Sandpaper letters were one of my top priorities for materials to use at home. Language is the top area that I want to provide more inspiration for in our home, and I love how the sandpaper letters can be taken in by so many of the senses(sight, sound, and feel) at once. For information on how to use/present the sandpaper letters, some of my favorite resources include the Margaret Homfray video, montessoriworld.org, and infomontessori.com. If you want to skip the commentary, I have included a list of steps at the bottom of the post, and pdf and cut files are available in the downloads section of the blog.
When I started looking to buy sandpaper letters, I couldn’t find anything that used the font I wanted, and they were all a little too expensive for me. I immediately began looking into materials, and one of the first ones that I considered was hardboard. It was available at my local hardware store, but as my husband pointed out, 1/8″ would be a bit cumbersome by the time that I stacked 26 letters, AND from what I read, cutting it seems to be a bit of a hassle.
With hardboard ruled out, I moved on to chipboard (thick cardboard), and the medium weight chipboard I found on Amazon is somewhere between a cereal box, and the board for a board game. As we’ve started to use our sandpaper letters, I love it, and it seems to be the right balance between being sturdy enough and easy enough to store and use. When ordering my chipboard, I suspected that I may want multiple sets of sandpaper letters (lowercase, uppercase, cursive, print, phonograms, and numbers), which made the 12×12 sheets more cost effective than the 4×6. However, cutting them with even edges turned out to be more challenging than I expected, so if I had to do it over again, I would go ahead and get the 4×6, especially since the price now seems to be about half of what it was when I was looking last week. Also, I have since learned that once children learn the lowercase cursive letters, they often don’t need sandpaper letters for the uppercase or print.
As you may have noticed, there is a little variation in what font people would claim as the “correct” font for Montessori materials. As a compromise, I wanted our sandpaper letters in a D’Nealian font, similar to what Margaret Homfray used in the UK. I set up my cut files for the Silhouette Cameo, and first tried to go with 220 grit sandpaper. It was so rough that I wasn’t able to cut it with my older blade, and it dulled my newer blade so much that I had to change the blade position in order to cut the second sheet. It was also a little too rough to use unless it was covered with something like Modge Podge. Next, I tried 400 grit. It cut well; however, I DID want to use Modge Podge over the sandpaper so that it would be more durable, and my preschooler wanted to help. The letters ended up with a thicker coat than I wanted, and they feel a little too similar to the spray painted chipboard that I used for the backing. This makes me think that 320 might be perfect, but I haven’t tried cutting it myself.
DIY Sandpaper Letters
- 320 or 400 grit sandpaper (cut settings are for 400 grit, with an old blade, I would highly recommend the “test cut setting” feature for this project)
- Medium weight chipboard, cut into 26-4×6 rectangles
- Spray paint in 2 colors (blue and red or pink and blue are traditional)
- Modge Podge
- Paint Brush
- If your chipboard isn’t already cut into 4×6 rectangles, it can be cut using a cutting mat, straight edge (I would recommend a quilting ruler–but mine is missing), and a rotary cutter
- Spray paint 5 vowel cards blue, protect your area with a drop cloth or something similar, and use consistent and even strokes with the can of spray paint (It took me 3 thin coats to get the coverage I wanted. Also, I painted mine red to be consistent with some commercially available alphabet magnets that I was considering using for my moveable alphabet)
- Spray paint 21 consonant cards red
- Cut out letters in sandpaper by hand or using a Silhouette.
- Ratchet Blade: 9
- Speed: 3
- Thickness: 33
- Double Cut: Y
- After spray paint is fully dry, spread an even layer of Modge Podge over one painted card, and position the letter with an imaginary baseline at 2 inches from the bottom of the card
- If desired, spread a thin layer of Modge Podge over the sandpaper surface to seal it
- Repeat for each letter