Scroll saws are the preferred saws of woodworkers because they make clean and precise cuts. A jigsaw has a very thin blade that moves up and down at a high speed, to allow you to cut even in the tightest places.
All types of wood work differently with the saw. If you choose the wrong type of wood or a piece that is too thick, the item you are working on may chip, burn or chip. Since the type of wood is so important, let’s take a look at the six best types of wood to use with this type of saw.
Wood Types: Hard or Soft?
Each one has its merits and each one has its flaws. For the most part, softer woods should be chosen to practice as you become more familiar with your jigsaw. Softer woods will tend to bend more under the blade, it will be more difficult to maintain a pattern, and it will tend to be too flaky for detailed patterns. Hardwoods tend to be stronger and tougher, but this can lead to smoking or splintering if you are wrong in speed. Of all the woods, oak is the most difficult to work with, but it is also considered the best.
Let’s look at some soft and hard woods in more detail. Also, check out How to Build a Miter Saw Table From Scratch?
Softwoods you can use for scroll saw projects
Not all softwoods are completely useless; but you should avoid using pine for any fine work. Cedar and plywood are recommended as good woods to practice, while some recommend a good quality Baltic birch (scroll saw forums). In fact, we recommend poplar wood as the best practice because it has a more uniform grain than pine, which means you can cut at a uniform speed without worrying about changing blades.
As for whether to cut plywood or solid wood – the choice is yours. Plywood has good tensile strength and is very stable, but will eat through the sheets a little faster than solid softwood. Solid, natural woods are generally preferred for their beauty and natural grain, but depending on the project, plywood sheets can be perfectly tailored to your needs and be an affordable solution for those working on large-scale jigsaw projects.
Hardwoods that make great jigsaw material
Hardwoods are good at holding the shape of a pattern, ash and maple woods are preferred for this purpose. Ash and maple are not considered the best for beginners, as they require some skill to cut. Too much speed and both Ash and Maple are likely to vibrate, jump up and down, or even smoke. Slow down again and avoid injury.
According to Hunker, red oak is another hardwood favorite, as are walnut and cherry, which have beautiful grain. However, Saws Cutter has birch as a preferred hardwood despite its curly grain and tendency to absorb stains unevenly. They also mention Hickory as a cheap hardwood to work with, as well as having one of the best strength-to-weight ratios of all woods.
Finally, Oak is one of the all-time greats in terms of fret saw art; unfortunately, it is also one of the hardest woods to work with. Consider practicing with cutouts before diving right into cutting a jigsaw pattern in oak.
Polywood materials – what are they exactly?
Polywood has been in use since the 90s, although it is a bit more advanced than back then. Polywood wood is specially manufactured in a laboratory and is made from high-density polyethylene, thermoplastics, and other plastic materials (often recycled). This example from POLYWOODS is a typical specimen.
Basically, Polywood is a man-made plastic that is cut into blocks or planks just like wood. It is then used in place of wood, and can be cut with your jigsaw as long as the blade is less than 2 inches deep.
Why use Polywood?
Polywood is incredibly durable. It is weather resistant, waterproof, strong, durable, and possibly more environmentally friendly than using real wood as it is made from recycled plastics (and can be recycled on its own). Polywood is a preferred material for any jigsaw project that is designed to be kept outdoors.
The benefits of Polywood:
- Strong and durable, difficult to scratch.
- Weather and water resistant.
- Made with recycled plastics and is recyclable.
- Good strength, designed to be very dense and therefore more stable on your cutting table, in the same way that hardwood could be.
Jigsaw art with non-wood materials
Of course, the fret saw is the best carving tool in any workshop, which is why they have been designed to be used with non-wood materials as well. Not all jigsaws can cut all types of different materials, and keep in mind that the thickness must be less than the 2-inch maximum. If you’re unsure whether your machine can handle these non-wood materials, check your instruction manual or contact your manufacturer to avoid breaking anything.
Jigsaws are best used on hardwoods. Although softwoods give very little strength to the blade, they are often too brittle to handle delicate woodwork. About the only time you would want to use softwood on a fret saw is when you are practicing to get familiar with the feel of the saw.
Hardwoods are better for creating delicate woodwork on your jigsaw, although they are harder on the blade. Unlike softwoods, they do not tend to break when cutting sharp or intricate curves.
Always make sure you have a sharp blade before you start making cuts. Jigsaws are very sharp and great for most of your woodcraft needs if you let the blade do the work. If you try to push it too fast, the wood can burn and the blade can bend. Cutting with a jigsaw is slow and requires patience, but that’s why it cuts so cleanly and precisely.