Card Modelling Cutting Tools I Use
I thought I would expand on the basic craft knife used for card modelling and discuss the different cutting tools/alternatives I regularly use and the reasoning why I use them (or not).
1. Swann Morton Scalpel with No.11 Blade: I have only been using these for a short time but have been impressed with them so far. The biggest benefit and this may just be me, but I find I can more easily and consistently cut the edges of the paper square which was an issue for me previously; and for that reason alone means they are now my primary cutting tool. I think it’s because they aren’t so pointed so that I can see the ground surface of the blade easier for aligning perpendicular to the straight edge.
The less pointy tip does have disadvantages for me though, which will be made clear in 2a below. A couple of advantages I have heard are that they are sharper than the No.11 craft knife equivalent. There is no doubt a new blade is extremely sharp but I can’t say for sure that they are sharper. I have also heard that they remain sharper for longer; for me personally I haven’t found this to be the case and if anything may dull quicker than the equivalent. This may be a perception thing and will reassess after I have used them extensively.
I have heard of people disliking this handle due to the narrow hard edged nature of it. I only find it uncomfortable if I am applying lots of pressure but then if that’s the case then it probably isn’t the right tool for the job so usually have no discomfort with the handle.
2a. Typical Exacto Type Handle with No.11 Blade: Firstly all my blades including No.11’s has been the Excel brand. This was what I used exclusively until recently but still use regularly for a number of reasons. The blades are deeper and pointier compared to the Swann Morton’s.
I use the pointier tip for making small ‘sewing machine’ type pin pricks to cut out small tight curves and the deeper blade is useful for making pivoting, rotating cuts I use for convex curves. I also find the pointier tip easier for doing freehand curved cuts as I can follow the cutting line better. The biggest disadvantage of this blade for me personally is I find it difficult to consistently cut square edges for the opposite reason the Swann Morton allows me to.
I now have both the Swann Morton and the Excel knives side by side on the cutting mat when modelling and alternate between the two depending on the cutting task.
2b. Shaped/Ground Down No.11 Blade: I keep all worn blades which I then use a Dremel on to grind them first to a specific width and then to put a chisel type cutting edge on them. They are used to cut vertically down through the paper. These are made to specific square or rectangular holes requiring cutting out in the paper part and I may grind 2 or more different widths to suit each hole.
I personally find cutting small holes this way better than using the normal straight edge and slicing cut giving cleaner sharper corners. Of course this works better for smaller holes and larger holes with longer straight edges can be cut using the normal method. Incidentally No.17 blades are already chisel shaped so these only need grinding to width and resharpening if worn.
2c. Curved Blade: I don’t use these for cutting paper/card but use them for cutting photo-etch parts free from the frets. I place the fret on an old/blank CD or DVD and use the blade by pressing down to make the cut. The curve allows the blade to be rocked for particularly tough cuts. The curve also allows more blade edge to be in contact with the fret rather than the tiny point of a No.11 blade. I have only recently started using a curved blade for photo-etch and much prefer it now over the No.11 previously used.
There are smaller curved blades available which I need to source for ease of use on tightly packed photo-etch frets but the concept is the same.
I have heard of others who use curved blades for doing free hand paper cuts as apparently it allows them to smoothly follow the cut line and change direction if I remember correctly. I haven’t used a curved blade for free-hand work so can’t comment on the accuracy of this.
3. 9mm Retractable Snap-off Knife: I use these almost exclusively for rough cutting out of parts from the parts sheets instead of using more expensive No.11 blades which are saved for final cuts. These snap-off blades are very cost effective as the handle is loaded up with several strips each containing a number of blade segments. As the blade wears it is snapped off to reveal a new sharp segment. Once a strip of segments has been exhausted, pulling the thumb catch fully rearwards engages a new strip. I prefer the Stanley brand as the blades are very sharp. I also use them for cutting off-cuts from thicker card for packers, cutting balsa, paring wood and just general cutting, again to save wasting No.11 blades.
I have heard of card modellers who use these for final cutting of parts as they are very sharp and as mentioned very cost effective. I personally don’t use them for final cutting of parts as I have found that if the blade isn’t held exactly perpendicular to the part it can wrinkle the cut edge slightly and for me it is too hit or miss. Although I guess if I gained more experience using them for final cutting, consistency would be achieved.
I also find the handles too big and clumsy for critical cuts and being left handed the blade exits from the handle on the wrong side to see the edge comfortably and fingers holding down the straight edge can get in the way of the bulky handle. If you are right handed, then this may be an alternative to the No.11.
Alternatively, smaller, thinner handles which only hold one strip of blades are available and this would eliminate the bulky handle issue but I haven’t tried these as my current handle is sufficient for what I use it for.
4. Single Edge Razor Blade: Another useful blade which gets regular use. It is perfect for slipping into the kerf on laser cut forms for slicing the little nibs to free the part. The part then only requires a couple of swipes with a sanding block to remove the remains of the nib for a clean fuss free part.
I also use these regularly for folding paper parts similar to the method used for photo-etch; sliding the blade under the part to the fold line and rotating the blade up to form the fold.
My favourite brand for these were Stanley which came in little plastic boxes of 10. Since my local hardware store stopped stocking these by Stanley I have tried many different brands (all identical in size and shaped) but none have the sharpness the Stanley ones had.
5. Stanley Knife (utility knife): I used to use this mainly for cutting out forms from thick 2mm card when I had to glue the part templates to the card. Since I now use laser cut forms whenever possible this knife has been relegated to more abusive forms of use such as cutting brass tube and bending and prying off kit book staples etc.
I also use it for hacking and chopping clothes pegs for clamping and cutting thick bits of balsa and wood for packers etc. Very useful for sharpening pencils and slicing through blister packs.
6. Scissors: I have never used scissors for cutting out paper parts. I do use them for cutting other thin materials such as floppy disks for windows etc (knives cause a ridge to form on the floppy disc material). Other than this they see very little use. For making straight cuts nothing beats a knife and straight edge. They may be useful for making curved cuts but depending on the radius or the part shape access may be an issue without bending the part. Again I have heard of modellers using scissors but I have never tried it so can’t comment further.
7. Circle Cutters: These are invaluable for cutting circles (as the name suggests!) such as wheels from paper. If you build vehicles, then they are worth getting a set and I suggest paying a bit more for a decent brand. A branded set also allows for spare blades to be readily available at a reasonable cost although they usually come supplied with 5 or so spare blades.
The generic circle cutter in the photo (blue & yellow) was a disgrace; all the supplied blades had burrs on them from the manufacturing stamping process and tore the paper. I was able to file and clean them up and put a honed edge on them which was time consuming and frustrating but they did cut nicely afterwards. The adjustment tightening screw did need to be really tight to prevent the set diameter changing in use.
The Olfa cutter (black & yellow) was twice the price but being Japanese the blades were sharp out of the box and much more enjoyable to use as well as readily available spare blades. It was necessary to make sure the adjustment knob was tightened but not to the gorilla grip necessary for the generic cutter.
I also suggest spending a considerable amount of time cutting out circles from scrap until you get a feel for it and determine the best method for using it to prevent destroying your model parts. I got the best most accurate cuts by going round and round gently until the part was cut through. (all parts were laminated on to 0.5mm to 1mm card). If you try and force it to cut too deeply at once the blade will wander particularly if cutting thicker materials.
Summary: Well that’s all the card modelling cutting tools I use at one stage or another on a build and how I use them. Certainly a knife handle and some No.11 blades are all you need to get you started with card modelling but as shown I use alternatives for pretty specific tasks, which is mostly to reserve the No.11’s to final cutting only. Remember this is what works (or not) for me and your mileage may vary.