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Scroll Saw vs. Band Saw

scroll saw vs band saw

At first glance, scroll saws and band saws can look very similar.

Both have a flat table, with a slender blade that runs perpendicular to the work. In both saws, the thin blade creates cuts that are precise, and can accommodate curves and tight angles. 

Both tools operate on a similar principle as a jigsaw, with the primary difference being that, with a jigsaw, you hold the tool and move it over the work.

With scroll saws and band saws, you instead hold the work and move it against the blade.

With so many visual and functional similarities, it's important to understand the differences between a scroll saw and a band saw, so you can choose the right one for your needs.

Scroll Saw


Scroll saws are named after the intricate, ornamental scrollwork that they excel at, because they can make very tight, smooth curves, as well as sharp, precise angles. Scroll saws have slender, delicate blades that can be used to make very fine cuts.

They usually have a dial or foot pedal that precisely controls the speed of the blade. A scroll saw has a reciprocating blade, and operates at a relatively lower speed than other power tools, and are usually quieter in operation as well.

Types of Scroll Saws

Aside from the different types of available blades, the three major types of scroll saw are:

Parallel arm

In this design, two parallel arms hold the blade between them at the ends of the arms. The arms pivot up and down, in a reciprocating motion that moves the blade up and down with nearly no lateral motion.

Double parallel link

In these saws, the bulk of the reciprocating motion is confined to the ends of the arms, where the blade is, as the system pivots.

While these have more moving parts, the primary effects  are reduced vibration, and blade movement that has slight lateral motion as well as vertical.

C-arm saws

C-arm scroll saws pivot on the rear, rocking the entire fixed saw arms and blade up and down simultaneously.

C-arm scroll saws are very much like a motorized coping saw, and have much more lateral movement than other types of scroll saws.

Most scroll saws are the parallel arm design, and this is also the safest.

The blade is held under tension such that, if a blade breaks, the upper arm swings up and out of the way, halting the tool.

Other designs will continue to reciprocate with a broken blade until the tool is shut off, which can pose more hazards. 

Pin end or plain end blades

Not all scroll saws can use both pin-end and plain-end (also called “flat end”) blades, but most woodworkers will want a saw that can use both types.

Pin-end blades are used for exterior cuts around the outside of your wood, while plain end blades can be used for interior cuts.

While you may think you only need one type of blade for your projects, most woodworkers eventually find it too limiting to not be able to use both types of blades. 

On that same note, look for a scroll saw that does not have a “tooled blade”; these blades require you to use a tool every time you want to change blades, which eventually becomes an unnecessary annoyance.

Table tilting scroll saws

Some scroll saws allow you to tilt the table, which can be convenient when creating small miters and bevels.

Throat length

The throat length is the distance between the blade and the back of the saw, and naturally limits either the size or the range of motion of the workpiece.

For small projects, throat length is not a consideration, but may be a concern for larger pieces. 

Scroll saws are the optimal tool for:

  • Jobs with wood no thicker than 2 inches
  • Jobs that require interior cuts, particularly if those cuts require precise, tight curves and angles, and intricate designs
  • Fine cuts that need virtually no sanding
  • All woodworking jobs that require intricacy and precision

Therefore, scroll saws are the preferred tool for:

  • Small miters, bevels, and dovetails
  • Fretwork and scrollwork
  • Wooden letters, jigsaw puzzles, art projects, and other projects that require small, controlled curves and angles

Band Saw

While a band saw looks similar to a scroll saw, in the sense that the blade is suspended vertically between two parallel arms, instead of a small reciprocating blade, band saws use a long loop of toothed metal that rotates continuously in the same direction (hence the name, “band” saw, for the long looped blade).

Band saws are excellent for making big, even rip cuts, because the long looped blade provides consistency.

They are also good for cutting curves and angles in wood, although they cannot make curves and angles that are as small and tight as a scroll saw.

Types of Band Saws

As with all saws, band saws have a number of different blades that are optimal for different purposes. But the major types of band saw are:

Floor standing

Professionals almost always use large, floor standing band saws.

They are powerful machines, capable of working with different stock that is both very thick or in big flat boards, making it easy to optimally position and manipulate the work.

They are also expensive and take up a lot of space in a workshop.

Benchtop

These band saws are designed to be attached to a shop bench or table. These are the most popular for DIYers and hobbyists, because they take up less space but are nearly as powerful. Benchtop band saws come in a variety of sizes, giving woodworkers a lot of options.

Portable

Portable band saws are easy to transport to a job site, but have a very small working area.

They are often used simply for trimming, and popular with plumbers.

Band saws are the optimal tool for:

  • Rip cuts in wood that is 2 to 6 inches thick (although large band saws or the addition of a riser block can increase thickness to 12 or more inches)
  • Cutting even, gentle curves in large flat stock
  • Cutting awkward angles or irregular shapes in large flat stock

The question of scroll saw vs. band saw is really a question of scale.

Do you need a tool that is more powerful and versatile on a range of projects?

Or do you need a tool that can make small, precise, perfect cuts and curves? They may use the same principles, but these saws have very different purposes.

Scroll Saw vs. Band Saw
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