How to Make a Scroll Saw Box

Updated 10/1/2020

To explain how I learned how to make a scroll saw box, we would need to go back a ways. Christmas of 2018, to be exact. Here’s how it went down…

The scroll saw is one tool that I thought that I would never want or need.  I know, can you believe it? A tool that I didn’t want?

Would somebody please check the Weather Channel and confirm that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over?

A little over a year ago, Wood Magazine featured a scroll saw project that my wife saw and wanted right away.  Well, I told her that I didn’t have the right tool to do that type of work. 

Needless to say, she had heard that song and dance before. But I explained to her that the intricate inside fret cuts required a special type of saw- a scroll saw.  Christmas came along and Santa brought me a Ryobi 16″ Variable Speed Scrollsaw. 

I gave it a shot and was thoroughly disappointed with the results.  A buddy at work had been scrolling for some time and he always had great results with his scroll saw projects. He showed me how to make a scroll saw box.

And now, after many fumbling attempts, I’ve got it down. So today, I’ll show you how to make a scroll saw box!

First, Get Your Supplies

My friend recommended that I get some Flying Dutchman blades, so I ordered some.

What a difference.  Since then, I have upgraded to a Delta 40-694 scroll saw mostly due to the ease of blade changes.  The quick clamp blade clamp and the easy-to-use tension lever makes a lot of difference when doing fretwork.

But I wanted to go a step beyond simple scrollwork.  I wanted to combine scrolling with my other woodworking.  Inlaid boxes were the natural next step. 

After a few false starts, I stumbled upon a system that works pretty well for me.

1) Assemble the Box

The first step is to make the scroll saw boxes themselves and I like finger-jointed boxes.  Mitered boxes, or butt jointed ones or dovetailed boxes would work just as well. 

I also cut a dado for the bottom of the box to float in.  No glue there, and I use cedar for the bottom, resaw to about 1/4″. 

A great smell, renewed by a slight sanding every now and then.  Also, protect from moths if someone were to store some hankies or such in the box.

Once the box is assembled and glued up, I run it through the planer, first the top edge, then the bottom.  This takes care of any slight problems from the glue-up.

2) Drill the Starter Holes

I also lay out and drill the holes for the mini-barrel hinges at this point.  I generally mark the centers for the holes about 1/4″ from the inside edge of the back of the box.  I use a 5mm brad point bit in the drill press for this.

Then I start work on the top.  Using the same type of wood as the sides, and as often as possible, a piece from the same board, I resaw this into two pieces, one of which is approximately 3/16″. 

This gives me a bit to plane down to remove saw marks.  You could sand it down smooth as well if you prefer.

Using the thin cheap double sided carpet tape, I attach the contrasting piece for the inlay to the 1/8″ thick piece of the lid.  The contrasting piece is also resawn, then planed to approximately 1/8″ thick. 

The pattern is then attached to the top of the contrasting inlay piece with temporary spray adhesive. 

Starter holes are then drilled through the workpieces with a wire gage drill bit of the appropriate size for the scroll saw blade to be used keeping in mind that with inlays there is no waste side of the cut.

3) Carefully Adjust the Scroll Saw

The table of the scroll saw is tilted at the appropriate angle, for two 1/8″ pieces and a number 5 Flying Dutchman Skip Tooth Reverse Blade, I tilt the table to about 4 1/2 degrees. 

I usually cut the outside peripheral cut first for inlays, as opposed to doing the inside cuts first for normal scrollwork

I cut with the teeth of the blade toward me so the inlay part of the top piece is kept on the downhill side of the table during the cut.  On my saw, that is the left side of the blade. 

Bearing in mind that there is no wasted side in inlay work, you can not back out of a tight “V” cut and spin the piece in the waste and back into the cut to come out with the tight “V”. 

You can, however, shut the saw off, unthread the blade, spin the piece 180 degrees (or thereabouts) and rethread the blade at the end of the cut into the “V” so that it is facing back out.

But this is very time consuming if you’ve got a lot of tight turns to make like if you’re doing the wings of a bird or the mane on a horse, etc. 

For those, I generally just spin the piece, keeping the turn as tight as I can. 

For larger inside cuts I keep the cutouts from the bottom piece to glue into the inlay piece. For very small ones, it is nearly impossible to do this, so I will fill those and the interior kerf cuts later on with a mix of sawdust and epoxy.

4) Work Back to the Line 

Keep in mind that if you wander off of the line on the pattern, you can not go back and recut at the line.  It’ll leave a big gap.  Just slowly work yourself back onto the line.

Once the scroll work is done, I’ve found it easier to just slip the top piece down into the cut made in the bottom piece with the pieces still taped. 

Then flip it over and carefully pry the piece from the inlay piece with a wide chisel, then remove any tape that stayed on the inlay. 

I like to use a bit more angle when cutting so that the inlaid piece drops in just proud of the field piece, then glue from the backside with yellow glue.

5) Let the Glue Dry

Once the glue sets up, I sand the inlay down flush to the field on the top.  I set the inlaid top aside after I’ve flood on some linseed oil, let it sit a few minutes, then wiped off the excess.  This pops the grain of both woods real nicely.

6) Mark the Back of the Scroll Saw Box and Remove the Clamps

Next, I mark the back of the box so I know where the hinge holes are located and glue the thicker piece from the resawn lid onto the top of the box. 

I use plenty of clamps and keep the glue well toward the outer perimeter to prevent squeeze-out on the inside.  Cleaning up dried squeezeout on the inside is difficult. 

Once the glue sets up, I remove the clamps and move to the table saw.  With the blade tilted at different angles, up to about 18 degrees max, I rough out the outside shape of the box. 

The “corners” of the rough cuts will be rounded later on the sander.  I also am careful not to remove too much on the backside where the hinges will be.  Once I have the basic rough shape I am looking for, I set up to cut the top off of the box. 

7) Set Up the Tall Fence

I install a tall fence onto the table saw fence and set the fence so that my cut will be just below the top finger of the sides of the box.  The blade height is set so that it cuts through the sides with a little bit to spare. 

Then, keeping the bottom of the box snug against the tall fence, I make the first cut all the way through. 

I then rotate the scroll saw box 90 degrees toward the front of the saw so that the kerf from the first cut is lined up with the blade. 

Again, still keeping the bottom against the fence, I make the second cut, and then the third side is cut the same way. 

Now I insert two shims the same thickness as my blade into the kerf from the cut on the sides adjacent to the final side.  These shims keep the lid from squeezing in onto the blade as the final cut is made. 

Again, keeping the bottom against the fence, I make the final pass to remove the lid.

8) Cut a Bevel into the Barrel Hinges

The miniature barrel hinges require that a bevel be cut into both the back of the lid and the back of the box to the center of the hinges to allow the lid to open.

I also like to add a finger grip to the front of the lid to facilitate opening the box.  This is done on the table saw with the rip fence.  I have marked the top dead center of the blade on my throat plate insert, and transferred the mark to my tall fence (which is still in place from cutting the lid off). 

By aligning the mark on the throat plate to that on the fence the fence is indexed to the throat plate and therefore to the blade.  I can then measure out the equal distance in front of and behind the mark on the fence and use those as guides.

I lift the blade up to about 2/3 the thickness of the lid, then with the lid against the blade I slide the fence over to the back side of the lid and snug down the micro adjuster to the fence rail. 

I lift out the lid, adjust the fence 1/8″ closer to the blade, then start the saw.  I lay the back edge of the lid against the fence with the front edge about centered, holding the front up at an angle, then slowly lower the front down onto the spinning blade. 

I then slide the lid back to where the edge closest to me is adjacent to the end mark on the fence, then slide it forward so that the far edge meets the mark at the far side of the fence. 

9) Clamp Stop Blocks if You’d Like

You could also clamp stop blocks at those points.  I feel comfortable doing it this way since I am not making a through cut, but others may feel differently. 

I keep a good grip on the lid, well away from the cut, and never in line with the blade.

10) Glue the Inlay

Now it is time to glue the inlay onto the lid.  Yellow wood glue and a bunch of clamps and cauls are used so that the glue line all but disappears. 

The lid piece originally cut a bit oversize, and the thick piece is trimmed after it is glued to the scroll saw box.  The inlay piece is a bit oversized after being glued on, and the excess is sanded off. 

I temporarily attach the lid by dry installing the lid so that the edges are all sanded flush to the side of the box.  The angle cuts that were made to rough out the shape of the box are also rounded off on the belt sander and any final tweaking to the shape is also done on the sander.

11) Mix Epoxy and Sawdust and Apply to the Kerfs and Voids

I then mix up some epoxy and sawdust from the wood used for the box and squeegie it into the kerfs and any voids in the inlay.  Once the epoxy mixture has set up (I use the five-minute epoxy, which is ready to sand in a half hour or so) I sand the top on the belt sander.

Finally, I sand the scroll saw box and the lid down to 220 grit using my palm sander and the finishing is begun.  I like to wipe on some linseed oil, then wet sand using 220 grit and thinned poly to work up a slurry which is then pushed into the grain using my squeegy. 

The squeegy is one of those rubber spatulas used for laying on auto body filler.  Wipe it off good before the epoxy or finish dries and one will last a long time.

Once the filler dries, I sand again with 220 and linseed oil or mineral spirits and then with 320 or 400 grit.  I then start laying on coats of poly thinned 50/50 with naphtha. 

The naphtha decreases the drying time and since you will need to apply about twice as many coats you want it to set up as fast as possible.  I plan on adding a page on finishing in the near future so won’t go into it here.

12) Install the Hinges

I complete the finishing (except for waxing) before installing the hinges.  The hinge holes may need to be deepened in the lid or the box or both, and the hinges fit real tight in the 5mm holes, especially after you’ve dripped finish into them, so I go ahead and drill them out again, then test fit the hinges into the holes dry. 

This makes the assembly go a bit smoother, as it stretches the holes a little so that the hinges go in easier when it is time to epoxy them in.

I would recommend that you get a 5mm drill bit, preferably a bradpoint since the next SAE size smaller makes it real tough to install the hinges, and the next size up is too big. 

I install mine using epoxy and with the longer side into the box.  I mix up the epoxy, dab a bit into all of the holes, then insert the longer side into the box and turn them so that the swivel part is approximately perpendicular to the back. 

I then slip the top section into the holes in the lid, close the box and squeeze the lid to the box so that the back of the lid and the top of the box come together.

13) Ensure the Bevels are Touching

I then open the scroll saw box so the bevels are touching.  This pulls the pins out just a bit for clearance to be able to open the box.

Wrapping it Up

I hope this guide proves helpful in showing you how to make a scroll saw box! I would have grabbed pictures for you, but the box now resides somewhere in my daughter Bailey’s black-hole of a dorm room at the University of Texas.

That’s all I got for today! Until next time, readers…keep on sawin’!