Friday, December 8, 2017

Roses and Humming Birds Scroll Saw Pattern.
This fretwork plaque is over 13 inches wide. 

Entry Level Vs mid Vs Pro Level. Random Thoughts.

The graphic above is obviously silly. You should not compare a $99 scroll saw to a $3,350 scroll saw!
The Central Machinery saw is sold at Harbor Freight. The Hegner Polymax-3 is sold by Advanced Machinery. I said you should not compare these machines but I'm going to anyway. 

These machine do the same thing. They use a small blade to cut irregular shapes. To some degree they can both cut the same patterns. I have seen people enjoy their time in the shop with both of these machines. Now here is the biggest comparison. Neither machine should be purchased by 99% of people who want to start in the hobby.

I am not one of those people who will tell you that you should not start with an entry level saw. The truth is that most of us did just that. My first machine was a $120 Craftsman sold at Sears. Would I want to go back to that machine now. No of course not. At the time I had a blast with that machine. 

The harder question is how inexpensive or expensive should you start out with. That's going to depend on a few factors. What do you want to do with the saw? Can you afford the one you want? Do you expect it to last several years?  There are other factors but these are a good start.

Here are a few of the negatives of the lower priced saws. 
a. The construction is clearly not going to be on par with some of the more expensive saws on the market. They will generally not hold up to prolonged hard use.
b. The ease of use will be inferior. Changing blades and vibration are two of the factors that can ruin the ease of use.
c. Out of the box quality control suffers on the less expensive machines. Unfortunately even the more expensive machine can fall short on this point also. You want to buy from a source that has a good return policy. 

There are also positives with entry level machines.
a. If you only plan to use the saw for cutting craft shapes or simple projects the less expensive machine may be all you need. Just set your expectations before you buy.
b. You can still learn a great deal about cutting on the scroll saw with an entry level machine. 
c. If you decide the hobby does not interest you then you are not out too much money. Hopefully you are able to see past the deficiencies of the saw to make that decision. 

So where should you start? Here are my suggestions. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list or full reviews of these machines. 

Entry level machine:
In my opinion the entry level should start at around $200. Avoid the the $100 range machines unless you know what you are getting. The Porter Cable machine sold at Lowe's is a capable machine. It's priced at $179. It will accept plain end blades. It comes with a stand and has all the features you will need. On the negative side, the blade change is moderately difficult. It is a tool-less blade change but somewhat awkward. It will not stand up to prolonged heavy use. This is a weekend saw. 

Delta 40-694 scroll saw. I am putting this machine in the entry level category because it is currently priced on Amazon for $289. That does not include a stand or light but it's still a great bargain.  The Delta is the cousin of the DeWalt DW-788. This machine has all the features of a mid range machine for an entry level price. Easy blade change, low vibration plain end blades and more. The out of box quality control is decent but you will occasionally get one that has too much front to back movement of the blade. By the way Amazon has the pricing on this model all screwed up. If you get the one with the stand and light it is priced at $689. That's a real expensive stand and light.

Mid range saws: 
It's tough to break out what a mid range saw should be priced at. The DeWalt DW-788 fits well in this category. You can get the DeWalt DW 788 without the stand and light for just under $500. In this case the model with the stand and light makes more sense. You can get it $590 on Amazon. I recommend the stand and light if you can afford it. You can also find the DeWalt sold at more locations so look around for the best price.

The DeWalt DW788 checks all the boxes as far as features. I have owned one for over 10 years and never had any significant issues with it. The blade change is very easy and tool-less. The out of the box quality control has had some issues over the years but it's mostly acceptable. The biggest con of the DeWalt is that the Delta 40-694 is priced so much cheaper for basically the same machine. 

The King Industrial 16" machine sells at Woodcraft for just under $600. This machine is made by the same manufacturer as the well made Excalibur model(no longer sold). This is a step up from the DeWalt and the Delta in terms of quality. The draw back is that it is only a 16" throat. 16 inches is large enough for most projects but it's nice to have a 21" when you need it. The King hits all the features you need but at this price a stand and light are not included. The out of box quality is quite good. I get very few negative emails about this machine.

High end saws:
Some of these machines could fall into the mid range category depending on your budget.

Jet JWSS-22 can be had for a little over $900. It's well built with all the desired features. The blade clamping system is unique. Because the bottom clamp is not a tool-less change it is only recommended for bottom blade feeders.  The top clamp is a new and unique design that clamps and tensions in one motion. 

Seyco ST21 sells for around $900. Very well built and a pleasure to use. Nice large table. The head does not tilt a full 45 degrees which may be a problem for people who like to make bowls. The assembly is a little more difficult than the other machines. This machine has a large depth of cut capacity for people who like to do compound cutting or just thicker projects. This is currently my saw of choice for my shop.

Hawk BM-20. I am basing this on second hand information. I have never had a Hawk in my workshop. I have used them but only for short demonstrations. They are very well built. All the features to make scrolling a enjoyable experience. The BM-20 sells for $1,200. It is built to hold up to light production work. They also sell the BM-26 for $1,400 which has a 26" cutting capacity.

Hegner Multimax 18-V, $1,395 is built like a tank. The Hegner line of scroll saws are generally thought of has the best built machines available. Of course you pay for that quality. They also sell the Multimax 22-V $1,599 and the Polymax 3 $3,350. The Polymax is built for full time production cutting. Eight hours a day five days a week. 

There are more machines out there that I could add to this list but these are the ones that I think are the most popular, at least in the U.S.

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Let me teach you to create a beautiful wooden portrait pattern. I will show you everything you need from start to finish. The video will show you the free software program you can download for Windows or Mac OS. I will show you how to install the program and configure it for best results. 
Then I will show you the technique to take your photograph and make a pattern from it. When the pattern is complete we will go in the shop and cut it.