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The Art of Scroll Sawing - Pt 1

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

Ever wondered how it's done? Well here's how.

Bert Harkins

Have you looked at scroll saw pieces in our online shop and wondered what goes into them from start to finish?

Well, I'm going to attempt to explain the various processes involved in producing the Bert Harkins commission on the left.

It's not magic, there's a lot of work involved!


Design it!

Believe it or not, it starts with an idea and a blank sheet of paper. Yep, good old fashioned paper.

As most of our scroll saw pieces tend to be speedway related, I have a rough idea as to what the design entails before I start. Then follows a period of research to ascertain the exact design which the commission requires, and in this case, sourcing a portrait and action photo suitable for converting. The selection process is vital as not all pictures will convert successfully, mainly due to shadowing, blurring and image quality.

This is then imported to a PC using software and converted to a basic black and white image. From the resulting image, there still requires to be a considerable amount of adaptation to produce a suitable cutting plan.

For example, in the hair, there may be many tiny parts which require either deleting or enhancement, depending on their importance to the look of the final image. As my dad used to say, “it’s not what you put in the image, it’s what you leave out.”

The PC image is printed and then particular attention has to be given to the areas of the facial details, which if not finished off accurately means that the image when cut, simply won’t work. And finally with the decision making process, it is necessary to link, carefully and unobtrusively, some of the smaller pieces to give the finished picture a framework. This part of the creation can take up to two hours, armed with Tippex and black felt tip to make the necessary adjustments.

The paper image is now centred using vertical and horizontal lines, to enable it to be accurately placed on the wood.

The image is then proportionally amended if necessary to fit the size of the wood, adjusted by good old long-handed mathematics, (remember that?) to ensure that it fits my standard shape and size when cut. Further adjustment to the planned image cuts may be needed if the image has been reduced in size to ensure we can actually cut every piece from 4mm birch ply.

The design is photocopied at this point, before scanning and emailing it to the intended recipient who hopefully will approve it. If it is personalised, this is the point of no return - if the customer doesn't like something, it's best to say now!

Experience would suggest that if the buyer likes the cutting plan, the finished product in wood will give them even greater satisfaction!


Once approved, there's no going back!


The picture on the left is the actual drawing used to cut this plaque.







The wood gets involved.


At this point, the two pieces of wood (one ply and one MDF) are taped together, the ply to be cut piece, and the MDF as the backing sheet, with just the outline of the shape attached to the top ply sheet. This ensures that both pieces are exactly the same size and shape. Once the outline is cut, the two are separated and the paper template removed. The MDF is put to one side, the centre point marked, and the full design is attached with 2” wide Sellotape to the ply ready to be cut.

Up to this point I would estimate the time taken to be approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours.


Taping the design to the wood ready for cutting

I'll leave it there for now, comments appreciated below - keep an eye out for Part 2!

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