Monday, January 18, 2010

Tools of the trade- Knives

I get a bunch of emails each month asking how I make my papercuts and the materials I use.

I thought it might be a good idea to make some posts about my techniques so others can give it a try themselves. Plenty of room in the world for more papercutters!

I'll be focusing on knives. I use exclusively Xacto products just because they are, in my opinion, the best available. Trust me, I've tried them all.

A quick note on terminology: Knife is the handle, blade is the sharp part that the knife holds.

Here are my two main knives (I have pretty much every product Xacto makes, but these are my most used ones)

Xacto X3627 Gripster Soft Grip Knife- available everywhere


and my piece de resistance: Xacto 3051 Professional Swivel Knife. (shown with some blue painters tape to thicken it a bit and make it more comfortable for my hands)



Xacto no longer makes the 3051, and I only have one that was given to me by a friend who did rubylith cutting for billboards in the 70s (that's how old the knife is). If you find one, I'll buy it off you! Actually, my birthday is coming up on Feb 3rd...

The Gripster takes standard #11 blades. I use this knife for all my straight cuts as it is very easy to cut a perfectly straight cut with a standard xacto knife/blade.

The Pro swivel knife, however, is pretty much the greatest thing ever and I'd love for Xacto to start producing the knife again (are you listening Xacto???)

This swivel knife, unlike the swivel knife Xacto makes today, is entirely made from metal. There are tiny ball bearings that allow the blade to rotate in the knife without having any wiggle to the blade. The currently available swivel knife allows way to much movement of the blade inside the knife, so trying to put the tip of the knife exactly in the right spot is difficult because the blade wiggles a bit as you press it into the paper (bad).

While they say you cant use the current swivel knives available at stores (they come in a tiny plastic tube and each blade is encased in a white piece of plastic), I found that you can still use the blades for the old style knife, you just need to take the blade out of the plastic case. This is very easy.

I really wish Xacto did not package these blades with the point down as they are very sharp yet delicate. When they get jostled around on the shelf or in shipping, the tips can sometimes break off in the package. At $1 each, I don't want to waste ANY blades in the package and I'll check every one before I buy them.

I use a pair of pliers and squeeze the plastic case just below the blade. This crushes the plastic and loosens the blade, then I take the pliers, pull the blade out, and put the blade directly into the pro swivel knife, which holds the blade in a brass mechanism. A bit of work, but totally worth it for the stability of the pro knife.



The best thing about the pro knife is that the blade swivels inside the knife so incredibly smoothly, you can cut your work just like you would drawing with a pen. Here's a video of my using my swivel knife to cut a piece. It doesn't cut straight lines very well though, that's why I use the traditional knife with #11 blades.





I hope this was helpful to all of you. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I read them all, and I'll try to answer them all.

I'll be doing another post on paper, adhesive, and design.



25 comments:

mrYen said...

I REALLY want and need one of those swivel blades and the knife! It would make things so much more easier. It would probably take a bit of getting used to though, having the blade moving about. Great to see what other papercutters use!

S.A. said...

I like what you do with paper, I have wrote about it in my blog...

http://hijasperezosas.blogspot.com/

Ruth said...

Oh, awesome! I love that swivel knife!

Keep the how-to posts coming, please!

Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ArtSnark said...

that swivel knife is swee-eet

Nan said...

Enjoyed the information (and writing style.) Thanks! About how long does each blade last?

Joe the papercutter said...

Nan-

I use a quilters self-healing pad, which helps prolong the blades (glass and hard surfaces wear down the blades quickly).

Sometime the very tip breaks, but if it is a clean break, it is still possible to continue cutting with the "broken" blade.

On average, I use one-two blades for my 11x14 detailed pieces, about a half dozen for my large pieces, and one blade lasts about 5-10 silhouettes.

After a few hours, the blade simply wears down (paper is full of silica, which is actually quite rough on the blade) and I can feel that it takes more effort to get through the paper cleanly, then I replace the blade

Anonymous said...

Your work is really amazing and detailed! I love it!
Thank you for the how-to tips and what kind of knives and blades to use.
Can you recommend a good paper, do you have any favorites?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Just picked one of these up at a hardware going out of business in the special box. Only $1.00 I thought the blade was missing till I pulled the cap/ wrench off. Then checked online I don't know if I've ever seen one. I just love it blue anodized and polished aluminum with bearings a USA made work of art right up there with my Welch Prov. RI jewelers screwdriver set. Thanks for the info on the replacement blade. Regards, Herb

Cheryl said...

Your work is beautiful! I have done paper cutting for (give or take) 20 years. I had an older X-acto swivel knife, not as old as yours, but like you, the newer ones just don't compare! Every now and then I search for a comparable knife but haven't found one. I did run across this one the other day, but haven't been able to find much information on it. Maybe you will find this of use.....http://www.grifhold.com/catalog.asp?prodid=645972&showprevnext=1 Best Wishes for a long and happy career of paper cutting!!!! Cheryl

Judith said...

Hi Joe...
In another moment of desperation I was searching the web.. after a graveyard full of broken Xacto swivel blades in white plastic stems... (they often crack off the stem almost as soon as I touch the paper..) and stumbled upon your entry.
I have been a papercutter for over 30 years and have been in mourning since Xacto discontinued producing their professional swivel blades and knives... I,too, after much trial and error found the professional swivel knives superior to any other I tried, and used them exclusively. I still have 2 knives and have been looking for replacement blades for years. I am thrilled to try your technique of cracking the white plastic and releasing the tiny blades and using them as replacements.. Sounds easy and effective.
Thanks so much for sharing your papercut tips with the rest of us..
very much appreciated.
Thanks too, for identifying the number of the knife #3051 so if blades do exist I can track those down as well.
yours,
Judith Hankin
Pomegraphics

Patrick said...

Impressive! The movement, both forward and back, is incredibly precise. I've been working on my cutting technique lately, but I can't seem to get the modern exacto swivel blade to work. Part of the problem is, I think, that I use a lot of thicker antique papers, and have to put so much pressure on the blade that the swivel doesn't respond to subtle movements. Thanks for the video!

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me more about the paper you use?
Is it a speical kind of paper? Does it have a name, what charactersitics does it have?

Does it have adhesive on one side of the paper, allowing you to paste the image or drawing you cut out into something else?

Please let me know.

Elizabeth said...

Hi, I've been calligraphing for years but have just started papercutting. Your work is truly amazing.
I don't know which swivel knife to get instead of the older discontinued one. What would you recommend and where could one get it?

Anonymous said...

I have the same swivel knife -I bought it new in the early 1990s - I was cutting amberlyth at the time. I want to say that I paid somewhere between $50 and $75 for it.

I stumbled across your blog in the hopes that I'd be able to find blades for it somewhere - my fear is that I'd have to yank the blades out of another current replacement blade. Luckily I have a few of the original replacement blades stashed away (I'll be using them for frisket film, so I may get a little more mileage out of them.

I enjoyed reading your praise of it though. I haven't used mine in years, but you are spot on. I was like a surgeon with that thing back in the day. It's so precise and perfect. There's something to be said for a well-made tool. It becomes an extension of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried this swivel knife from Lion- Cushioned Grip Swivel Craft Knife? Curious how it works or if you know anything about it...
thanks for your time and helps,

Calvin Brock said...

I love the blog. Great post. It is very true, people must learn how to learn before they can learn. lol i know it sounds funny but its very true. . . best survival knives

Blow Up Booths said...

Those swivel blades could really come in handy. Thanks for posting!

Menseffects said...

I really like this knife. I also like the quality of this knife. I also like the video.

Best Out Of the Front Knives

S said...

Xacto no longer makes the 3051, and I only have one that was given to me by a friend who did rubylith cutting for billboards in the 70s (that's how old the knife is). If you find one, I'll buy it off you! Actually, my birthday is coming up on Feb 3rd...

http://www.johnshobbies.ca/main/contact-us/

I got mine here last year here in Toronto Canada.I would contact them.

S said...

Also http://www.amazon.co.uk/X-Acto-X3241-Craft-Swivel-Knife/dp/B003W0SKQ6


Runi Smith said...

I really like your blog. Thanks for sharing with us great blog.
OTF Blades

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am posting an X-acto Professional Graphics Arts Set from the late 70's or 80's on Ebay today. the set contains two No 3051 Swivel knives as well as another knife and a ball burnisher. two extra sets of blades for the swivels and a pack of regular blades for the other. light use - looks almost new if not unused.

Anonymous said...

ok, I have posted item 171176757852 vintage x acto professional graphics arts set on eaby. contains TWO 3051 knives and TWO packs of blades. priced ask of 149.00. ONE of these knives sold for $96.00 on ebay not long ago. steve

letsmakecupcakes said...

I've just bought a 3051 online and it even has some original blades with it, but I can't figure out how to change the blade! I know I must need to do something with the silver bit on the end as this turns when the blade turns but it's not moving easily and I scared I might break it! Could anyone tell me how it's done?