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Rotary Cutting Without the Cheese, Please! Safety Tips and a Giveaway

With so many of us using rotary cutters for our quilting and sewing projects, I feel the need to take few minutes to share some  important basics for the use and care of these wonderful cutting tools. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a potentially hazardous situation arise due simply to a lack of basic safety knowledge.

The blade is correctly positioned on the cutter on the right.

Sometimes I think these tools have become so commonplace that they are purchased and used without proper instruction or thoughts about safety. I’m sure most, if not all of you, are using your cutters in a safe manner, but just in case you need a little refresher, please bear with me. Speaking as someone who has sliced off the tip of her finger (just a small slice, but a slice nonetheless), I hope you might find this little tutorial helpful.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

First off, please remember that the rotary cutter is a tool, and respect it as one. There are so many different brands available, and because they are often brightly colored, it’s best to keep them out of sight (and reach) of young ones who might see them as something fun to “play” with. Actually, I try to keep mine out of the way of any family members. Although my family knows not to touch my cutting tools, apparently not all families are as educated as others. A friend recently shared this story. After returning home from a weekend away, she opened the dishwasher to find her beloved rotary cutter tucked in among the utensils. Curious, she asked her teenage son how he had spent the weekend home alone. When he explained that he had invited a few friends in for pizza, her mouth dropped open, for she realized that the sharp blade of her cutting tool had been driven through a gooey mess of cheese, pepperoni, and whatever else was in its way. So, if for no other reason than to spare the blade this experience, I suggest you tuck it away in a safe place.

A simple potholder makes a cute case for storing a rotary cutter.

Play it Safe

On average of at least once a week, I find students forgetting to close the safety latch, leaving the cutter on the table with the sharp blade exposed. The blade should ONLY be exposed during the cutting process. Many of the newer cutters have retractable blades, while some of the older models require the flip of a latch to expose and/or hide the blade. Leaving a rotary cutter on a table with an exposed blade is a disaster waiting to happen. Please protect yourself and those around you by paying attention and playing it safe.

Pay Attention to Your Parts

The second thing I notice is that “parts” of the cutter are often out of order. Loose and wobbly blades are a good indication that all the little pieces have not been reassembled properly. I always suggest to my beginning students that when changing a blade for the first time (because it is either dull or nicked), it’s wise to lay out all the pieces in line in the exact same order in which they were removed. This makes reassembly so much easier!

Lay the parts out in order for easy assembly.

These two parts are most commonly assembled incorrectly. The washer/spacer on the left is placed as if it were a bowl, curved side UP. The nut, or whatever the technical term is for this piece, on the right is inserted with the deep side facing DOWN.

Pay close attention to these two parts as they are often attached incorrectly causing the blade to wobble.

Once you start cutting, be sure to keep your fingers away from the cutting edge of the ruler. Even the slightest extension can shave off a fingertip. . . the voice of experience! Don’t work if you’re tired or have inadequate lighting. As a rule, I never cut through more than four thickness of fabric–for reasons of both accuracy and safety. Change the blade as soon as it becomes dull or nicked, and always invest in new rulers when the edges become rough and ragged. (I’ll refrain from telling you horror stories of a woman who failed to listen to this advice.)

An accident waiting to happen. Keep those fingers far away from the cutting edge of your ruler.

Oh No, Why is My Fabric Shredding?

Here’s another funny occurrence, which–believe it or not–has happened more than once. A student complains that her fabric is “shredding” while cutting. Hmm, what could be the cause? I carefully take the cutter apart to reveal multiple blades. It’s not so surprising to see this, as many blades come packaged in multiples, and the blades can be greasy and difficult to separate. Take great care when sliding the blades apart so as not to cut yourself during the process.

Cutting with multiple blades causes shredded edges.

Wrap it Up

If you plan to dispose of an old blade, it is best either to place it back into the plastic container or wrap it in a piece of cardboard and then secure it with tape. I often write “old or dull” on the blade with a permanent pen before returning it to the container; I keep some of these old blades for other non-fabric projects, such as cutting paper.

Because you’ve been so patient in bearing with me on this subject, I thought I’d give one of you a chance to win the protective rotary-cutter cover shown above. Simply leave a comment sharing either a safety tip or story by end of day September 18, and I’ll select a winner to be announced with my October post.

Until next time, safe cutting and happy sewing everyone!

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