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How to use cutting equipment safely

Below we hear from National Design Academy tutor; Sarah Watts, who talks us through best practices for safely using your cutting equipment. 


How to guide: Using cutting equipment correctly and safely

This video will show you how to use cutting equipment correctly and safely when creating presentation boards and sample boards. The equipment that I will be using is a rotary cutter, showing you how to also replace the blade, a scalpel, and how to replace the blade, a steal ruler and a self-healing cutting mat.

The first piece of equipment is called a rotary cutter and is used to cut through multi-layers of fabric precisely. The rotary cutter can be used for both a right handed and left handed person, all you need to do is simply swop the blades over. For a right handed person the blades will sit of the left side of the cutter and for a left handed person the blade will sit on the right side of the cutter.

To use this correctly and safely, squeeze the handle and press the orange button that will lock the blade in place ready for use. To retract the blade, press the button on the opposite side and the blade will be safely tucked away. It is important that this is done every time the cutter is not being used.

To replace the blade, unscrew the orange wheel and let the blade drop out on to a flat surface. The packaging is useful to help you to position the blade back into position on the cutter but it also helps to protect your fingers. Once in place, the orange screw can be reattached and tightened. To conceal the used blade, slide this back into the packaging and secure with tape for safe disposal.

The scalpel is used to cut through paper, card and foam board. This comes in a plastic tube with a blade protector for safe storage. The blade can be replaced by loosening the handle at the top, removing the old blade and inserting the new blade into the slots at the top and then tightening the handle. The used blade can be safely disposed of by either attaching to a piece of card or wrapping in paper.

The A3 cutting mat will allow you to use both the rotary cutter and the scalpel without damaging your worktop. These are used in conjunction with the steel ruler which is much stronger and safer than using a plastic ruler. The cutting mat is marked out with 1cm grids which can be used when establishing the overall size of your samples as well as helping you to create accurate vertical and horizontal cuts.

This demonstration will show you how to cut through a piece of wallpaper using the scalpel and the steel ruler. The piece of wallpaper has been positioned on the cutting mat using the grids as a guide to make sure this is straight both vertically and horizontally. The grids can be used to establish the overall size of the sample. Position the steel ruler in place and line up the scalpel blade against the top edge of the ruler. The blade can now be slowly drawn down the side of the ruler towards you. Depending on the thickness of the paper, you may need to cut through this more than once.

When cutting through card, as this tends to be slightly thicker than paper, you’ll need to use more than one cut and apply a little bit more pressure with the blade.

Foam board is made up of multiple layers of glossy paper on each side, with a layer of polystyrene running through the middle. To achieve a clean cut, it’s a good idea to use a new blade, if the blade is getting blunt you will find that the cut edge looks jagged. Position the blade so that this sits vertically against the edge of the steel ruler, a minimum of 3 cuts will be required to ensure that you cleanly cut through all layers.

When cutting fabric to size, a rotary cutter will provide a crisp clean edge. Position the fabric on the cutting mat using the grids to align this squarely. The rotary cutter should be positioned towards the edge of the steel ruler, close to your body. Leaning into the wheel and applying pressure, wheel the cutter away from you. Depending on the thickness of the fabric, you may need to cut through this multiple times. The sample can be lifted, turned and repositioned, using the same technique until all four sides have been cut. Remember, once you have finished using the rotary cutter, retract the blade by pressing the orange button, so this is safely concealed.

Some fabrics such as silk, voiles and linens, can fray more easily than others. A good way to prevent this is to apply masking tape on the back of the fabric. Decide what size you want the sample to be and use the rotary cutter in the usual way to cut neatly to size. The great thing about using masking tape is that glue can be applied directly without the chance of marking the fabric.

Fabrics can look more interesting if presented on the sample boards in different ways. A good way to represent fabric used for curtains is to create vertical pleats to show how the fabric will hang. Once the sample has been cut to size, carefully divide into 2 or 3 pleats and secure with masking tape on the back. To show roman blinds, use the same technique, but this time pleat the fabric horizontally to show the folds of the blind.

Cutting floor samples can be the most difficult, especially carpet. To cut through woven back carpet, a Stanley knife is ideal. This is similar to a scalpel but much stronger. Turn the carpet over so that the pile is face down on the cutting mat. The bound edging needs to be removed, so the sample looks the same on all 4 sides. Using the Stanley knife in conjunction with the steel ruler, you will find multiple cuts will be required to cut through the tough backing and the deep pile. 

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