lostfisher

Cutting Balsa

11 posts in this topic

I am very new to making lures, I tried to carve one today out of balsa and it was quite difficult. I was watching these video's on youtube and the guys seem like it is no problem for them to slice through the balsa when hand carving these lures. Is there a different type of balsa that I don't know about or is it the type of knife I am using. I am using a pretty sharp pocket knife but I have a hard time cutting against the grain.

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I use a Dremel sanding cylinder to shape balsa after cutting out the basic blank and the lip slot on a scroll saw. It's all about control, and it's too easy to "go too far" with a knife, at least for me. My wife won't let me play with sharp objects, nor run with sissors.

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Go to your local paint or Great Big Hardware store, and go to the paint section for many different grits of high quality sandpaper such as 3M's best or Norton's Premium. The good stuff is initially more expensive, but far cheaper in the long run. I like to hand-sand balsa, beginning with 60 grit, and usually finishing with 400. You'll find that rough shaping to finishing is all much easier and faster than trying to carve it.

Dean

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Dean, you're 100% right about premium sandpaper. I get Norton 3X in 8' x 10" sheets from Home Depot. It will cut without wearing or clogging until the backing gets so soft that you want to cut a new piece of the stuff. A 1" x 3" "finger piece" of 220 grit will easily do the finish sanding on 10 bass baits. There's really no comparison with run of the mill sandpaper and the cost is not greatly higher.:yay:

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A razor blade has always been the tool of choice for me, followed by sandpaper. Those long, snap-off blades are big, but very nice for they always can be snapped when dulled and result in a new edge.

Even a relatively sharp pocket knife usually isn't close to what a razor is and the blade is typically thicker and has more friction after the edge is in...makes it harder to cut soft wood. Dull knives tend to compress and crush balsa more than anything and all blades dull after use so think new & sharp.

For "chopping" to length, I just rock the razor see-saw style around a blank until all cuts meet in the center and free the piece. Saves alot of surface splintering from other methods and gets an even cut. Those cheapy 2-side emory boards for fingernails aren't too bad to have around and work in a pinch for quick experimental shapes as well.

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I really like using a sanding sponge to work on balsa. I use the Ace Hardware brand, they are about 1/4" thick and are 4 1/2" X 5 1/2", come 3 to a pack and I cut them into four pieces. Cost around 5 bucks. I find it easier because you can fold them in half or even fold them around a pencil to sand contoured areas, and with the round edge it makes it doesn't "dig in" to the balsa. And it is easier to hold on to than a sheet of sand paper. They last a long time as well.

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I have got to agree with Jrav on the disposable razor blade type of knife. Balsa is murder on a blade. You can carve a block or Balsa or a brick and the knife will dull just about as fast.

I like a #2 X-Acto handle and a #11 blade. A blade will carve 2-4 3" bodies before you need to change them. Never a problem with a blade following the grain. You can make slow cuts with only pressure and remove large pieces of wood and them speed it up a bit and shave the rest away with a fast hand.

After the bait is carved you can finish sanding with Emory Cloth in a medium fine to fine grit and that is all it takes. Many people said to wrap a piece around a finger or two and I would have to agree. When my daughter was 5 she was able to rough shape small baits with the Emory Cloth alone. It would take a good bit longer, but she just kept working it till the shape got the way she wanted it.

I do recommend using a getting a scroll saw to cut your blanks and lip slots (18-25 TPI on the blade). A basic scroll saw is not expensive and it will save you a lot of time. If you are making thin baits, you can even cut 2 or 3 blanks at a time.

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hi, i use an exacto blade too. blade no.11. then sandpaper. balsa also has different grades and densities. some are really hard with a coarse grain - i avoid these. pick up the softer ones which generally are lighter and smoother, these are easier to work with a blade and sandpaper. with an exacto, a fine grained balsa and some sandpaper you can carve some very fine detail into a lure.

tight lines

peter

--------

see my custom gingermojo lures!

Image hosting, free photo sharing & video sharing at Photobucket

Edited by kahawai

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Balsa is technically a hardwood. That's probably why it's so hard on knifes.

There are generally two kinds of sand paper for wood, open coat, and closed coat.

Open coat cuts faster, because the sand grit isn't covered with another layer of glue after it's stuck on the paper. Closed coat is covered again, which makes it last longer, but it doesn't cut as agressively. Typically, sanding belts and commercial sand paper are closed coat.

Good sand paper, open or closed, has more uniform grit, so it cuts more evenly and smoothly. The cheap stuff has slightly different sizes mixed in, because it's cheaper than screening well, and you get the bigger grit pieces digging in deeper and requiring more sanding to get a truly smooth, even surface.

In fine woodworking, with good paper, you can go from 80 to 100 to 120 to 150 or 180, and wind up with no scratch marks. With cheap paper, you'll still have the odd, random scratch from the big grit.

I don't know if it makes that much difference with lures. Most of mine are primed and painted, and the primer covers a multitude of sins, including scratches.

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Lostfisher just remember to wear a dust mask when sanding balsa, you dont want to breath in any of the dust.

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Lost fisher, you mentioned cutting against the grain. This is a bad idea, as the knife will try to follow the grain and dig in. Always follow the grain. This means you will be carving from the middle to the nose and from the middle to the tail.

I use a snap off blade knife too. Blades are cheap and I find the knife very controllable.

But since I bought my belt sander, my knife stays in the draw these days.

Dave

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