Though I have a chevalet I made myself, I use an electric scroll saw 90% of the time when cutting marquetry. A modern scroll saw is quiet, almost vibration-free, and has good variable speed control (which is important since we want to run at a very slow speed). It cuts interior curves smoothly and holds a consistent angle.
All modern saws use pinless blades, which means that the blade can be inserted through a 1/32” hole, allowing clean interior cuts. If yours is old enough to have pins, it’s not very good for marquetry.
I have used five modern scroll saws: DeWalt DW788, Excalibur*, Hegner Multimax-2 (1988 vintage model), Jet JWSS-22B, and King International KXL-30/100. I will review each of these against the features I consider required for marquetry work, as well as those which are only beneficial.
A scroll saw blade has to be very taut to cut accurately and without vibration. Accuracy is mandatory, and vibration is very bad for veneer, which is quite fragile until glued to the substrate. We need to be able to rethread a broken blade through the tiny groove cut by the blade. In addition, we also need to thread the blade through a small drilled hole when we are doing pierced work, common in double bevel marquetry.
Looking at blade holding, Jet is clearly the best. It is the fastest and easiest. My 1980’s Hegner is the worst, even with after-market attachments to improve it. The other three saws are all similar in design and performance, and are in the middle.
Related to this is that the Jet, Excalibur and King International all have a feature for holding the saw arm up while you are threading the blade through the packet. This makes the job much easier. There are aftermarket tools that will do this for the DeWalt. The Hegner is designed differently and can’t do it.
Some saws rock forward and backwards as they cut, here the Hegner comes out on top as it goes straight up and down. Their arm design is different, giving very smooth cuts. All of the others except the DeWalt have an adjustment to reduce the rocking. The DeWalt has nothing, and rocks the worst.
When cutting double bevel marquetry with conventional veneer, the blade angle needs to be at 13 deg to the table. That is pretty steep. The DeWalt and the Hegner have tilting tables, and the others have the same tilting arm system. This makes it easier to stop in the middle of a cut, since the work is lying flat on the table. It’s not a deal breaker, but the tilting arm is nice.
The Hegner has the lowest speed though not all are even variable speed, so beware of that. Who needs a single speed scroll saw? The Dewalt has the highest minimum speed, and the rest are in between.
This refers to the distance from the blade to the post that holds the blade, and is the maximum size that you can rotate all the way around. The smallest saws are 13”, and the biggest is 30”. Most marquetry panels are small enough that most saws will work. I recently bought a 30” saw to cut the panels in the headboard shown in the next section, but I use a 22” saw most of the time.
In my shop I have a 1988 vintage 14” Hegner, a 2019 22” Jet, a 2005 21” DeWalt and a 2022 30” King International. I encourage all of my students to try at least two of them out when taking classes. Every single student that has gone on to get their own scroll saw has purchased the Jet, which is my favorite as well. The blade holding system is the best I’ve seen, the arm tilts and stays up by itself when asked, and vibration is minimal. It is a great saw, and in my opinion the best scroll saw for marquetry most of the time.
It is often listed at $950 but for the month of July 2023, it is $799 with free shipping on both the Woodcraft and Amazon sites. If you are in the market for one, I highly recommend it. It is also very well packaged for shipping, unlike the King International I bought last year that was damaged during shipping due to flimsy packaging.
For marquetry use, I recommend adding a sheet of thin plywood to the table of all of these saws to act as a zero clearance insert, and support the veneer right up to the blade. A stiff piece of art board will also work. The tables all have a big hole around the blade to make it easier to get the blade in, but for marquetry the hole is a menace and needs to be spanned. It does make it more difficult to get the blade installed, but once you have tried it and see the difference, you won’t go back.
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* Safety first - please do not actually run with chisels. Juggling chisels is overtly discouraged.
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