Scroll Saw vs Laser Cutter – Which Is Right for You?

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A scroll saw and a laser cutter are both useful tools for cutting wood and other materials. However, there are quite a few differences and some might even say that the scroll saw is becoming obsolete. While it’s true that a laser cutter can provide more speed and accuracy, the scroll saw still has its place in the workshop.

While there are lots of differences between the two, one thing in common is that they are both handy for cutting out intricate patterns and templates. In this article, I will be looking at both of these tools used for cutting wood. Both can cut numerous types of materials but wood is one of the most popular materials that is often cut by either machine.

Scroll Saw vs Laser Cutter

You can produce some amazing results with either! It’s a matter of personal preference over whether you want to be more involved in the cutting process or would rather have technology take over and do the work for you.

Let’s look at some of the main pros and cons of each and discuss what type of work each excels at.

Scroll Saw

The Advantages of Using a Scroll Saw

1) Lower Initial Cost

If you are looking to purchase a scroll saw, you can find one for an affordable price ranging from the low $100s up into the thousands for a high-quality, professional model. Most hobbyists do not need an expensive scroll saw so one in the $100 – $300 range will suffice in most cases.

Even a higher quality DeWalt scroll saw, which is known to be one of the better options on the market, will cost substantially less than some of the entry-level laser cutters on the market.

This is important for those who are only hobbyists and looking to cut something out occasionally rather than using it full-time for production work. The more capable the saw, the more expensive it will be. However, a scroll saw doesn’t always see a lot of action and often finds itself sitting in the corner of a workshop and only being occasionally used.

2) You Can Cut Thicker Materials With Ease

A scroll saw allows you to cut materials as thick as an inch and a half and possibly even more. This allows you to create items using thicker wood than you would be able to with a typical laser-cutting machine. Consumer-grade laser cutters aren’t designed to cut thick materials. You can use multiple passes to cut thicker pieces of wood but this doesn’t always work well, depending on the type of wood.

Most laser tools on the market are great for cutting wood up to about a quarter-inch or so, depending on the type of wood used. For wood that is thicker than that, it will likely be better to use a scroll saw.

While a laser cutter is tempting due to its hands-off approach to cutting material, thicker wood will almost always require that you opt for the scroll saw.

3) No Radiation From Laser

A scroll saw is a fairly safe tool to use. There is no need to wear laser safety glasses or protect your eyesight from any radiation that a laser exposes you to. While a laser cutter is also very safe, if you follow all the rules, it can be dangerous if you opt to ignore safety precautions.

Many laser machines will require that you wear specific glasses that are intended to block the radiation that can be damaging to the eyes while it is operating. With a scroll saw you may opt to wear safety glasses but in general, a scroll saw isn’t projecting materials that would damage eyesight.

It’s always a good idea to wear safety glasses or goggles to avoid fine dust particles getting into your eyes but there is no need to worry about your retinas being burned from laser radiation as you are using the scroll saw.

4) No Charred Edges

One of the biggest distinguishing marks of a laser-cut product is the charred edges. You can always tell when something was cut with a laser by noticing the fine crisp edges that have a darkened edge to them. This can be an attractive feature but also distract from some types of cuttings that you are trying to do. I don’t always like to have these types of edges on my products and will often opt for the scroll saw to avoid this.

Clean edges on scroll saw cut wood
Clean, smooth edges when cut on a scroll saw

A scroll saw will generally give you a smooth cut edge that can be sanded smoothly without showing these dark edges. Since a laser cutter works by burning through the material, you are left with burned edges. It’s great if you specifically want this look or will be painting over it.

NOTE: the image above was taken from my snowman scroll saw pattern which can be downloaded for free.

5) No Ventilation Required

When you use a scroll saw, you won’t need to worry about ventilation for smoke to be removed from the air. A laser cutter produces a lot of smoke and will require some sort of air purification or ventilation for usage. Many people have laser cutters in their homes so being able to remove the smoke created is essential.

With a scroll saw, you will only be left with fine dust particles in the air. You can combat these dust particles by using a simple mask that filters out everything as you work and allows you to breathe fresh clean air.

6) Patterns Are Easy To Find

Scroll saw patterns are easy to find and readily available for nearly anything you can imagine. There are lots of free patterns as well as premium patterns that can be found on the Internet. These are easy to use and only require you to print them out and place them on the material that you would like to cut. No software knowledge or technical knowledge is required.

7) Non-technical So Anyone Can Use It

There is not much technology to learn with a scroll saw. While there is a learning curve to achieving great results, you won’t need to learn software programs or intricacies of different machines as you would with laser cutters.

Basic scroll saw on stand

A scroll saw works the same no matter what type or brand you have. Essentially, it’s a blade that goes up and down and cuts as you push and pull material through it. It’s about as simple as you can get with a power tool but allows you to create some very detailed pieces of work.

Whether you are a computer whiz or not, it doesn’t matter. A scroll saw can be used by anyone no matter how much technical skill they have or don’t have.

8) It’s One of the Safest Power Tools

A scroll saw is one of the safest power tools that you will find. The nature of the saw and how it cuts lends itself to being an overall safe way to cut materials in your workshop. It is possible to cut or injure yourself while using it, but it is highly unlikely if you follow safety procedures and are careful as you would be with any type of power tool.

The Disadvantages of Using a Scroll Saw

1) Requires Human Mastery

You’ll need to practice to become proficient in creating masterpieces with the scroll saw. While it’s a fairly simple process to cut materials with the scroll saw, it does have a learning curve to be able to cut smooth and straight lines and stay within the confines of a pattern.

Compare this to a laser cutter in which you send the instructions to the computer on the laser cutter and it takes care of the rest. There is no need to practice cutting straight lines or turning 90° as you would have to learn with a scroll saw.

The laser machine does it all for you whereas the scroll saw requires YOU to be the expert. Therefore, there is often visible human error in a finished scroll saw cutout.

2) A Scroll Saw Takes Longer to Cut Detailed Patterns

Since you will have to do it all yourself with a scroll saw, it will likely take longer to cut out a pattern. Some large intricate patterns could take hours to cut whereas it may take a laser cutter only minutes to cut depending on the machine and power of the laser you are using.

Some see scrolling as a type of therapy and enjoy the process of sitting in front of the saw and cutting out a pattern. Personally, I enjoy this process and often choose to use a scroll saw for a project rather than cutting it out with a laser. It depends on your time constraints and your preferences.

3) Not as Accurate as a Laser Cutter

Since the scroll saw relies on human expertise, there will be plenty of human error along the way. Your final product won’t be as accurate of a cutting as it would with a laser cutter. However, you can get darn near the same outcome once you have achieved competency in using the scroll saw.

Ending up with a product that isn’t 100% accurate is often preferred as it shows character and comes with more satisfaction in the end. Mishaps are often easy to correct by sanding after the fact so it usually isn’t a problem unless you need to be super exact with the outcome.

4) A Scroll Saw Creates Dust

A laser cutter will create smoke but a scroll saw will create a lot of dust. While you won’t have the typical sawdust that you may find with other power tools such as a table saw, circular saw, or jigsaw, you will end up with finely powdered sawdust that will coat everything within the vicinity of your work area.

This is why it’s important to wear a mask at all times when using a scroll saw as it produces lots of fine dust that isn’t so easy to see as you are using it.

You won’t see any dust with a laser cutter but as mentioned earlier, this dust is all replaced with smoke that will have to be dealt with.

Laser Cutter

What Are the Advantages of a Laser Cutter?

1) You Can Make Perfect Cuts

If you are looking for accurate and precise cuts, a laser cutter will serve you well. Laser cutters are deadly accurate and can produce some beautiful cuts that are exact replicas of what you see on your computer screen. If you are using a template, the finished product will look exactly like the template that you see and will not have variations or mishaps that you might see if a scroll saw was used.

2) No Work Required, Just Watch It Happen

While the template is being cut, you can simply stand back and watch, as long as you’re wearing your safety laser glasses. Unlike the work required from a scroll saw, a laser cutter only requires you to do the work on your computer software and once that is finished, it will take over the actual work of cutting the material.

It’s a hands-off solution for the most part and since no human is involved, you will end up with a perfect copy every time.

Laser cutter cutting out perfect hearts

3) No Messy Sawdust

A laser machine can easily be installed inside a home or anywhere you have a little extra space. Most popular cutters on the market, come with a way to ventilate or purify the air so that smoke is contained or driven out of the work area. Since there is no sawdust, you won’t have a dirty workspace once everything is set up to be ventilated as it should be.

4) You Can Cut Things Quickly

If you are looking to make quick cuts, a laser cutter is your best friend. They are perfect for production-style work that requires the same thing to be cut out over and over. They make quick work of most projects and certainly much quicker than you could achieve with a scroll saw.

As long as the material you are cutting lies within the capabilities of the laser cutter you are using, the speed and accuracy that you will achieve cannot be matched with a scroll saw.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Laser Cutter?

1) The Technology Is More Difficult to Learn

Laser cutters are amazing with what they can accomplish but they do have a learning curve in order to maximize the results you get. Rather than simply placing your material on a scroll saw and cutting it out, software is needed to run a laser cutter. If you have never worked with these types of software before, there will be a learning curve and since everyone learns at a different pace, some will have a harder time than others.

Of course, there are numerous tutorials and helpful videos available online but just know that you will need to learn the ins and outs of whatever software you will be using with your laser cutting machine.

2) More Expensive Than a Scroll Saw

The initial cost of a laser machine is usually more expensive than a scroll saw. This is all dependent on the type and model that you purchase but in general, you can expect to pay more in upfront costs for a laser machine. On top of that, you may also need to purchase software such as Lightburn in which to operate the machine.

Some scroll saws can also get quite expensive but these are top-of-the-line models. The most popular scroll saws on the market are much less in price than a basic laser cutting and engraving machine.

3) A Laser Cutter Can’t Cut Thicker Materials

If you are wanting to cut thick materials such as three-quarter inch wood or thicker, a scroll saw is going to be the better option. While a basic home laser machine may be able to cut through thicker materials with multiple passes, you will probably end up with a charred mess on your hands in the end.

A laser is ideal for materials that are about a quarter inch thick or less. Some of the more powerful laser machines will be able to handle thicker material but a scroll saw will do a much cleaner job of it.

4) A Laser Cutter Leaves Charred Edges

Laser cut snowman with black edges

A laser cutter works by burning the material that it is cutting through. In the end, this will leave a charred edge if you are cutting wooden material. This isn’t always ideal but can be a desirable result in some cases. While the scroll saw will leave you with a clean edge, a laser cutter will require some cleanup if you want to remove or lessen the darkened effect on the edges of the finished product.

5) Laser Cutters Produce a Lot of Smoke

If you do not have plans to ventilate your laser machine, you will be introducing a lot of smoke into your work area. It’s important to set your laser machine up in a place that can be easily vented. Many people have placed these machines in their homes with no problem but just know that ventilation is required and often an additional expense to the overall start-up cost that you will need.

What Is a Scroll Saw Best For?

A scroll saw is perfect for those who work with thicker materials and enjoy the challenge of creating with their own two hands. It’s great for those who love the thrill of cutting out a template and enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor in the end.

It’s quite a satisfying journey to make cuts and end up with a great result, knowing that you persevered through the project and got it done with your own two hands!

It’s for those who need to make intricate cuts occasionally and do not want the expense of a laser setup. A scroll saw takes more skill to use and in the end, you are able to create unique pieces that show the work of human hands. Scroll saw projects have character and it’s a fun tool to have in the workshop.

What Is a Laser Cutter Best For?

A laser cutter is best for those who create projects regularly and need something that can produce fast results. It’s also for those who need precise cuts and work with thinner materials. It’s a great tool that allows you to “set it and forget it” once you have figured out the intricacies of the software and the machine that you are using.

Technical-minded people who can design patterns in software and then have the machine do the work will love using a laser cutter.

It’s also great for achieving those dark charred edges that often look great on specific types of projects. With a laser, the sky is the limit and whether you are purchasing for your own use or you want to start a business by creating unique projects to sell, a laser cutter allows you to scale your operation and become a business much quicker than a scroll saw could.

Bottom Line

Either tool is great for creating a variety of projects. You may think that the scroll saw has become obsolete since laser cutting has taken center stage in today’s world. With the cost and ease of use improving, one might be confused as to why a scroll saw would be necessary any longer.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand some of the differences and some of the reasons that a scroll saw is still a very valuable tool when compared to a laser cutting machine.

A scroll saw has a lot of great uses and is still a relevant tool for a woodworker dealing with small detailed projects. A laser machine is a no-brainer in some situations and will be the better tool but in the end, both of them have their place and it’s a matter of preference as well as the type of work you are doing and the speed and accuracy that you need to be able to achieve it.