Nifty Notions: Caring for your Rotary Cutter
This is a Two Part Series with Part One covering Caring for Your Rotary Cutter and Blades, and Part Two relating to Cutting Mats, by Judy Hall “Of course, I LOVE my rotary cutter and mat and couldn’t quilt without them” I hear you say, but I ask do you CARE for them? When was the last time you performed maintenance on them? Do you want them to last you a long time? I am sure the answer is yes, after all, apart from the sewing machine, no other products have revolutionized the way we quilt. We couldn’t be without either of them; they are indispensable as they allow us speed and accuracy.
We give thanks to Mr. Yoshio Okada, founder of the Olfa Company, who led his team with imagination and determination to invent the rotary cutter after watching a television program when visiting Europe showing a tailor achieving poor results from cutting silk with scissors. The rest is history, as they say.
Have you ever wondered what the numbers around an Olfa Rotary Blade mean? The original rotary blade was designed to fit a safety cutter that positioned each section of the rotary blade in a fixed position. When a section became dull, the next section was used, hence the numbering. When Olfa introduced the original rotary cutter in 1979, the numbers became irrelevant, but they have maintained the numbering as an historical feature representing the original blade.
Rotary Cutters: There are several brands of rotary cutters available and blade sizes range from 18mm in diameter, 28mm, 45mm and 60mm. Many are available with blades that may be used for left-handed or right-handed users, though some brands also have models particularly for left-handed use alone. The smaller sized ones don’t cut through as many layers of fabric at a time, but are essential for small curves and shapes, whereas the larger ones will be beneficial for cutting through stacked fabric and for cutting strips.
Consider your needs when selecting which size rotary cutter will be best for you though most sewers will find they need a large and a small. Consider also if the blade is easy to change and if they are readily available? Most reputable brands these days have a safety locking feature to expose or cover the blade, particularly important if you have young children in the household. Excellent features of newer releases allow the rotary cutter to be held ergonomically allowing for longer periods of use and for those who suffer from carpal tunnel and such wrist or hand problems.
Make sure you hold your rotary cutter correctly, keeping your arm straight from your elbow through the wrist and hand to your index finger or thumb, whichever you use as your guide and pressure control (styles of cutters vary). If possible, try as many different cutters as you can before purchasing and see what suits your own needs and feels comfortable for you. This is particularly important if you do suffer from arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, hand fatigue, neck or arm pain.
- Cut at the correct height, (so check your table)
- Position yourself so you have a clear view of the cutting area
- Use a ruler and butt the blade upright against the ruler’s edge
- Cut with a firm, clean motion cutting away from you for safety and never back and forth.
- Never try to cut all sides of a template without turning the mat, remembering you only cut away from you. A Rotary Cutting Mat may be considered for such ease cutting around templates.
- Pressure upon the rotary cutter must be consistent, so if you have irregular cuts, check your technique or maybe check the blade for a burr.
- Many prefer to use a gripper or ruler handle to allow their hand to be clear of the rotary cutter. (Several are available and maybe we’ll review these at a later date)
- Always use a rotary cutting mat and not a craft mat which will dull your blades and is not self-healing.
- Periodically, take your rotary cutter apart and clean it to keep it working properly; you will be amazed with how much fabric lint can build up making it harder to use and not as safe.
Care of the blades: Change blades as required as they will blunt with use or develop a nick or burr. They may be sharpened with specialty tools, though the Olfa Company do not endorse these as they claim their blades are made of high quality tungsten steel and are specially honed using a unique sharpening process to provide exceptional sharpness and longevity. Most quilters have found such sharpening tools to be beneficial and do give longer use for their blades so these should be considered. Remember too that blades may be flipped over for longer use before being replaced. Check the size of your rotary cutter blade and purchase a special blade sharpener for that size; some now are for the two most popular sizes and then an electric one accommodates three sizes. Sharp blades require less pressure to cut, giving you more accuracy and less chance of slipping. There is also a linear sharpener allowing you to sharpen your blade without actually removing it from the cutter! Blunt blades will damage your cutting mat, whereas a sharp blade has minimum penetration allowing a self-healing mat to work effectively and allows less fabric lint to enter the cut.
The Cutting Edge Rulers feature one side with a 650 Diamond carbide edge which will actually help keep your blade sharp with every cut.
Replacing Blades: By inserting a new blade you will be amazed at the difference and wonder why you hadn’t earlier! When you do replace a blade, make sure you lay all the components out on a table in the same order as you remove the old blade so as you insert the new blade in the correct sequence; pay particular attention to the direction of the washer and nut otherwise the blade may not cut. Many quilters tighten the screw too tightly so as the blade doesn’t rotate easily. Newer models make changing a blade a cinch. Martelli Rotary Cutters actually have the blade thread in the opposite direction to how the blade rotates as you cut, thus not allowing the blade to become loose with use but indeed, tightening it with rotation. Make sure you know the brand of your rotary cutter when you purchase additional blades as generally, brands are not interchangeable. Have you noticed when you open the packaging of a new blade that is has a little smear of oil on the blade? Do not wipe it off as it allows a smoother cut. In fact, you should oil your rotary cutter blade as you should oil your scissor blades. Be careful not to cut yourself. Use good quality sewing machine oil and smear some onto a lint-free cloth then carefully wipe both sides of the blade and the area to which it will be inserted. Dispose of blunt blades carefully using the packaging or container of the new blade. Always have a new blade on hand and store your cutter and blades in a cool, dry place. Products are available from good haberdashery retail outlets or from Punch with Judy, a regular exhibitor at the Craft & Quilt Fairs. Or visit www.punchwithjudy.com.au