Cutting intricate curves, angles, and shapes into wood is often a hobbyist’s favorite craft! There are different tools used for creating details in wood but the most common is the saw. With so many options now including CNC you may be wondering to yourself, ‘what is the best saw to use for cutting shapes out of wood?’
The best saw for cutting shapes out of wood is the scroll saw. A scroll saw can cut very intricate shapes, get inside small corners and has a blade that can easily be taken off and threaded into tight areas to begin cutting. Jigsaws and band saws are also good for cutting out wooden shapes and patterns if what you are cutting is not as detailed.
Now that you know there are five main types of saws used for cutting shapes out of wood, let’s explore this in more detail below. We will look at each saw individually and discuss how, why and when it is used.
For those looking for a saw with power and one that can make quick work of shapes like the example picture below (and won’t break the bank), we like the WEN 16 inch variable speed listed here on Amazon. You can’t go wrong with the scroll saw which we go over in more detail in this article.
Ok, one more thing, albeit, different than a saw we briefly go over the growing popularity of CNC‘s. So, if you plan on cutting any quantity of shapes for the woodcraft projects you plan on making money with, this may be something to look into.
Best Manual Saws for Cutting Wood Shapes
There are five types of saws that work great for cuttings shapes out of wood. These include the following:
A coping saw is a type of hand saw that has a narrow blade stretched across a U-shaped frame. It is used mainly for small DIY projects that require fine external cuts on wood. Tradesmen such as carpenters often use coping saws for molding cuts.
This saw is good for those who prefer not to use motorized tools. The blade can be removed and threaded through a hole in the wood which allows for intricate cuts in the center of the wood while trying to avoid cutting through the outer edges.
If you are looking for an inexpensive coping saw that has great reviews check out this Irwin 6.50 inch pro touch here on our Amazon affiliate. It is inexpensive, has good ratings and will definitely get you started on your smaller projects.
A fret saw is another hand-held type that can handle tighter curves and better angles than a coping saw. It is great for small, delicate projects that require tiny, intricate detailing. Because of its longer frame, it is better than the coping saw at cutting further away from the edge of the wood.
This saw can also be used to cut through plastic and metals and it has a cylindrical handle that can be turned freely in the hand, allowing you greater control over the cuts you make. Also excellent for cutting dovetails.
When it comes to fretting saws, we give the nod to Knew concepts albeit expensive but number one rated Fret Saw again listed here on Amazon. Knew Concepts 5″ Woodworker’s Fret Saw
Best Powered Saws For Cutting Wood Shapes
A jigsaw is one of the most popular saws used for woodwork crafts. Its cost of entry is much more affordable than the other two saws I have listed below. The Jigsaw that I personally recommend is the Black & Decker Smart Select Jigsaw
It can cut curves and patterns along a drawn-out line quickly and efficiently. The one downside, however, is that this saw’s blades can bend with pressure often causing a cut to be angled instead of squared. To avoid this, you must never force the blade through a cut but rather keep it very sharp and let the blade itself do the work!
I can tell you from experience and frustration that you need to let the powered hand tool do the work. Yes, you must apply force to guide the jigsaw however, that’s where you should stop. It doesn’t take much to snap a blade or mess up the wood.
Another benefit of not pressing too hard when using a jigsaw is your wrist won’t get sore as easily. You will be able to cut shapes for hours when you let the saw do the work.
Beveled edges are easy with a jigsaw but cutting angles and curves cleanly and concisely usually take time and practice. Practice, practice and practice some more! As easy as it seems to use a jigsaw, you won’t be a pro right off the bat. So don’t expect that. Once you master this saw, you will have a ton of things you can do.
- Tip: You can use a jigsaw similar to a scroll saw if you have a fine enough blade. As with a scroll saw, you use a drill to make a hole in the wood where you want to cut your design using a jigsaw. You just might not be able to cut as intricate work as a scroll saw. On larger cuts, a jigsaw will do just fine.
A band saw operates on a loop with a continuous blade that is powered by wheels and a motor. It can be used to cut different types of materials including wood, plastic and metal. Because the blade runs on a loop, it prevents ‘threading’ which is needed for internal cuts.
- One thing to be aware of if you are purchasing a band saw is the distance between the blade and the body of the saw matters. The average homeowner hobbyist will purchase a 9” or 10” size band saw. This works great for smaller to medium-sized projects. Let me explain further.
- When cutting shapes on a band saw, you are turning and maneuvering the wood while you cut. If the wood is quite large, it will hit up against the body of the saw, stopping you from cutting everywhere you want. If you have a larger saw (let’s say a 17”) then you probably won’t have this problem. Unfortunately, the price jumps quite a bit for these larger floor model band saws. I have a tip, however, especially if you are cutting plywood or a similar type of wood.
- Tip: if you are cutting plywood and find the wood is too large for your saw, here’s what you should do. Use a template and draw it on both sides of the wood. This allows you to flip the wood over and so far, I have had 100% success with this trick. I am able to make all of the cuts I want on a 7” tabletop band saw.
Band saws are good for cutting curves into the wood, especially when using a mounted thinner blade. However, most jobs that a band saw can do, a scroll saw can do even better!
A scroll saw is similar to a fret saw except that it is motorized. This saw uses a narrow blade to cut intricate details into wood such as curves and patterns. The blade can be removed and then changed through a pre-drilled hole which is especially good for internal cuts. The Scroll Saw that I’m recommending is the WEN 3921 16-inch Two-Direction Scroll Saw
This saw is one of the best on the market for doing fine cuts in wood. It can carve dovetail joints with ease and when the fine blade is used, this saw is practically unbeatable!
Among the most reliable and affordable brands on the market include Dewalt listed here on Amazon, at a very modest price. Even if you have more money than this cost to spend on a saw, I would say start with one of these until you get the hang of using one.
- Something to consider when purchasing: as with a band saw, the distance between the blade and the arm of the machine makes a difference on how large of a piece of wood you will be able to cut.
- You will find most scroll saws come anywhere between a 16” to 20” throw or distance between the blade and the body. Buy the larger one, if you can afford it.
- To make your life even easier, consider a stand made for scroll saws. You could easily make one and if you do, do yourself a favor and build it so that the saw tips towards you slightly. This will allow you to sit while you use the scroll saw. Believe me, once you get into this hobby you will want to sit when you start with patterns that have hundreds of tiny cuts to make.
A CNC router or computer numerical machine is a highly-precise tool that is computer-controlled and makes repeated movements that are extremely accurate. The X-Carve is a type of ‘Inventable’ that uses software to create 3D carvings and designs in wood.
There are different versions available for purchase online through Amazon.com such as the Genmitsu CNC 3018-Pro Router. It is an ‘Amazon choice pick’, well-rated (4.0/5 overall). If you are new to the CNC game you may want to start out with a smaller version to get your feet wet.
If you enjoy working with wood and the feeling of satisfaction you get from it, you should really think about this before purchasing a CNC router. Yes, these machines are very cool and can do so much. You won’t be cutting it yourself, however. The machine does it instead. You program the design, set the wood in place and run the machine. If that works for you, then great, this is the machine to buy!
If you feel you want to experience cutting the wood yourself, then consider that before buying. I am not trying to discourage you from getting a CNC, as I feel they are a great machine to own, as long as you know what to expect when running one.
How Do You Cut Curves in Wood? [Which Saw?]
The best saw for cutting curves in wood is either a band saw or a scroll saw. A jigsaw can be used as well but if the curve is gradual, a jigsaw will not cut as smoothly.
Although I wouldn’t recommend a rookie try this, a circular saw can also be used to cut curves in wood as well, if necessary. It is a hand-held type that is sometimes referred to as a ‘skill-saw’.
To cut curves in wood having a template or pattern to follow, transcribed onto the wood is the best and the easiest way to get the job done. Good lighting and safety glasses are also important.
How Do You Cut Curves With a Jigsaw?
If a jigsaw is the only tool you have, you can still use it to cut curves in wood. To begin, simply follow these steps:
- Begin with a piece of wood that is up to ¾ inches thick for hardwood or 1 and ½ inches think for softwood.
- Press the saw shoe firmly onto the wood with the blade far enough away from the edge.
- Turn on the saw and guide it along the outside of the cutting line (your transcribed pattern).
- Move the saw at a pace that allows the blade to do the work with you basically guiding it. You do not want the motor to labor.
- To make a ‘plunge’ cut, start in the center of the wood and tip the jigsaw so that the blade is parallel to the piece and the weight of the saw is resting on the front of the shoe. Start the motor on high speed, tilt the shoe and lower the blade into the wood. Alternatively, you could drill a hole and place the blade in the hole to start cutting.
- To prevent the saw from binding on tight curves, use relief cuts to get rid of waste.
- Remember to use proper safety equipment when working with power tools. Earplugs, safety glasses, a dust mask and possibly steel-toes shoes are recommended. Gloves, however, should not be worn as they cause a sensory loss in your fingertips and may affect your gripping ability.
Jigsaws are good for cutting curves and complex shapes into the wood with practice. They can also make crosscuts on board as well as finish inside corner cuts that were originally started with a circular saw. They are not good, however, for fast cuts or for long, straight cuts. For this, a circular saw should be used instead.
How to Make a Plywood Reindeer (or other characters) Using a Jigsaw?
Cutting shapes out of wood is easy to do with a jigsaw. With the holiday season fast approaching, why not try your luck at making a plywood reindeer? These basic instructions should be enough to get you started on a simple project. Once you do this and see just how easy it is you will be hooked and will be making all kinds of things with your jigsaw.
The necessary supplies and steps for this project include the following:
Step One – Create a Template
Go online and find an outdoor wooden reindeer template and print it off. Cut out the individual pieces using a utility knife or scissors.
Step Two – Trace-Out the Parts
Use a spray adhesive or painters tape and attach the paper templates to the plywood and trace-out the parts with a marker.
Step Three – Cut-Out the Parts
Put the plywood across two sawhorses and cut out the parts using a jigsaw. Clamp the pieces to the workbench and cut-out the notches.
Step Four – Sand the Parts
Sand the cut-out pieces to smooth any rough edges.
Step Five – Paint the Parts
Using exterior spray paint, color the pieces and allow them to dry completely.
Step Six – Assemble the Parts
Put the reindeer together using a drill and exterior screws. Place it outside in the front or back yard.
How Do You Cut Kerfs in Wood?
Kerfs refer to the width of a cut made by a saw blade when it cuts through a piece of wood. It is the ability to make several cuts along with a piece of wood that is the width of the sawblade. Hand-held saws often work best for kerf cuts but you can also use a circular to do the job.
Can You Use a Router to Cut Shapes in Wood?
While you can use a router to cut shapes in wood, it is not used in the same manner as a saw, take a jigsaw, for example. The router needs to be used in conjunction with a jig or pattern, except in the case of edgework where it will use a trim bit as a guide bearing. A jigsaw, however, is often used freehand.
In conclusion, there are different types of tools used to cut designs and shapes into wood. The most popular is the saw and various styles from hand-held to electrical are utilized. The choice on which one to use is dependent upon the type of wood involved, the intricacy of the design and your skill level or comfort zone.
Good luck, fellow hobbyists and happy woodworking!