Applying Scroll Saw Patterns

Are You New To The Scroll Saw Hobby?

For many of us who have been scroll sawing for any length of time, applying the pattern to the wood has become second nature. When we began scroll sawing, we learned to apply the pattern one way or another and for many of us, we are still using that same method today. 
But as I speak to many people that are new to scroll sawing, I realize that to those who are just beginning to work on the scroll saw, applying the pattern can be a bit confusing and intimidating. Even for those of us who have been scrolling for a long time, it is helpful to learn of other ways to successfully apply patterns.  Having several good choices makes it much easier to find a way that is most comfortable for us, and makes our scrolling much more pleasurable.

Scroll Saw Basket Pattern Example
Pattern #SLDK717 “Classic Collection ‘Strata’ Basket”

Because of the exacting nature of scroll sawing, it is not recommended that patterns be hand-traced onto the wood using a pencil or tracing paper.  The slightest movement of the pattern, or even the act of tracing on the wood itself could move the line just enough to weaken an area or make it difficult to cut. I think that the general consensus is that the best way to apply the pattern is to print a copy of it first and then adhere that copy directly to the wood.  While that may sound like a straight forward and simple process, there are many variations that can be used.  Depending on your project and what supplies are available to you in your area, you may find that one choice or another is preferable.

In this article, I will give an overview of several of the most popular methods used in applying patterns.  While I realize that there are several additional ways to accomplish this, I will concentrate on what seems to be the most popular methods for most.  Who knows? You may find that by trying a new way to apply patterns will make your scroll sawing even more fun and relaxing.

Spray Adhesive

One of the most popular ways of adhering the pattern to the wood is by using a spray adhesive.  The adhesive comes in a can, and is usually available in the glue section of your supply store.  There are many different types of spray adhesive on the market, ranging from temporary to permanent bond types. Which one you choose depends on several things.  Are you going to use tape under the pattern?  Are you doing intricate cutting that needs a really secure bond?  All these things can affect your decision greatly.

In my own personal experience, I have had a great deal of success with this method.  However, before applying the pattern to the wood, I cover the piece with a layer of blue painters’ tape.

Spray Adhesives
Some common spray adhesives

Why Also Use Tape Under The Pattern?

What is the reason behind using the tape on your wood?

In this case, the answer is twofold: The adhesive in the tape lubricates the scroll saw blade when you are cutting. As a result, the blade stays cooler and burning the wood is pretty much eliminated. Many people apply the pattern directly to the wood and then follow it with a layer of clear packaging tape over the pattern. This accomplishes the same thing. Only I find that when applying the blue tape to the wood piece first, it doesn’t matter if you go a bit heavy on the spray adhesive, as the pattern will never directly touch the wood itself. This allows you to use a generous amount of adhesive and still be able to remove the pattern cleanly and completely, without leaving any residue behind.

Dry-Fit The Scroll Saw Pattern
Dry-fit your pattern to get an idea of the area you need to cover with tape.

The steps for applying the pattern this way are as follows:

  • Cut out a copy of your pattern pieces and ‘dry-fit’ them to your board.
  • Apply a layer of blue painter’s tape over the entire face of your board.
  • Spray a misting of adhesive to the backs of your scroll saw pattern. Use an empty box lid or something similar to place the pattern in when spraying to catch the over spray. I use large pizza boxes. I can then line the bottom of them with a sheet of paper when it eventually gets gummy from the adhesive.
  • Allow the pieces to ‘tack up’ a bit by waiting a few seconds. The beauty of using tape on your wood first, is that it doesn’t matter if the adhesive bonds too strongly.
  • Apply the pattern to the board.

Applying Masking Tape Under Pattern
Lay down a layer of tape.

The blue painter’s tape is great because it removes cleanly even if it is left in place a number of days. There is no residue left behind to interfere with your finishing process and it peels up without much of a problem once you are done cutting. Many people use this popular method. 

Many people put the packaging tape directly on the wood and avoid using the blue painter’s tape completely.  I find that it is much more difficult to remove the clear tape from the wood after cutting than the blue tape, but the choice is yours.

Apply The Scroll Saw Pattern Over The Tape
Apply the scroll saw pattern over the tape.

Double-Sided Masking Tape

Using double sided masking tape (sometimes referred to as “dropcloth tape”) makes things even easier. It is a great method for those who don’t want to use a messy spray or have to worry about timing things right when allowing the spray to set. It is quite a “foolproof” method and works well every time. The pattern is held on nicely, even with the most intricate of designs, and when it is time to remove it, the tape comes of fast and clean, without damaging your delicate cuttings.

Using double sided tape couldn’t be simpler. Following are the easy steps:

  • Cut out a copy of your pattern pieces and ‘dry-fit’ them to your board.
  • Apply a layer of double-sided masking tape over the entire face of your board.
  • Peel off the protective backing from the tape.
  • Apply the pattern over the tape.
Double-Sided Masking Tape
Painter’s Mate has this new tape that should work for this purpose. Their older green “dropcloth” tape can no longer be found in stores.

I find this method to be clean, quick and the pattern stays put – even with the most intricate cutting. When I am finished cutting, the pattern peels off quickly and neatly, leaving no residue whatsoever. I really like this way of applying the pattern a lot, and it is quickly becoming my favorite way to do so.

One of the few drawbacks of using double sided tape is that it is sometimes difficult to locate. Initially, I had a bit of trouble finding it here in Canada, and I also had trouble locating it for a reasonable price in the United States. I did finally locate it at both the Home Depot and Home Hardware here and I understand that Ace Hardware carried it in the USA.

Another drawback for some is that they feel that it is a bit more costly than the spray adhesive method. But if you consider that you no longer need to purchase spray adhesive, nor deal with the mess, you will see that the cost is very comparable. I prefer this method because it takes the guess work out of applying the pattern, and eliminates the over spray and odor associated with the spray adhesives.

Full Sheet Adhesive Labels

Another method that I have had some success with was to print the pattern directly on full sheet (8.5″ x 11″) adhesive labels.  This is also a quick and simple way to apply the pattern cleanly and neatly and be assured that it stays put while cutting.

When using this method, no additional tape is necessary, as the adhesive in the labels themselves helps lubricate the blade and prevents burning.  This makes it a both economical and effective method.

To use this method, you only need to print the pattern out on the label and peel the backing off and apply it to your wood piece.  When you are done cutting your wood out, just peel the pattern off.  Again it is fast and easy to do.

Full Sheet Labels
Full sheet adhesive labels are another option.

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when using this method though. Sometimes it isn’t always possible to efficiently print out your pattern on the label sheet.  In order to do this, you need to have the pattern somehow stored on your computer in digital form, or the original pattern set up so that it can be printed on a standard 8.5″ x 11″ sheet.  While some pattern companies (like Sheila Landry Designs) offer digital patterns, for larger patterns or patterns such as the ones here in the magazine, you would first need to scan the patterns into your computer and then print them out on the label sheet.  This may or may not cause a problem and you could result in wasting a bit of the labels if the pieces aren’t placed efficiently.

There is also the issue of removing the label cleanly. The difficulty in doing this could vary greatly depending on the brand of label you choose. While I have had a lot of success with some brands, there are others that hold on a great deal more to the wood and it was a bit of a process removing the pattern/label from the pieces. I have been told by some of my customers that if this happens, they use a warm air hair dryer and warm the labels and they remove much easier. In my own case, I used a small paring knife and gently scraped off the pattern.  It was however, a bit tedious.  When using subsequent labels from the brand I had, I blotted the back of them with a cloth to ‘de-stick’ them a bit and then they worked fine. Again, it is something that you need to learn by trial and error.

Overall, for certain applications, I thought this method worked fine. But when I was not able to print my pattern efficiently, I chose to use the double-sided tape method.

Glue Sticks

Several of my customers told me that they like to use glue sticks to apply their scroll saw patterns. I am not referring to hot glue, rather the glue sticks that are available in swivel sticks that are available in the school supply section of your store.

To use the glue sticks, simply apply them to the back of the patterns and then the patterns to the wood.  They hold great, and when it is time to remove them, they come off  quickly and cleanly, and any residue left behind can be wiped easily away with a damp cloth.

When using this method, I would also apply a layer of clear packaging tape over the pattern or a layer of painter’s tape underneath it to prevent burning.  I don’t think that the glue stick alone will work as well against heat buildup in the blade and I would use the additional tape as a precaution.  Since most of these types of glue sticks are water-based, they leave the wood clean and don’t interfere with any finishing process you may choose to follow up with after you are done cutting. I think it is a great alternative to the other methods above.

Glue Stick
A glue stick can work in a pinch.


I am sure that there are other ways of applying the patterns to the wood effectively, but these four methods that are mentioned here seem to be the most popular among most scroll saw hobbyists. In speaking with my customers and fellow woodworkers, I was surprised that many of them had only heard of one or two of these, and I thought that we could all benefit from sharing this information.

We all know how frustrating it can be when we apply the pattern incorrectly and it begins to loosen up during the cutting process. Not only is it dangerous, as our attention is taken away from the moving blade, but it can cause us to mis-cut and ruin our pieces trying to hold patterns in place as they are flapping.

Conversely, it is just as frustrating to have a pattern that is cemented onto a delicate fretwork piece because we didn’t apply it properly. It can be quite disheartening to successfully cut a project out, only to break it when removing the pattern. I believe that many of us have experienced that from time to time and know how aggravating it can be.

Hopefully you will try some of these alternative methods the next time you scroll a project. Perhaps you will find a way to apply the pattern that is much more to your liking than the way you are presently doing so. It will make your scrolling just that much more relaxing and fun.

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