Using a Rotary Cutter Safely
If you’re a beginner to quilting and have just invested in your first rotary cutter, it’s important to know how to use it safely and correctly.
When used to cut fabrics and in making quilts, a rotary cutting tool is invaluable to help you get the job done quickly, but most important of all, accurately.
Part of the fun when you’re learning to quilt and sew is trying out new techniques and tools and you should never be afraid to experiment and be creative, but safety guidelines when using any sharp tools are important and need to be adhered to.
Here are a few basic safety tips to help you on your way!
Make sure your blades are always kept safe
When you’ve bought your blades, one of the most important considerations is where you’ll store them. They must be kept in a safe place, especially out of the reach of small children and animals. Never unwrap the original packaging from the blade until you’re ready to begin using it for the first time.
Always keep the rotary cutter safety latch closed
Every time you use your rotary cutter make sure to get into the habit of shutting the safety latch when you put it down. At first this might seem like an extra chore you don’t want to do, but it will save time and injury. The one time you don’t shut the latch, it’s a dead cert you’ll brush against it and end up cutting yourself.
Each company that manufactures rotary cutters make them slightly differently so it’s important to make sure you’re aware of how it opens and closes. Some cutters will have an automatic function on them, meaning they’ll shut off once you’ve finished cutting. Others need to be closed manually.
It’s best to experiment with a few different cutters to find the one that will be the easiest to get to grips with, especially if you’re a first time user.
Never sit down to rotary cut
Even as a beginner you must never sit down to use your rotary cutter. This is mostly for reasons of safety. It’s impossible to hold your ruler and cutter correctly from a sitting position. It makes it difficult to be 100% accurate and is more likely to cause slippage and accident. If you cut from a standing position, you can clearly see what you’ll be doing and your results will be more accurate.
If you can’t stand or have mobility issues, don’t fret. There are some cutters on the market that allow you to plan and cut from a sitting position that have been tried and tested. It’s always worth shopping around and asking experienced quilters for recommendations.
Use the rotary cutter away from your body
When using a rotary cutter, it should always be used in a forwards motion, moving away from your body. Never use it to cut backwards (ie towards yourself). This isn’t really a safe practice to undertake and can cause slips and injury. Work with the fabric, move it and make any cuts the safe way.
Don’t ‘cross over’ when you’re using a rotary cutter and ruler
You shouldn’t hold a ruler with your left hand and then try to cross over with your other hand to cut on the same side as the ruler. In terms of causing injury this is a big risk - most especially to your arms and fingers.
Always keep fingers free from the edges of the ruler
Think about this in terms of your writing hand. Someone who writes with their right hand will hold the ruler with the left hand and cut with the right. Someone who writes with their left hand will do the opposite. Keep your fingers free from the edges of the ruler to avoid any cutting accidents.
Always make sure your fingers are kept away from the ruler's edge and out of the path of the cutter.
Similarly, it’s just as important to make sure that your fingers are kept away from the path of the cutter too. In order to make the ruler steadier, you can place fabric grips under it. There are specific tools for this, so when you purchase your rotary cutter, it’s worth asking for rule grips too.
Use your cutter in conjunction with a ruler and a mat
Rotary cutters are meant to be used in conjunction with rulers and mats - but these must be the right ones for the job. You’ll need to buy specific rotary cutter rulers, as opposed to regular ones. A normal ruler won’t have the right depth that’s needed to keep the rotary cutter blade running correctly.
A mat will prevent any nicks, chips and cuts occurring on surfaces like tables and desks and are important from a protection point of view. They also help to keep the ruler and fabric smooth and steady
Always replace blades with care
Anything that uses a blade will often need to be replaced from time to time. A rotary cutter is no different, though each cutter depended on make and manufacturer will have slightly different technique. Some cutter blades are replaced by removing a nut and washer before you can remove and replace the blade. An old blade that’s been removed might not be sharp enough to cut fabric anymore, but it will still be sharp enough to cut fingers and could cause injury, so always take care.
Dispose of Rotary Blades Safely
The same safety needs to be applied to disposing of your blades. As mentioned above, a dud rotary cutter blade won’t cut fabric, but it still a lot sharper than a kitchen knife and can cause a nasty nick or cut if handles incorrectly or not disposed of thoughtfully.
Replacement blades often come in plastic packaging. Keep this and wrap your used blades carefully in them. Wrap duct or packing tape around this to keep them extra secure and stop them falling out of rubbish bags. Check local recycling in your area to see if they have a facility for taking anything with a sharp cutting edge.
Only use your rotary cutter for the task it was designed for
Please use a rotary cutter responsibly and only for sewing and quilting jobs. Don’t attempt to use it as a screwdriver or to hammer anything! If you have a job that requires either of those then find the appropriate tool and don’t use your rotary cutter - no matter how nearby it is!