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Best Woods for Scroll Saw Projects

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John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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Best Wood for Scroll Saw

With the correct type of wood, a scroll saw can be used to create products with beautiful patterns and designs. 

However, not every wood is suitable for scrolling sawing. Some may not fit correctly, smoke, chip, or even jump, so choosing the right wood for your project is essential.

Oak, cherry, maple, and walnut are the best and most popular woods for scroll sawing, as they are easy to work with, have attractive grain patterns, and are durable. They can be used for intricate scroll sawing projects like fretwork, sign boards, puzzles, intarsia art, ornaments, etc.

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Best Wood for Scroll Saw Work

WoodFeatures
MapleHard, tight-grained, versatile.
BasswoodSoft, light, and easy to cut.
OakHard, durable, traditional look.
AshLightweight, dark brown parts.
BirchShock-resistant, easy to cut, smooth finish.
WalnutHard, dark, luxurious appearance.
HickoryInexpensive, excellent strength-to-weight ratio.
CherryHard, good for intricate fretwork, and rich color.
HollyStrong, dense, white coloration.
PoplarEven grain, ideal for practice, takes paint well.
Best wood for scroll saw projects and their features

Maple

Scroll sawed maple wood ornament
Scroll sawed maple wood ornament (Source: Etsy)

Maple wood is an excellent choice for scroll sawing due to its tight grain, easy workability, and even-grain look.

Sapwood is pale brown, while its heartwood is a darker medium brown.

You can find soft and hard maple wood. Soft maple is easier to cut, but hard maple is the better option when you need denser wood for the project.

The hardness of maple can vary depending on the region where it grew, and some subspecies have a curly patterned grain that can be tricky for some woodworkers.

Basswood

Basswood sheets for scroll saw work
Basswood sheets for scroll saw work

Basswood is a popular choice among woodworkers due to its relative strength, softness, and fine, even grain. 

These properties also make it an ideal choice for scroll sawing, particularly for segmentation, as it can save time in shaping and can be worked with relatively easily.

However, it absorbs stains more heavily than other hardwoods, which may affect the final appearance of the segmentation. 

Basswood has a creamy white color for its sapwood and a pale brown color with dark streaks in the heartwood. You can easily identify the difference between the two.

Oak

Oak wood sheets for scroll saw work
Oakwood sheets for scroll saw work (Source: Rockler)

Oak is another popular wood for scroll sawing because of its attractive grain patterns and durability. However, it does present some challenges when compared to other woods.

Due to its relative hardness, it requires sharpened blades or carbide-tipped blades to prevent dulling of blades and get smoother cuts. 

Red oak is porous, so it absorbs water quickly.

This can cause the wood to warp or twist as it dries, so it’s best to use it for simpler pieces and boards at least 1/4″ thick. You should avoid intricate projects with it.

White oak has heartwood that makes it resistant to water because of tyloses. These tyloses plug the pores in the wood so you can trust them for water-sensitive projects.

White oak is also less porous than red oak, making it a better choice for use in delicate areas where warping and twisting may be a concern. 

Oak may be challenging to work with, but with a bit of extra effort, the results can be truly stunning.

Ash

Hedgehog shape scroll sawed from ash wood
Hedgehog shape scroll sawed from ash wood (Source: Folksy)

Ashwood is solid and lightweight, making it a popular choice among woodworkers.

Its dark brown heartwood and light sapwood create a striking contrast, giving projects a rustic look.

Ashwood’s hardness is comparable to hard maple and oak, which tends to tear the scroll blades easily, making it less preferable for beginners.

The grain is very pronounced and looks good in simple projects.

Many woodworkers consider ashwood to be the best wood for making wooden desks.

Birch

Birch wood sheets  for scroll cutting
Birchwood sheets for scroll cutting

You can create beautiful results with birchwood once you learn how to use it. It usually has a creamy-white sapwood color.

Birch behaves similarly to maple, except for paper birch, which is slightly softer. Its hardness scale rating is similar to oak and hard maple.

One of the unique characteristics of birch is its wavy grain pattern, also known as “curly” or “flaming,” that looks even better when a finish or stain is applied.

However, the end grain absorbs more stains than the rest of the surface, which can cause a blotchy finish.

Despite these challenges, birch is known for its strength in resisting shock and is favored by beginners as it’s relatively easy to cut and work with compared to other hardwoods such as maple or ash.

Walnut

Walnut wood boards for scroll cutting
Walnut wood boards for scroll cutting

Walnut is known for its chocolate-colored heartwood and white sapwood. Furthermore, air-drying the wood can sometimes result in a slight purple hue. 

It is the only North American hardwood with a naturally dark color, making it useful for projects requiring contrasting colors.

The trees of walnut also produce burls with unique and intricate grain patterns. 

You will find walnut slightly harder than cherry but not as hard or strong as maple or birch.

However, its even grain and relative strength make it a suitable choice for delicate scroll saw work, as the project doesn’t need to hold any weight.

But it’s important to note that, like cherry, thinner walnut boards are more prone to warping.

Walnut is also popular for flooring projects because of its high-contrast look.

Hickory

Hickory solid wood boards for scroll cutting
Hickory solid wood boards for scroll cutting

Hickory is a wood that can be found globally and has a distinct straight grain with unique patterns. 

The heartwood of hickory is brown or reddish-brown, and the sapwood is much paler.

Hickory boards usually have both heartwood and sapwood, creating a striking pattern that can add a rustic character to any project.

Furthermore, hickory is excellent for making tool handles due to its high strength-to-weight ratio.

However, its hardness makes it difficult to cut, causing faster wear on saw blades. 

Despite this, it is still an affordable wood choice for large-scale projects.

Drying hickory can be tricky since it is prone to warping and end cracking. Therefore, you should seal the ends when drying.

In the end, the result of hickory is a beautiful variation in color and grain patterns that would look great in some projects.

​​Cherry

Cherry wood boards for scroll saw cutting
Cherry wood boards for scroll saw cutting

Cherry wood is an ideal choice for scroll saw projects due to its strength and even grain. It is easy to cut and works well for detailed designs.

It has a beautiful appearance with brown heartwood, while the sapwood is light yellow.

These colors darken over time and slightly change when exposed to sunlight, giving them a slight reddish hue. 

Moreover, it is lightweight, gentle on high-quality blades, and perfect for decorative projects. 

However, cherry tends to warp more than other woods when drying, so you should be careful, especially when using thin boards or resawing them.

Cherry is softer than oak but harder than poplar and basswood, like walnut and paper birch.

Holly

Scroll saw cut out ornaments from holly wood
Scroll saw cut-out ornaments from holly wood

Holly wood is an excellent choice for scroll saw projects. It has an even, strong, barely visible grain and is as hard as cherry and walnut.

Its white color makes it a great choice for intricate inlay work or intarsia.

Although holly is more expensive since it’s uncommon and hard to dry, it is still a good option for most scroll saw projects.

You can use holly for your project if you’re willing to spend a bit more out of your pocket.

Poplar

Poplar wood thin boards for scroll saw cutting
Poplar wood thin boards for scroll saw cutting

Poplar is another great wood choice for scroll saw projects due to its consistent cutting pace. 

This wood is characterized by its white or off-white color, with yellow, green, and occasionally purple and black streaks. 

It does not have much grain pattern, making it look plain.

However, you can find it in various colors, with the heartwood ranging from tan to yellow, blue, green, and even purple. The sapwood is usually white.

This color variation makes poplar ideal for intarsia artists looking for unique colors.

Though it has an even grain, poplar is soft and brittle, making it less suitable for intricate scroll saw fretwork.

On the hardness scale, it is slightly harder than basswood.

Factors to Consider when Choosing Wood for Scroll Sawing

In scroll sawing, selecting the correct type of wood can significantly impact your project’s success.

The following are some essential factors to consider when you choose wood for scrollwork.

Wood Thickness

Considering wood thickness is crucial, especially when working on intricate designs where burning or smoking negatively affects the final product’s quality.

Scroll saws are best for precision cutting, so they may not be the best choice for thicker or harder wood.

To avoid putting stress on the blade and the risk of injury to the operator, it’s best to stick with wood that is no thicker than 3/4″.

Thinner wood is easier to cut but may not hold a pattern, while thicker wood will hold a pattern better but is more likely to smoke or burn while cutting.

Grain Pattern

The grain pattern of the wood can also have a significant impact on the success of your scroll saw project.

Wood with a straight grain pattern is usually easier to work with than those that are curly or wavy.

The reason is that the straight-grain pattern is more stable and less likely to chip or break.

Moisture Content

Moisture content is another essential factor when choosing wood for scroll sawing. 

If the wood is too wet, it could be difficult to work with, and it could warp or crack. If it’s too dry, it can become brittle and break easily.

For the best results, aim for a moisture content of 6-8%. You can measure the moisture content with a moisture meter.

Hardwood vs Softwood

Scroll saw cutting wood
Scroll saw cutting wood

When selecting wood for scroll saw projects, you need to consider the characteristics of softwood and hardwood. Both types of wood have their benefits and drawbacks.

Softwoods are usually more flexible and bend more easily under the blade, making it challenging to keep the pattern in place and cut intricate designs.

However, they are also less prone to chipping or smoking when cutting, making them a great choice for those starting or practicing with a new scroll saw.

On the other hand, hardwoods are usually stronger and more resilient, making them ideal for detailed and complex patterns.

However, they are also more likely to smoke or chip if the saw speed is not adjusted correctly.

Softwoods are generally better for beginners to practice, while hardwoods are better for advanced scroll saw projects.

Working with Engineered Wood and Solid Wood

You can use engineered woods like plywood or MDF for your scroll saw projects, but they can be harder to cut due to the glue and veneers.

Plywood is strong, stable, and affordable, making it a good choice for larger projects. However, it can wear out blades faster than solid wood.

On the other hand, solid wood is known for its natural beauty and unique grain patterns, making it a more aesthetically pleasing option.

But they are often more expensive and may not be suitable for big projects.

If you’re looking for an affordable option for large-scale projects, engineered wood like plywood might be the way to go.

Ultimately, deciding between plywood and solid wood depends on your preference and budget.

Final Thoughts

A scroll saw is ideal for cutting intricate and delicate designs for woodworking projects.

It uses a reciprocating blade mounted on a short arm, allowing the saw to cut in any direction.

This makes it ideal for creating detailed and complex patterns and cutting out small and delicate pieces. 

The selection of the correct type of wood when working on a scroll saw project is crucial as it can affect the ease and quality of the work. 

Consider the factors outlined in this article to ensure your project is successful and produces a high-quality result.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the lifespan of scroll saw blades?

The lifespan of scroll saw blades depends on the type of wood and the speed and tension of the blade. On average, operating them at moderate speeds can last for 15 – 45 minutes of continuous use.

What are the different types of blades that can be used on a scroll saw? 

When using a scroll saw, you can choose between three blades: plain-end blades, pin-end blades, and flying-saw blades. The choice of blade will depend on the project you are working on and the precision you need.

What are the factors to look for when buying a scroll saw?

Blade tension and speed control are the most important factors to consider when buying a scroll saw. The ability to easily adjust the blade’s tension will ensure it is tight enough to provide accurate cuts without the risk of breaking. Furthermore, the adjustable speed control allows for more versatility and precision.

John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com