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Home » How to Cut Balsa Wood? (2 Different Ways)

How to Cut Balsa Wood? (2 Different Ways)

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Balsa tree, huge flowering weed, or whatever you choose to call this plant – it produces balsa wood. Balsa may not be as popular as others, like cedar or oak, but its distinct look and feel ensures it stands out wherever it is used.

Balsa wood features a bright hue closer to off-white. Its tan easily creates a great contrast when used with other darker wood types.

Aside from its unique look, balsa is also one of the lightest wood in the world, making it easy to work with in creating different woodṣworking projects.

On the other hand, its softness means it is unsuitable for projects carrying a lot of weight. Surprisingly, balsa is classified as a hardwood because it has leaves and not needles. However, it is arguably the softest hardwood you’ll ever get to buy.

Working with balsa is easy because of its lightness; however, this feature makes cutting the wood tricky.

It is easy to damage balsa wood while cutting it, so many woodworkers are wary of using balsa for their projects. However, cutting balsa shouldn’t stop you from utilizing this impressive wood for your woodwork.

There are several ways to cut balsa to prevent damage, ensure a clean cut, and produce the best-finished works. This guide discusses ways you can use to cut balsa down to the perfect size.

Ways to Cut Balsa Wood

Ways to Cut Balsa Wood
Image Credit: pitsco

Balsa wood is soft, which means several non-conventional tools can cut through this wood with ease. However, which tools can cut balsa without damaging it or leaving behind a rough edge? Here are ways to cut balsa wood:

1. Using a Utility Knife

Using a Utility Knife
Image Credit: toolsinitiate

Simple utility knives can cut balsa wood without stress. You do not need sophisticated cutting tools with balsa wood, as simple tools around the workshop can cut the wood.

Also Read:- How To Cut Wood Paneling And What Are The Best Tools For That?

Step 1: Place the Balsa on a Comfortable Surface

Choose a comfortable working surface, ideally one where you don’t mind seeing cut marks on it. The work surface should have a lot of room around it to carry long balsa wood.

You should also be able to move around the table to access different wood parts without moving the log. You can also place a plank over the table surface if you don’t want to leave marks on it.

Step 2: Mark the Wood

Depending on the type of cut, marking the wood may take slightly different forms. Measure the desired light using a tape measure and draw the line with a pencil with a sharp edge.

Use a ruler to guide the pencil and produce precise marks. You only need a ruler and a sharp pencil for simple straight-line cuts like rip cuts.

You’ll need stencils when making more intricate cuts like curves or shapes out of balsa wood. First, you can carve the shape on thick cardboard or use premade cut out shapes.

Then, place the cutout on the balsa and mark using a sharp pencil. Pencils allow you to make corrections by cleaning the markings.

Step 3: Cut with Utility Knife

By now, the shape to cut is visible on the balsa wood. Next, you’ll need to position the utility knife at an angle allowing the tip to enter the wood cleanly.

The ideal angle to hold the knife is 45 degrees to the wood, allowing only the tip to cut the wood. Typically, the smaller the knife area touching wood, the better precision you can get.

To prevent the wood from breaking, start cutting perpendicular to the grain and move from there. It is often beneficial to make all cross-cuts before finally making rip cuts.

This will ensure the wood doesn’t break off while cutting. The softness of the wood means too much pressure, while cutting can break it.

So, instead of making a clean cut through the wood, first, make a small incision into the top layer of the wood.

Use continuous strokes to make light cuts, and continue making those slight cuts by applying little pressure till you’ve cut through the wood. Where possible, end the cut with a crosscut, ensuring strength and preventing breakouts.

Step 4: Sand the Edges

Making those continuous light strokes will create small cuts; however, sanding the edges is still a great idea to ensure cleanliness.

You’ll need fine sandpaper for this exercise. Rub the sandpaper on the edges, ensuring your sand allows the grain to improve the finished look.

Maintain the light pressure you used while cutting the wood due to the delicate nature of the balsa. Light pressure becomes even more important for special shapes with thin corners.

2. Using a Cricut Maker

Using a Cricut Maker

A Cricut Maker is a machine that makes intricate designs and shapes off soft materials like balsa wood.

However, the Cricut maker can cut only balsa wood with a thickness of 1/32″, 1/16″, and 3/32″. This method of cutting balsa wood requires less physical effort, more detail, and technical skill. Here’s how to cut balsa wood with a Cricut maker:

Also Read:- How to Cut Crown Molding Perfectly? | A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Upload Design

Cricut maker uses the design you upload to make the cuts. So, you need to make the required design or pattern and then upload this pattern to the Cricut design space.

Next, you may need to resize the pattern on the Cricut design space to the perfect size you want to cut out from the balsa.

Finally, you’ll need to weld each piece together for letters and designs where the patterns are stand-alone.

Step 2: Set the Cricut Dial and Attach the Blade

The Cricut dial allows you to set the depth, speed, pressure, and more for the cut before you start. This way, you do not have to make any manual adjustments.

To set your desired figures, you’ll need to select the dial to custom by tapping on the make it button and choosing “browse all materials” from there, tap “material settings” from the menu.

Then, scroll down to the bottom to find an “add new materials” tab that’ll allow you to create a custom material and name it balsa wood.

Here’s a template you should follow for balsa wood: cut pressure – 350, multi-cut – 8x.

Next, select a deep point blade from the blade option and attach the blade to the right side of the blade holder. At this point, you can add the exact details of the cut.

Step 3: Position the Balsa and Cut

Position the balsa wood on the cutting mat, ensuring parts with gums, knots, or warps are not included in the cut area.

Typically, the cutting mat is sticky to hold the wood in place; when gum weakens, it is best to use tape to hold down all the edges of the balsa.

Start the Cricut as the blade makes light cuts on the wood. Hit the cut button till the Cricut has cut out the pattern.

You’ll need to check the wood after every cut to see if the shape has been cut out. Checking the wood only involves looking at it without shifting it on the map, which can affect the cut.

Step 4: Remove the Wood

To remove the cut wood, you’ll need to remove the cutting mat from the Cricut maker with the balsa attached. Then, carefully remove your pattern from the piece by tilting the mat.

The cut piece will pull out since the edges are belt down with tape. Sometimes, the Cricut maker will not correctly cut out some parts of the pattern from the piece; here, you can break off those points using a mallet or small knife.

Step 5: Sand the Edges

Use fine and thin sandpaper to smoothen the edges. Applying only a little pressure and sanding along the grain will prevent it from breaking.

Tips For Working With Balsa Wood

Working with balsa wood is a fantastic experience, plus it gets even better with the finished project due to its unique hue and softness.

However, the lightness can make working with this wood challenging for most people since it can quickly get damaged. Here are some tips to help you use balsa:

  • Make lighter cuts instead of a single deep cut through the wood. Light cuts ensure the edges are smoother and break-offs don’t happen.
  • Use an emery board or nail filer instead of sandpaper to smoothen the edges because it is thinner.
  • Cut the complicated corners first before moving to more manageable parts to improve the stability of the pattern.
  • Do not use a brush soaked in paint when painting the balsa. Instead, use a dry brush with only a little paint, as balsa can quickly soak up the paint, get wet, and warp.

Summary

Balsa may not be the most popular type of wood, but it is effective for making mock designs, patterns, and shapes.

Its lightness and hue make it an excellent option for woodworkers seeking to utilize balsa wood for their projects. Before woodworkers enjoy the many benefits of balsa wood, they’ll first have to navigate cutting the wood.