Fretwork is “decoration or patterns or patterns on a surface made by cutting into or through the surface”, according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. But to me, fretwork and scroll sawing, as it is often referred to, is a great way to relieve stress and at the same time get a sense of accomplishment when your item is finished. There is a wide variety of materials that can be used for fretwork, including thick paper, many different wood materials, soft metals and plastics. Although I have used Plexiglas, plywood and cardboard, my true love for scroll sawing is wood.
From my viewpoint, the hardest part of using wood is getting the board to a finished thickness and smoothness so that the pattern can be attached. There are a number of places that you can purchase finished lumber, starting from as thin as 1/8” Baltic birch and up. If you have the necessary tools, the most economical way to get started is to buy rough cut lumber from a local lumber yard. Rough cut lumber is usually 1” to 1 1/4” thick, and most lumberyards will have one edge trim so you can start out with a straight edge. There are so many beautiful grained hardwoods available, though I primarily use oak, cherry and walnut for my fretwork. At this point, the wood is run through a band-saw and cut into strips, anywhere from 2” to 2 1/2” wide, depending on the original width of the board, so they are fairly uniform in width.
Once cut into strips, the strip is turned on its side and run through the band-saw again, cutting it so it's between ½ and ¾ inches thick. I like to use what they call a re-saw blade in my band-saw, one that is anywhere from ¼” to ¾” wide. I always make sure that I have the guard down as close to the piece of wood that I can, never wear loose fitting clothes and wear protective eye goggles for safety reasons.
Once all the strips are cut, they can be glued together, making sure the grain of the wood is alternated to prevent the wood from warping.
Then all that's left is putting on the finishing touches. I run both edges through the joiner to make sure I have a flat, straight edge and then through the planer to get it down to the desired thickness.
Now I am almost ready to use the scroll saw to work on my fretwork. Once the pattern is selected, spray art glue is used to lightly spray the back of the pattern and place it on the finished board. When adhered to the wood, holes are drilled for every place where scroll saw blade access is needed. The clock shown only needed 21 holes drilled, but I have done some designs where over 300 holes were needed to complete the fretwork piece. Depending on the scroll saw that you use, it is fairly quick to detach the top of the blade and insert it from the bottom of your workpiece so you can begin to cut. Delta has a handy quick release blade chuck that will also work on some other brands of saws.
One of the nice results of using a scroll saw and doing fretwork, is that there is very little sanding that needs to be done. There is some mainly on the back and a little in the corners depending on how you do them. The blade that you use will also determine how much sanding is needed on your inner cuts. My preference is the Olson Double-Tooth, Skipped Tooth blade; it seems to stay a little cooler which means it lasts a little longer. One thing you don't want to use is a dull blade, as it is really hard to stay on your lines with a dull blade, and sometimes you don't have a lot of room for veering off lines. Once the piece is sanded to your satisfaction and glued together, all that is left if putting on the finish. I prefer the natural grain and color of the wood, so I usually use a semi-clear gloss coating, which really enhances the natural grain.
It is really great to start out with a piece of rough cut lumber and end up with a fretwork keepsake. I demonstrated the scroll saw for A-Line Machine and Tool at some workshops they had on woodworking. I discovered this hobby is enjoyed by all ages. I had kids as young as 9 years old up to 90 years old come in and want some tips on scroll sawing. There are a lot of personal preferences when it comes to doin fretwork including the machine and blades used, cuts of wood or types of materials, or what finish is used on their art. Once most people that try it they love using the scroll saw and doing fretwork.
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