Enhancing Scroll Saw Projects with Color


Wood is such an incredible media to create with! I know of few other materials that have such a wide array of variation. There are literally thousands of different species of wood, each with its own unique characteristics. Wood offers a huge range of colors, textures and grain patterns and left its natural color, provides a infinite range of possibilities to make beautiful and distinctive projects. The natural color of wood can range from near white (Holly) to the darkest black (Ebony) and everything in between from orange (Padauk) to greenish (Poplar) to yellow (Yellow Heart) or even purple (Purple Heart). Why, then would we want to add color to wood?

Scroll Saw Eagle Pattern
Pattern #FL102 “Forest Leaf Eagle”

There are several reasons why we would want to change the natural color of the wood we use for our scroll saw projects:

  • Appearance: Even though there is a vast range of colors, perhaps we want to have our finished project a color that doesn’t come naturally to the wood we are choosing.
  • Availability: Many of the beautiful exotic woods are rare and difficult to find. If you happen to live away from a large metropolitan area, it could be very hard to find a certain species of wood that would happen to be the color you were looking for.
  • Cost: Even if you were able to find that exotic species of wood that would be exactly right for your project, you may find that not only would the cost of the wood itself be expensive, but also the cost to ship it to you.

Many Options For Coloring Scroll Saw Work

We are fortunate to live at a time where there are many viable options available for adding color to our wood. Many companies offer both oil-based and water-based stains and dyes which will change the appearance of the wood, without hiding the grain. Of course, you could always paint wood solidly, too if that is your preference. Many acrylic and oil based paints are made specifically for application onto wood and work very nicely. There are even environmentally safe stains that have no odor and will not raise the grain. The best thing to do is to experiment with different products and you will find which ones are most appealing to you.

Strawberry Vector Image
A little color can completely change the look of a scroll saw project.

What If You “Can’t Paint”

In the many years I have worked and taught in the woodworking and painting fields, probably the most common thing I have heard from woodworkers is the phrase “I can’t paint!” When I hear that from people, I pride myself in being able to prove them wrong. Most people look at the finished product, which to them may seem complicated and difficult to accomplish. But I feel that is a mindset which needs to be redirected.

As with woodworking, achieving beautiful results doesn’t have to be complex and intricate. Some of the best patterns on the market are those which the result is exceptional, yet the process is easily implemented once it is approached one step at a time. As with scroll sawing, it is best to look at a painting project as a progression, where each step is small, yet adds greatly to the finished piece. Most of us know from our own experience just what was involved in creating our scroll sawing pieces. Laypeople who don’t do scroll work are completely fascinated when they see fretwork. They see hundreds of holes, cut out in complex shapes and the process of creating such a piece is unfathomable to them. I believe the same is true when painting. Many times projects require only a touch of color to accent your piece and give it an entirely different look. Further, by adding a couple of layers of color, you are able to change the entire appearance of the project. Following are some examples of simple painting techniques that anyone can do with little experience that will enhance the beauty of your scroll saw projects.


Probably one of the easiest ways to change or enhance the color of wood is staining. Most stains are semi-transparent and allow the natural grain of the wood to show through, keeping the interest and the integrity of the grain pattern. There are many oil-based stains on the market, as well as some water-based ones. Choosing which stain to use can be confusing and is greatly a matter of personal preference.

I have found that most of the oil-based stains come in only ‘natural wood colors’, so if you are looking for an unusual color such as ‘red’ or ‘green’ it could be difficult to find. Still, oil-based stains are the traditional choice for most woodworking projects because the oil does not tend to raise the grain and in itself, it offers better protection of the wood.

However, with many advances in technology along with our raising concerns for the environment, water-based stains have gained a great deal of popularity recently. I have been very impressed with the “Saman” line of stains for many reasons. Being water-based, they have no odor, dry quickly and are environmentally friendly. They also need no conditioner and the 27 colors are inter-mixable, allowing you an endless color palette. They don’t leave any overlapping marks, (which is important when staining larger projects or furniture)and don’t raise the grain. Clean up is easy with soap and water.

Saman Water-Based Stain
Saman water-based stain

The results I have had from these stains has been great and I have had friends who are cabinet builders that have been equally impressed in using the products on larger projects. I will, however, note that I found that in order to achieve a durable finish, you need to use either an acrylic sealer or an oil-based one (after the stain is completely dry). If you would like more information on these products and where to obtain them, please visit their website at https://saman.ca/en.

I made a segmentation of a hump-backed whale using Ash. This first picture shows the original whale and the second shows the dramatic difference using a stain. I had also created this project using Maple, but the results were not as interesting and rather “flat”. Maple, which is a good choice for many segmentation projects due to its tight, even grain and strength, proved to look a bit a better choice for the segmentation project below, in which the focus was more on the details of the design rather than the texture. I found the deeper grain of the Ash allowed more interest in the Whale design and was a better choice for that project.

Natural Wood Segmentation Whale
The natural wood whale is a bit plain looking.

It is strictly your own preference as to which wood you choose for your project. Experiment and see what is available to you and also what you desire for your end result.

Stained Segmentation Whale
Just a bit of color and now look at him!

Acrylic Paint Washes

Another method of adding interest to wood is by using acrylic paint as a ‘wash’. Creating a wash with acrylic paint is achieved by simply adding plain water, or a product by DecoArt called “Staining and Antiquing Medium”, to the paint until the desired opacity is reached. I like using the medium with DecoArt’s Ameriacana line of paints because you get to choose from their wide selection of colors, and the medium is easier to work with than water. I would say it makes the acrylic paint behave more like a gel stain. An added plus is that it doesn’t raise the wood grain as much as if you added water.

Just add a few drops of paint onto a palette (I use the round bubble palette that is available where most craft painting supplies are sold) and little by little drop some water or antiquing medium into the paint and mix. Test the opacity on a scrap of wood from your project until you reach the results you desire and you are ready to go. With the antiquing medium mixture, I find it best to apply it generously if possible, and wipe it off with a lint free cloth before it starts to dry.

Accents on pieces can be very appealing and because of the huge range of acrylic paint colors available, using acrylic washes is an economical and easy way to enhance your projects. In the following figures, I have shown how brushing on a simple wash of color, following the stylized scroll saw lines, can add lots of interest to this oak sled. Because the wood is oak and only a small amount of color is added, there is very little rising of the grain and the results is dramatic.

Scroll Saw Sleigh
A little color is all it takes to bring this beautiful scroll saw project to life.
Applying Acrylic Wash
Apply paint sparingly if you need to go right up to your fretwork.

In the following figure, I have used washes to tint the Maple skates and accent them. Again, I am following the scroll saw lines and just filling in the areas with light color. Since the Maple has a hard, tight grain, there is very little swelling and the acrylic paint tends to sit on top of the wood. Once dry, I sprayed the skates with a coat of polyurethane varnish to seal the colors.

Scroll Saw Skating Pattern
This project needed something to accent the layers.

Actual Painting of Wood

Finally, I am going to talk about painting wood using acrylic paints. Since acrylic paints are insoluble once dry, they form a durable surface which won’t fade with time and can be a nice way to enhance your scroll saw projects. In the following figures, I show two songbird plaques I designed for scroll sawing. Although I realize that it is a matter of personal preference, I see the plaques as a bit lifeless. By adding some simple painting techniques, following the scroll saw lines that were already there, I used only five colors (beside black and white) to bring these birds to life.

Scroll Saw Blue Jay & Sparrow In Natural Wood
Scroll Saw Pattern # SLD237 Blue Jay & Sparrow

When painting wood in this matter, I begin with a ‘base coat’ which is a solid blocking in of color. Base coating not only gives you an even color to build your design on, but also acts to seal the wood and allow additional shading and detailing without saturating the wood or bringing up the grain. In this project, I used Curly Maple, as again, it is a hard wood with tight grain that is a good choice for painting. I also liked the additional grain properties, as they added some interest to the frames, and also some texture to the birds. The grain is small and subtle and suitable for a project of this size without overpowering the main design elements.

Painted Scroll Saw Blue Jay & Sparrow
A bit of color adds a lot to this design!


These have been just a few techniques to add interest and color to your scroll saw projects. Each method described here is a simple, cost efficient and fun way to expand your skills and add interest to your projects. I hope you are inspired to try a few of them and discover the ‘inner artist’ lurking deep within yourself. I think you may be surprised at how easy it is!

If you have any questions or comments, or if you wish to send me pictures of your accomplishments, I would love to hear from you. As always, I try to be here to help. Happy Painting!

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