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Rotary cutters are a must-have tool for quilters but they’re often the tool that needs the most troubleshooting (except for our sewing machines, of course!).
There is a learning curve when you start to use a rotary cutter and even if you’ve been using one for years, you can run into issues that you’ve never encountered.
Today I’ll review the most common issues that quilters run into and I’ll give you a quick step-by-step guide on how to properly change your rotary cutter blade.
Why is my rotary cutter not cutting?
A rotary cutter is a vital tool for quilters, and it can be extremely frustrating when it’s not working as smoothly as it should. Luckily it’s usually something you can fix on your own in just a few minutes. Use these 5 troubleshooting tips to help you fix your rotary cutter.
If you prefer a video tutorial, check out my YouTube video on this topic!
1. The Rotary Blade is Dull
When a rotary cutter blade is skipping threads, it’s a good indicator that it’s time to replace your blade. If you can’t remember the last time you changed your rotary blade, do that first! Yes, even if you think you recently changed your blade. This usually fixes the issue.
Click here for a quick refresher on how to change your blade.
2. The Rotary Blade is Nicked
If you recently changed your blade, you may have accidentally nicked the blade against your ruler or a pin. It doesn’t take much for a blade to get a nick in it. Practicing a good rotary cutting technique can help your blades last longer.
It’s crucial to change your blade if there is a nick in it because not only is it frustrating to cut fabric with, but it can damage your cutting mat. Be sure to keep your cutting mat clean and free of pins to help keep your rotary cutter working efficiently.
3. The Rotary Blade was Replaced Incorrectly
Just changed your blade and still having issues? Double-check that you put the blade back into the rotary cutter correctly. If the bolt is too tight or the washer is put on backward, this can lead to problems. Also, double-check that you cleaned out all of the fuzz and lint from the small spaces in the rotary cutter.
Not sure if you re-assembled your rotary cutter correctly? Check out my tutorial below.
4. Your Rotary Cutting Mat is Damaged
The issue may not be your rotary cutter at all! A damaged mat can cause your blade to get nicked or cause skips when cutting.
To test if your mat is the issue, try cutting on a spot on your mat that you usually don’t use. Over time, repeatedly cutting on your mat in the same spots can lead to deep grooves that can damage your rotary blade.
If your rotary cutter is working fine on another spot on your mat, then it may be time to clean or replace your mat. Use mild detergent and lukewarm water to clean your mat. I recommend cleaning your mat before deciding to replace it!
5. There are Two Rotary Blades Stuck Together
If you just changed your blade and it is skipping threads, you may have two blades stuck together. I know this sounds weird, but it’s super common!
The oil that the blades are coated in can make them stick together and oftentimes you can’t tell that you put two into your rotary cutter. Take your blade out of the rotary cutter and see if this is the issue.
How to Separate Rotary Blades
The oil that the rotary blades are coated in can make them stick together. If you want to safely separate the blades from each other, wrap the blades in a dry towel and carefully slide them apart using your fingertips. I recommend using a thick washcloth or towel for this so that you don’t risk cutting yourself.
Once the blades are no longer stuck together, you should be able to pull them apart easily. Remember to always store your blades in a safe place. The container that the blades come in is a great place to keep them for long-term storage.
How Long Should a Rotary Blade Last?
There is no standard for how long a rotary blade should last. Olfa themselves state that you should not change a blade based on the amount of time it’s been used, but instead change it when it is no longer cutting effectively.
Some quilters find that their style of using the rotary cutter wears down the blade faster than they’d like. Olfa has endurance rotary blades that last up to twice as long as their normal rotary blades. These blades can increase the longevity of the blade and extend the time between when you need to change it. Give them a shot if you’re spending too much time changing your blade and not enough time cutting!
HELPFUL TIP: When you are not using your rotary cutter, have the safety guard engaged. This will protect your blade and help it last longer. If your rotary cutter does not have a safety guard, try to keep it in a protective pouch. You can shop my favorite rotary cutter cases here.
How to Change a Rotary Blade
Depending on what rotary cutter you have, these instructions may vary, so refer to your tools user manual if you have specific questions. I’m using an Olfa 45mm rotary cutter today.
Step 1: Unscrew the nut and take apart your rotary cutter. I like to leave all of the parts in order so I know exactly how to reassemble each piece.
Step 2: Carefully remove the dull blade from the rotary cutter. Place the dull blade in a safe storage container like the container it originally came in or a small tin. I keep my new rotary blades in one container and my dull rotary blades in another one that is labeled “old”. I also store old sewing machine needles in this container.
Step 3: Clean your rotary cutter. Remove all of the lint and leftover debris. You may need to take your rotary cutter handle apart in order to get all of the excess lint. Reassemble the rotary cutter handle if you took it apart. Below is a photo of the lint that was in my rotary cutter.
Step 4: Carefully place the new blade on the rotary cutter.
Step 5: Re-assemble the entire rotary cutter. Be sure to put the washer and nut back on the same way they were before you unassembled the tool.
Step 6: Tighten the nut. Don’t tighten the nut too much, or else the blade will not be able to rotate freely when you use the tool. If the nut is too loose, the blade will wobble when you use it.
HELPFUL TIP: Before you take apart your rotary cutter, take a close-up photo of how the tool is assembled. This can help you put the rotary cutter back together correctly.
How often should you change your rotary blade?
When your blade is not giving you a clean or easy cut, it’s time to change your rotary blade. I always change my blade if there is a nick in it and I find that my Olfa 45mm blades perform best if I replace them every time I start a new large project.
If your blade is skipping threads and you have to run over the same cut more than once to fully cut it, it’s time to change your blade. If you find yourself needing a lot of extra pressure to cut through your fabric, it’s time to change your blade.
How do you dispose of rotary blades?
My favorite way to store my dull blades is to put them back into the container that they came in. I use 45mm Olfa blades and the yellow container that they come in is perfect for storing used blades. Be sure to mark the container so you know that it is holding your old dull blades and not your new ones.
I find this to be the safest option because the container is made specifically for storing rotary blades. When the container is full, I tape it closed and throw it in the trash.
You can use the same method with tin cans and mint containers. Whatever storage vessel you use, be sure it is not glass (so it doesn’t accidentally break!), and be sure to tape it closed when you are ready to throw it away.
If you have a single blade to dispose of and no container, you can wrap the blade in cardboard and tape. It is essential that you do not throw the naked blade into the trash, because it could injure a family member, a sanitation worker, or the sanitation equipment. Always wrap the blade completely so it has no chance of injuring a person or property. My favorite way to wrap a naked blade is with a small piece of cardboard box and duct tape.
To get extra life out of your rotary blades, you can save them to use for paper or other non-fabric material. Some quilters have a paper rotary cutter and a fabric rotary cutter. If you opt for this option, be sure to label your blades so you know which blade is for which purpose.
Lastly, check with your local waste removal company to see their recommendations on the disposing of sharp objects. You may be able to recycle them at a local scrap metal facility near you as well.
Today’s post helped you learn the most common reasons why your rotary cutter is not working properly. If you take care of your rotary cutter and its blades, you can extend their life by quite a bit. This not only saves you the time of changing the blade but also the money from buying new blades! We all know how painful it is to buy that 10-pack of rotary blade replacements.