Part — if not most — of leather crafting can be spent cutting leather. If you don’t have a fancy clicker press, then it’s likely you’ll be doing your cutting by hand. I’ve found that self-healing cutting mats are ideal to have around the workshop as they can endure pretty much whatever you can throw at them.
Self-healing cutting mats are composed of PVC or polypropylene and are resistant to any cuts or scratches they might be exposed to during crafting. Since the materials are pressed together, it allows the mats to sustain damage without any visible blemishes.
Having used self-healing cutting mats in my own projects, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at how exactly they work. Below, we’ll look at self-healing mats, how they’re made, and some things to consider when purchasing one.
What Is a Self-healing Cutting Mat
When cutting into leather, it’s almost imperative to have some type hard surface underneath the leather to absorb the blade. Sure, you can cut a piece of leather on a table, but not long after you’ve done a few projects, you’ll find that you’ll need to buy a new table or tabletop.
Enter self-healing cutting mats. Self-healing cutting mats are cutting surfaces made of synthetic materials pressed together to create a solid surface. Therefore, cutting into the mat does not leave behind a mark.
This unique property of self-healing cutting mats makes them an excellent choice for all leathercrafters. When cutting thousands of pieces, having a surface that is as durable and resistant to wear as a self-healing cutting mat is essential.
Types of Self-healing Cutting Mat
Many options are available regarding self-healing cutting mats, but fundamentally, most mats will primarily differ in size and material. The two most popular materials for self-healing cutting mats are PVC (sometimes called ‘vinyl’) and polypropylene.
There is not much difference in performance between the two materials, but polypropylene may be worth considering over PVC since it is a less hazardous plastic, according to a 2012 study by Lithner, Nordensvan, and Dave published in the Environmental Science and Pollution Research journal.
Self-healing cutting mats are cutting mats that are made of synthetic materials that have been pressed together to make a solid surface. Because of the way that these mats are composed, cutting into them does not leave behind a mark.
Beyond materials, self-healing cutting mats often come with different features. Some have a rotary design, meaning an interlocking design allows the mat to rotate 360 degrees while cutting, giving the crafter the option to turn the mat instead of the piece of leather. Some self-healing cutting mats have gridlines marked with inches, millimeters, or both.
This is a personal favorite, as it cuts down on time with lining up or cutting straight pieces — all you need to do is use the gridlines, and you’re good to go! Other self-healing cutting mats may come with angular guides, making it convenient to cut certain angles in the leather pieces.
Characteristics of a Self-healing Cutting Mat
Generally, the two most common materials for self-healing cutting mats are PVC (sometimes called ‘vinyl’) and polypropylene.
Cutting mat sizes vary wildly, going anywhere from 12 inches by 18 inches to 4 feet by 8 feet. Most commonly, you’ll probably see self-healing cutting mats ranging from 12 inches by 18 inches to 24 inches by 36 inches.
Some self-healing cutting mats come with measurement guidelines, angle guides, etc. Others come with entirely different features, like a rotary design that allows you to rotate the mat.
Pros and Cons of a Self-healing Cutting Mat
Pros of a Self-healing Cutting Mat
The pros of self-healing cutting mats include:
- Ability to cut leather pieces easily
- Features (e.g., measuring guidelines) making it easier to craft
Cons of a Self-healing Cutting Mat
The cons of self-healing cutting mats include:
- Potentially toxic materials (if using a PVC/vinyl mat)
How Self-healing Cutting Mats Are Made
Self-healing cutting mats are made by pressing a particular material (commonly PVC or polypropylene) together. The act of pressing the materials together allows the cracks in the material to heal at either the macroscopic or microscopic level, according to a 2010 paper by Hager et al. published in the Advanced Materials journal. Because the mats are constructed using this process, the mats retain their surface even after hundreds (or thousands) of cuts.
This is an excellent video explaining how self-healing polymers work, which is the fundamental principle guiding the way that self-healing cutting mats are made:
Cost of a Self-healing Cutting Mat
Self-healing cutting mat costs vary mainly due to size. I’ve included a table to help calculate the costs of self-healing cutting mats.
|12” x 18”
|18” x 24”
|24” x 36”
|36” x 48”
|40” x 60”
Tips for Working With Self-healing Cutting Mats
- Make sure to have a flat surface underneath the cutting mat to provide a stable cutting surface.
- Buy a cutting mat with guidelines that will be useful for what you will be crafting.
- Go for polypropylene if choosing between PVC/vinyl and polypropylene
The primary virtue of self-healing cutting mats is their ability to cut down on maintenance.
Self Healing Cutting Mats Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Self-healing Cutting Mats
It’s relatively easy to clean self-healing cutting mats as long as you care for them properly. If you are only cutting on a cutting mat, there’s little to no maintenance required (besides brushing off debris occasionally). However, if more cleaning is needed, alcohol wipes can be sufficient for cleaning the mat — try to avoid anything with heat, as this will shorten the lifespan of the cutting mat.
How to Maintain Self-healing Cutting Mats
The primary virtue of self-healing cutting mats is their ability to cut down on maintenance. Since the surface is self-healing, the marks left from cuts on the mat should be nearly invisible or, at least, negligible. Keeping the mat flat on a desk and away from heat will allow a longer lifespan.
How to Store Self-healing Cutting Mats
To store your self-healing cutting mat, just leave it flat on the table you’re working at. You can put your standard tools on top of it (this is what I do) so you’ll have what you need for the next project.
Are self-healing cutting mats worth it?
Self-healing cutting mats are beneficial and worth purchasing. Not only do they last a long time due to how they are constructed, but they also allow the crafter to cut with confidence, as self-healing cutting mats provide a stable surface for straighter cuts.
How does a self-healing cutting mat work?
Since a self-healing cutting mat is made of materials that are pressed together and is not technically a solid lump of plastic or some other polymer, the materials move aside (at a microscopic level) from the cut rather than taking the gash, which allows the mat’s surface to appear unscathed.
What is the difference between a cutting mat and a self-healing cutting mat?
A cutting mat is made of plastic or some other material for cutting. However, after a few cuts, the plastic will have some indentations or gashes because it is a solid piece of material. A self-healing cutting mat can be cut over and over without these problems and will last far longer than a regular cutting mat.
How long do cutting mats last?
Self-healing cutting mats can last for years if treated properly. As long as they aren’t exposed to overly high temperatures, self-healing cutting mats are incredibly durable and resistant to damage, so they’ll last.
One of the first items I purchased as a crafter was a self-healing cutting mat. The mat has held up well to all the projects I’ve made, and I’ve never felt the need to purchase another one. If you haven’t already added a self-healing cutting mat to your crafting collection, you may want to make that your next purchase!