Pros: Well built with useful features including easy blade change, vacuum pickup, dust blower and light
Cons: Dust blower and light vibrate at certain speed setting
What's a Scroll Saw?
Before I go into reviewing this particular tool, perhaps I should define what a scroll saw is. It seems that names have changed in recent years and the so-called "jig saw", being that table top tool with its very fine curve cutting, puzzle making, intricate woodcraft ability is now called a "scroll saw"! I don't know when that happened, but tool reference books as late as the early 90's were still calling it a "jig" saw. The art of "scroll sawing" goes back a couple of hundred years, but a refined power tool didn't occur until the 1930's. In the past 30 years further refinements has turned the "jig saw" into quite a popular tool with both hobby craft folks and "scroll saw" artisans. So it is perhaps fitting that the "jig saw" label finally changed to something that best describes the "scroll saw's" intricate cutting capabilities.
Time does seem to have a way of changing the names of things. What I don't totally understand is how saber saws suddenly became "jig" saws! Like the old jig saw, tool reference manuals through the 80's referred to these hand-held, light-weight, portable saws as "saber saws", perhaps due to the width and shape of their blades. I did find a reference, dated 1987, that though titled "saber saw", gave a small reference to it as a "portable jig saw". In any case, today's catalogs refer to them as "jig" saws. Oh well, perhaps "jig saw puzzles" (which can not be cut with a saber saw) should now become "scroll-saw puzzles", although with the latest technology they are probably manufactured with fluid jet cutters! (Gee Mom, can I have a "fluid jet cutter puzzle" for Christmas?)
So jig saws are now scroll saws, and saber saws are now jig saws, and recip saws are something else entirely! Without digressing further, this review is of a scroll saw; in particular, the Ryobi SC180VS 18-inch, Variable Speed Scroll Saw! The SC180VS is the better of two models that bear the Ryobi name. It offers several very nice features, including variable speed and an 18-inch throat (clearance between the cutting blade and the rear housing). Introduced at the end of September 2002, the SC180VS scroll saw offers the following:
- Teflon(TM) coated anti-static worktable to reduce material binding and improve cutting performance
- Tool-less blade change accepts both pin and plain end 5" blades
- Variable speed for use on a variety of materials and applications
- Convenient up front controls are within easy reach of the user
- Integrated blower and light directs light and blower in most convenient direction
- Vacuum port for dust collection
- Removable/multi-position throat plate improves cutting and visibility for blade replacement
- On board blade storage drawer
- Universal Permanent Magnet Motor - 120 Volts AC @ 1.2 amps (approx. 1/7 hp)
- Weight: 3.5 lbs.
- Dimensions: 27.25 l x 12w x 13.75 h
- Throat Clearance: 18 inches
- Depth of cut: 2 inches (measured from table top to bottom of drop foot at highest position)
- Blade Stroke: 1 inch
- Variable speed: 500 to 1600 Strokes per Minute
- Electronic Speed Control
- Blade size and style: 5-inch Plain- and Pin-End
- Table bevels: 10A? right and 45A? left with adjustable stop at 0A?
SC180VS Scroll Saw, 5 blades (3 Pin end, 2 Plain end), Operator's Manual
The Perfect Tool for Intricate Cutting
Scroll sawing is an art form like no other. Given the time, inclination, and a good tool, the scroll saw artist can cut such intricate patterns in a piece of wood as to simply leave the beholder in awe. The old world style of "ginger breading" is wonderful to behold and obviously takes a high level of skill and a great amount of patience.
When I started looking at the various scroll saws on the market, I was more interested in making a few toys, trivets, and other such items. A scroll saw is the only reciprocating saw device that is capable of making piercing cuts (like odd shaped holes). If you want to make very fine detail cuts and/or cut a shape out of the interior of an object, the scroll saw is the tool to do it. It is also a fairly safe tool and one with which a person, young or old, can begin to learn about working with wood and power tools.
With so many different models on the market, it was hard to make an intelligent choice and I found myself doing a lot of reading. The Ryobi SC180VS seemed to offer most of the preferred features and it's retail price of $179.97 looked affordable, even if it was going to stretch the pocketbook a bit. I had looked at a Delta and also at the Dremel model and all three were competitively priced. There were a handful of cheaper units, but comparatively, they lacked some of the features that I had read were good to have. Just before Christmas, Home Depot had a 20% sale and that left me to choose between the Dremel and the Ryobi. When I went into the store, the SC180VS was marked down to $99 (before the discount), so the decision was mostly hinged on price.
The Ryobi SC180VS proved to be a very good purchase and, several months later, I am quite pleased with it. I have no doubts that I made a good decision. Out of the box, it was a pleasant experience. Absolutely nothing to assemble! The saw was packed very well and once removed from its carton and form-fitting foam packing, all I had to do was remove the plastic bag, a small cardboard insert from the blade area, and then adjust the table to level. It was ready to run. Very few products are that simple, especially bench tools. The instruction manual is very well written and the illustrations clearly show all adjustment points, blade change procedure, etc. There is even a section on operating the saw and I suggest everyone take the time to read everything. By the way, the manual is in three languages in case English is not your native tongue.
The saw is very well made and quite attractive with its Ryobi blue body, platinum base, black table, and yellow control knobs and table insert. I think few companies pay as close attention to aesthetics as Ryobi. But good looks, only tells a small part of the story. This thing is designed and built very well. The cast iron base, is well made and provides a very solid foundation for the tool. Three bolt holes with rubber foot pads are provided for proper mounting. This is important, because scroll saws, by their very nature, will vibrate and without a good base and proper support, it is virtually impossible to control your cuts. The parallel arm housing is attractively designed, without rough appearance or exposed mechanism. The two bearing lube points are clearly defined and capped for protection from dust. The universal, permanent magnet motor is well located, and its motor brushes easily accessible, when and if it becomes necessary to change them. The motor assembly and the speed control electronics are enclosed in a single-piece plastic housing with access holes around the motor shaft, air intake, and brush covers. From a service point of view, things are well laid out.
The large aluminum work table (10.5 inches wide by 19 inches long) is Teflon(TM) coated and anti-static. Performing intricate cuts requires that your work piece be easily maneuvered and the table coating is a great help. The two table pivot/support points are adequate for a tool of this size and the table seems quite sturdy and stable during operation. The table is also provided with four hex-backed mounting holes, should one wish to install a table guide or other similar jig. It is also slightly beveled in front to allow a comfortable work position for your hands. A bright yellow plastic insert is keyed into position around the blade and is easily popped out of position to allow for better visual access to the lower blade clamp.
Adjustments can be made not only to the table tilt angle, but also to the drop foot/blade guard to keep it in position relative to the blade and table. All adjustment knobs are located up front, so there is no reaching to make adjustments. Table tilt angle is easily determined on the large bevel scale. Clearly marked, easy to read, and quickly adjustable with a nicely sized lock knob. The table can be tilted up to 45? left or 10? right. To adjust the latter, Ryobi conveniently designed the adjustable 0? stop so it could be pivoted out of the way. All adjustment knobs are properly sized for convenient handling.
One very nice feature is the articulating, segmental dust blower tube. This is pretty handy as you can adjust it to blow the sawdust away from your cutting area. An integral light is built into the blower nozzle and it is easy to adjust the tube so that it works best for your operating position. The light is operated from an independent switch located on the right side of the upper arm where it is easily reached. The light switch is also illuminated when "On" and is independent of the main power switch. Additional dust control is provided via a standard size, 1-1/4 vacuum port, which is located on the lower right side of the saw, just under the table. On the left side of the upper arm is the On/Off switch/speed control knob. Pull to turn ON and twist to adjust the speed between 500 and 1600 strokes per minute (SPM). The knob is clearly marked with the SPM numbers and a clear plastic indicator frames the current speed setting. Depending on the blade in use, this speed adjustment will allow the operator to cut a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, bone, non-ferrous metals like aluminum and brass, and even many synthetic materials like Corian?. The RS180VS utilizes electronic speed control to ensure constant speed at whatever setting you choose. A locking post is provided to keep the knob in the OFF position, using your own small padlock.
The SC180VS uses standard length 5-inch blades, either plain-end or pin-end. The tool-less, blade changing/holding features include a quick-release lever, adjustable tension control knob, and both upper and lower blade clamps with adjustment screws. Both the upper and lower blade clamp screws are fitted with 5/8-inch diameter knobs, which allow easy adjustment of the holding clamps. These are spring loaded to ensure positive clamping. The clamp jaws are machined to prevent blade slippage during operation and V-grooves ensure proper setting with pin-type blades. In addition, the clamps are fitted with spring retractors, which hold the clamps open for easy blade insertion. Both clamps are easy to use with either plain- or pin-end blades; and, with the removable throat plate, the lower clamp access is relatively easy. A fairly large, quick release lever is provided to remove tension from the blade during changes. Just below the release lever, on the underside of the arm, an adjustment knob is provided for blade tensioning. The knob is clearly marked to indicate which direction increases or decreases tension. The tension release lever, tension adjustment knob, and throat plate are a bright yellow color for easy identification.
The SC180VS is very easy to use and you can cut some really tight and intricate curves with it. The 1-inch stroke slices the wood in good manner and with the right kind of blade the cuts are smooth, with very little kerf (the width of the blade cut). Properly mounted, there is only a minimal amount of vibration with it being most evident at about 1,000 strokes per minute. At that speed, the blower tube shakes. As pointed out by a knowledgeable person on the Ryobi User Forum, the vibration is more a factor of the tube length being resonant at that frequency! (To understand the technical nature of that would take a bit of explaining and some education on my part, so please excuse me if I don't attempt to do that here.) Other than that little phenomenon, the SC180VS performs flawlessly.
Blades come in an unbelievable variety and though it is beyond the scope of this review, I feel the need to point out to any novice like me, you'll need to do some reading. The blades are quite thin and one should consider that they will dull within thirty minutes of use. Also, there will be a good chance that during your initial learning curve, you will break your share. Buying blades locally is probably the most expensive way and you'll probably have a minimal selection. I recommend you check the web or ask around. For example, general use (FD-Polar style) blades are locally available for about $7.00 per dozen for mediocre quality. With mail order the variety is terrific and I've found the same style blades in top quality for as little as $2.40 per dozen and $22.50 per gross.
The Ryobi SC180VS 18-inch Variable Speed Scroll Saw has a lot of great features at a very competitive price. It is well made and should provide years of fun and creativity. It is also a very safe tool to use; but with any tool, I strongly suggest you read the manual. With the drop foot properly adjusted, the blade is pretty well guarded. Since the blade movement is up and down, the work piece is not subject to any kind of kickback and the foot piece will keep the work-piece from lifting on the upstroke of the blade. This is the only tool that I have ever used where I felt comfortable working within a couple of inches of the blade! Good operation takes only a little time and understanding, and of course some practice. Almost anyone can become proficient at using it. From what I've read, it's a lot like using a sewing machine! Just keep moving the material and let the blade follow the pattern that you are going to cut. Don't force the work, let the blade do the cutting, and keep the speed set within the guidelines suggested for your blade and material. Allegedly, a novice is going to break a few blades until they get the feel of the tool. At this point in time, I haven't made any great pieces of art with real fancy scrolling. The saw has been fun to play with though and it is very easy to use. Right out of the box, I sat it up on my table, took a few minutes to read the manual (a must for anyone). After becoming familiar with all the controls, I took a small 1 x 4 inch piece of pine and with no trouble at all, cut out my wife's name. This was my first ever attempt to do any thing like this, and although no where near perfect, she really liked it and now has it setting on her dresser. Hey, it was well worth the big smile! Practice and time will hopefully increase my skills, and, with a saw of this quality, I'm sure any frustration will be with the lack of ability on my part and not with the Ryobi SC180VS.