Balsa Wood Christmas Cards




Not liking the selection of Christmas cards this year? Want to make something by hand that will be sure to be remembered? Have a little bit of time and some craft supplies available?

Well here is your chance to make a personalized card for your loved ones for the holidays. Using balsa wood and a few other crafting supplies, I'll show you how to make two different cards that have a third dimension to them.

Step 1: Gathering Your Materials

We will need:

1 board of 1/8 inch thick balsa wood
1 board of 1/4 inch thick balsa wood. (If not available, the 1/8 in can be stacked 2 layers deep.)
A razor blade or utility knife to cut the wood with
Card stock
Colored construction paper (or any other colored paper
Paint and paintbrush
A surface to cut on. (A couple layers of cardboard and an old catalog work fine.)

Step 2: Draw a Pattern on the Balsa Wood

To start off, we need to fold and cut our cardstock so we know what size card we will have and how much space we have to work with. For the two cards I made, I started off by folding the cardstock in half and cutting into an approximate square.

Now that we have a blank card, we need to create our shapes that will be cut out of the wood.

This could be done by drawing your shapes directly onto the wood, but I find it easier to create traceable patterns first. Using a piece of your cardstock draw out all of the shapes you will want to cut out for your cards. This will help you get your sizes and shapes right. Make sure that all the shapes fit onto the card with at least 1/4 an inch or so around the sides for the border. Don't be too detailed in your pattern or else it will be impossible to cut out later. Once you are happy with your shapes, cut them all out and get ready to trace their outlines onto the 1/8 inch thick balsa.

Keep in mind, when you start to cut the wood, it will be somewhat fragile along the grain and it will be hard to cut straight lines across the grain. Try to make as few straight lines against the grain as possible.

When you are done tracing, use the razor blade to cut out the areas around your pieces so they will be easier to handle.

Step 3: Cut Out the Pieces

Carefully cut out each piece.

Start by tracing the outline of the shapes with the blade. Don't try cutting all the way through on the first pass and don't press down too hard. After a few passes of the blade you should be able to fully cut out simple pieces. For pieces with long cuts that go against the grain, it may be easier to remove very small pieces at a time. This will come in have if you have sections similar to the side of the stable or the bottom of the trees.

From your cut traced line, make cuts away from the shape with the grain about 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide. These "matchstick" pieces are then easily removed one at a time.

Don't worry too much if the piece splits or breaks, especially around detailed parts. Just finish cutting the piece out and rejoin the pieces with glue.

Don't throw away the scraps yet. You will use some of them later.

Step 4: Paint Your Pieces

It is up to you whether or not you want to paint your pieces. I left the nativity card with a natural wood look. For the trees, though, I thought a classic snowy scene would look better.

Start off by mixing some green paint with a touch of black to darken it to a more natural color. With a thin layer and even strokes paint the tree (leaving the truck unpainted so that they wood is visible.) If you do long slow strokes, you can get the appearance of the pine needles on the tree. Don't forget to get the side and top.

Once your green paint as dried, add some more detail by adding a snowy effect with white paint. Paint the top of the tree and then each ring of branches around. Lightly brush little wisps of snow on the rest of the tree to complete the look. (Check pictures from later steps to for more pictures.)

Step 5: Colored Backgrounds

Using the construction paper, make the backgrounds for the cards.

For the tree scene, cut out a triangular zigzag pattern from some green paper, under the points cut a couple of curves to add some snowy hills. Using some blue or black paper, cut out some sky to put behind the trees. Paint some snow on the trees and add any other details you would like.

For the nativity card, I used a solid black background. The square needs to be just a little smaller than the front of the card itself. Any other blank space will be covered by our border in a later step. To add a little more color, use yellow paper to light up the inside of the stable and to give the star a little more detail.

Step 6: Cutting the Borders

These will be the easiest cuts you make on the wood.

For each card, cut 4 long sticks out of the 1/4 inch thick balsa. Make them as wide or as thin and you want, but somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 inch is probably optimal.

Since you are cutting with the grain, 1-2 cuts would be enough to cut the pieces out.

If you only have 1/8 inch balsa available, don't worry. You just need to make twice as many sticks and stack them two deep for the border. The goal is to have your border at the same height as the tallest parts of your card.

Step 7: Assemble Your Pieces

Time to assemble your card.

Start by laying everything on the card and make sure it all fits right with the border. If something doesn't fit, you may need to trim it, or make the borders smaller. When laying out wooden pieces like the Christmas trees, put items in the front closer to the bottom to give a better sense of three dimensions and depth.

Now that you are sure it all fits, lets start off by gluing on the background. Put a small amount of glue on the construction paper, smooth it out and secure it to the card.

Next it's time to glue down the borders. Start off with the bottom border. Make it as flush with the bottom of the card as possible so that it can properly stand up when the card is open. Next move on the sides and top. Trim the sides down to make them fit as needed.

Now, we need to prepare our trees. By now, I'm sure you've discovered how easily the balsa wood can split. We need to give a bit of extra insurance against this for the pieces that aren't glue directly to the card. If you still have your pattern from the trees before, you can use it or make a paper copy of it. Trim just a bit from all the edges so that it is slightly smaller than your tree. Now stick this paper to the back of the tree with a thin, even amount of glue.

Remember the scraps from before I told you to save? Cut off little pieces of them to mount to the back of the front tree. Put as many of there are you think you will need to make sure it is secured to the card. You can use part of the other tree to secure one side if they overlap. Now glue on your 2 trees and let the card dry. You may want to rest a book or something on the card so that all the pieces are completely flat while the glue hardens.

For the nativity card, the procedure is similar. Glue on the background, followed by the sides and the other wooden pieces.

Step 8: Finishing Up

Finish it up by adding a personal message on the inside.

Due to the nature of the balsa, these cards are best if delivered personally, but can be mailed in a bubble wrap and cardboard container.

Runner Up in the
Homemade Holidays: Holiday Card Contest

Participated in the
Homemade Holidays: Holiday Card Contest



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    12 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice! Sandpaper and files shape soft woods very well, rounded corners would be a nice addition to the elements on the card. Also, for coloring, I'd think stains would work better (maybe made of diluted food coloring?), they would allow the natural properties of the wood to show through the color.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Might wanna use Basswood instead of Balsa. Balsa is a heavily endangered Amazonian tree, bass isn't. Also, balsa has those terrible frayed edges, bass cuts clean. Talk to people who make architectural models, they'll all tell you bass is better.

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Foam board or foam sheets might also work, but they don't look nearly as nice as wood.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I had even thought of using some types of cardboard early on, but yeah, there is just something about wood that makes it seem better.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I might try that next time. I originally thought of balsa because it is light, easy to cut with just a blade (what I had available) and it is relatively cheap and easy to find. If I make these again (which is likely) I might try the Basswood and a rotary tool (as suggested by guitarman63mm)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    well, you're right about balsa being easier to cut, but I cut bass by hand almost exclusively. 1/8" is cuttable using an X-acto, utility knife like what you're using, or anything similar. What works really well is the X-acto chisel blade made for the larger handle, pushes right through it.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I believe a router might be a more efficient/accurate solution to chisels and straight blades. Possibly a rotary tool. good job!

    1 reply