Introduction: From Sewing Machine to Scroll Saw, a Christmas Tale

Picture of From Sewing Machine to Scroll Saw, a Christmas Tale

Let's transform an old and unused sewing machine into a scroll saw so we can make some wooden decorations (and a load of other cool jazz).  If, like me, you had an old sewing machine (I tend to collect these things when they are getting thrown out by people) knocking about, then you could try a conversion like this.  Old sewing machines, that are actually really rather well made, are often thrown out by people who do not have the time or inclination to use or maintain them, the one used here for example, came from our local freecycle and didn't really work for lack of regular maintenance.

In the face of it, converting a sewing machine shouldn't be all that difficult - hence the idea.  You have a needle that goes up and down at a speed fast enough to drive the saw blade, a work area with a section underneath to keep tension on the blade... What could be simpler? All you need are some basic hand tools, some epoxy, and an old unused sewing machine.

Step 1: Assess Your Sewing Machine

Picture of Assess Your Sewing Machine

Like most projects that I am involved with this one is an exercise in reuse and re-purposing.  It is also a great opportunity to learn about the magical insides of the humble sewing machine, which is so taken for granted.  Open it up and it is actually quite exciting in there.

There are lots of leavers, pulleys, gears and pivots.  Even if some of these have fallen into disrepair (as had my machine) this typically will not matter, as we will be stripping lots of it out.  Compared to a sewing machine like this, the scroll saw I have in mind is actually quite simple.  It helps if the motor is working and the needle is going up and down - everything else is pretty much surplus.
          
So unscrew the case retaining bolts and have a good look and what you have got... It might well be the case that you will have to modify thing to suit your particular machine.     

Step 2: Remove Surplus Parts

Picture of Remove Surplus Parts

This bit is quite fun. Strip down pretty much everything.  Keep all the bits, you will no doubt want to use some of them in other projects, and some you might want to put back on.

As you do this consider how you are going to arrange the saw blade in relation to the underside. You can do this by releasing the plunger (see pics) and pushing it down so you can see where the blade, if extending straight out from the plunger, would rest.

As always, see the pictures to get a better idea of what I mean. 


 

Step 3: Accommodating the Blade

Picture of Accommodating the Blade

Once you work out where the blade will be moving, we just need to work out how it will remain in tension when the the main 'plunger' pushes down (so it doesn't bend up or break).  We can minimise this problem by setting the blade to cut on the up stroke - although this has problems of its own (more on that later).  There are a few ways one could approach this:
     
1.  Modify the drive that goes to the bottom and moves the swing arm (see photos) up and down and side to side, so that it just goes up and down (and not side to side) the same distance as the main needle plunger.  This would be a nice but complicated solution because you could have the blade being driven, or pulled, from both sides.  I discounted it as horrendously complicated.

2.  Keep the blade in tension by some direct connection to a bungee or spring on the underside.  Hope that this will work well enough to pull the blade down as it will not be cutting on the down stroke anyway.  The problem here is that the main plunger moves a fair old distance and any directly opposing spring is going to have a hard job being effective over such a range of motion.

3. Similar to 2. but use some extra mechanical advantage to reduce the space requirements and demand for high performance bungee or spring.  In my case, this involved spring loading the long arm that controlled the 'feed dog' (the bit that moves the fabric).  

Step 4: Saw Blade to Feed Dog

Picture of Saw Blade to Feed Dog

No don't try feeding your dog anything metal!  You want to make the sewing machine 'feed dog' leaver easily take and hold a saw blade. 

I went about this by making a casting of sorts, from JB Weld.  There are loads of pages out there that that consider this (here is one), so I will not go into too much detail here.

First fill the void in the leaver with epoxy. Then cover a sample of the saw blade with beeswax sot it will not be stuck forever, and set it into the epoxy.  You probably want  to periodically rotate the part to prevent the JB from sagging while drying.  Once dry we can pull out the saw blade, and hay presto, a nice little blade sized holder. Now drill a hole and tread it and we can use a grubscrew tightened against the saw blade to fix it in place.

Now we just need to spring load the leaver to keep the blade in tension - that way it should stay straight and not bend all over the place.  So there would be many different ways to approach this, one could mount a 'push' style spring between the leaver and the machine underside, or as I have you can have a twist style spring mounted on the shaft that supports the leaver.  Either make your own from scratch (here is a good DIY spring method) or, as I did, you could probably modify one of the many springs you took away from other bits of the machine.      

Step 5: Fixing the Plunger Supports in Place

Picture of Fixing the Plunger Supports in Place

The plunger is supported by a piece bit of cast aluminium that is sprung and moves back and forth on a pivot (it does this so the machine can sew zig-zag stitches).  We need to fix it solidly in place so that when we are making curves with the saw, and applying twisty forces, it doesn't move all over the place. 

Again some JB Weld or similar epoxy putty will do the job nicely (whilst also adding a bit of strength). 

Take the spring mechanism out and make sure the plunger is dead centre over where your 'feed dog blade retainer' is.     

Step 6: Mod the Baseplate

Picture of Mod the Baseplate

The baseplate, so it turns out, is EXTREMELY hard, and we need to change it a touch so that the blade fits snugly in there.  A small groove for the blade to slide in will also help keep it centred correctly.  

Don't do what I did and hit it hard with the centre punch, as it might break (DOH!).  It is not of equal thickness underneath, so even when you lay it out on a flat surface, as I did, it is not supported in some mid-sections.  Luckily when I did this the break was not too serious, and it doesn't hinder performance any. 

I ended up borrowing my friends Dremel and spending a time grinding at it with a small milling bit. I recommend this method over drilling small holes - the drill bit skids all over the place.            

Step 7: Guarding From Those Splinters

Picture of Guarding From Those Splinters

We are getting there now, and have a working up-down saw type device - I couldn't resist testing it on cardboard at this point.  We want the saw to cut on the up stroke, so that the motor is pulling the blade rather than pushing it.  If it were pushing it might well bend up and do other unpredictable things. So we need to arrange the teeth as shown, the pointy cutty vicious looking things directed upward.  Now this is all well and good, but it does present two slightly awkward issues:

1. Every up stroke of the blade will try and lift the work piece up off the flat work surface. One could maintain extreme vigilance and hold it down at all times, but that would quite frustrating. What we need to do is bring the existing presser foot into operation.     

2. As with all sawing there is the problem of splintering edges where the cutting teeth of the blade exit the wood, sometimes tearing fibres loose, making a rough splintered edge.  This can be minimised by using a sharp blade, but we can do better and eliminate this almost all together, again, by using a modified version of the presser foot.

Using some transparent polycarbonate (the kind of material they use for safety goggles), we can fabricate a functional splinter guard.  Any of you that read my blog will know the ironic string of failures I had trying to get this right... I will show the way that seemed to finally work.  

Basically this involves cutting into a piece of the plastic with the scroll saw. This piece of plasti will become the 'hold-down splinter guard', and the slot we cut  in it will be exactly the correct size for the blade.  See the photos for a further description of what to do.  This splinter guard is kinda optional, you might find the presser foot on its own, with a sharp blade is enough.       


 

Step 8: Let's Make Some Jazzy Stuff!

Picture of Let's Make Some Jazzy Stuff!

The safety note: avoid putting your finger into the blade or near the hand screw that attaches the blade to the plunger; wear safety goggles, and please be careful. 
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Ok so here we go.  Scrounge up some boards of wood. I recommend starting with nice thin bits and seeing how you go.  As you go to thicker and harder woods you may notice the motor straining a bit... That is expected, it is just a poor little sewing machine motor.  What helps massively is to put some bee's wax on the blade.  Particularly if you find it is slowing during tight curves, this is great stuff as it stops the edges of the blade binding on the wood.  To apply, make some cuts to heat up the blade and just wipe a bit on - it should melt and cover the whole blade straight away.

Using this method I have found it to work well for thicknesses of up to about 10mm (of solid oak). If you want to go crazy you could look out for, say a 1/4 horse power motor, bolt it to the side and transfer the drive using a belt to the hand turn wheel.  I didn't think it strictly necessary - but we will see how long this motor lasts ;)   To improve its chances it is important that you take your foot off the gas the second you get a hint of a complete stall - It will burn out shortly after if you keep feeding it power.         

To make wooden designs, you can simply cut away at the wood, making a pattern of your own design on the fly. Or you can pencil a design onto the wood and cut round that.  Another option is to draw out your design on paper and stick that to the face of the wood with glue or double sided tape.   Yet another option is to print out super elaborate designs that you make or download on the computer, and stick them on. 

Like the things you can draw with regular art media, the number of things you can sew-scroll are endless. You can use it to make gifts like wooden keyrings, jewellery (you could do variations, for example, of this kind of thing), interesting shaped boxes and containers, wooden toys, bird houses/mansions, ornate photo frames, wooden lettering, and so on... Let your creativity loose.
You can also make all manner of Christmas decorations like I have.   

Have fun with it and do your own thing!

Step 9: Further Considerations

Picture of Further Considerations

Dust!  Dust is the eternal enemy of wood sawing... This project is no different.  So yeah, my conversion is not yet complete, but it shouldn't be too difficult to rig up some form of vacuum hose attachment.  Scrolling, unlike say circular sawing, is not so bad at making large volumes of dust, but it can still be plenty enough to risk your health. Up until now I have been doing my scrolling in the garage, by the fully open door  - which is practically like being outside.   This is sub-optimal/zero in the middle of winter, but reduces the dust problem.. 

EDIT:  
OK so the dust problem partly motivated a new project: The Dust Sniper.  It is a super silent extractor (approved for late night use!), with cyclonic filtration. Check out the link above for a video and the full Instructable.    

Other points of consideration: the blades I used will likely dull quickly when used in this way. Such blades are made for a coping saw (a hand saw).  Some bi-metal HSS job, would be preferable as it would be less prone to damage by overheating. Saying that, I have not changed the blade yet, and it doesn't seem too bad.  A thinner blade would be useful for those tighter curves, and more intricate bits.  Also, if you attempt this project, this forum topic has some more ideas and might also be of use.  

Anyway, let me know if you give this a go and how you get on.  Merry Christmas!

Comments

MadBricoleur (author)2010-06-05

I love this! If only I had a spare sewing machine... one that my sister didn't just start getting into as a hobby, last month. bummer.

I visit many thrift stores in Colorado and have found good sewing machines for $10 to $20 quite often and more often around $50 so what is you budget. I have three setting on my work bench that I have less than $40 for all three, all three are perfect. A Kenmore and 2 Necchi from three different stores.

macrumpton (author)MadBricoleur2010-06-06

You can usually find them in yard sales for between $5-$25. Also thrift stores are a good bet too.

KemikalzAreFun (author)2013-05-02

Sell the sewing machine(s) and go buy a scroll or band saw. "Problem solved, Problem evaded"

rickster454 (author)2012-11-17

Great post, Thanks-!

paqrat (author)2010-11-09

Cool. Several years ago I purchased an old treadle sewing machine with the intention of replacing the needle with a jeweler's saw blade but with the blades as flexible as they are there had to be some sort of return action underneath to keep the blade rigid. I never could come up with the way to hold the blade rigid. With this instructable I now have a practical use for the machine.

paqrat (author)paqrat2010-11-23

Thank you for your suggestion. A spring might work. Some time back I thought of using a spring but for some reason dismissed it. I am not sure of the reason but it might have been I wondered about the spring keeping enough tension on the blade during both the rise and the descent. Thinking about it now it seems if I kept the spring under load even at the blade's lowest mark it might keep it tense enough. I am concerned that if the blade should bind even sligntly it would cause the blade to bend. I think most jewelers have their saws set up to cut on the down stroke. I think with a sewing machine it would be necessary to have it cut on the up (power) stroke. It might be simpler to make a small jeweler's saw attachment that could be fitted to the holder of the needle and then modify the base of the machine so the whole saw attachment could pass through. This might also prove to be easier in putting in new blades. When I have some more time I will have to look into this again. I think it would be very nice to have a powered, even if only by treadle, jeweler's saw. I think overall speed would be increased although the stroke would be much shorter than manually operating a jeweler's saw. It should make it much easier to cut out intricate designs in that I think it should be much easier to reposition the piece you are cutting than holding it on a bench block.

bongodrummer (author)paqrat2010-11-10

Great. Let us know how it goes.

paqrat (author)bongodrummer2010-11-10

I think the only way to do the jewler's sawblade bit is to use two sewing machines one mounted upside down. I don't think I have the mechanical skills to make it work.

Nate Cougill (author)paqrat2010-11-21

Maybe a spring on a fixed mount under the blade?

mushroom glue (author)2010-09-04

There's 2 sewing machine to scroll saw conversions in "40 power tools you can make", a popular mechanics book from the 1940's. the sewing machines used were slightly older though...

Kaiven (author)2010-07-25

Would I be able to mod the design and make the blade cut at least 2" thick wood? Because if I could make a scroll saw from a sewing machine for cheap, then I don't need to buy a big expensive band saw...

bongodrummer (author)Kaiven2010-07-25

2" is quite big. What mods did you have in mind? I imagine you would have to change a lot...

Kaiven (author)bongodrummer2010-07-25

Honestly I don't know. I just need a saw that can cut out the handle designs for my knives. I want to buy a band saw, but that's probably years into the future... Making a power saw would be my best bet.

bongodrummer (author)Kaiven2010-07-26

Max I have cut with this is about 13mm (1/2 inch). I think you would need more power - so that would involve finding a different motor and hooking up some kind of drive system... With the extra power, I also think it would be more important to have a downwards cutting action... If you were cutting into 2" boards, you would also probably want a much bigger work surface... I suspect you might be better of looking for a small old second hand bandsaw to tinker with and fix up...

Kaiven (author)bongodrummer2010-07-26

I guess I'll have to find one ;)

caarntedd (author)2010-06-06

My wife got a new sewing machine this morning. You have just saved the old one from the junk pile.

meddler (author)2010-06-06

Bravo! Standing ovation!

Gonazar (author)2010-06-06

5 stars! I'm impressed at how well this instructable is made, especially the clear detailed photos. It makes a complicated mechanism seem much more manageable and you've stepped it out so it's easy to follow. Well done!

1up (author)2010-06-06

Wow, this is great! :) I was so excited to make one, but then realized, unfortunately, that I already have a scroll saw. ;)

thelandlord (author)2010-06-06

Thinking outside the box... I may have a solution to the problem of getting the blade to pull cut down towards a solid surface. Why not turn the whole machine upside-down and feed the blade up through a hole in a solid plate the way you can with a router? If you do that, you've got as much space as you like to make some form of 'over-the-top' blade tensioner and all the messy bits are underneath safely out of the way?

bongodrummer (author)thelandlord2010-06-06

Yep, inverted could be the way to go, see my earlier post on this below...

thelandlord (author)bongodrummer2010-06-06

I'd not spotted that... Taking the idea a stage further, once you've got a rise and fall motion through a table, there's nothing that says it must be just a plain saw-blade, is there? If the saw-blade was replaced by a piece from a broken (or sacrificed) tile-saw mounted in a collet - maybe driven by Dremel or similar - then you'll need minimal pressure to make your cut as you're effectively routing... but you get away with the very small bit because the reciprocating motion would continuously un-clog it. That's tried and tested technology, a heavier version is used in oscillating bobbin-sanders like this: http://www.diytools.co.uk/diy/main/sc-53-7363-ocillating-bobbin-sanders.asp You're basically aiming for something like that with the smallest bobbin possible to minimise waste when using it as a saw - I reckon you could get away with 1mm no problem with high enough RPM? If anybody can make that work on this small scale, my money is on you, bongodrummer. :-)

bongodrummer (author)thelandlord2010-06-06

Am loving that idea. With some decent dust extraction ports and variable speeds it could be very useful tool for all manner of different materials. Like, you say it would have the benefit of a small blade and little waste. I have a few projects on the go at the moment, but this is one to think about for the future ;)

macrumpton (author)thelandlord2010-06-06

That is just plain brilliant. Kudos!

juliemosaic (author)2010-06-06

MaCrumpton,frollard and Skype, it's not so sad! I own and use a total of 5 machines and overlockers to make my textiles, and one of them, an old Janome has finally lost its tensioner, it's thread guide, its bobbin winder stopper and it runs rough. In all the time I've been using it I've often thought, gee, it runs loosely, but is very hard hitting! (Used to be a tattooist, that's tatt2 talk) After it wrecking another item today, I'm not going to throw it out, (I found it on kerbside throwouts) It's now been handpicked to be transformed thanks to bongodrummers idea. To turn your mother's good sewing machine into a saw would be crazy, but to upcycle a clapped out machine, brilliant.

bongodrummer (author)juliemosaic2010-06-06

Agree about the up / re - cycle jazz (obviously) - sewing is good, sawing is good - it is all good, no need for sadness. Look forward to seeing the sawing, sanding beast when you have it sorted. B.

juliemosaic (author)2010-06-06

I am also going to try and add a sanding/grinding wheel to the hand wheel as suggested by Cement Truck... I promise to post a photo when I'm done pimping my machine, in a week or so. You are all out of control!

Zaphod Beeblebrox (author)2009-12-19

was this on account of my forum topic? if so please give me credit. other than that great ible!

Cancel the last - I have found it... Adding now.

cool ur my 666th comment!!

you could definitely make a lathe attachment pretty easily

cool thx great minds think alike!! or idiot minds think alike either is possible

Hay Zaohod, thanks. It was not on account of that no - has been an fledgling idea/project for years (meaning I have cluttered up the place with old sewing machines)...  Could you send me a link of the forum topic, having difficulty finding it - I would certainly be happy to add it to the ible...
Cheers,
Bongo. 

frollard (author)2009-12-19

I own a sewing machine from one of the big box stores - its shyte.  I would KILL for a real sewing machine - personally I think this is blasphemy - even in the spirit of make and reuse... <draws a little tear>

if the machine were broken (in a sewing sense) I would agree this is a great reuse of the chassis...such an elegant machine :S  Either way, great writeup, very well documented with great pictures!

macrumpton (author)frollard2010-06-06

you could definitely make a lathe attachment pretty easily

bongodrummer (author)frollard2009-12-20

Frollard, keep an eye out on Freecycle (if they have that in your area).  That is where I got this machine from - old (and 'real') ones are often being given away by people who have no time or inclination to use or maintain them.  Although being quite well made this one was in quite a state, and didn't sew well at all. 
We have another one for our actual sewing.

Please save your tears, and don't kill anyone ;)  Instead put a call out on your local freecycle and see what people are old 'junk' people are wanting to get rid of... 

frollard (author)bongodrummer2009-12-20

I'm a member of Freecycle Calgary :D

Skype (author)2010-06-05

You know? For some reason, this project makes me sad.

macrumpton (author)Skype2010-06-06

I know what you mean. As someone who has literally sewed many miles of fabric making everything from sails to clothes, it seems a waste to turn such a versatile tool into something else.

Cookie-Monster (author)2010-06-06

MADNESS!!! I love it. P.S. Please tell me when you're going to make a circular saw which can chain stitch.

juliemosaic (author)2010-06-03

 Who would have thought?! Impressive, and I'm going to make one! Thankyou for sharing!

bongodrummer (author)juliemosaic2010-06-04

Cool, that is nice to hear. Let us know how it goes.

TheFullMetalAlchemist (author)2010-06-03

 Freakin ingenious! Turning old machines into others has to be my fav kind of instructable. Really its about the only useful thing I have seen a sewing machine do anyway ;)

CementTruck (author)2010-01-13

How about you add a grinding/sanding wheel to the machine pulley (hand wheel on the right side). This way you can sand your work with the same machine! : D

Oh my! the additions could be endless. This could be your very own version of the Shopsmith Mark V. www.shopsmith.com/markvsite/

Your next instructible will have to be "how to upgrade a sewing machine to a 5hp electric motor" to run all the accessories. ha ha.

ItsTheHobbs (author)CementTruck2010-06-01

The sander idea is great!

babbs (author)2010-04-08

 this is a sweet instrutable

KronoNaut (author)2010-03-11

This is wonderful.  A great way to repurpose a dying sewing machine.

KnexFreek (author)2010-01-23

 cool 5 stars

peterwales (author)2010-01-17

 Instructive and useful. Another entertaining article in its own right. Congratulations Bongodrummer

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Bio: BongoDrummer is co-founder and member of Flowering Elbow. He loves to learn about, invent, and make things, particularly from waste materials.
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