Sunday, August 16, 2009

Still Not Getting the Results I Want From the Cricut

When I bought the Cricut and Sure Cuts a Lot, I was hoping that I'd be able to do work similar to what I'd seen in laser-cut model railroad building kits. My best hope was that I'd be able to cut out a full structure kit out of thin basswood and cardboard. My narrower hopes were to be able to make some of the detailed bits that cut really well in laser-cutting - really fine HO scale windows (with each sash cut out of thin 0.020 cardboard) and strips of cardboard notched to resemble shingles with double-stick tape on the back for adhesion.

The Art Deco building for Campbell showed I could cut a full building, but most of the success there was in cutting the big wall pieces. These aren't particularly hard by hand; it can require a lot of tedious measuring, but cutting out large pieces is pretty easy. I did make the large storefront window from multiple Cricut-cut pieces, and so does count as a success for the cutter. However, I used commercial plastic window castings for the more traditional door and window.

I've tried to make double-hung windows as nice as the laser-cut kits, but the Cricut can't cut them nicely even after I've massaged the SVG line drawings to cut better. I can get paper to cut cleanly with 0.050 inches between cuts, but the 0.020 inch boundaries at sash lines usually tear even with good Strathmore board cardboard. I also still have problems keeping the openings both square and fully cut through. Cutting the entire window opening in a single cut means that the waste piece usually falls out easily, but the corners aren't always square. If I cut the window openings with multiple straight line cuts (cut in both directions), the Cricut still has problems fully cutting through.

Today, I decided to try making shingles. If you haven't seen laser-cut shingles, the shingles are 1/10" wide strips with thin notches cut along one end. To apply these, you glue them to a roof surface, overlapping each row, and with the notches exposed. It makes a neat, realistic roof.

I'd been able to cut small batches of 5" long strips of shingles, but this time I tried to cut a full 6x12 inch sheet of brown construction paper into shingles. I found the cutter does really bad if I'm constantly cutting along the 11" direction because moving the whole carrier sheet back and forth eventually causes the carrier sheet/cutting mat to skew, throw off the cuts, and jam the cutter. I tried reordering the cuts so I did a row of narrow slits across the paper, then moved the paper a bit and cut the next row, and finally cut all the shingles off in one step. I found that even with small movements of the carrier sheet, I still ended up with a 1/16" error from one end of the sheet to the other. Maybe there's some ways to arrange the cuts to avoid the error.

There might be manual workarounds; while cutting all the individual notches for shingles would drive me crazy, cutting the long strips would be a few minutes work with a straightedge. Maybe I could do the slits with the Cricut, and then cut each row of shingles off by hand with a straightedge, or try to cut smaller batches so that there was less chance of accumulating error between cutting the slits and cutting the strips of shingles out. I wouldn't want to do that if I was making shingles to sell, but it'll be easier for the small amounts I need for personal use.

Ugh. I see promise with the Cricut. Watching it cut the slits for the shingles was a nice reminder of the fun of automation - the Circut was cutting several hundred little slits pretty precisely, and doing it all over twenty minutes while I could sit outside and enjoy some nice weather. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I can actually make anything at the level of accuracy for the models. It could do great at curved shapes,so if I wanted to model Gaudi's Casa Badillo in Barcelona (picture borrowed from here, I'd be doing great.

Sigh. Maybe I do just need to bite the bullet and start spending time up at TechShop borrowing time on their laser cutter.


  1. Since you've written this in Aug, 2009, have you worked any more with the Cri-Cut or any of the other "hobby" cutters to make pieces of buildings?

  2. Nope, no work on the Cricut. I have built some structures using a Makebot-printed part for support or as a form. In most cases, my buildings were one-offs, so cutting sheet styrene by hand and using window castings was fast enough for me.
    I'm still hoping to borrow time on a laser cutter one of these days. Dave Falkenberg has done some nice N scale station models using a laser cutter for his Freemo-N module.