamp the tool on the wood.
  • Choose a suitable blade for the job. We recommend you use a #2 or #3 blade if you plan to cut wood that is about 3.2mm thick. If the wood is about 19mm thick, then use a #5 or #7 blade. Keep in mind this rule – thin wood requires a smaller blade. 
  • After choosing a suitable blade, the next thing is to set the tension on the blade. Generally, the blade size determines the tension. If you don’t know how to go about this, check the owner’s manual for a guide. A properly tensioned blade will not move in any direction more than 3mm. 
  • Power the saw by turning on the power switch on the tool.
  • Start cutting the wood strictly following the markings or designs on the wood. 

Tip To Keep In Mind

  • Just like the band saw we talked about earlier, ensure you consider the distance between the machine’s arm and the blade. This distance can make a difference if you want to cut large wood. 
  • The distance between the machine’s arm and the blade is usually between 16” to 20”, so if you have the money, but a larger scroll saw. 
  • Consider a scroll saw-specific stand; it will make the work easier for you. 

Jigsaw

A jigsaw is one of the most versatile power tools you need to add in your workshop. It can cut different patterns and complex curves following the markings on the wood. It can also make short crosscuts in wood and finish inside corner a cut which was started with a circular saw. 

A jigsaw can cut through wood, laminate, metal, as well as PVC. Working with a jigsaw requires caution and ensure you use the correct blade for the wood you want to cut. The only downside with this machine is that the blade can bend when the pressure is too much. To avoid this problem, do not force the blade through a cut; instead, always keep the blade shape. 

Our favorite pick for jigsaw is again a DEWALT brand. The compact size of this DEWALT 20V MAX XR Jig Saw allows for easy control and precise cuts. The variable speed dial and trigger allow for accurate speed control and uses a brushless motor that gives this jigsaw a longer runtime. This model uses a 20 volt battery so that will need to be purchased additionally if you do not have one.

Using Jigsaw To Cut Intricate Shapes In Wood

A jigsaw can cut perfect curves in wood by following the steps below:

  • Draw your patterns or designs on the wood you want to cut. Use a sharp pencil so that the markings would be visible.
  • Wear your goggles and other safety gears like earplugs, gloves steel-toes shoes, and a dust mask for protection from sawdust irritation or broken blade. 
  • Choose a suitable blade to cut through the wood. We suggest a carbon steel blade for this project. Usually, there is a label on each blade specific the type of material you can use it for.
  • Ensure the saw shoe is firmly pressed on the wood while keeping the blade far away from the edge.
  • Power the jigsaw and cut along the outside of your markings
  • Guide the saw at a slow pace so that you don’t overwork the motor.
  • Use relief cuts where you want to cut tight curves.   

Cutting intricate shapes just got easier using any of these three tools we have highlighted in this article. They all serve a similar purpose but keep in mind that different projects require different saws. Plus, the choice on which one to use depends on the intricacy of the project, the type of wood, and your expertise level.

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