The structural differences between a scroll saw and a band saw are not so difficult to detect as the differences between their uses. Most of us know that both saws are used for detailed curved cutting, but what their real differences are, to many of us, is more mystery than fact. Beginning on the surface of each saw, we can zero in on the features that make each saw unique and a champion of its own niche.
The band saw is bigger than its scroll sawing counterpart, and although we know they both specialize in curved cuts, their blade designs are much different. A band saw blade, as the name implies, is a large band or continuous loop, a thin oblong blade that fits and rotates around two wheels that spin in the same direction. Similar to a pulley system or the belt systems that exist in your other power tools, the blade rotates or spins in that continuous loop. This design results in superior cutting uniformity which renders the band saw equally effective when cutting both wood, metal, and a variety of other industrial materials as well. On another hand, the scroll saw works more similarly to a seriously juiced up jigsaw; its blade is short and straight (like a jig saw or coping saw blade) and cuts with an accelerated up and down reciprocating action. The scroll saw is effective in the same variety of materials as the band saw, only it cuts with less intensity.
The band saw is perhaps most commonly used for cutting curves and shapes into workpieces. This fine detail work, though, because of the band saw’s blade design, can only be performed on the outside edges of a workpiece. This minor limitation, however, does not dissuade many woodworkers as the band saw is a quite universal cutting tool. A band saw can produce surprisingly straight cuts and is used in many woodshops as a resawing machine. Resawing is a technique used to create smaller sections of timber from larger sections of timber by entirely cutting or sectioning a piece of wood or log along its grain. This technique is universally useful, allows you to create new pieces of workable material, and is perhaps where the band saw performs most brilliantly.
Although detailed cuts are among the band saw’s strong suits, the scroll makes these detailed curved cuts with surpassing precision. Unlike the band saw, though, a scroll saw has the ability to cut intricate shapes on the inside of a workpiece. In other words, a band saw can cut shapes and a scroll can cut shapes and then cut more shapes inside those shapes. The band saw is strictly a perimeter cutter whereas, by pre-drilling a small hole into a workpiece and fitting the scroll saw blade into said pre-drilled hole, the scroll saw can perform detailed interior cuts as well. This is especially helpful to our most crafty and creative woodworkers.
For all intensive purposes, and with every respect to the band saw, the scroll saw is vastly more effective at detailed craft work. The machine is acutely accurate and allows for huge amounts of creativity in a relatively small package. Not only is the scroll saw’s agility during intricate curves and patterns virtually unparalleled, but the tool can also create smooth dovetail joints rendering this machine a true paradise for small scale, intricate craft projects. Similarly, the band saw most certainly takes the cake in universal effectiveness and can cut a straight line with greater ease and accuracy than a scroll saw any day of the week.
In the end, although the scroll saw and the band saw can be used to perform many of the same applications, their subtle differences may make all the difference. A band saw is a champion of curved cutting, but its truest calling comes in the form of resawing and stacked cutting. The scroll saw, on another hand, is, although less universally useful than the band saw, an ethereally good detail worker and can perform detailed cuts inside the perimeter of a workpiece. Each have their own specialized actions and each is an equally valid, equally awesome cutting machine.