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

  1. Melissa Faulkner says:

    Right now my finger is bandaged, I cut the the corner of my finger and part of my fingernail off. Never realized a piece of my finger was cut off till I was in the emergency room. I am planning on buying a suction handle to keep my hands out of reach. It is to easy to think about what one hand is doing and not the other. A $20 handle would of saved my fingertip and the cost of the emergency room.

  2. Might I also make a suggestion that you always wear shoes when using a rotary cutter. I was cutting one time with the rotary blade and moved my fabric and the rotary blade fell and I was in my bare feet…..needless to say I still have a scar where the rotary blade landed on edge on the top of my foot. I always, always wear shoes now and am in the habit of closing the rotary cutter whenever I lay it down.

  3. Dena Crain says:

    An important post. When teaching, I still tell the story about the student I had who insisted on putting her cutter down, letting it out of her hand, with the blade open. It got buried under some fabrics, and when the student started jerking fabrics aside, suddenly the cutter was airborne–with the blade still open! Luckily, no one got hurt. Did I yell at her?! You bet I did! And I will even today embarrass anyone in my classes who is foolish enough to put not only herself, but others, at risk in such a thoughtless manner.

    Loved your story about the pizza. I cannot think of a better use for used blades, can you? Other than maybe using them to cut paper–on a wooden board, not on your mat?

    I also discovered that the safest place to dispose of blades, needles and pins is to take them to the nearest hospital. They usually have some kind of incinerator facility where they destroy old scalpels, syringes and other such hazardous materials, so they should be willing to take care of your old nasties.

  4. Pamela says:

    Wow! I just learned what a rotary cutter was TODAY in my first of a series of 10 sewing classes. I was doing some research to find out about upcoming quilting exhibitions and found your post which coincidentally is about rotary cutter safety. I think I’ll get an opportunity to cut some fabric in class next week and hopefully will get a chance to take the cutter apart and put it back together again per your instructions. Thanks!

  5. Aud says:

    Thanks for the great review! It’s always good to have a refresher for safety.

  6. Frances Quigley says:

    Wonderful words of advise. Never can say to many times. I cut my forefinger and I cannot tell you how because I always try to be so careful. But I dropped the cutter and it hit my finger and cut it. Needless to say, it was no time flat before my husband got me one of those gloves to protect from cuts.

  7. By lapping the pinky finger of my ruler-holding hand over the outer edge of the ruler, it is much less likely that my hand will stray over the other edge and into danger. Safety first!

  8. Isadora says:

    Hi, Laura!!! I have cut my finger once and it was a terrible experience… It was late in the evening and had to go to the hospital by myself to get some stitches… Have you ever heard about a glove (like a butcher glove) with grid in the fingers?

  9. Brenda Cornell says:

    I am a real stickler for closing the safety on the cutters, too. It can be so dangerous.

  10. Sarah says:

    Good information to review! I have accidentally cut myself a couple of times on my rotary cutter, despite being very careful. Thankfully they were just minor slices and healed quickly. The rotary cutter is in my bin of quilting tools, but I like the idea of having a special case for it when not in use — I’m definitely going to make that happen!

  11. JoAnn L says:

    Great information. I was taught long ago that you immediately apply the safety guard after cutting fabric. I also us a wide prescription medicine bottle to store my old blades and needles.

  12. Judie says:

    My cutter automatically closes when I stop using it which is a great plus. I have one other cutter that I didn’t like the design of, so I keep it nearby with an old blade and use it for paper or anything else that may dull the blade. Thanks for the tips on the nut and washer, I’m always putting them on the wrong way.

  13. mjkasz says:

    Great advice and a good reminder to all who want to keep their fingers and cut accurately. I like your potholder idea.

  14. Kathie says:

    Thank you for the reminder tutorial! I had been keeping mine in an old staples pencil box. Got a little lazy since there are no little ones in my home but you reminded me I must be careful when our little grandson visits!

  15. Martie says:

    Great advice here. I am reprinting this to share with my students in my quilting class. Reminders are always good to have. :)

  16. Mar says:

    I keep used blades in an empty breath mint tin (Sucrets, Altoids), so I can use them for paper cutting if needed.

  17. Sandy says:

    A friend signed up for a class with a famous teacher at a big quilting event, but I became her replacement after she dropped her rotary cutter on her foot a few days before the event! I’ve actually taken classes with instructors who don’t close their rotary cutters when they set them down. This scares me! You’d think they’d want to set a good example for their students!

  18. Kathie L says:

    I have the type of holder that you have to squeeze to have the blade extended. Therefore, whenever you set it down, it automatically retracts,. One of my best investments.

  19. Carol says:

    Thanks for the review! This post is a keeper especially with all the pictures. Always getting the washer and nut mixed up. Love the idea about using the old blades for paper. Hmmmmm were you the teacher that was always after me to close the blade? It worked! I never leave the blade open. Thanks for the post and the giveaway opportunity.

  20. Pam says:

    I always make sure that I have no wobble with the new blade. If so, I reassemble.
    Yep, I had tiny strips once. It was perplexing until I took the cutter apart and discovered the double blades.
    I recycle my blades with LP Sharp. http://www.lpsharp.com/

  21. Thanks so much for the clear instructions for replacing the washer and screw/nut. No matter how careful I am, I’ve put those back incorrectly many many times!

  22. elaine says:

    a post worth saving for regular reminders. we do become too comfortable and casual about tools we use all the time–and often careless. it’s also good to have the reminder how to put it all back together again,it’s something we usually do without thinking which often causes errors. thanks for reminding us about safety.

  23. Shirley Jean Rogers says:

    Love your post on how to change our dull blades…..I have been teaching for several years, the First Rule when teaching how to use a Rotary Cutter is—when you finished cutting you
    MUST Close the Cutter….when I find somebody with their blade exposed, they must wear a glove to protect their fingers….& move to a table alone…that way they remember to close that cutter much faster!!!!! They learn that I do NOT want anybody bleeding & us having to give first aid. Thanks for you great information….Cute Case for the Cutter also.

  24. Pat says:

    Thanks for the timely reminder/refresher. I store my dull/worn out blades as well as used sewing machine needles in a small prescription bottle well marked. When full I’ll superglue it closed, label and dispose in the trash.

  25. elle says:

    A great reminder as I’m sure most of us have sported a bandaid at one time or other. Through the pizza! really???

  26. Great post! It is always good to have those safety reminders!

  27. Laurie says:

    Great reminders! There are probably more rotary cutter accidents out there than people are willing to admit. I personally dropped a pressure sensitive, non locking blade cutter on my toe about 14 years ago and cut a tendon, requiring surgery. I also found my son’s kindergarten age friend trying to cut down a tree with my rotary cutter once. I laugh now at the abuse of my rotary cutter, but it could have been terrible if the boy had gotten hurt. A good lesson in keeping it out of sight.

  28. Evelyn O'Brien says:

    A great post…..though I have owned many over the years its always a good idea to read the instructions again. Thanks!

  29. Marty Askins says:

    This is a superb post, one that we all probably needed to be reminded of. I bought some dollar pot holders from the store some time ago. Then I folded one in half and sewed both sides and the bottom together. Then I put a rotary cutter in there, blade first, of course, and then you can either put it in a drawer or hang it by the loop, out of reach of children. I treat my rotary cutters like I would prescription medicine. Up and away, out of the reach of children. Thank you for this information and giveaway.

  30. Jane says:

    A great post!! It took one mishap for me to give that little tool TOTAL respect – I also bought these great little acrylic strips (guards) that look like little jersey barriers – My hand remains behind that little wall while cutting with a rotary. I have one on each ruler as well as that little suction tool that holds my small rulers and templates. They say adversive happenings remain – truth!!

  31. Jay says:

    A wise, wise post, and a refresher we can ALL use! I too have a friend missing a couple of millimeters of flesh on her left index finger! Thank you especially for telling us about correct placement of those two parts on the rotary cutter.

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