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A cut above the rest

Canyon Country man plies his skills in scroll saw artistry

Posted: February 3, 2014 3:45 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2014 3:45 p.m.

Scroll saw artist James McGuire, of Wood-N-Tole, displays two of his more intricate pieces of scroll saw artwork containing hundreds of individual cuts created in his garage in Canyon Country. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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The fresh smell of cut wood is strong as James McGuire moves around his garage in Canyon Country.

In a cluttered corner, he stoops to pick up something.

With a touch of care and delicacy, McGuire lifts up a piece of wood about the size of a microwave.

Cut into the wood is a piece he has dubbed “First Fathers” — an intricate carving that features the four presidents whose faces line Mount Rushmore.

But in McGuire’s version, standing in front of the landmark are renderings of four Native American leaders, including Chief Joseph and Geronimo.

The detail in the piece is meticulous. Details on everything, from the craggy outlines of each president’s face to the ornamentation of the Native American dress, are etched faithfully into the wood.

And it was all done by the same machine: a scroll saw.

“Because of the electronic age we live in, people think it’s done by a laser,” McGuire said, looking down at his work. “People don’t really understand that it’s hand made.

“It’s old school,” he said, his expression anything but wooden.

Scroll saw

For years, McGuire has carved out a niche in the Santa Clarita Valley as a scroll saw artist, creating intricate works of art from simple pieces of wood.

McGuire said he began largely by chance when he purchased a saw from a vendor at a fair.

From there, he cut his teeth on simpler carvings, such as etching the names of children to create family keepsakes.

“Some of the stuff I started out with was just gifts, or people would ask, ‘Can you do such and such?’” McGuire said.

As his interest and his abilities grew, McGuiremoved on to more involved projects, such as carving recognizable faces, which he is now quite adept at.

“You give me a name, I probably have a pattern for them,” McGuire said. “I have everything from Thomas Jefferson to Beyoncé.”

While the notion of scroll saw artistry was once new to him, the skills required built upon his previous affinity for crafts and construction.

“I’ve never had any schooling or formal training,” McGuire said. “But I always liked to do things with my hands, to build things.”

Scroll sawing

The scroll saw is a modestly sized, unassuming machine that typically occupies a corner of McGuire’s garage.

To begin a carving, McGuire drills one or more holes into a piece of wood. He will later use those holes to affix the saw.

Then he attaches a pattern that outlines the piece he is preparing to carve.

When activated, the saw cuts vertically, allowing McGuire to move and rotate the piece of wood around to trace the pattern.

For each individual continuous cut required in a particular piece, McGuire has to drill a new hole to set the saw.

Some simple pieces require only a few different cuts, meaning McGuire’s work can be over in a matter of minutes.
Others take hundreds of different cuts from the saw and hours of steady-handed work to complete.

McGuire said his most intricate piece was probably “Big Cats” — a work that features five different large felines, the shapes dotted, spotted and striped in detail befitting a National Geographic cover.

Of course, not every endeavor is a success.

McGuire recalled a piece he worked on featuring two NBA players — Boston Celtics great Bill Russell and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — going up for a ball.

He was down to the home stretch — the final few cuts necessaryto finish — when he accidentally tore out a section.

“When that happens, that’s what I call ‘designer firewood,’” McGuire said with a laugh. “It goes right into the fireplace.”

Family affair

McGuire and his wife, Arlene, have lived in Canyon Country for more than 20 years.

Their home has both a welcoming air and a feeling one would typically experience entering an art gallery or craft store.

Scroll saw art pieces line the walls of the living room.

“I enjoy cutting just about anything,” McGuire said as he looked around the living room.

The Canyon Country man’s passion hasn’t just spilled over into the family home; it’s become a regular part of the couple’s routine.

Together, they run Wood-N-Tole, traveling to arts and crafts shows throughout the year to spotlight and sell McGuire’s pieces.


It’s not the modest boost to his income he gets from art shows that keeps McGuire in the scroll saw game.

“If I calculated it, I probably wouldn’t make minimum wage selling these,” he said with a smile.

Simply put, it’s a hobby and a passion.

“I’m going to keep cutting stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
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