Rotary cutter tips and tricks
I wasn’t a quilter until recently, I used to sew clothes for myself and kids and some home decor items (mostly curtains). So I wasn’t used to rotary cutters, although I had all the time many different kinds of sewing scissors and I thought that rotary cutters are only used by quilters.
Some time ago, before deciding to share my sewing experience with others, I started to sew leather. I heard from more experienced people that a rotary cutter is excellent for cutting leather and will transform you in a real leather cutting machine. So I tried it. And it was awful! I even film it so you can laugh now together with me – at the time I was so surprised at the way a rotary cutter works.
Watch the video – “How not to use a rotary cutter”. It’s really funny!
So I decided to find out what is wrong with my rotary cutting skills. I saw many YouTube videos where they go through a few layers of fabric with a rotary cutter like through butter. And I was really surprised that I can’t do the same with my rotary cutter.
It was not hard to figure it out though. And I put together this article so you are not going to make the same mistakes I did.
Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself.
What is a rotary cutter ?
The best rotary cutter definition seems to be “a hand tool which has a round knife”. The knife is between 18 and 60mm in diameter (~ 3/4” to 2 1/3”). The standard sizes I have seen are 18, 28, 45 and 60mm. You cut by pressing the knife on the material and moving the tool forward.
The most common cutting tools are made by Olfa and Fiskars and the price for a no-name tool and a brand name one is about the same, so buy the best, this you buy once and use for years. I only use 45mm blades, in fact I own the first two cutters in the list below:
OLFA Rotary Cutter RTY-2/G
Olfa 45mm Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter
Fiskars Classic Comfort Loop Rotary Cutter (45mm)
Premier Blades 45mm Rotary Cutter Tool
Get more info on Rotary Cutters here
OLFA 45mm Rotary Cutter, Model 9651 (RTY-2G)
|Item Dimensions||Weight: 25|
|Product Group||Home Improvement|
|Product Type Name||TOOLS|
|Title||OLFA 45mm Rotary Cutter, Model 9651 (RTY-2G)|
OLFA 1136602 RTY-2DX/PBL Rotary Cutter, Pacific Blue
$19.13 in stock
- Cuts through 8 layers of cotton fabric at once
- Dual-action safety lock
- Ergonomic handle for comfortable cutting; blade moves to opposite side for left-handed use
- Includes and uses tungsten steel 45 mm rotary blade (RB-45)
- Also fits pinking (PIB-45), scallop/peak (SCB-45), wave (WAB-45) blades for decorative edging and 45mm Endurance blade (RB45H-1)
Fiskars Classic Comfort Loop Rotary Cutter (45mm), 1, steel and orange
$6.73 in stock
4 used from $5.05
- Fashion Classic Loop Rotary Cutter features high-grade, precision-ground, 45 mm premium steel rotary blade for long-lasting sharpness
- Curved, loop-handle design provides a natural fit for your hand, improves control and lets you keep the cutter in hand while you rearrange materials
- Sliding button extends blade during use, locks it into position and retracts it for safe storage
- Ideal for cutting multiple layers of fabric, paper, felt and vinyl, the blade can be assembled to either side for both right- and left-handed users
- Full lifetime warranty
Premier Blades 45mm Rotary Cutter Tool (5 Extra Blades Included) Ergonomic Soft Handle Stainless Steel Blades- Perfect for Quilting & Cutting Fabric, Paper, Leather, and More!
- INCLUDES 6 ROTARY CUTTER BLADES - Razor Sharp Stainless Blades Easily Cuts Through 6+ Layers At a Time!
- ERGONOMIC SOFT HANDLE - Incredibly Comfortable Handle Designed Specifically to Prevent Hand Fatigue
- DUAL SAFETY TECHNOLOGY - Push Button Easily Locks the Blade when Not In Use, Can Also Lock the Blade in Place Allowing For Easy Comfort Cutting
- ROTARY CUTTERS HAVE 100s of USES - Perfect for Cutting Fabric, Quilts, Thread, Paper, & More! It's Idea for Quilters, Sewing, Scrapbooking, Card Making, and other DIY Projects!
- 100% MANUFACTURER MONEY BACK GUARANTEE - If you're ever unsatisfied with the product the Manufacturer will refund your order. No Questions Asked! TapePlus is a USA Company with US Based Customer Support!
So, the reason I couldn’t cut my leather using a rotary cutter is obvious – a dull blade. Even if you have the best expensive rotary cutting tool it will not cut your fabric if the blade is not sharp enough.
How do you know what blades to buy? That’s easy: the best for the price, right? So let’s compare them.
We will use the following three types of blades in this test:
I started with no-name blades (remember the funny video?), bought in bulk from China (if 10 can be named “bulk”) on eBay. I think when I bought them they were about $5 for 10, now you pay anywhere from $9 to $15 for a 10-pack. Even Amazon still sells them.
They work ok for the first cut for a one-layer material, perhaps the second and third, if you are lucky, your mat is good, the material is thin, etc. Then it happens as it happened during my test, see the video:
Note please the force that I applied to the cutter, my finger is white where I press the cutter. And the result? Better let’s not talk about it, the video is clear! As I said: I don’t have time for this! I use a rotary cutter not to aggravate myself, but to save time and for convenience.
My next step? Give the remaining blades to my husband to do I-don’t-know-what-and-I-don’t-want-to-know with them, go to Amazon and buy the brand name ones. I bought Olfa blades and they are my favorite now.
There are two types of Olfa blades: regular and endurance which promises twice the life of the regular one. In the image below you can see how they look like, together with their original packaging.
Get more info about Olfa blades sold on Amazon.com here
OLFA Rotary Cutting Blades 5 In Pack
|EAN List||EAN List Element: 0616469474902|
|Product Type Name||HOME|
|Title||OLFA Rotary Cutting Blades 5 In Pack|
|UPC List||UPC List Element: 616469474902|
OLFA 1128127 45MM Endurance Blade
$8.13 in stock
- 2x More Cuts Per Blade - Retains cutting edge two times longer while cutting fabric before dulling - OLFA internal testing cutting four layers of cotton fabric versus standard blades
- Proprietary Tungsten Steel metal chemistry with innovative heat treatment process for exception durable long life
- Compatible with all current OLFA cutter handles
So after I confirmed what I already knew – no name blades are a no/no – let’s continue.
The video below will show an Olfa rotary cutter blade change, a very simple process and pretty much the same for all cutters I have seen. The main thing is NOT to overtighten the screw: the blade should be able to rotate easily!
I will use now one of the two Olfa blades I have, an Olfa Extended Cut RB-45H. This is an expensive blade and promises a longer life ( 2x ) than its Olfa cousin that we will test later. How does it work? Superbly! See the video. In fact, the material I cut is a multi-layer in some parts, I used this cut to straighten one side of my quilted block.
Now I am using the regular Olfa RB-45 blade and as I expected (the blade was new) I didn’t see any difference. The blade cut effortlessly, pretty much like its predecessor, the more expensive “Endurance”.
Will the “Endurance” blade last twice as long as its cousin? Difficult to say especially that they will not be used to cut the same materials. I know from experience that the regular RB-45 blade lasts quite a long time (unless my husband uses it again to sharpen my chalk pencil).
Let me tell you about some new interesting cutting tools you may not have heard of.
For example, now they make rotary cutters like this in the image below. The way the handle is designed is quite unusual, right?
I don’t own one like this ( there are different brands also) but I tried and liked very much Martelli Ergo 2000. It seems it’s easier to cut with it because you need to put less pressure while cutting compared to a standard style rotary cutter. And you can cut SITTING! Martelli has excellent videos about this rotary cutter.
Some of my friends use it and just can’t live without it because it makes the cutting more natural and especially if you have a large number of cuts it helps by reducing the stress on your hand. It’s also advertised as recommended for people with arthritis – and after 50, most of us are affected to some extent. I wouldn’t go that far to say I can’t live without it but liked it and I feel it merits an honorable mention.
Get more info about this kind of rotary cutters here
Martelli Ergo 2000 45mm Rotary Cutter -Left Hand
- Precision engineered
- Ergonomically designed
- Easy blade replacement
- Left Hand
Martelli Ergo 2000 60mmRotary Cutter -Left Hand
$17.25 in stock
- Precision engineered
- Ergonomically designed
- Easy blade replacement
- Left Hand
Fiskars 190180-1001 Adjustable Rotary Cutter, 45mm
- Ideal for cutting multiple layers of fabric, paper, felt and vinyl
- Pivoting handle locks in three positions - classic stick for familiar feel and control, power position to increase force when cutting thick materials and ergonomic left or right to take pressure off your wrist and improve sightlines
- High-grade, precision-ground, premium steel 45 mm rotary blade stays sharper
- Ergonomically sculpted handle with Softgrip provides added comfort
- Full lifetime warranty (excludes blades)
Martelli Ergocutter 28mm Rotary Cutter Red
$21.85 in stock
- Blades last 3-5 times longer
Another cutting tool that is not very common yet – Rotary cutter and ruler COMBO. Did you see this one?
Here is the description I found on the manufacturer’s site – sounds like a great tool!
“Great for beginners, the unique design of this tool makes perfect cuts through fabric a breeze — since you’re not managing two tools separately, you don’t have to struggle with a misaligned ruler or worry about holding the rotary cutter straight. It includes a 45 mm spring-action rotary blade that makes clean cuts through multiple layers of fabric and an ergonomic blade carriage that makes cutting smooth and easy. The ruler features a bold 6″ x 24″ grid that is printed on both sides for right- or left-handed use, plus highlighted numbers for excellent visibility on light or dark fabric. The unique rail design prevents lint build up as you work, the no-touch magnetic blade change system makes blade change safe and easy while storing used blades, and a carrying handle offers easy, convenient transportation.”
Get more info about rotary cutter and ruler combo
Fiskars 195130-1001 Rotary Cutter and Ruler Combo, 6x24 Inch
$32.25 in stock
2 used from $29.67
- Ideal for measuring and making precise, clean cuts through fabric when strip cutting, cutting long swaths, cutting basic shapes like triangles and more
- Ergonomic handle and a 45 mm rotary blade make smooth, confident cuts through multiple layers of fabric easy, spring-activated blade only engages when in use
- Built-in ruler features a 6" x 24" measuring grid with highlighted numbers that are easy to see on light or dark fabric
- Grid is clearly printed on both sides for easy right- and left-handed use, bias lines make it easy to measure angles before cutting
- Magnetic system provides easy, safe, no-touch blade change, extra blades and magnetic blade change tool sold separately, see item 195120-1001
Fiskars Rotary Ruler Combo for Fabric Cutting, 12-Inch x 12-Inch
$46.49 in stock
- Ideal for measuring and making precise, clean cuts through fabric when cutting squares, triangles and other shapes
- Ergonomic handle and a 45 mm rotary blade make smooth, confident cuts through multiple layers of fabric easy
- Spring-activated blade only engages when in use
- Built-in ruler features a 12" x 12" measuring grid with highlighted numbers that are easy to see on light or dark fabric
- It is lifetime warranty product
Also, I have to mention here that there are pinking blades – you can add unique decorative edges to any project with them and keep fabric edges from fraying.
Get more info about pinking blades
OLFA 9456 PIB45-1 45mm Stainless Steel Pinking Blade, 1-Pack
- Fabric type: 100% Cotton
- Import Designation: Made in the USA or Imported
- Fabric care instructions: Machine Wash Cold/Tumble Dry Low
- Stainless steel blade
- Decorative edge blade
Fiskars 93518097J Decorative Rotary Replacement Pinking Blade, 45mm
- Interchangeable 45 mm blades with a variety of cutting options
- Heat treated, hardened, premium steel blade for long-lasting, razor sharp cutting
- For cutting paper, fabric, thin plastic and metals, pictures, leather, light screen and more
- Reusable clam package for blade storage
- Compatible with any Fiskars 45 mm handheld rotary cutters
A very important part of the process is the cutting mat and you want from it three things:
- Large enough to accommodate the longest cut you are comfortable to make
- Self-healing; in time, the mat will have many, many cuts and it’s important they don’t render the mat unusable. If it ‘s double sided, so much the better, you get double the usage
- Heavy enough to lay flat on the table, sticky enough to not move while you cut and to hold the material well, thick enough to not be damaged permanently by a wrong deep cut. A mat that is too shiny will allow the material to slide and that is certainly not something we want
My best mat is Dritz 30×36” ( 76x91cm ) and I like it but because I stored it improperly it has curved slightly at one end.
This particular mat is no longer manufactured and because I am looking to replace it I have narrowed my choices to the one below, even if it’s smaller than what I have now. It’s very well reviewed on Amazon, with over 1500 positive reviews (at the time I write this) and none negative!
Get more info about cutting mats here
Professional Self Healing Cutting Mat; Green 18x24 Inches Tear Resistant 3mm Thick - Non-Slip Double Sided Heavy Duty Rotary Mat with Clear Accurate Measurements and Angles Suitable for Arts & Crafts
$29.99 in stock
- SIZE: 18 x 24 Inches (see more size options above): THE IDEAL MAT for CRAFTERS and HOBBYISTS Alike. It's VERSATILE and FLEXIBLE. You can use it for arts & crafts projects such as SEWING, QUILTING, glass cutting, leather cutting, model kit building + ENDLESS OTHER USES
- You get a SMOOTH surface even after MULTIPLE USES. The cutting mat possesses UNIQUE SELF HEALING properties allowing the cutting mat to RESEAL itself after EVERY CUT.
- LASTS 10 TIMES AS LONG compared to ORDINARY MATS. The ONLY Self Healing Cutting Mat you'll need for a VERY LONG TIME. Built to be STRONG and DURABLE. It is THICK and DOUBLE SIDED to protect your tables or work areas.
- EASY and ACCURATE CUTTING. The self healing mat contains different sets of CLEAR grid lines, ⅛ measurements, and angles that will GREATLY help the cutting process.
- DESIGNED TO EXCEED YOUR EXPECTATIONS: Proven and Trusted. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by crafters, quilters, and hobbyists. The recently IMPROVED cutting mat now comes with a LIFETIME FULL MONEY BACK MANUFACTURER'S GUARANTEE.
Rotary cutter safety
The rotary cutter blade is extremely sharp and IT’S DANGEROUS. The regular kitchen knife is much less sharp. It takes only a slight contact for the cutting blade to cut, and you don’t even realize it sometimes – the first indication is the blood coming out from nowhere. From personal experience, I cut myself enough times to know this isn’t a joke:
NEVER leave the cutter around where someone might take it, perhaps someone not used to it. Put it back in the tool basket or drawer.
NEVER allow your children to handle a cutter (not that the sharp needles are less dangerous, mind you). Talk to them about the danger.
ALWAYS retract the blade when not in use, even if you only put it down for 1 second. It becomes a habit and it’s dangerous to leave a blade exposed. Not counting that the retraction of the blade protects the blade too.
ALWAYS store the unused blades in their original packaging, usually they are in a closed container. It protects the blade and lowers the risk of mishandling.
ALWAYS dispose of used blades properly and immediately, DO NOT leave them on the table, used blades might not be excellent at cutting long stretches of material, but they are still orders of magnitude sharper than any regular knife.
And finally, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be careful when handling such a cutter. The fingers you have right now are the only ones you will ever have!
Do you use a rotary cutter?
If you don’t, in my opinion you should. It speeds up cutting fabric tremendously in certain instances. If you are into quilting, I would say you HAVE to use one! Why? Let’s see:
– Precision: Long stretches of straight cut are difficult to make with scissors and one small tiny insignificant mistake may ruin the work of many days, or at least require a lot more work to fix. The rotary cutter is probably the answer to the question “how to cut large pieces of fabric straight” ( you might want also to read my article “How to cut fabric perfectly straight” )
– If you compare cuts of the same material done by good quality scissors and the rotary cutter you will see that the scissors cut is not absolutely straight even if the difference is about 1mm or less.
– Time saving: Long stretches of straight cuts take quite a long time to make with scissors mainly due to the extra care that is necessary when continuing the cut.
– Ease of use: Scissors, no matter how good and sharp, never cut equally well along the whole length of the blade so a long cut will be not easy to make.
– Convenience: The material that stays flat on the desk must be raised to be cut with scissors.
– What about multiple layers of material, especially where the layers aren’t well attached to each other? How difficult is to make a precise cut through all layers ? If the material shifts, especially when you raise it, the cut in different layers may be off a little.
All these are solved with a rotary cutter. True, there are things that scissors do better (like curved cut along a line) and things that a rotary cutter doesn’t do at all, for example cut the material off the table. But in my opinion each tool has its use in your sewing tool drawer and if you are serious about sewing, you need a good rotary cutter.
Unlike scissors, rotary cutter blades aren’t designed to be sharpened. Rotary cutter blades sharpeners exists, like the one below but I don’t recommend them. 1 in 3 users isn’t satisfied with its performance, and this is the best I could find on Amazon. To use this you need special skills AND luck AND experience AND time AND patience AND tolerance of failures AND you still don’t get the quality of an original blade.
More info about a rotary cutter blade sharpener here
Colonial Needle 45mm Rotary Blade Sharpener
$18.33 in stock
2 used from $15.49
- Dual rotary blade sharpener
- Fits all brands rotary 45mm blades
- Extends the life
I don’t have the time for this! So I buy new blades when the old ones go dull.
Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, save this pin (see below) on your sewing board so you can come to this tutorial later when you need it and follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration!
Ready to take the next step in your sewing journey? Check out more step-by-step tutorials from my blog and don’t forget to share on Facebook or Twitter!