Monday, March 19, 2012

Bookbinding 101: Blades

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

hobby knives:
snap off blade and classic X-ACTO style blade
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 also have a scalpel, like 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, and straight edge and pointed tip of a hobby knife has worked best for us in cutting through book board.

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 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.

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.

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 shift your ruler-holding-hand along the ruler so your ruler doesn't shift on you.

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.

Anything to add to the discussion? Please leave a comment.

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