4 tips on using an X-Acto knife without it ending in bloodshed

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by NerdyDesigner

using an x acto knifeI know almost everyone has used an X-Acto knife at some point. I know I have had to use them in my personal and professional life a lot over the last 10 years. I remember when I took my first class at college, the first thing the professor did was show us how to use an X-Acto properly and how to cut a mat board. She went over every detail, told us to be extra careful because they are sharp little bastards. And what happens? Not five minutes later, a girl cuts open her hand and, as I later found out, had to get stitches and couldn't work with that hand for a while.

So here are a few little tips for other DIYers. I mostly just wanted to address common things I've seen done that end in injury. I've searched through a lot of DIY specifically for projects that include X-Actos and there were quite a lot. Especially if you are doing projects with them for the first time or have only used one a few times, it can be dangerous. It is so easy to be cutting something and the next thing you know you're living the SNL skit with Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child — blood everywhere!

So, here we go…

ruler

1. Get a good ruler

Most times you're using an X-Acto, a ruler is required. Having a nice solid one is a life saver. What kind do I mean? The best option is metal with a cork bottom. They are great at helping to prevent the ruler from slipping and can hold up to the blade. Plastic ones slip, A LOT, and you need put Hulk-like strength to stop them from sliding sometimes (experience). Also if you get too close to a wood or plastic ruler with the blade, you could slice off a piece or two and goodbye straight ruler. Metal rulers aren't expensive and are well worth the cost.

2. Stay away from the edge

This has two meanings: the edge of the ruler and the edge of the blade. Common sense, I know, but be hyper-aware of where your hand is. For the ruler, use the numbers on the ruler as the safety line. As long as they stay at least a half-inch from the edge, that is a nice safe area. When holding the knife, use the same rule: hold it at least a half inch (or more!) above where the blade is. Just always try to have that cushion.

3. Don't force it

cuttingPut light, LIGHT pressure on the ruler and blade when using them. I've seen this happen a lot (to people who have used them more than I have)… you are pressing down SO HARD on the ruler to keep it steady, that it suddenly moves under the force. Or you are pressing down on the knife with the force of a dying star because you want to be sure you get through the sheet, and the knife slips or the blade breaks. Light pressure is all you really need on both, especially if it is a new blade and if your project needs a ruler, light pressure will keep it from moving. Being overly agressive trying to get through on one cut can lead to slip-ups and potentially injury, which leads me to my last tip…

4. Slow down

The project isn't going anywhere, so take your time making the cuts. If you have to go over the same thing twice or 10 times, so be it! By slowing down you will likely also get a more accurate cut. I'm not saying super slow… just steady. Around two inches per second is safe. Fast enough to keep the momentum, slow enough to be accurate.

Like I said, I am offering this up because I have seen and done these things before. I love DIY projects, but they can stop being fun quickly if you get hurt. There are probably other little tips but these are the four big ones I have always seen come up. What are yours?

  1. This article is a list of things I learned the hard way!
    Other things:
    -Replace the blade often, you won't feel the need to use as much pressure when the blade is sharp.
    -Store sharp things safely! In my mess of a drawer the plastic cap pops off, so I started keeping all the pointy sharp things in a fully enclosed hard plastic case. Bonus: Makes it easier to find.
    -Use the right tool for the job. My x-acto knife is right at my desk and my rotary cutter/scissors/paper guillotine are all the way across the room and I'm lazy, but you'll screw up less and get a better product if you use the appropriate tool. X-acto knives are good for small finicky areas but I get too careless if I'm doing long straight lines with them.
    -Cutting surface: If you do a lot of cutting crafty things, a cutting mat is a worthy investment. Don't cut on anything you don't want to scratch up and only on a smooth surface. If you cut on a piece of wood, hit a knot, you will cut yourself, bleed on your project and while you are swearing and looking for bandaids, your cat will come and knock over the ink you should have had a lid on anyway and your dog will eat your sandwich. True story.

    • And wrap old blades in masking tape when you throw them away! The last thing you want is to go fishing for something you didn’t mean to trash and get stabbed with a dull scalpel! (And they pretty much are scalpels.)

  2. It depends what you are working on, but I've held the ruler in place with painters tape (test first) and the project and ruler together with clamps. I don't trust myself to hold it still!

  3. Anyone who has only used an X-Acto knife a few times might think this article is silly.

    Those of us who've used one more than a few times realize that this article is NECESSARY.

    I don't know what it is, but put an X-Acto in my hands and I turn into a crafty (and bloody) version of Mr. Bean. But it makes me feel better, because if I were the only one this wouldn't even be a post right now. So thank you, Nerdy Designer!!

  4. Do not, for the love of all that is not bleeding, use an X-Acto knife for anything it is not intended for. Please trust me on this. Don't ask, it was stupid, but just keep it for slicing things.

    If you are doing something specialized, check out other options. For a while, I had a swivel blade that was super thin for cutting stencils. It was awesome, until it disappeared into my husband's vortex of art. But the tiny blades can help with more in depth cutting, doing curves, etc. Get a good craft X-Acto if you're doing that. Do not just buy a tool one that pushes out and is intended to break off. Not the same thing.

  5. *blinks* I grew up using an X-Acto knife as just a part of routine craft time since I was younger than 10. My mom was a graphic designer, so it was just a matter of fact. I've only cut myself once, maybe the second time I used one.

  6. One more tip to add: When disposing of a blade, either due to dullness or breakage, ALWAYS wrap it in a piece of tape! This prevents injury in case you have to dig through the trash for something (happens to us all), and also keeps your friendly neighborhood trash people from potentially getting cut when they pick up your trash.

    • I put mine in empty aluminium cans and throw the can away! Yes it's a bit wasteful w/ the can, but I figure it's a worthwhile waste to prevent any innocent bystanders from being sliced up by the contents of my garbage!

      I also buy blades en masse from Amazon. It helps me remember to change the blade often, if I have a LOT of them on hand all the time.

  7. Another bit of advice, always cut AWAY from your body, with any knife. Not nearly as important when you're cutting straight lines, but most of the time I use an X-acto knife to clean up plastic models, and that's one scenario I'd hate to see someone slip on. For the most part though, a healthy amount of respect for the blade will see you through most projects.

    • I like to think of linoleum cutters as the x-acto's distant cousin, and I approve this message. I still bear the scars of putting my hand near the business side of the blade.

    • This, this, absolutely this. I would also add that if you are working on a large piece, cut away from the arm you use to brace it.
      Failure to do this while cutting cardboard is how I got my last tetanus shot and the gnarly X-acto scar on my arm.

  8. I hwve never even heard of them, but they look far more precise than a Stanley knife. I might have to see if I can find on.

    • X-actos are literally available everywhere. If you're in the states you can find them at Walmart/Target type stores or just about any Hobby Lobby/Michael's/other craft store.

  9. If you are using the X-Acto or a box cutter to trim fabric (say for a bulletin board), be extra careful of how you are holding the fabric tight. I was holding the fabric with my thumb, middle and index fingers, since everything seemed to be going well for 3 sides I started going faster for the 4th. I cut right into my ring finger to the nail. [Also if there are guys around who are not medically trained don't let then get into the "let me see" mode.] Another recommendation for cuts that need stitches consider an urgent care facility, because they tend to get to you faster. I was lucky at the time my primary doctor's office had an urgent care option, so it was tended to quickly. Also with medal injuries if you are not up to date on your tetanus shot, make sure you get one.

  10. Good tips! I was helping a bunch of 9 year olds cut foam core board and some could not get the concept of pressing lightly and making a few passes rather than just one. 1) It's more chance for injury, and 2) if you mess up on that one cut, it's way harder to fix!

  11. I wasn't going to read this, but something said I should. Glad I did. I just bought a cutter and boards and rulers etc. for a project and never really worked with any of it before. I used to manage a deli and I had to train people to use the lunch meat slicer and I would warn them about handeling the blade when cleaning….I swear EVERY SINGLE person cut their hand or finger no matter what I said, so thinking about that I went to read your article.

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