When it comes to woodworking, few woods are as versatile as balsa. Its thin, lightweight texture is perfect for a wide range of projects.
Anyone who has ever worked with balsa wood knows that it is a delicate material that can be easily cut with the right tools.
This blog post will show you how to cut balsa wood like a pro. So whether you’re making a crafts project or working on a model plane, read on for tips and tricks that will make the process easier.
Easy to Cut Wood: What is Balsa Wood?
Balsa is an easy-to-cut wood because it is very soft. Balsa wood, also known as Ochroma, is a tropical hardwood indigenous to Central and South America.
Balsa grows scattered in the wild in Mexico, Brazil, and Bolivia. Balsa trees are grown on plantations in New Guinea, Ecuador, Thailand, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
Although balsa is hardwood, it is soft and light, making it ideal for boat building, furniture, model aircraft, musical instruments, and carving. Balsa requires a warm climate with lots of rain and proper drainage to thrive.
It’s softer than red oak, but still durable. Ecuador is the world’s leading source of model aircraft-grade balsa.
The Best Blades for Cutting Balsa Wood
It would help if you had sharp knives for cutting thick balsa. To make perfect cuts on balsa, use hollow ground cabinetmaker’s blades.
You could also go for sharpened, hardened steel blades or carbide-tipped blades as they retain sharp edges longer than high-speed steel blades.
Always avoid using ripped knives because they can cause chipping and fragmenting, which is unsuitable for superb model crafts and toys.
You could also opt for a brand-new knife blade or a regular retractable knife when cutting balsa wood for exceptional results.
Step by Step Guide on How to Cut Balsa Wood
With practice and patience, you can cut out anything you can imagine from balsa wood. Tracing your cuts with a stencil and cutting them out with a craft or utility knife will give you superb results.
You can use different methods to cut balsa wood, but we’ll talk about how to cut balsa wood with a knife.
Materials you will need
- A pattern
- Rubber adhesive
- Balsa Wood strips
- Utility knife
- Ruler, protractor, or something straight or curved to help guide the knife when cutting
- 60-80 grit sandpaper
Step 1: Ensure your work surface is ready
Prepare your work surface and ensure that the surface is stable and ideal for working on. Gently remove all the unnecessary things on the working table and ensure it is clean.
Step 2: Protect Your Working Table with a firm grip mat
Place the cutting mat nicely and uniformly on your working table. This is to protect the working table from permanent ugly knife marks.
Step 3: Draw the patterns you need to cut on a piece of paper or use a stencil
You can make bridges, model houses, gliders, or airplanes. Draw the patterns you need to make on a clean piece of stiff paper.
Make several copies of your pattern to ensure you have different identical patterns so that you do not have to re-use the paper.
We’ll show you how to cut balsa wood using a pattern created on a piece of paper. If you do not have any pattern, draw your lines with a ruler.
If you prefer the free-hand design in place of a stencil, use protractors, or squares, to help you make beautiful straight, curved, or straight lines on balsa wood.
Step 4: Apply rubber adhesive to the back of the paper and place it on the fin
Apply a thin coat of rubber adhesive or rubber cement to the back of sheets of paper. This will help you peel off the paper from the wood once you finish cutting.
Work from outside when using rubber adhesive because it is nasty, and you do not want to inhale it.
Step 5: Cut out the paper outline
Cut out around the perimeter and leave some paper hanging over the edge, so you are not on the line.
Step 6: Place the paper you cut on the wood
Carefully place the pattern on the wood fin. Do not stick the pattern in any direction. The grain of the wood should be parallel to the leading edge of the wood fin.
Step 7: Lay the ruler on the pattern
Get a ruler with an excellent straight edge and place it on your pattern. Be keen to lay it well on the pattern and not off to the sides. To guide your blade or knife along straight cuts, go for a ruler or something else with a straight edge.
Use a curved substance, such as a protractor, to help direct your cuts if you made lines with it. Avoid Using a stencil to direct your cuts as they are not sturdy enough.
Step 8: Check the knife’s cutting edge
Snapp off the dull edges or replace the blade if you need to. Rember that Balsa wood is very soft; you can easily cut it, but it also chips easily if the knife is not sharp enough.
It would be best if you always used brand-new knives because they are very sharp for the best results.
Step 9: Lay the ruler on top of the line you want to cut
Place the ruler on top of the line you are cutting and press it down. You will cut the wood with the tip of the knife. Do not go straight up and down.
Angle the knife backward. Use your index finger and thumb finger to grip the cutter knife. In short, hold the blade like a pencil.
If you want to cut it at 45 degrees, here is how to cut wood at 45 degree angle.
Step 10: Cut balsa wood
Pay attention to the knife’s tip. Place the knife forty-five degrees to the wood and use your index finger to control the pressure. Keep in mind that Balsa wood is softer than model wood.
So, apply minimal pressure when cutting the material. Do not cut out the pattern with the first cut. Make several passes with the sharp knife.
The trick is, to begin with a brand new knife blade because if the knife is not sharp enough, you’ll ruin the precious wood. Pay close attention to the position of your fingers.
Ensure your fingers are spread out and are pressing down the ruler to prevent the knife from sliding around. Keep your fingers away from the sharp blade to ensure that if the knife strays from the wood, it won’t slice into your fingers.
Always cut parallel to the grain. Make the initial cuts perpendicular to the grain of the wood. Cutting across the grain is more demanding because that’s where the wood is solid.
Do not worry if you notice some splinters or shavings. If you get shavings, the blade is not going in the same channels every time, and you have to avoid that. It might take practice to do it successfully, but the struggle will be worthwhile.
Step 11: Remove the paper outline from the wood
Place the paper off the fin you cut. It’s come off easily because you applied rubber adhesive. Avoid re-using the paper for your next cut. That’s why you made several copies when you were starting.
Step 12: Sand the rough edges
Using 60- or 80-grit sandpaper, sand the edges of your pieces. After cutting your pieces, sand them gently with the above-recommended grit sandpaper to smoothen them. If the pieces are similar, pile them nicely and smooth the edges once to save time.
Cutting Thick Balsa (3mm and above)
Cutting thicker balsa necessitates multiple cuts with steadily increasing pressure. So, it may take some time. To cut balsa thicker, extend the blade tip and keep the rest below the blade sheath.
Using your index finger, apply light pressure and cut the material until it separates. Be mindful of your hand, and do not apply too much pressure even when cutting larger pieces as you can injure yourself severely if the knife gets to your hand.
You can also use a band saw with lower tooth counts to cut thick balsa.
Cutting Thinner Balsa ( 15mm & below)
To cut thinner pieces, place your knife under the cut line. Firmly press the ruler with your fingers to stop the blade from moving around. Using your index finger apply very light pressure and gently push the knife as you cut.
Do not separate the wood with the first pass. Make multiple cuts all the passes in the same channel until the wood splits. Use a knife with a sharp edge, and do not separate the wood with the initial cut.
Tips for Cutting Balsa Wood
Be gentle with Balsa wood
Handle the wood with care because it is very fragile. Balsa wood is one of the softest wood on the Janka hardness scale.
For cleaner edges, use craft knives with sharp blades
If you use a blunt or old blade, the wood may split or start ripping. Avoid using scissors, even if you believe the wood is light or enough. The best tools for the job are sharp craft knives, razor blades, or Stanley knives.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic and learn valuable tips on how to prevent wood from splitting while working on your projects, we invite you to read our comprehensive article.
Don’t cut straight through the first pass
It’s preferable to score the outline tenderly multiple times, increasing pressure with each move, than to force your knife through with initial cuts. You get cleaner cuts and will not need to sand the pieces. Smoothen smaller pieces with an emery board.
Sandpaper can be cumbersome and inconvenient, mainly when working on smaller pieces. So, use a nail file alternatively. Go for a nail file with well-defined coarse and smooth sides and use each side accordingly. You will save time and enjoy the process.
When cutting odd shapes, start with the more difficult sections
It helps to leave some wood around the shapes you’re trying to cut out before cutting out the more intricate pieces. Your pattern will be more stable as a result.
Divide curves into smaller chunks and work on each one separately. When cutting around a bend, do not pull too hard on the wood, as it may splinter.
When cutting square holes, use the right tools and types of equipment
To curve a square hole in wood, utilize woodworking tools like chisels or gouges to meticulously shape the corners and edges, creating the desired curved square form. Exercise precision, take your time, and ensure the wood is securely held in place for best results.
When cutting notches
To cut notches in wood, precision matters. Begin by measuring accurately and selecting the appropriate tool. Wear safety gear. Outline the notch with guiding cuts, securing the workpiece in place.
Cut gradually to prevent splintering, and periodically check the fit. Keep tools sharp, practice, and follow safety guidelines for your materials and equipment.
When painting, use a dry brush
Painting balsa can be tricky because the wood is very porous, can absorb a lot of paint, and may warp if it gets too wet.
It could easily discourage you from painting your wood. The tactic is to use a very dry brush. Practice on a scrap piece first for pro results.
1. Best for Shoe Mold- Multi-Angle – Miter Cutter | + Spare Blade | Hand Scissors Multipurpose Tool
- Super Sharp - Premium stainless steel blade comes ready to take on any job with material thicknesses at or under ¼ inch including cutting wood, dowel, vinyl, trim, base, wires, shoe molding, trunking or other similar crafting materials.
- Spare Blade Included - Extra blade included to make our cutting tool last even longer! Our tool has a fully steel frame and ergonomic rubber soles that provides great traction as well as comfort to help support the hand when applying pressure on the cutter. Plus the safety lock reduces risk!
- Professional Grade - Whether you're a handyperson looking for a new tool or a professional with specific needs, these multi angle cutters are great for small daily tasks, work activities or even DIY craft projects. They’re also known as miter shears, scissors, chamfer, trim, and quarter round cutters.
If you are looking for a tool to cut balsa wood strips worth your money and sanity, this miter cutter could be a great match. It saves you time because it has a protractor to help you get the proper measurements the first time.
You do not have to spend time marking, sawing, or sanding. On top of that, it has a superb rubber grip, so your hands won’t tire or get bruised even if you use it for extended periods.
What We Liked Most
- Works as marketed
- You can use it for different projects
- It comes with an extra blade
What Could Be Improved
- Design problems limit accuracy in some instances
2. Best X-acto for cutting balsa wood – X-Acto No 1 Precision Knife with Safety Cap
- Sold as 1 Each.
- Zirconium nitride coating.
- Stronger blade, particularly at the tip.
This could be a small tool for the job if you need to cut thin metal, fabric, and plastic without breaking a sweat. It is a high-precision knife with number eleven smooth point blades.
It has a light aluminum handle for ease of use. The blade is very sharp and coated with zirconium nitride for maximum durability. It has a safety cap for secure storage and movability.
What We Liked Most
- Ease of use
- It’s extremely sharp
What Could Be Improved
- Caps are crummy
3. Best for Working with Cricut Maker – Knife Blade and Drive Housing for Cricut Maker Cricut Tool Set
This is it if you need a blade that works with a Cricut Maker. It can do puzzles, model crafts, leather products, etc., cut 3/32 inch balsa, cricut basswood, 2mm artificial leather, and up to a 4-layer pad.
The blade is super simple to use, and you can create your designs! It lets you exercise your creative muscle to great heights.
You can also use it to cut through thicker materials, but it’s advisable to use it in the Cricut design space for superb results.
When cutting wood, you can use a knife with pointed teeth and cut perpendicular to the grain to make your work easier.
What We Liked Most
- Its performance exceeds expectations
- It’s affordable
What Could Be Improved
- You may need a sticky mat
4. Best for Cutting Balsa Wood Strips – Master MA4000-Balsal Eisten Cutter Pack of 1
- Cutting tool for balsa and other soft craft wood strips.
- Engineered to accurately cut balsa sheets up to 1/4” thick into strips up to 1/2” wide.
- Designed with a lead screw with 32 threads per inch so that each turn of the wheel will move the blade 1/32 of an inch.
If you are searching for a blade specially formulated for cutting balsa wood strips, your search ends with this product.
Its role is to help you cut Balsa strips. It is effortless to adjust the width and cuts straight. It does excellent work if you use a very sharp blade. It can take a lot of abuse and still work great for many years.
However, the blade moves after a few uses, and you may have challenges tightening the screw that holds the knife without risking breaking it.
What We Liked Most
- Works as designed
- Cuts straight
- It gives you value for your cash
What Could Be Improved
- For tougher wood, the blade wiggles too much
Where to Get Balsa Wood
You can buy balsa wood from a hobby shop, online, or from a craft store. Nowadays, you can purchase unfinished balsa wood strips with superb workability for your painted projects and DIY craft making. If you want places that can cut balsa wood for you, try these ones.
Amazon is also a great place to buy balsa wood
Best Balsa Wood for Cricut Maker – 10 Pack Basswood Sheets
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- 🌲【Size Details】10Pack basswood sheets 6 inch (150 mm) in length, 6 inch (150 mm) in width, 3 mm in thickness. Great size for your hand painted projects, DIY craft making and pyrography wood burning.
- 🌲【Easy to Use】Both sides of the basswood are polished and smooth with no need for time-consuming surface preparations, can be painted, pigmented, marked, perfect for your wood craft decoration projects.
Can you cut balsa wood with an exacto knife?
Yes, you can cut balsa wood with an exacto knife. The wood not only accepts paint and sands easily but also cuts easily. Just like other woods, balsa wood has a wood grain that leads the knife. Before cutting the wood, you can also draw your desired pattern with a pencil.
Can balsa wood be cut with scissors?
No, you cannot cut balsa wood with a scissor. A scissor is not sharp enough and will likely split or tear the wood. Whether your wood is thin and looks like a scissor can cut it, don’t use it. Better got for a sharp knife or razor blade.
What Is the best tool to cut Balsa wood
The best tool to cut Balsa wood is a brand-new knife and get great results. Plus, you will be sure of nice, clean cuts with no splintering or tearing. A sharp knife is also less likely to slip, damaging both the wood and hurting you.
How to cut balsa wood with Cricut maker
- Upload the file into Cricut design space and resize
- Set the Cricut dial to custom
- Add new material-balsa wood.
- Place the deep-cut blade on the right side of the blade holder
- Place the balsa wood on a cutting mat and tape the edges.
- Proceed and cut
What wood is easiest to cut?
Balsa wood is the easiest to cut. It’s the softest of the hardwoods bought commercially for model and design building. Cutting it is very easy, so you must be keen and careful. Otherwise, it can break, making you spoil your design.
You may also be interested to know: Basswood vs Balsa
How do you precision cut balsa wood?
You can cut balsa wood precisely using a sharp craft knife or blade. These two items will give you a clean edge. Also, draw your lines with a pencil first, then follow them with the knife. As you cut, apply even pressure and keep the blade perpendicular to the surface of the wood.
If you dream of becoming an expert model plane creator, you must know how to cut balsa wood like a pro. Balsa is one of the softest wood on the Janka scale. Janka scale is a scale for wood density worldwide.
Although basswood is easy to work with, you can easily waste it if you cut it wrong. The best strategy is to create perpendicular cuts, make a few passes, and cut all the way until the wood separates.
Use sharp blades, gently move the blade, apply light pressure, and cut the remaining parallel lines.