From Sewing Machine to Scroll Saw, a Christmas tale

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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.
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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.     
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Sell the sewing machine(s) and go buy a scroll or band saw. "Problem solved, Problem evaded"
rickster4542 years ago
Great post, Thanks-!
paqrat4 years ago
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 paqrat4 years ago
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)  paqrat4 years ago
Great. Let us know how it goes.
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.
Maybe a spring on a fixed mount under the blade?
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...
Kaiven4 years ago
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)  Kaiven4 years ago
2" is quite big. What mods did you have in mind? I imagine you would have to change a lot...
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)  Kaiven4 years ago
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...
I guess I'll have to find one ;)
caarntedd4 years ago
My wife got a new sewing machine this morning. You have just saved the old one from the junk pile.
meddler4 years ago
Bravo! Standing ovation!
Gonazar4 years ago
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!
1up4 years ago
Wow, this is great! :) I was so excited to make one, but then realized, unfortunately, that I already have a scroll saw. ;)
thelandlord4 years ago
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)  thelandlord4 years ago
Yep, inverted could be the way to go, see my earlier post on this below...
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: 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)  thelandlord4 years ago
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 ;)
That is just plain brilliant. Kudos!
juliemosaic4 years ago
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)  juliemosaic4 years ago
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.
juliemosaic4 years ago
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!
was this on account of my forum topic? if so please give me credit. other than that great ible!
bongodrummer (author)  Zaphod Beeblebrox5 years ago
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
bongodrummer (author)  Zaphod Beeblebrox5 years ago
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...
frollard5 years ago
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!
you could definitely make a lathe attachment pretty easily
bongodrummer (author)  frollard5 years ago
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... 

I'm a member of Freecycle Calgary :D
Skype4 years ago
You know? For some reason, this project makes me sad.
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.
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.
You can usually find them in yard sales for between $5-$25. Also thrift stores are a good bet too.
MADNESS!!! I love it. P.S. Please tell me when you're going to make a circular saw which can chain stitch.
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