The Sewingmachine Scrollsaw




About: Interested in Woodworking, Electronics and everything that is interactive in some way.

This project aims to design and build a scrollsaw based on a sewing machine.

For months I had an old sewing machine standing in the corner of my workshop, not really knowing what to do with it. It had been thrown out by the previous owner because it didn't really work anymore. The most important components, however, still functioned. I hoped I would be able to fix it.

But, whilst taking a closer look at it the other day, I figured out two issues about it:
- I couldn't find the sources of its many problems.
- I actually don't need a sewing machine.
A scrollsaw, on the other hand, was something I could find use in.

All materials used in this project are extracted from the sewing machine or is scrap wood.

I don't suppose you do have the exact same sewing machine, so I'll be a bit more general with the instructions: no measurements or dimensions. Not that there ever were any..

This project takes about a weekend.

Watch me explain it:

Step 1: What We've Got

Let's start out with disassembling the machine. I'll remove all components, I wouldn't need.
It is important not to destroy any of the components, since they might come in handy later on. So put away you saws and hammers, and get on about this with screwdrivers and time.

I was surprised about the inside. This thing is like a clockwork! And build to survive an atomic attack.
Everything is shiny stainless steel or molded aluminium - rarely plastic. Thanks to the rather modular design of the machine, it will be rather easy to disassemble the parts not needed, which is like 90% and quite allot.

The mechanism for the needle will stay, as well as the drive shaft and the motor. The presser foot and its lifting mechanism will later be used for the other end of the cutting blade.

Step 2: Fixing Problems

This sewing machine was able to do quite some fancy tricks and many sewing-patterns. I do, however, just want to cut my wood in straight lines (A zig-zag cut might be interesting though).
The head, which holds the needle mechanism, is tiltable, so the needle can stitch in the mentioned patterns. As you can see on the first picture, the tilting is controlled by the arm, coming from the top-right and mounted to the head in the center of the picture. I replaced this arm by a little metal plate so the head is fixed. You might run into similar problems with other sewing machines as well. I was lucky that there was a threaded hole nearby, and that I found a fitting piece of metal elsewhere in the machine.

Step 3: The First Steps Towards a Scrollsaw

The mounting for the needle turned out to be quite useful. I could actually mount the blade with it.
It wasn't, however, much of a use where it was. I had to put it to the top of the machine in order for things to work as I wanted them to. But that was rather simple: A single screw held it in place, and I could as well mount it on the other end of the rod.
The rods position is adjustable, so i could lift it slightly in order to get it to run freely.

Next off, I had to build the frame the table would rest on. The solid aluminium frame was perfect for drilling the required holes. It didn't take long 'till everything was in place. It is not important to work super precise here, but if you can, do it. The most important thing is, that it is level.
Extra support might be needed, as was it in my case. A vertical bar was added underneath the frame.

Step 4: The Table

A piece of 30mm scrap wood would serve as a table. A router was used in order to make space for the mechanism underneath the table. I wanted to get the mount for the blade to move as close as possible to the surface of the table, resulting in enough working area above it. Also I rounded the edges, just for esthetic reasons.
You don't have to use a router. A big drill works just as well for removing material where needed.

Next off, I added two hinges to the frame. These two pieces are the only parts I had to buy. 50c/piece in a local hardware store. They will serve for the tilting mechanism. It is important to mount them as much as possible on a line with the mounting of the blade.

Step 5: The Tilting Mechanism

A hinged arm used in the sewing machine would do well for the tilting mechanism. I had to drill a hole into one end, so I could mount it to the table with a single screw.
A block of hardwood has been added right underneath the frame. Subsequently, a slot has been cut into it using a saw. The arm from the table will fit right into it.
Next off, I took a knob from the sewing machine and fitted a short piece of 8mm threaded rod to it. Using a 7.5mm drill I could drill a hole into the guiding block, which would allow a thread for the 8mm rod to be cut by the rod itself. This allows the knob to adjust the pressure on the arm, fixing the tables position.

Step 6: The Arm

In order to fit a arm, I had to cut a slot into the table so it could fit in underneath it. If I would have known this before, I would have left more room in the frame underneath the table, so the arm could fit without having to get out the router again. It is important that the arm is stable and mounted well to the rest. Use both screws and glue here!

Next off I did cut out the rest of the arm from a 40mm piece of English oak. I did, however realise that there was a natural crack in it. I filled it up with glue and added screws in order to support the material here.
In order to find the right height for the arm, you'll have to do a bit math. How long is the blade, how much stroke is there?

Step 7: The Receiving Mechanism

The mechanism on the arm is rather simple. A spring will hold the blade on tension. Initially, I wanted to use the spring from the presser foot, but it was too hard, so a softer one came in use. The rod from the presser-foot did, however, stay.

After having figured out how this all will work, I had to drill a hole for the rod. This hole has to be precisely above the lower mount for the blade, as well as perfectly straight. Also, it has to be exactly the same diameter of the rod. In my case it turned out to be 7.8mm in diameter. A 7.9mm drill was all I had around, but it did the job just well.
A little metal arm was then mounted to the rod. This will be useful for avoiding the rod to rotate around its own axis.
A 3mm rod, as well from the sewing machine, serves as guide. In order to make it mount well to the arm, the rod itself served as a drill for the hole. Just roughen one end of it and mount it to your power drill. Now 'drill' it into the wood and unmount it as soon as it is deep enough. Rock solid!
Give the mechanism a bit oil so it moves nice and smoothly.

I was lucky that the presser foots rod was flattened in one end and that a threaded hole had already been drilled into it there. A simple screw with a little washer will mount the blade just nicely.

Step 8: Finish It Up

The motor of the sewing machine was, luckily a 230V motor with 60W. Although the power led to a concern, I've chosen to give it a chance, which turned out to be a good idea later on. The electronics of the original machine were surprisingly simple. I didn't have the pedal of the sewing machine, but it turned out that maximum power was just right. And the light bulb from the sewing machine wasn't needed either, since it wouldn't be able to stand the vibrations the scrollsaw would make.
So, I just connected the motor directly to a cable with a power plug.

As one of the last steps I had to mount the blade.
Well... yea..
Although I made sure that I could mount the blade before I build the frame, I didn't think about this during the build. So it was essentially impossible to access the mounting mechanism underneath the table.
A chisel was utilised in order to carve a path for the screwdriver which would fasten the mounting screw. Now it works just fine, but I should have thought of this before.

Now that everything is as it should be, it was time to turn it on. You'll have to adjust the tension of the spring for the blade before it runs optimal.
But now I discovered a new problem: the arm is vibrating allot. And by that I mean allot. The entire construction was jumping around on my workbench like a kangaroo on speed.
The issue was the arms natural frequency which fitted to the frequency the blade runs with.
In order to solve that issue I've chosen to change this natural frequency by adding weight to the arm. Two kilos, to be precise. It is by far not the most beautiful solution, but it works just fine. And gives people something to wonder about.

Step 9: Final Words

So, well, it works!
It actually cuts very nicely, and even some of the thicker woods. It takes a while 'till you stop breaking blades all the time, but it isn't more difficult to use than most of the commercially available ones.

Next time I would have to build one of these, I would, however, use a different construction for the arm. Maybe even make it out of metal. I think that would solve some of the issues with it.

Apart from that, I'm rather pleased with it!

Feel free to ask any kind of question, I'll gladly answer them!
Also, if you liked this instructable, vote for it!

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    48 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Congratulations for your nice project.
    You solved two important issues about converting a sewing machine into a scroll saw: geting a "positive" push on the saw blade and finding more room for moving the piece being sawn. And all this in one magic stroke: puting the sewing machine ( or what was left of it) "under" instead of "over" the working piece. Once again, congratulations. I wil make one myself.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Exactly! I've been looking into others peoples work and found a remarkable, similar instructable from bongodrummer ( He had the described issues. The lack of a positive push was solved, rather inconveniently, by leaving the presser foot. However, the issue of finding more room wasn't. I took all that into consideration when designing this.
    I'm already about to solve the structural issue with the arm by sandwiching it in metal-plates. Also, what I discovered after having used the saw for a few days now is, that one does have to give all mechanical parts a bit oil before using it.
    Hope that helped.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    You could stiffen up that arm by sandwiching it between two pieces of plywood. Keep the inside of the "C" the same but make the outside bigger. Might be able to get rid of that weight.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I've been thinking about doing that with a metal plate. Cut out the shape of the arm and sandwich it. Should give me decent strength as well.


    Interesting, but isn't the thing about a sewing machine-it's not that powerful? Or is it? How does this compare to a regular scroll saw power wise? What do you think the chances are of being able to turn a jig saw into a sewing machine. I am looking at the price difference between regular sewing machines and industrial sewing machines and just wondering, why such a jump in price? A thicker needle? A stronger motor?

    Hi, I've started mine following this procedure and I'm near to be finish but I have few questions to ask. First, is this forum still active in order to ask questions? Thanks. G

    3 replies

    Hello, after spending my week end and few nights of the week, I finally managed to solve 2 out of 3 issues. The last one being: how do you keep a constant tension in the blade?

    Well, I'm now at the stage of connecting the Frame to the top of the blade. I choose to separate the Frame in 3 elements: the top, the upper arm and a nice piece of wood connecting the table to the upper arm.

    I hope it make sense to you.

    I've built my support onto the machine, the top and the frame out of plywood (top) and straight grain Mahogany for the rest. With few screws and all this wood I've managed to reach a heavy base, a stable top and a very strong frame. Despite all of that my worries are around the actual mechanism itself; not from the machine but from the top of the blade/ upper frame. I'm re-using the springs and the metal arm from my sewing machine and I can't get a constant tension between the top arm (from the frame) and bottom arm (from the machine). I've tried to alter the length of the springs, the high of the arm, the high of the frame, the position of the blade and I keep facing 2 or 3 problems.

    So far I've only done hand tests, I'll see later how it will works with the foot pedal.

    The first one: inconsistent tension resulting of a broken blade each time.

    The second: the upper steel arm does not spring back sometimes, in order to pull up the blade.

    Third one: I've only clamped the upper wooden frame so when I reach satisfaction I'll be able to screw and glue it in place. It's a 40mm by 30mm thick piece of plywood and mahogany without a 45 degree angle at the end. Therefore every time the blade goes down, the spring goes down, resting on the top but bringing the whole wooden frame down too.

    I hope I haven't confused you as I have a tendency to specify everything in tiny little details using a too complex grammar.

    Thank you so much for your patience and your fast reply.



    5 years ago on Introduction

    ABSOLUTELY FAB!!!!! Thanks a lot for this idea. Definitely doing it :)


    5 years ago

    Is it possible to modify the..... round white thing attached to the motor... and use it as a sander?

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I admire the cleverness required for recycling discards into something extremely useful. Great work.


    5 years ago

    I would suggest using an old hacksaw game as the arm. Premade and ready to go.


    Excellent Job. Sewing Machine is one of the greatest inventions mankind ecountered. And ur subject is quite great.


    5 years ago

    I have just purchased a scroll saw and I love it. but I want to make something like this but pedal powered, so no need to mess with the motors.