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Monday, February 4, 2008

Scroll Saw Art and Art in Wood

by Pete Jansen

Creating scroll saw art in wood, and scroll saw portraits takes a lot of time and patience on the artist's part. Each portrait starts out as an idea, and goes through many stages before he, or she can show off the finished product. These stages include, but are not limited to, selection of a workable image, filtering and pattern making, wood selection, transferring the pattern to the work piece, drilling, cutting, and finally framing and finishing the artwork. Finding a workable image to create a scroll saw pattern from is not very difficult. Images with solid dark (shadows), and light (highlighted) areas work the best. Light shining on the subjects in the image from an angle, produce the best results. These images can include photos captured by a digital camera, or artwork scanned into a computer. The computer is an important part in creating great scroll saw patterns and portraits in wood. It is possible to convert an image to a pattern by hand, but it is extremely difficult and time consuming. The best and fastest way to create a scroll saw pattern from an image is to use photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop. This editing software allows you to isolate the dark and light areas of the image to create a completely black and white pattern. The black areas will be the areas cut out of the wood to create the dark areas of the portrait or scroll saw art. Find the best filters to separate the dark and light areas of the image. "Poster edges" is a good way to start the process. The light areas can be touched up by hand with white-out to add finishing touches to the pattern before you transfer it to you work piece. When the pattern is ready to be applied to your work piece, it's time to select a flat, clear piece of 1/8" furniture plywood to work with. Baltic birch is the favorite for me. It is very light, free of dark spots and flaws. Cut the birch to fit your pattern and frame. After a light sanding, the work piece is completely covered on the top side with masking tape. The scroll saw pattern is printed out on the computer scaled to fit the area to be cut as well as the frame. Spray the masking tape with a light coat of high quality contact adhesive like 3M. Before it has a chance to dry, place the pattern on the work piece and smooth out any bubbles. You have to work fast, and apply it in the correct position the first time, or you will have to start over. Let the work piece dry for about an hour before continuing. Now that the work piece has the scroll saw pattern on it, and it's dry, it's time to drill lots and lots of tiny holes in it. Using the smallest drill bit that will allow the scroll saw blade to pass through it is a good idea. Every black area in the pattern must have at least one hole drilled in it for the scroll saw blade to pass through. Yes, every dark are is and individual cut and must have a hole drilled through it. On the opposite side of the coin, every light are must me connected to "all" other light areas, or sections of light areas will fall out of the artwork as the dark areas are cut out. Remember this when creating your pattern also. It's more work to fix it later, after you've started cutting. Now the cutting begins. Work from the center of your scroll saw portrait out, as this helps keep the work rigid and strong as you are cutting. I like to use a 2/0 size spiral type scroll saw blade on my "portraits in wood". This style scroll saw blade will cut in any direction, keeping you from having to constantly turn your artwork while cutting. Cut your first black area out of your piece remembering to start near the center of the work and leaving enough white area thickness so it won't break off while you handle and cut it. It looks bad when you have to glue a broken of area back into the portrait. Now the tension on the blade is loosened, the top of the blade is taken out of the upper holder on the saw, and threaded through your next drilled hole. Keep cutting until all the dark areas are removed. The time has come to remove what remains of your pattern from the scroll saw portrait. Carefully peel the masking tape from the wood, being careful not to break any of the thin areas of the portrait or scroll saw art. Now you can see a little of how your work will look when it's completed. Hold it up to a black background to admire all your hard work. Clean up the "fuzz" on the back side of the scroll saw art with fine sandpaper. Be careful not to break the portrait. Use a matt or semi-gloss style clear spray finish on the face of the scroll saw art, making sure to get finish on the inside of the cut areas to create a finished look. Let the scroll saw art dry overnight. Now it's time to set it in the frame. A frame with glass or plexi-glass is recommended, as it makes the scroll saw art much easier to clean and dust later. Cut a backer board from wood, particle board or cardboard to fit your frame in back of the scroll saw art. Spray a light coat of spray adhesive on the backer board, and apply your dark or "black" backing material to it. I like to use black felt purchased at the fabric store, as it creates very dark negative space in your scroll saw portrait. Let it dry and add it to the frame in back of your portrait or scroll saw art. Insert the frames back and you're done! Now that you've spent 10, 15 or even 20 hours creating this heirloom quality art in wood, it's time to hand it over to your customer, loved one, or hang it on your own wall. Enjoy it, be proud of it, it's truly one of a kind, especially if you used your own photo or image. And it took a long time to create. You now know how to create great scroll saw patterns as well as portraits in wood. Take a look at some of the highest quality scroll saw portraits at

About the Author
Pete Jansen is one of the Southwests number one scroll saw artists. Creating scroll saw portraits, portraits in wood, art in wood and other beautiful creations. Pete shares some of his secrets and techniques with other woodworkers in his articles that have been published world wide.

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