A Beginners Guide to Rotary Cutting / Helpful Tips and Tricks

rotary cutting

When it comes to sewing and crafting, rotary cutting makes the task on hand so much easier and quicker. Here are some helpful tips and tricks you might want to know.

In this post I am going to go over:

  • Different types and sizes of rotary blades
  • Rotary blades
  • Changing the blade
  • Cutting mats
  • Rulers
  • Cutting curves
  • Cutting on knit fabrics
  • How to square off fabric pieces with the ruler and rotary cutter
  • Safety tips and useful accessories

Benefits of Using a Rotary Cutting Device

  • Get a clean straight cut
  • Quick cutting
  • Easily cuts multiple layers of fabric
  • Makes cutting shear and delicate fabric much easier
  • Cuts precise fabric for quilting cuts
rotary cutting cutters

Rotary Cutters

There are many different types and brands of rotary cutters out there. I’ve acquired and tried several different types of cutters over the years. Some have been great and some, not so much. Alternative cutting edges include blades for pinking or scalloping, which are interchangeable and less expensive than buying a special pair of shears.

Rotary cutters come in several different sizes. The most common sizes are 28mm, 45mm, and 60mm.

  • 28mm: cutting strips, squaring fabric, cutting curves and intricate pieces
  • 45mm: straight cutting, strip cutting, squaring blocks, can cut through multiple layers at once(up to 8 layers at once), cuts a variety of fabric types including thicker/heavyweight fabrics
  • 60mm: straight cutting, strip cutting, can cut through multiple layers at once(up to 12 layers at once), cuts thicker/heavyweight fabrics with ease

The 45mm cutter is the one I use most frequently and would recommend for your first rotary cutter.

Rotary Cutting Safety

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize how important it is to be cautious when using a rotary cutter. These blades are VERY, VERY SHARP!

You’ll want to make sure your fingers are out of the way of the blade.

Always cut away from your body. You may be tempted, when in a hurry to cut toward you, instead of flipping the fabric, but DON’T DO IT!

Apply the blade cover when not using the cutter. (I will admit, and my viewers catch it), that I don’t always follow this rule. It has come back to bite/cut me, a few times.

I really, really like this rotary cutter because it has an automatic retractable blade. When you cut, you’ll squeeze the handle and when you’re finished cutting and release it, the blade retracts. Its ergonomic handle is very comfortable to use and is one of my favorites!

 

How Do You Know When to Change the Blade?

Rotary cutting blades need to be changed occasionally. It just depends on how much you use it. You can tell if after cutting it leaves uncut sections or just doesn’t cut well. Don’t hesitate in changing it for a new one, because a new blade will make your cutting experience so much better, and safer.

How to Change the Rotary Cutting Blade

Each rotary cutting device will be a little different, but they’re all pretty similar. If you have an Olfa cutter, you can go on their website and find the different types of cutters and see how to change the blade. BE VERY CAUTIOUS when handling the blade.rotary cutting changing blade order

  1. Disassemble the cutter by first unscrewing the nut. ****Very important! As you remove each component, set them down in the order you remove them.
  2. Remove the metal washer and the plastic washer next.
  3. Pull the handle off the stem that holds the blade and set it aside. (I will go over what to do with the old blade in a bit).
  4. Carefully remove the old blade from the stem and replace it with a new blade.rotary cutting blade change
  5. Place the handle back onto the stem followed by the metal washer with the curve FACING UP like a cup.
  6. Next, place the nut back onto the stem and tighten until the front disk begins to spin. DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN!
rotary cutting used blades

What to Do With the Used Rotary Cutting Blades?

As I have mentioned a few times, these blades are super sharp and you don’t want to just throw these babies in the trash. I recommend writing on the blade with a sharpie pen “USED” and placing it back into the case it came in. This way when you fill the case with used blades, you can just throw the case away.

The used blades come in handy when you want to make cuts on paper, cardboard, or other material that you wouldn’t want to use a nice new blade on.

Another tip: Write the date on the new blade, so you can have a reference for how long the blade has been on there.

Rotary Cutting Mats

Let’s go over the mats now. Using a rotary cutter requires a special mat underneath the fabric to protect your table and a special blade. (Don’t try using a rotary cutter without a cutting mat)!

Just like the cutters and rulers, there are A LOT of different kinds, brands and colors of mats out there. There are plastic mats, self-healing mats, and PVC mats. The most popular and known mats are the self-healing mats.

What is a Self-Healing Mat?

Self-healing cutting mats work by ‘absorbing’ the cut from a blade. The mat is made from many tiny particles that are pressed to create a solid surface: one that is not rigid like glass or hard plastic so that the ‘cut’ of the blade can be absorbed amongst those particles.

When you run a blade over and over in the same place on a self-healing mat, you’ll see that the damage becomes more pronounced as the cut makes more of an impact each time. Little fibers get stuck down in the cuts and eventually, you’ll have to replace the mat.

I have found a new kind of mat that I love! It’s called the BIG ROTARY CUTTING MAT. It’s made of PVC and is NOT self-healing.

rotary cutting mats

What is the Advantage of a PVC Mat?

  • Although it isn’t self-healing, it is quite durable and comes in all kinds of sizes up to 40” x 72”.
  • This mat is not supposed to warp and comes with a 5-year guarantee.
  • The company is a family business and is based in the USA. I like supporting local businesses.
  • Your rotary cutting blades will stay sharp longer.
  • You don’t have to put as much pressure on the blade.
  • It’s reversible and can be flipped to an all-white mat.

I have several sizes of these mats, but I LOVE my 36” x 60” mat. It fits really nicely on my sewing table where I sit my sewing machines.  When you cut on this mat, it will make little raised surfaces, but no worries. They send a little plastic scraper that you simply scrape over the surface to smooth it out, good as new.

Rotary Cutting Rulers

If you want to make straight cuts, which I’m sure you’ll want to do, you’ll need a ruler. This ruler needs to be made of durable plastic and there are a lot of different styles, widths, and colors out there.

They range in different widths and lengths. I would recommend getting a basic size to start with. I like this one. It’s 6.5 inches x 24 inches. 

rotary cutting ruler

Rotary Cutting Tips

Rotary cutters are great to square off a piece of fabric if you’re making a quilt or something that needs a square edge. (Watch the video tutorial where I demo exactly how to do this).

There is nothing more frustrating than to make a straight cut and have the ends not cut through all the way. TO AVOID THIS ISSUE, start cutting before the edge of the fabric and cut a few inches off the end of the fabric.

You can buy little accessories that make cutting a little easier. This BIG Mat Company has several different items.

I really like the ruler stabilizer. It is a little plastic rectangle that you can apply to the end of your ruler to act like a T-square or you can apply it anywhere on the mat as a straight edge. It’s really quite helpful.

***When cutting a straight strip, press firmly on the ruler and KEEP YOUR FINGERS OUT OF THE WAY!

I hope this was helpful and that you have fun cutting and creating.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any great rotary cutting tips to share with us.

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Jan Howell

Jan Howell

Whether it’s a new recipe, a fun craft, or some handy tips for your garden and home, I hope to empower and inspire you with skills that you can use to create joy, improved health, and to do it in a simple way.

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