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I have a project where I need to cut a large number of a complex shape into some papyrus paper (about 100-200 sheets.) The shape is quite intricate, and I'm not sure of the best approach.

I discussed on the woodworking forum (who suggested I migrate to here) that I could use a two duplicate wooden or metal templates, then clamp the papyrus sheets between then and run round the edge with a router. They seemed to think I would not get a good finish. Does anyone have a suggestion how best to do this? Preferably without great expense. The shape is roughly rectangular (with lots of rough bumps and indents around the edge) and about 8.25" x 7".

Each item can have slightly rough edges, and they don't need to all be absolutely identical but reasonably close.

Here is the outline I am trying to cut: enter image description here

Any help would be much appreciated.

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3 Answers 3

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The lowest cost realistic option I can think of is:

  • Get a piece of aluminium sheet around 2mm thick.
  • print a paper template, and stick it to the aluminium.
  • Clamp the aluminium between 2 sturdy wooden boards, with one side just sticking out
  • Using a hacksaw, needle files, and maybe a drill or tin snips for rough removal (depending on what you have available) work the sheet down to the shape you want, one edge at a time.
  • Smooth over the edges with a needle file or (better) fine wet/dry sandpaper.
  • Using a craft scalpel (X-Acto knife) cut round the template. Use a proper cutting mat. You might get away with doing 2 or 3 sheets at once, maybe only one.

Once you've made the template, it will probably only take a couple of minutes per sheet to cut them once you get your hand in. That's roughly 3-4 hours, plus the time to make the template. Less than a day in total, but I suggest that the hand-cutting is best done in fairly short sessions to avoid hand-fatigue leading to mistakes. It takes a surprising amount of effort to hold down a template like this and cut cleanly in one pass. Clamping it to the work surface would help.

Shopping list:

  • Aluminium sheet
  • Plywood sheet (a good use for offcuts/scrap) *
  • Hacksaw *
  • File(s) *
  • Wet/dry sandpaper *
  • Fine craft knife * and plenty of spare blades
  • Cutting mat large enough for the workpiece *
  • Clamps *

Items marked * are quite likely to be present in a basic home workshop, like mine, or useful for future craft projects.

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I'm pretty sure that papyrus can be laser cut. However, if the sheets aren't perfectly flat, they may not cut cleanly because they get out of the laser focus point. You can cut several sheets at once (if you can get them to lay flat), but the lowest sheets may not cut all the way through. The process will create a lot of soot that makes the sheets smell burned for a week or two and it can leave a brown residue next to the cut edge.

Another idea that is kind of similar to the router: Clamp 10 - 20 sheets of papyrus between 2 metal or sturdy wood templates. You need to clamp them really tight with many clamps all around the edge. Or have one central clamp and 2 clamps that you move along the edge as you work. Then apply a wire brush (either handheld or machine) around the edges of the template. Papyrus should be brittle enough that it breaks away at the edge of the template.

Yet another idea: Clamp a stack of papyrus sheets together and use a wood chisel to cut the edge. Place the stack on a cutting mat or some soft wood you don't need anymore. Then position the chisel so it's facing straight down and gently tap it with a light hammer until it cut through all layers. Reposition the chisel until you're all the way around.

The advantage of this method is that you don't need a precise metal or wood template, but the disadvantage is that the precision of the cuts depend on the size of the chisel. It may not look very natural.

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  • @FraserOrr The laser cut option sounds much less of a headache (+1 Elmy). For a large number, the amount of time, repetitive hand strain saved would justify the cost. I've seen the laser cut method (with a circular stencil) used in the past on the Noraa project Jul 27, 2023 at 8:29
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    @GeorgeProfenza In my experience papyrus sheets aren't as uniformly flat as paper sheets. That poses a risk if your laser cutter has only a small gap between the laser head and the material. My own laser did ruin several projects because the laser head got caught in some random "hills" in the paper (or the paper rolled up after being cut) and shoved the paper around. Extremely frustrating...
    – Elmy
    Jul 27, 2023 at 11:06
  • That's a very good point/details to keep in mind: thanks for sharing/expanding. Jul 27, 2023 at 15:38
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This seems to be the kind of project that would be best completed using an automated cutting machine, such as a Cricut or Silhouette. You can feed in your outline as a PNG or Vector, and once you've calibrated it for your material it's just a matter keeping it filled with paper

Purchasing or leasing one may be an expensive option for a single project, but if you are doing this on a regular basis a used machine might expand your crafting capabilities for future products.

Your local maker space may have one, or you may be able to find an online service that will allow you to upload your design and cut them on a pay per sheet basis.

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