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    john nelson

    History of Scroll Sawing

    vintage.jpgFrom 1850 to 1920 scroll sawing was very popular in America. Many women and children did scrolling to supplement their household income. Some of these scroll saw projects were somewhat crude. If you go to an antique shop you will find many of these charming projects, things like wall boxes, mirrors, and clocks. We know that scrolling was very popular back then because of records showing the number of scroll saw blade sales at the time. Think about it, back then most folks worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, had NO electricity, and scroll sawed at nights with only a kerosene lamp to see by. Many times the only thin wood they could find was from cigar boxes. Many original clocks in museums still have the original cigar box labels visible inside the clock. Talk about the thrifty "Yankee." It is interesting to note that there are almost NO original paper patterns left today. There were no copiers around to make copies like today. If you ever see an original paper pattern you will find instructions to "mix up flour and water into a pasty mix and glue the pattern to the wood". Of course, the pattern was destroyed as you cut out the project. During those years, there were many companies supplying scroll saw patterns. H.L. Wild of New York City was one of the major pattern suppliers from 1880 to 1920. Many of these beautiful pattern designs are still being sold today. Many of these beautiful original designs have been re-designed and re-drawn by Dirk Boleman and me in order to preserve and record these beautiful designs for folks to enjoy for years to come. 

    Delta Scroll Saw.jpgIn 1935 Delta come out with a heavy cast iron rigid-arm "jig" saw. Many of us grew up in the 40's and 50's with one of these in every wood shop class in America. Those of us back then, surely remember the big solid green (or gray) jig saw sitting in every "manual arts" (woodworking) class in the country. These saws DID have a perfect up and down motion but were not really a step forward. It left a very rough cutting edge and you had to spend more time sanding the edges than you did cutting it out. Back in the early 40's before the war, everyone was making things with this jig saw. Things like tie racks, pipe holders, yard signs, and more. Seems everyone had a saw and wanted to show off. Many of these projects were very "Tacky." There were all kinds of lawn ornaments. I can remember a very tacky bird that was about 5 feet tall. It had two long skinny dowel legs and the head was mounted on a 3/4" wide spring so it bobbed up and down in the breeze it was the forerunner of the pink flamingos we see today. Those projects were proudly made and displayed as projects are today. Back in the late 30's and folks made these wonderful items to sell and help offset their incomes like they did in 1880. By the early 50's scroll sawing pretty much died. Except for high school projects, the jig saw vanished and was forgotten. (However, they do make great boat anchors) 

    Many people think scroll sawing restarted again in 1974 when Helmut Able of West Germany was granted an international patent for a "new" scroll saw. It is interesting to note, this new saw looks very much like the 1880 "New Rodgers" scroll saw. Some think scrolling began when Hanns Derke of Advanced Machinery went to Germany and set up an exclusive agreement to sell Hegner saws in the United States. Hegner Scroll saws were introduced to America at the Excellence in Woodworking show in New York in 1980. These little orange saws caught on very quickly. One Midwest machinery dealer went from selling 4 or 5 old-style scroll saws a year to selling over 100 Hegner scroll saws a year. One of the most successful salesperson for Hegner was Joanne Lockwood of California. She became the most successful and respected scroll saw educator and scroll saw author of many wonderful books on scrolling. Joanne conducted many of the very first scroll saw classes in the country. Around that same time, a scroll saw demonstrator named Ron Posten came on the scene for Hegner. Ron was a genius when it came to scroll saw demos. I had the pleasure to watch him work the crowd many times. One of his little demos was to "build a house by conscious". He would start off with a blank piece of wood and ask the crowd around him what kind of a house are we going to build....one story or two? He would start to cut out the house and ask, "Does the house have a porch"? He would add one if the crowd wanted one. "Does the roof have a chimney, how about a mailbox out front.....is the mailbox open or closed"? etc., etc., on and on he would go till the "house by conscious" was built. He would cut out the house as the crowd voted along...absolutely amazing! A joy to watch!  And of course, there was his 3-D reindeer...who cannot forget his reindeer? 

    Not far behind in 1982 was Chris Rice of RBI and the Hawk saws. The company getting its name from birds of prey. (Falcon, Eagle, Condor, and Hawk) They were the first scroll saws to be made in America. The and the `RB in the company name are from the company's owner, R.B. Rice. The 20" Hawk soon became the best seller and RBI was selling 3000 saws a year with over 100,000 sold to date. Chris sold the company in 2007 to Hawk Woodworking Tools. The company was sold again in 2009 to Bushton Manufacturing who continues manufacturing and selling the Hawk line to this day. 

    In 1986, Tom Sommerville came up with a unique mechanical way to move a scrollsaw blade up and down. He developed and introduced a scroll saw under the trade name of Excalibur. It was made in Canada. Today, Excalibur is sold by one of our members, Ray and Cindy Seymore of SEYCO of Rockwall, Texas. 

    Throughout the years, many less-expensive scroll saw brands have been introduced. 

    The above is the actual history of scrolling in America, below are MY recollections of how I saw scrolling developing in America. 

    Back in 1988, I had written 10 or 12 woodworking books on general woodworking. Many were how to reproduce antiques. I was a teacher back then and had the summers off so, in order to help promote my books I went to many woodworking shows throughout the country. My books were published by some of the top publishing companies in the country at the time. It seemed that every show I went to, I ran into a friendly, young publisher by the name of Alan Giagoncavo. I found him upbeat and cheerful and we often spent time together at the shows. I was always very impressed with his efforts, at that time. As I remember, he had only 7 or 8 books that his little company had published. The books were out there for sale, show after show....he never gave up! Alan was the publisher of a little-known book company located in the small town of East Petersburg, Penn. called, Fox Chapel. He often suggested that I do a book with Fox. I can remember thinking, yea, I am going to do a book with "this" little publishing company?...I don't think so! 

    At this time, I was writing articles for various wood-working magazines, such AMERICAN WOODWORKER, POPULAR WOODWORKING, and WOOD. Robert Becker, editor for a small publishing company located in New Jersey approached me and asked me if I would do articles for them. I agreed but, in reality, I really hated to because this magazine was simply terrible! It was printed on thin dull paper and all the photography was very grainy and the woodworking projects were simple and tacky. I hate to say it, but it was not a very good magazine at all. (Forgive me Bob) The wonderful and talented folks there at the publishing company more than made up for the poor quality of the magazine. It was called CREATIVE WOODWORKS AND CRAFTS. 

    dirk.jpgAt many of the woodworking shows I set up at, I saw a little orange saw sitting all by itself in the center of an open booth. It was plugged in and had a small piece of pine wood sitting on the table with no one in sight. I would pass the saw thinking, what can you do with such a silly little saw with that tiny blade? 

    Around that time, many events seemed to come together all at the same time. As I remember, James Riddle had a collection of original scroll saw clocks owned by his father. He hired a young talented designer by the name of Dirk Boelman to draw up patterns so these original clock patterns could be re-produced by scrollers of today. Jim's Wildwood Designs Company was the first company in America to develop and sell scrollsaw patterns at that time. These patterns were very high-end patterns, for only the very skilled scroller. Jim did not advertise very much, as I did not become aware of him for a few years. In fact, I copied the same famous and popular Chimes of Normandy clock that Jim and Dirk did a few years earlier. Years later Dirk and Karen went into business by themselves and were very successful. Most of the most advanced scroll saw patterns were developed by Dirk. Sadly we lost Dirk last year, 2014. 

    Pat Spielman along with his wife Patricia came out with a little scroll saw handbook. It was one of the very first books to really show what scrolling was and how to use it. The book was a leader for many years. Pat went on to publish and to coauthor many other scrollsaw books. 

    Around this time Rick and Karen Longabaugh from Washington came up with a unique folding basket and they developed and sold many wonderful basket designs. They called their company Berry Basket. 

    normal_Welcome0.jpgStarting around 1995, Dale Whisler of Stephens, Penn. started to have local scroll saw picnics every year. Dale did scroll saw demonstrations all over the area and was considered a scroll saw expert. Folks came to Dale for help with their scroll saw problems and projects. About 35 to 40 local scrollers came to his picnics each year. Dale held his picnics in an open pasture with cows all around the field. . Remember, this was back before scroll saw books, scroll saw magazines and very few scroll saw patterns were available. Joann Lockwood had just come out with a few of the only books on scrolling at that time. Dirk Boelman had a few advanced scroll saw patterns thru Wildwood Designs for sale but that was about it. 

    pat.jpgAfter one of Dale's picnics in 1997, a group of dedicated scrollers got together and met well into the night in the middle of a cow pasture. They had a meeting to investigate the feasibility of setting up a national scroll saw club. A committee was formed with Joe Diveley, Jack Firse, Clyde Fish, Dan Haus, Patti Henes, Dave Klim-chuck, Joanie West, Dale Whisler, and others to check things out. SAW was on its way! 

    Best_In_Show.jpgThe following year, in April 1998, at a scroll saw picnic put on by Joe Diveley at Pontiac, Illinois, the Scroll Saw Association of the World was officially formed. I had attended a few of these picnics and enjoyed them very much. The excitement, the enthusiasm was electrifying! I couldn't wait till the next one! I told Robert Becker, editor of a woodworking magazine, about the picnics and all the excitement it created. The very next picnic, he was there! Bob is amazing, He could always see a good thing 1000 miles away. He and I decided to put two or three scroll saw projects in the very next issue of CWWC to see the response. We did and scrolling as we know it today took off! CWWC became the very best scroll saw magazines on the market at the time and it was all due to Bob's intuition. 

    normal_DaleWhisler.jpgThe very first issue of the SAWDUST newsletter was printed in April 1998. The very first SAW chapter was started in May 1998 and Mike Moorlach was in charge. They were called the Sioux Scrollers. The first Board of Directors meeting was conducted in December that same year. The BOD was made up of 3 volunteers, Steve Landry, Dave Klimchuck, and Janice Manuel. 

    Around 1995 or so, there were three small national scroll saw newsletters in print. I had one, Dirk came right after, and Pat started his. Pat's newsletter was later turned into SCROLLSAW WOODWORKING AND CRAFTS, after purchased by Alan Giagoncavo from, you guessed it, Fox Publishers. Today that "young publisher with 7 or 8 books "is now the largest book/magazine company in the country. Alan deserves every bit of his success he surely earned it....he is very special and just an amazing person! 

    May 1999, SAW started right of with over 500 active members. Folks hear about SAW from newsletters published by Dirk Boelman, Pat Spelman, me, and help from RBI and Hegner scroll saw companies. 

    c1.jpgA pivotal event for SAW was at the 2000 SAW Conference, put on by Joanie West at Cedar Rapids, Iowa was the official notification of our 501 status. This was a three-year effort by John Firse. Today, Saw is run by a 5 member Board of Directors who adopt rules and regulations and manage SAW. 

    c2.jpgThe president, executive officer supervise and controls all business and affairs of SAW. Other officers are Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. SAW has twelve very active local chapters throughout the country and eleven Ambassador Programs to help scrollers with any problems they might have. 

    When scrolling first got started most projects were just flat one-piece projects. Later, many unique designers came up with all kind of interesting scroll saw projects. Diana Thompson developed all kinds of 3-D projects. 

    This is NOT easy to do, I tried many times myself and ended up with two-headed animals with 6 legs. Later, I thought of the woven basket designs that give the illusion of actually being woven. 

    I could not write a history about scrolling in America without acknowledging the following folks who contributed so much. Pat and Ray Lupori who worked so hard to get SAW started, Rick Hutcheson, an expert on antique scroll saws of all kinds, Mike Moorlach, the Flying Dutchman, Lucille Brooke who loves scrolling, Barbara Peters of PS WOOD, Ray Wilckens, Ernie Lang, Tom Sevy, and so many others. 

    Today, scrolling is still very popular and has branched off into other areas such as fretwork, marquetry, intarsia, and 3D. Back when Dirk, Rick, and I (and others) started designing, we did it all by hand, with pen and ink on vellum. Today, with the amazing computer drawing programs, anyone can be a designer. Things have really changed over the past few years, you can find all kinds of scrollsaw information such as tips, scroll-saw lessons, and patterns at all levels for sale, on all the various websites. Truly amazing! 

    Heaven knows where scrolling will go from here....time will tell but it still will be fun and exciting. 


    John A. Nelson resides in Rhode Island.  John is a lifetime and charter member of SAW.

    Written by John Nelson.  Reprinted with permission from the author.  

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    Hi John:
    I can't believe that we have something in common
    I tried many times myself and ended up with two-headed animals with 6 legs."
    Great article and seeing some of the names in there brings back a lot of memories
    You hit the nail on the head with your last statement - YES, it's still fun and exciting

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    You have "pulled back the curtain" and vividly shown us where we came from. Everytime I think this hobby might become static, something new comes along: compound cutting, bevel cut bowls, your process for adding color, etc.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. 

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    Thanks John for your very informative article. Some I knew but you filled in many blanks. The mention of a "little orange scroll saw" sitting in a booth brought me back to when I used to attend every Woodworking Show before they ended. There was always a guy there demonstrating a little Hegner and turning out tiny reindeer without hardly looking. Almost total muscle memory. I always wanted one if those saws. Now I have one. 

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    Mark asked me, "when did Intarsia get start ? "  I am not sure exactly how or where it got started, but Judy Gale Roberts surely

    has perfected it over the years.  Her work is amazing.  (I played a trick on her years ago ...I hope she has forgiven me by now.  Lol )   

    I consider Dale Whisler, the FATHER OF SCROLLING.  I do not think scrolling would ever have been very popular or even got started

    without him.  It all got started with his scroll saw picnics back in the early 80's.  To think, it all got started in a cow pasture.   Sadly

    we lost Dale a few years ago, he was always cheerful and smiled all the time.  ( I wonder that he was hiding ???? ....Lol ).       JAN




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    Thanks for the article John.

    You mentioned Ernie Lang at the end.  Ernie was one of the founders, along with Dick DeFelice, of the scroll saw club of which I am currently president.  Ernie was passionate about finding, restoring and preserving classic fretwork patterns.  It was the main reason he started the club back in 2004.  Alas, Ernie passed away a number of years ago.  

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