How to use a blade… a newbie’s guide to sliced fingers prevention

Here’s some pointers for cutting materials such as paper, card, formcore and boards.

Cutting mat – use one. These are self-healing, and are made of a special plastic. These plastic mats have a special property: their molecules bind to each other in such a way that after they are cut apart, the broken bonds re-form when put back together. Don’t be a noob and cut on the surface of your table or bench, screwing up the smooth surface.

These are A5 size but obviously and it goes without saying, the larger the cutting mats, the better you cut.

Cutting blades – There are a whole assortment of cutting blades out there but for our purposes, these listed below are the ones to get acquainted with: NT cutters are cutters from Japan and have been around for a long time. Many designers grew up with these cutters with retractable/disposable blades; early designs were dull and practical looking but the latest offerings are ‘sexy’ looking, and most probably aimed at the iGeneration.

NT Junior 300

The NT Junior 300 is a light weight cutter for industrial use.

The NT 487 is a standard cutter for industrial use.

These are NT iA-200SP cutters and even come with blade disposal cases! They must have drawn inspiration from Apple’s 1998 iMacs (see below).

The NT L-2000P is for heavy-duty cutting operations, its ribbed body provides a secure, egonomic  grip.

For more cutters, check out the NT cutter site.


X-Acto is a brand of tools owned by Elmer’s Products, Inc. The X-Acto knife may be called a utility knife, but it is actually a short, sharp blade mounted on a pen-like aluminum body, used for craftwork and hobbies such as modelmaking where precise cutting is needed.

When using X-Acto or similar knifes, carefully insert the new blade into the slot at the top of the aluminium body. Tightly screw the blade in, ensure that it is secured. You definitely don’t want the blade to fall out during use!

If using retractable cutting knives, do not extend the blade so that it looks like a knife. A blade extension of 1.5 cm is ideal. Anything longer than and you will have uncontrollable blade wobbling which would often result in sliced fingers.

When holding the knife, grab the handle of the knife toward the top with your pointer finger and thumb. Support the knife with your middle finger on the underside of the handle.

Place cutting mat underneath material waiting to be cut.

Point the tip of the knife on a 45 degree angle to the surface to which you are trying to cut. Pull the knife toward you while putting pressure on the material. This action will cut the material. Concentrate on what you are doing; now’s not the time to be dreaming about your dream man/woman!

After cutting, always retract blades or when not using an x-acto, detach and reverse the blade.

Steel rulers... yes, steel rules! Not plastic.

Rulers – never use plastic rulers because the blade easily cuts through plastic… and your hand that is holding onto the ruler.

Always use a steel ruler – preferably a 24 inch, it gives a good grip and cuts almost any length.

C-thru flexible stainless steel rulers with non-slip cork backing, precision measuring, 16ths permanent markings. Centimeters and millimeters on the other edge.

Use cork backing or taped coin backing – tape 2 or 3 small coins – at the back of the steel ruler for a ‘lift-off’ – the ruler can be reversed if desired.

Cutting – When cutting always keep your fingers back from the ruler’s edge and press down when cutting with the cutting tool.

When making a first cut, never, never try to cut on your first try, always gently score a number of times to get a precise cut. Remember, your first cut must always be gentle.

Always use a good blade not a dull one. A good clean blades ensures a clean, precise cut. A dull blade will rip up your paper, card, foamcore or board.

Wrap discarded blades with masking tape when discarding into bin, so you won’t hurt yourself when you are jamming something down the bin.

Check out the video below and learn how to use an X-acto knife and straight edge to cut thin and thick boards based on Doug’s experience as an architectural student and practicing architect.


About ranman

Design educator with a Masters of Design degree. 32 years of design experience. View all posts by ranman

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