My current saw is an Excalibur EX-21 scroll saw.
There is a great review at Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts here
. I purchased it from Ray Seymore (owner) at Seyco
(located in TX--outstanding customer service!). Mine was designed and manufactured by Sommerville Design in Canada. The same folks who designed and built the original Dewalt 788s before Dewalt moved manufacturing to China. Sommerville Design has since been bought out by General International in March 2006, and the new saws will be available in Jan 2007 (albeit in a puke green color versus this high performance purple!).
I won't get too much into pattern designing except I primarily use Paint Shop Pro X for making patterns. The first order of business is to figure out your choice of wood and to study its' grain characteristics for optimal pattern placing. There is no real science to this part, but I like to think I'm unleashing the cutting from the wood. I usually stack cut 3-4 pieces of 1/8" solid core plywood (baltic birch, oak, maple, or cherry) for increased productivity. I also use solid hardwoods, usually 3/4" in thickness.
If you cover the top of the wood with blue painters tape, it makes it much easier to remove the pattern once sawing is completed. Patterns are adhered with 3M #77 spray adhesive and then all of the holes are drilled in waste areas for the through or "pierced" cuts. Drilling can entail as few as 25 or less holes, or several hundreds depending on the complexity of the piece.
Then it's just a matter of getting down to business and making all of the cuts. Some pieces can take under an hour or 3-5+ hours, again depending on the complexity of the pattern. The Chief and CMSgt stripe piece on the home page takes approximately 3 hours to cut out. I usually use Deft-brand spray lacquer--quick to dry (recoat in 30 minutes) and easy to use. For very detailed cuttings, I may dip / soak the piece in tung oil to fully coat / protect all of the cut areas. I finish up with #0000 steel wool and "burnishing" with a piece of plain, every day brown paper bag which has the effect of #800+ sandpaper leaving a nice glossy finish. I normally buy my frames, and once they are cleaned, the finished piece is installed with appropriate backing / colors, and closed up. My future pieces are going to be matted, titled, numbered and signed on the mat.