Coping Saw vs. Scroll Saw: Which to Use?

Coping Saw vs. Scroll Saw: Which to Use?

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There are a wide variety of tools and saws that may be used in woodworking. Two very popular saws designed for some fairly intricate work include the coping saw and the scroll saw.

Although they may share some similarities, these are fundamentally different tools. Today, we want to compare coping saws and scroll saws to see what makes them similar and different. We’ll also talk about which one is best for specific purposes.

Coping Saws and Scroll Saws: The Basics

Before we start talking about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what both coping saws and scroll saws are.

What Is a Coping Saw?

Coping Saw A coping saw is a relatively small handheld type of saw. In fact, this is a manually powered saw. In other words, it is a special type of handsaw that does not have any kind of motor or power behind it. The coping saw features an extremely thin and relatively fine tooth metal blade that is stretched in between the frame of the coping saw.

The coping saw features a U-shaped or rectangular frame that features clips on both sides to hold the blade in place. Technically speaking, it is a type of bow saw. In woodworking, the coping saw is generally used for cutting intricate external shapes, and for making interior cutouts.

In order to make interior cutouts, the blade must be removed from the clips, passed through an interior hole in the workpiece, and then reattached to the clips. Due to the large frame or throat of the coping saw, it is rather ideal for making interior cutouts.

What Is a Scroll Saw?

Scroll Saw We then have the scroll saw, which is indeed a powered saw, or in other words, it does have a motor. The scroll saw features a very small, thin, and fine-tooth blade, where the teeth face downwards towards the workpiece.

In terms of the action of the blade, it reciprocates, kind of like a jigsaw, which means that it moves up and down at very high speeds. Although the scroll saw is not massive, it does come complete with its own base for the workpiece to rest on while cutting is being performed.

It does also come complete with a very large throat for handling relatively large pieces of wood. In woodworking, scroll saws are generally used for cutting a variety of very intricate shapes, curves, and designs.

Due to the very thin design of the blade, making very tight corners, curves, and all sorts of designs is made quite easy. They can also be used to make interior cutouts, even at an angle, as the blade angle can often be adjusted.

Similarities of Coping Saws and Scroll Saws

Now that we know what both coping saws and scroll saws are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. Same Blade Style

One of the similarities that both of these saws share is that they feature relatively thin and fine-tooth blades. These are fairly long, thin, and designed for somewhat intricate work. One is better for intricate work than the other, but that said, they can both handle fairly delicate tasks.

2. Same Blade Motion

Another similarity that both of these saws share is that they both have the same kind of blade motion. In other words, with both saws, the blade reciprocates back and forth. With the scroll saw, however, the blade moves up and down, whereas with the coping saw the blade moves back and forth.

3. Both Can Cut Interiors

Another impressive feature, and a similarity that both of these saws share is that they can both technically cut the interiors of pieces of wood without cutting from the perimeter. The blades of both saws can be removed, and then threaded through a hole in a piece of wood to cut out interiors. This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits that both of these saws have.

4. Both Can Cut Curves

Due to their relatively thin designs, and because they are somewhat flexible, both scroll saws and coping saws have the ability to cut curves and fairly intricate shapes.

Coping Saw in Use

Differences Between Coping Saws and Scroll Saws

Now that we know what the similarities are, let’s figure out what makes coping saws and scroll saws different from each other.

1. Power Source

Perhaps the main difference between the scroll saw and the coping saw is the power source. A scroll saw is a power tool, or in other words, is electric that you plug in, whereas a coping saw is 100% handheld and manual tool.

2. Size and Weight

A coping saw is a relatively small and lightweight manual handheld saw. It is extremely portable. On the other hand, the scroll saw is a much larger tool. Although it is technically portable, it does come with its own table and is designed for stationary use.

3. Cutting Stroke

With a coping saw, the blade only cuts on the pull stroke, and the blade moves in a reciprocating manner on the horizontal plane. However, with a scroll saw, the blade actually cuts on both the pull and the push stroke, and it moves in a reciprocating manner on the vertical plane. You generally push a coping saw down into the material whereas you push the material horizontally into the blade of a scroll saw.

4. Throat Size

On a coping saw, although they are designed for making interior cuts, the throat is not huge, so they can’t handle big materials. On the other hand, the throat on a scroll saw is much larger, and it can therefore accommodate larger materials. This is especially the case when making interior cuts.

5. Tooth Thickness and Ideal Material Thickness

One very notable difference is that scroll saw blades are slightly thinner than coping saw blades, and they also have finer teeth. For this reason, scroll saws are better for very intricate and delicate work, whereas coping saws are slightly better for thicker materials where not quite as much delicacy is required.

6. Speed

Of course, because the coping saw is manual, there is only so much speed that it can produce. On the other hand, a scroll saw is a very fast moving electric saw that allows for great speed when cutting. With that being said, for this reason, coping saws are sometimes used for intricate detail work as they don’t move as fast and therefore often allow for more control.

7. Ease of Use

This is really a double edged sword. Some people would say that a scroll saw is much easier to use because there is no manual labor involved. However, others would say that a coping saw might be a bit easier to use because it’s not electric and moves much slower, and therefore offers a bit more control.

8. Work Table

Another big difference between these two types of saws is that a coping saw is a handheld saw that does not come with any kind of work table, whereas the scroll saw has its own work table where you can rest the workpiece on.

9. Blade Life

Coping saw blades are extremely long and flexible, and if you put too much pressure on them, you can bend and break them. This is generally not a problem with scroll saw blades, and they therefore last much longer.

10. Cost

Scroll saws, due to having motors and many components, are far more expensive than the much simpler and smaller coping saw.

Scroll Saw in Use

Coping Saw vs. Scroll Saw: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are doing fine, delicate, and intricate work on relatively thin pieces of wood, then it is a scroll saw that you need.

Scroll saws are excellent for making holes and interior cutouts at various angles, for making fine curves, and for making a variety of wooden patterns, both on the interior and exterior of workpieces.

Coping saws, on the other hand, can also be used for making interior cuts, and due to their smaller frame size, they work well in confined spaces.

That said, if those interior cuts involve extremely delicate shapes, then it is a scroll saw that you want to use. However, if you just need to remove a lot of material, then the coping saw is fine.

Moreover, due to the slightly thicker tooth style of the coping saw, it is better suited for making rough cuts on thicker materials. The coping saw is also what you would use to create the cope joint.


Now that you know what the main differences between scroll saws and coping saws are you can make an informed decision between the two.

How Do Coping and Scroll Saws Compare with Other Tools?

See how coping saws compare with: fret saws | hacksaws | jigsaws

See how scroll saws compare with: bandsaws | jigsaws | laser cutters