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Bookbinding 101: Blades

Hobby knives: snap off blade and classic X-ACTO style blade

Hobby knives: snap off blade and classic X-ACTO style blade

The blades we use are a hobby knife (X-ACTO style blade), a rotary cutterscissors, and occasionally, a scalpel

Hobby Knife

If we had to pick just one blade, it would be a hobby knife, whether the classic one blade style, or the snap off style. Although we would sorely miss our rotary blade, we could get by without it, but we couldn't get by without a hobby knife. The larger handle of the wide blade shown in the photo (red handle) gives a better grip for cutting through bookboard, but each of these blades would do the job.

We have and use both the classic X-ACTO blade, as well as the snap off style blade. We're not particular as to brand, as we also use Stanley, and another unbranded snap off blade, and all have served us well.

 

 

Scalpel

Scalpel

Scalpel

This is what a surgeon uses, which you might think to be the sharpest and best tool to use, but not necessarily. Sure it's sharp, but it doesn't seem to last any longer. It may even last a shorter length of time than other blades, but we're not really sure (a scalpel is really only expected to be used for a few cuts and then disposed of, so making the blades so they maintain a sharp edge isn't necessarily a concern of the manufacturer). It's rounded shape serves well in cutting into leather, or carving into book board, but the rounded blade does not serve as well when cutting all the way through bookboard. The fatter handle of a hobby knife, and its straight edge and pointed tip, has worked best for us in cutting through book board.

 

Rotary Cutter

Rotary Cutter

Rotary Cutter

A rotary cutter is excellent for cutting cloth, paper, and leather. We went a long time without one, but once we used it, it would be hard to go back. It can be a little easier than a fixed blade to jump up onto the ruler when making a cut, so take care to keep enough downward pressure, and to also keep your ruler-holding-hand away from the ruler edge you're cutting against. A rotary blade is nice to use on bookboard, too, but it dulls it down pretty quickly, so we stick to using less expensive fixed blades for cutting bookboard.
 

Scissors

Nothing special to say about scissors. We use them all the time, and while we may be able to get by without them, some cuts are just more convenient with scissors.
 

Tips on cutting

When cutting with fixed blades, it's best to slice in one fluid motion with as long a stroke as possible.

When using a rotary cutter, rather than rolling back and forth as you move along your cut, roll with a long fluid motion through the length of the cut, only stopping when you need to move your ruler-holding-hand along the ruler.

You want to always position your ruler-hand somewhat near the same position as the cutter. If, for example, you are making a 24" long cut, and you start with your ruler-hand near the end of the ruler, after making the first part of your cut, you will pause your cutting motion, then move your ruler-hand to about the center part of the ruler. So, place your hand near the bottom of the ruler, cut just a few inches past where your ruler-hand is, then stop cutting but keep your blade against the ruler edge. Now move your ruler-hand to another position along the ruler, and continue cutting.

Other kinds of blades can be used, too, including tools for paring leather, or bigger cutting tools such as mat cutters, foot shears, and even a table saw can be used. These are tools for a later post.