- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) - On a recent Tuesday evening at Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren, woodworkers assembled in the fellowship hall to lay out their latest work and talk shop.

The Shenandoah Valley Scrollers carve out wood and other materials with a scroll saw to create everything from spoons, boxes and trivets, to beautiful and intricate decorative art pieces.

The group was founded in 1996 by a handful of scroll saw enthusiasts who met through area craft shows, and as current club president Jim Earley puts it, “the rest is history.”

Earley, 70, of Waynesboro, makes toys and trivets to sell at craft shows.

“I cut eight to 10 hours every day,” Earley said.

Others in the club, like vice president George Lange, focus on wooden spoons, or David Fitzimons, who enjoys making wooden boxes made of walnut and red oak. The monthly meeting allows members to discuss techniques, look at the newest saws on the market and share patterns and ideas.

“Everyone has (their own) things they like to do,” Earley said.

The scroll saw’s thin blade is vertical, and when powered, it moves up and down, cutting the material on the down stroke. To cut out curves and edges, the block of wood, Corian, or whatever material is being used, is pressed onto the blade and rotated on the table to form a shape.

Earley likened the scroll saw to a sewing machine.

“If they can sew, they can use a scroll saw,” he said. “It’s the same principle as a sewing machine.”

Scroll saws can be traced back to at least the 1800s, according to Earley. While modern ones are electric, Earley found one with a belt for a steam engine, which shows how old the machine is.

Today, scroll saws vary in price, starting at $100 to well over $1,000.

It can cut any material, even metal and stone.

“I don’t think there’s any saw out there that compares to a scroll saw,” Earley said. “A lot of people have scroll saws in their barns or their shops, and they don’t know how to use them.”

What happens if you make a mistake while using a scroll saw? Usually the error can be fixed, or else it must be thrown out.

To make sure the edges are straight, Earley will sometimes use a credit card or a gauge to measure.

“Nine times out of 10, I’ll put a flashlight behind it. If I can see light, it’s not square,” he said.

Fitzimons, 81, of Grottoes, recently carved out an ornately-designed wood cutout of the Lord’s Prayer on three large pieces of wood, which took him three months to complete.

“I cut them all three out at the same time,” Fitzimons said. “I only made the wood about 3/116th of an inch thick, and then I layered three of them together and cut it all at the same time.”

The piece was done in sections at a time, then spray glued together on a cloth that is now framed.

Fitzimons’ cutouts of the Lord’s Prayer are hanging at Mount Olive Brethren Church in McGaheysville.

Always interested in woodworking, Fitzimons mastered the craft of the scroll saw over the last 30 years.

“I’ve done woodworking and wood projects for years before I started using the scroll saw,” he said. “I just enjoy cutting out the wood.”

The Shenandoah Valley Scrollers want to pass down the skill to younger generations. It has posed a particular challenge, as Earley said young people “don’t want to get involved in this because it takes too long.”

River Wilfong, 16, of Spring Creek, and her sister, Daisey, 15, are the youngest members of the club. The girls’ parents are among the founding members of the group, which meant that River learned the craft at a young age, at as early as 7 years old.

Some of River’s most impressive pieces include a wood cutout of a wolf and a basset hound. She likes to give her creations away as gifts.

“I just really enjoy crafts and making things with my hands,” she said.

River is into knitting and other crafts as well, but the scroll saw work seems to “wow” people the most for its detail.

“I always liked that no one else has ever done it in school,” River said. “So, if I show someone, they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I could never dream of doing anything like that.’”

While River was initially nervous about using the blade - albeit most are fairly safe to use - she said getting the hang of the saw wasn’t difficult, and naturally felt more comfortable around it with experience.

“There are still some times when it freaks me out a little bit, but I get over it pretty easily,” she said.

River and her family hardly ever miss a scrollers meeting.

The group of 15 to 20 people have formed a bond over their mutual interest in scrolling.

“I really enjoy this group of people and seeing their progress,” River said. “And also to get patterns and advice.”

The Shenandoah Valley Scrollers meeting every third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren.

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