In recent years rotary cutters have almost replaced the need for sewing shears for quilters. Many quilters are using rotary cutters to cut all the strips and pieces required for a quilt. Rotary cutters have even crossed over into card making and scrap booking.
Rotary cutters come in at least four sizes. The 18mm, 28mm are very good for small cuts and cutting in the new circle cutting acrylic tools now available. The 45mm is the standard size used by most quilters and the 60mm is recommended by many professional strip quilters.
I use the 45mm cuter for most strip cuts and the 28mm for sub-cutting smaller pieces. The 18mm is excellent for trimming triangle points for ease of piecing. The 60mm cutter will cut faster and more layers but if you have a small cutting area you might find it too large to maneuver. You will need to try out several sizes and decide which ones work for you. A person with a small hand may also find the 60mm cutter handle too large.
There are several different brands of rotary cutters. Some have straight handles and some have curved or ergonomic handles. Go to your local quilt shop and try out the brand of cutters they stock and decide which brand works best for you. Remember if you purchase one with a curved handle it comes with the blade set up to use for a right handed person. If you are left handed, you will need to take the blade assembly apart and reverse everything for a left handed person.
Again as with any other tool, be sure to buy a good quality rotary cutter. A good rotary cutter will last a long time. If you find the safety shield or the screw area is wearing, you might want to replace your rotary cutter. I have recently noticed that a new cutter on sale is not much more expensive than a new replacement blade so don't hesitate to purchase a new cutter if you need one.
Be sure to always close your rotary cutter so the blade is protected before setting it down on your cutting table. If an open cutter fell off the table it could injure your foot, a child or a pet. Be sure to keep your rotary cutter out of children's reach.
Replacement blades are readily available but some quilters consider rotary blades rather pricey. I try to purchase a quantity of blades when I see them on sale and try to get a maximum cutting time from each blade.
The following paragraphs will give you tips and pointers to get more cutting time from your rotary cutter blades.
Tips To Keep Your Blade Sharp
First always use your rotary cutter on a special mat designed for this purpose. Don't try to substitute another product. A good mat is just as important as the cutter itself in keeping the blade sharp. Be careful when cutting to not accidentally scrape your blade against the ruler or cut through pins. You could damage the ruler and dull or nick the blade. Once the blade is nicked it is difficult to cut as each time the blade comes around to the nick it leaves a small place the width of a few threads uncut. This can be very frustrating to have to go back and cut those little threads again.
When the blade seems dull, simply take it apart and flip the blade over. It won't last as long as the first side did but it will give your rotary cutter anywhere from a few days to several weeks of extra use. I love this tip because it ends up saving a lot of money over time since I am not having to buy blades as often. Try it. I think you'll like it!
To Clean Your Rotary Cutter
Your new rotary cutter will come packaged with a small amount of oil on the blade. Do not wipe the oil off. Leave it on, it will not harm your fabric and your cutter will cut smoother. The small amount of oil will also keep the safety shield from wearing as you open and close the blade.
When cutting very linty fabrics, be sure to clean your cutter often. To clean the cutter, remove the nut on the back of the area where the blade is attached. Then remove the curved washer, and the screw. Lay everything on the table in the order that you removed it -- pay attention to the direction of the washer and nut. Also remove the blade protector. Clean the blade and the black plastic shield with a clean cloth moistened with a few drops of sewing machine oil. Place a small drop of oil on both sides of the blade and replace everything in the order you removed it. Most rotary cutter packages have a diagram of how to reassemble the cutter. Next time you purchase a new cutter, save a package to refer to when assembling your cutter after cleaning.
Many quilters tighten the screw so tight that the blade doesn't roll easily. To test this, open the cutter and place the blade on your mat without fabric. Roll the blade across your mat. You will want the blade to turn easily on the mat. If the blade seems tight loosen it, and if it is loose and sloppy, tighten it. When the blade is rolling freely it is much easier to make a cut through your fabric.
If you find you need a new rotary cutter blade and one is not available, take your rotary cutter apart, clean and oil as instructed. When reassembling the cutter, replace all the pieces in reverse of how it was taken apart. My brand of blades has little numbers on one side that usually show when the cutter is assembled. If you turn it over so the numbers are toward the safety cover, you might get a few more hours of cutting from the reversed blade. You could keep up your cutting momentum without having to stop and go to the quilt store.
Remember to keep your rotary cutter and blades well oiled and running smoothly. It will only take a few minutes of your time and your rewards in a smoother, sharper cutter will save you a great deal of cutting time in the future.