How to Cut Curves in Wood

My favorite part about working with wood is how I can cut it, sand it, and work it to look just like I want it to without much hassle. As long as I've got the right saw blade, I'm set. But there are times when I want to cut a design that is just a little more complicated than I am used to. Fortunately, there are a lot of different types of saws and blades that can make quick work of intricate curves and angles—even circles.

Consider which of these tools would work best for your project.

Coping Saw

A coping saw is a hand saw with a narrow blade stretched across a U or G-shaped frame. It's most often used for cutting fine external shapes and interior cutouts for small DIY projects. Carpenters also use them frequently for molding cuts.

A hand coping saw is a great way to handle small projects without having to rely on power tools. The blade can even be removed from the saw and threaded through a hole in the wood. This allows easy access to intricate angles and curves in the center of wood when you don’t want to have to cut through the outer edges.

Hand Fret Saw

A fret saw is very similar to a coping saw, but fret saws are designed to handle even tighter curves, angles, and more delicate projects. For very small and intricate woodworking projects, a fret saw is probably your best bet.

Router Trammel (Jig)

A router trammel is a jig that connects your router to the medium being cut in a way that provides precise guidance while cutting a circle or ellipse.

A router trammel converts your router into a circle cutting powerhouse. It involves using a piece of wood (or metal) as a pivot arm that connects a pivot point on one end to your router on the other. It's a similar principle to using a compass to draw a circle.

You can buy a router trammel (jig) kit from your local hardware and supply store (some even allow you to cut both circles and ellipses), or you can build a basic one yourself using a scrap piece of hardboard.

For other types of curves, angles, and patterns, consider the following cutting tools.

Scroll Saw

A scroll saw is similar in many ways to a fret saw, except that it's motorized (in some areas the two names are used interchangeably). A scroll saw uses a narrow blade to cut intricate curved lines and patterns. The blade moves in an up and down motion. Their blades are similar to the fret saw blade, but scroll saws are able to cut faster due to the motorized cutting action. Like a coping saw or fret saw, the blade can be removed and inserted through a pre-drilled hole for internal cuts.

Scroll saws are great for cutting fine and intricate curves and angles into wood. Be very careful when using these saws. Always practice safety and caution.

Jig Saw

Jig saws use a motorized reciprocating blade to cut curves. They are great for quickly cutting curves into wood along a drawn line.

Jig saw blades can bend with pressure, thus causing your cut to be angled instead of square. To avoid this, don’t try and force the blade through the cut. Instead, always make sure you’re using a sharp blade, and let the saw do the work.

Of course, many jig saws also allow for you to cut a beveled edge on purpose, but take time to really practice before attempting to cut difficult angles and curves.

Band Saw

A band saw is a continuous blade (a loop) that is driven by wheels and a motor. It can be used to cut many different kinds of material, including wood.

Many jobs that can be done with a scroll saw can also be done with a band saw, given that you’ve got the right blade. One major difference is that a band saw’s blade is a continuous loop, which precludes “threading” the blade for internal cuts.

Band saws are okay for cutting curves into wood, especially when they have a thinner blade mounted. However, they're very hazardous if used incorrectly, so always practice safe operating procedures. Learn more about band saw safety here and here.