You guys!! I’m so excited to show you what I’ve learned about cutting non-traditional materials with my new Cricut Explore Air. It’s something that has changed my entire outlook on DIY decor! I’m no longer limited to pre-cut products found in the craft store, now I can cut anything I want out of 3-D materials like chipboard, balsa wood, and even thicker woods like Basswood! I experimented with all three of these items over the weekend, and created a really fun sign for our bonus room makeover:
The inspiration for the sign came about a week ago when I took our family to see the new Cinderella movie… if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must! The story and message was just so good. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when her mother tells her the two things she wants her to always remember in life, “Have courage and be kind.” I talked to my kids after the movie about why those attributes are important, but I wanted them to have a reminder that they will see every day!
Yes, you could get a similar look with vinyl letters, but I wanted this project to have some dimension and texture so I started looking at materials that would provide that look. I grabbed some heavyweight chipboard, and what I thought was balsa wood at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store. (It was actually a much heavier wood called Basswood, which leads to a pretty funny story later!)
When you are cutting any heavier or thicker materials, you will need to use a different blade in your Cricut Explore. One of the things I love about this new machine is how easy it is to change out the blade! For this project, I used the Deep Cut Blade:
Here are some things that you need to know before you cut a custom material with your Cricut Explore Air. First, make sure you set the dial on the machine to “Custom.” This is a screenshot of the cut screen, you can see it was previously set to Cardstock, so you will need to change that. To do this, click on “Custom Materials.”
This will bring up a list of materials the Cricut can cut, along with a recommended setting for each material. I found the one called “Chipboard Heavy 0.7 mm” and clicked on it to show a drop down area where you can adjust the Pressure and Multicut settings. I increased the cut pressure to 331 and the multicut to 4x. Because I figured out later that my chipboard was much thicker than the 0.7 mm, (it was more like 1.4 mm), I cut each letter twice for a total of 8 cuts. The easiest way to cut twice is to NOT push the unload button when the first cut is complete, just push the cut button again and it will do the same cut without the material or mat moving around.
Since I had picked out a chipboard that was double the thickness of the recommended material, the cut didn’t go all the way through to the back, so I just used an exacto knife to run along the back of the letter. I was able to get all of them to work, and I do love the look of the thicker board. Next time, I would probably experiment with a thinner chipboard and then go up in thickness from there. This was my first experience using the deep cut blade, so it was fun to try new things!
Here are all 3 materials I used for my project:
1. Heavy Chipboard (1.4 mm)
2. Basswood (1/16″)
3. Balsa wood (1/16″)
All 3 materials had about the same thickness, but the consistency of each were very different. I tried cutting the Basswood first (thinking it was actually Balsa) and I was having a heck of a time getting it to cut through!! I looked up tutorials and any information I could find online, I messed around with my custom settings and even used the multicut 10x! With the font I had selected and the way the grain was running in the wood, I was able to again use my exacto knife on the back and the snap the edges cleanly. I used a cut pressure of 230 and multicut of 5x (then cut twice.) The amazing thing is that the deep cut blade can actually handle this type of wood and do a pretty good job.
When I finally looked at the label on the wood and realized it did NOT say Balsa, I decided to go back to the store and get some. If any of you are looking for Balsa wood, you can find it in the wood section of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store, it comes in different thicknesses and lengths. I got the 1/16″, 4″ x 36″ piece. I picked it up and almost laughed out loud at the difference in weight from the Basswood. It felt like kleenex compared to cardstock! No wonder my cuts didn’t go all the way through! I really am impressed at how well it cut that sturdier wood. Now that I know, I may try it again!
With the Balsa wood, I wanted to cut the word KIND and leave it unfinished so you can see the grain in the wood. I cut the piece into 7 inch sections since I knew each letter would be about 6 inches tall. Then I placed one section on my cutting mat and cut one letter at a time.
For the Balsa wood custom setting I did a 220 cut pressure and multicut of 4x. **Important tip!! Make sure you mirror your image in Design Space before you cut. The balsa wood is a very soft wood and the white rollers will leave track marks in the wood. By mirroring the image, you will be able to use the back side which will be nice and smooth!
The letters came out very cleanly this time!
Here is what all of my letters looked like when I was done cutting and ready to place them on my canvas. (I used a black 18 x 24″ canvas)
I used acrylic craft paint and a leftover paint sample to paint the chipboard letters. The “BE” got a coat of white paint, and I left the balsa wood letters plain.
Once I had all of the letters in place, I adhered them to the canvas with hot glue. I couldn’t be happier with the final result!
It really brightens up the kids’ study area and ties in with the DIY Magnetic Tangrams on the wall.
I hope this tutorial inspires you to try something new and not be afraid of cutting custom materials with your Cricut Explore. It has amazing capabilities, and I look forward to testing the limits as I discover what else it can do! What have you tried so far??
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Cricut. All opinions are 100% mine!
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