Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bookbinding 101: Cutting Mats

We have used two kinds of mats. One is an el-cheapo plastic mat that leaves a cut mark with every pass of the blade. It is labeled as a rotary cutting mat, so it may have shown fewer marks if we hadn't used fixed blades on it so much.

Roughed up surface of plastic cutting mat
However, it isn't self healing, and so we expect the surface would have gotten roughed up with whatever kind of blade we used. We used it for all our cutting for a long while, but it got to the point where we couldn't cut paper on it any more as it became too rough a surface and the blade had trouble going straight when cutting paper.

Also, at about 12" x 24" (30.48 x 60.96 cm) it often left us desiring more real estate to work on. It got us by, but for longer cuts we'd have to make a partial cut, then shift the material along the mat to finish the cut. It works, but when making a lot of books, we found that it quickly becomes tedious.

Our other mat (discussed below) is designed for rotary blades and not fixed blades, so we still use the plastic mat to cut bookboard, which we cut with a fixed blade -- that is, when we're not cutting our bookboard with a table saw. (Bookboard is the hard inner "core" of hard cover books, sometimes called chipboard, or davey board. More on this when we get to materials.)

Olfa's self-healing surface stays quite smooth
The second kind of mat we have used is a self-healing Olfa, 24" x 36" (60.96 x 91.44 cm) It has been a nice improvement over our 12" x 24" for the larger surface area to work on, but even so, there are some cuts we make where we wish it were larger. But this serves us well for nearly all the cut lengths we do make.

It's also great for how smooth it has remained after many thousands of cuts on it with a rotary blade. It does not work well with a fixed blade, as the fixed blade leaves a definite mark, and we would likely shred up the surface in short time if using fixed blades on it regularly. But, to ensure it lasts, we don't used fixed blades on it at all.

Alvin makes mats they advertise as self-healing for both rotary and fixed blades, which would be great. They also come in several different sizes, even as large as 4' x 8' (1.22 x 2.44 m).

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


Marcus J. Ranum said...

I buy cut pieces of butchers' block polypropylene. You can get it in bulk from Ridout plastics. My workbench top is an 8x4' sheet of 1/2" thick polypropylene. Nothing sticks to it, it doesn't dull knives, and it weighs so much you can't even think about shifting it.

The nice thing is Ridout'll do cuts on stock. So you can get a 2x4' sheet of poly, cut into a 1 foot by 4 foot chunk and a 2 by 1 and whatnot; various sizes. The stuff is pretty much indestructible. When I want to flatten something I put it between 2 pieces of poly, inserted into a square laid-up plywood frame, then I hammer a couple wedges in to tighten it. Done.


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