Laser Cutter vs. Scroll Saw: Which to Use?

Laser Cutter vs. Scroll Saw

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If you are planning on doing a lot of precise cutting, there are a variety of tools at your disposal. Two commonly used tools in various industries include the scroll saw and the laser cutter. Today, we want to figure out what both of these tools are, what makes them similar and different, and which one you should use for specific applications.

Laser Cutters and Scroll Saws: The Basics

Before we talk about the similarities and differences between these two tools, let’s first figure out what both of them are.

What Is a Laser Cutter?

Laser Cutter A laser cutter is a very modern and powerful cutting tool that uses a very strong laser beam to burn, melt, or vaporize the material underneath. Here, a very thin, focused laser is amplified by a special lens, which then has the ability to cut a wide variety of resources, as well as etch custom designs, shapes, and patterns into various materials.

The really cool thing here is of course that there is absolutely no physical contact between the laser cutter and the material being cut. This tool can cut a wide range of different materials including wood, paper, glass, plastic, metal, gemstones, masonry, and more.

Something to keep in mind is that laser cutters are almost always controlled by computers. In other words, you program a specific set of instructions into the computer, which then precisely controls the laser cutter as it does its job.

What Is a Scroll Saw?

Scroll Saw We then have the scroll saw, which is like a large, powered benchtop coping saw, that may also be pedal operated. In other words, a scroll saw features an extremely thin, fine-toothed blade, which moves up and down in a reciprocating motion at very high speeds.

This type of saw features a table through which the blade passes, is mounted both above and below the table, and is controlled by very fast-moving arms. Due to the very thin blade of the scroll saw, it is ideal for making precise cuts into wood.

It can be used to make very intricate and detailed exterior cuts, as well as interior cuts and all sorts of shapes and curves. A scroll saw is a very commonly used woodworking tool, although it may on occasion also be used to cut plastic, metal, and even glass.

Similarities of Laser Cutters and Scroll Saws

Now that we know what both of these tools are, let’s figure out what similarities they share.

1. They’re Stationary

Although a laser cutter machine is usually going to be larger than a scroll saw, both are large, heavy, and stationary. They are not handheld, and certainly not designed to be portable. There may be some smaller benchtop scroll saw models out there, although they’re usually still not very portable.

2. They Can Handle a Range of Materials

Another similarity is that both the scroll saw and the laser cutter can handle a variety of materials. A scroll saw can work with wood, plastic, metal, and glass, given that you are using the right blade.

A laser cutter can also work with many different materials, even more than a scroll saw. A laser cutter can also work with paper, gemstones, masonry, and even fabrics.

3. They Can Both Be Precise

Although the precision of a scroll saw does somewhat depend on the ability of the user, they are designed for highly precise work. Of course, laser cutters are also designed for precision work, which can be seen by the fact that they are computer-controlled.

Laser Cutter at Work

Differences Between Laser Cutters and Scroll Saws

Now that we know what makes these two tools similar, let’s figure out what makes scroll saws and laser cutters different.

1. The Cutting Method

Of course, these are two fundamentally different tools. A scroll saw uses a very thin and fine-toothed blade to cut through a variety of materials. That blade has to come into physical contact with the material being cut.

On the other hand, a laser cutter uses a laser beam to both cut and etch a variety of materials. A laser cutter therefore technically does not make physical contact with the material being cut or etched.

This is obviously a massive difference, one that leads to most of the other differences that we are about to look at.

2. Level of Precision

Yes, scroll saws are of course designed for precision work. Those very thin and small blades are able to cut precise details into wood and other materials. However, with a scroll saw, you rely on your own abilities to achieve that high level of precision.

On the other hand, with a laser cutter, it’s the laser cutter itself doing all of the work. Laser cutters are therefore much more consistent with their precision.

3. Human vs Computer

Related to the point above, the reason scroll saws are less accurate than laser cutters is because scroll saws rely on a human, whereas laser cutters rely on a computer.

The vast majority of laser cutters are computer-controlled, which means that you actually program them to perform a specific job, which they can then execute. Because of this, laser cutters can achieve a level of precision that scroll saws just can’t.

4. General Applications

Scroll saws are most often used to cut both interior and exterior cuts into pieces of wood, mainly delicate shapes and patterns, as well as curves. However, depending on the blade, they may also work for plastic, metal, and glass.

Laser cutters on the other hand are used to precisely cut a very wide variety of materials including wood, plastic, glass, metal, paper, fabric, and more. Laser cutters can also be used to etch specific designs into materials.

5. The Settings They’re Used In

Scroll saws are almost always used in woodworking shops, whereas laser cutters are often used in larger industrial settings, as well as by artists.

6. Cost

You can find a really nice scroll saw for a few hundred dollars, whereas the cheapest laser cutter out there is going to run you at least $2000.

7. Size and Weight

The other difference here is that because laser cutters usually incorporate a computer into the mix, and because of the way they are built, they are generally much larger and heavier than scroll saws.

Scroll Saw at Work

Laser Cutters vs. Scroll Saws: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are looking to cut shapes and patterns into wood and various other materials, then a scroll saw does work. However, keep in mind that this scroll saw is generally best used for cutting wood.

If you plan on making extremely precise cuts into many different materials, including wood, metal, glass, plastic, paper, fabric, gemstones, masonry, and more, then a laser cutter comes in handy. A laser cutter is going to be much more precise than a scroll saw, which is why it is often used in industrial applications where the utmost precision is required.

If you are going to be doing a whole lot of cutting, as well as etching, then a laser cutter is ideal, although they are very expensive. Generally speaking, a laser cutter is not something that a normal person would purchase. As a general contractor or building professional, a laser cutter is usually not something you’re going to have use for it.


As you can see, both laser cutters and scroll saws are excellent tools that you may have a use for. Now that you know what makes them different, you can make an informed decision between them.

How Do Scroll Saws Compare with Other Tools?

See how scroll saws compare with: bandsaws | coping saws | jigsaws