There are many tools and gadgets available to help you with cutting your stained glass or fused glass and it can be hard to know what you NEED. Is it essential to have a strip cutter in your arsenal of tools? Let's explore our options, shall we?
Something that many beginners falsely assume is that making a panel with straight lines is easier. Easier than what you ask? Well, easier than anything with curvy lines. Let’s say for example, it's a bird. In one sense the straight lines in a geometric piece may be easier since you don't have to match two curves together. However, what should be noted, is if you have a bird made with a wing and it has an extra little dip in one area that wasn’t on the pattern, no one will notice it from looking at the finished piece.
The opposite holds true for geometric shapes with straight lines, like squares, rectangles or triangles. We all know what a straight line should look like and if what we create something that varies even just a little bit, it’s much more noticeable than the little dip accidentally added to a bird's wing.
When you’re starting out, you may not have the extra money to invest in more tools like a strip cutter, and there IS something to be said about learning to cut straight without the use of any special equipment. But once you become more involved in your glass art or you really detest cutting strips or squares because you can never quite get them right, there are tools available that can help you get the job done.
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When to Get a Strip Cutter
When you’re a beginner in stained glass, learning simpler methods is always best. The less “things” you have to think about and co-ordinate, the better off you’ll be and the faster you’ll learn.
You’ll be more productive because you can get right down to the business of cutting in a way you already know, you build on your fundamental skills AND you’re not adding more variables into the equation of trying to make the perfect score.
Before becoming a guest teacher in another studio, I had been teaching basic intro courses in my own for more than 6 years. My intro course covered making suncatchers and this was the first time these students were introduced to cutting glass. Now, not everyone teaches the same way but personally, I don’t let my newbies use any kind of jigs for cutting. I believe in building good solid basic skills which we can then build on.
So there I am in the host studio, and I’m challenged by a student who believed she should be allowed to use a ruler to help cut the straight lines. This too was a beginner stained glass course with students who'd never cut glass before (at all,) so I took the time to explain to her that these weren’t large strips and it was an opportunity to learn to follow a line while cutting, and that she simply wasn’t ready to start using a jig.
Don't get me wrong, I understand that this may sound a little mean since the jig I was referring to was only ruler. However, when you’re learning how to hold the cutter, create a smooth score, keep consistent pressure, get used to the motion of scoring glass and not being afraid of what you’re doing, do you think adding a ruler to all this is a good idea? Me either.
I like to teach things as simply as I can, to ensure that my students master the basic skills.
So back to my student who wouldn’t take my word on the matter. She tried using a ruler and had all sorts of issues. The cutter wandered away from the ruler, the ruler slipped and she got so frustrated. In the end, she gave up on using the ruler and learned to cut the lines freehand.
What's the Moral of This Story?
Don't worry, I'm not suffering from a case of "I told you so!"
It's simply to demonstrate the fact that using a jig, in this case, doesn’t replace the need to learn the basic skills.
Now, once you feel comfortable cutting glass and can produce scores reliably, that’s when you should consider adding more tools or jigs to your resources as needed. They will expand your abilities, allow you to create a little easier and possibly more quickly, as well as help you learn even more about working with glass.
So, You're Ready to Cut Strips?
Where do you start? I'm going to lay out three different options for you based on where you are in your learning curve and the cost of the investment.
1. The Ruler $
The least expensive way to cut straight lines is using a ruler. It can be very effective for cutting straight lines and making strips if you keep a few things in mind.
The biggest difficulty people have with using a metal ruler as a cutting guide is that oftentimes the cutting wheel slips on top of the ruler. Because the depth of the ruler is usually less than the height of the cutting head above the wheel, it leads to easily having the cutting wheel hop up onto the ruler which means two things.
- You're no longer scoring the glass.
- You're damaging your cutting wheel as it runs across the metal ruler.
Metal rulers are preferable to wooden rulers simply because wooden rulers can compress and collect nicks and dings in the edges. This means that your cutter will shift slightly as it hits these nicks and dings, so you won't create a perfectly straight score. Metal rulers don't have this problem.
This issue is removed by adding height to the ruler and in doing so, we also help prevent a different problem altogether. Slipping.
Cork is great for preventing the ruler from slipping, if your ruler comes with some on the back, it's often not thick enough to prevent the cutter from skipping up on top of the ruler.
What you need to do, is add some extra cork or rubber bumpers (clear rubber dots that are used to prevent kitchen cupboards from slamming closed) on the back of your ruler to help raise it just a little bit. This will prevent the ruler from slipping as you're scoring against it AND it should give you just enough height to prevent the cutter rolling on top of it.
2. Basic Strip Cutter $$
Strip cutters are another useful tool made to help with cutting straight pieces of glass. With these, you have a gadget that looks similar to a t-square. The flat edge is used to run along a board or rail attached to your table and at the end of the bar, there's a cutting head.
Link to video
Many glass crafters enjoy using strip cutters. They are less expensive than an overall cutting system, and they make certain jobs easier.
Often, strip cutters come as a combination strip cutter and circle cutter. My favorite of which is made by Glastar.
Although personally I don't use the strip cutter anymore, I really love this tool for the circle cutter. But since we're talking about strip cutters in this article, let me explain my personal experience with them.
In my early days, I always found that I never pulled the guide along the rail smoothly while pressing and pulling on the cutting tip too. This usually led me to have a bit of a rocking motion between both hands when cutting strips. This rocking motion, in turn, would cause my straight line to have somewhat of a wave. I was then introduced to the third option (which we'll get to in just a minute) and I fell in love with it and never tried to get back into using the strip cutter.
Now since I'm not the best at using the strip cutter, I found a video that explains quite clearly how to use the strip cutter from Glastar.
Use this button as an easy link to see the video!
This is exactly why you always need to pick the right tool for YOU. In my case, strip cutters and I, well, we don't get along. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with the tool, it's more likely operator error (because I'm certainly not perfect!)
3. Morton Cutting System as a Strip Cutter $$$
Okay, so this option, is my favorite all around multipurpose tool.
The Portable Glass Shop by Morton provides all of the necessary parts and pieces to use on the Morton's Mini Surface Plus waffle grid (you'll need 2 of the Mini Surfaces to build the full size 22.5" x 31.5" work surface.) It's the perfect work surface for cutting glass and it’s the handiest tool to have around when you're cutting repetitive pieces.
What I find easiest about using the Morton System for cutting strips or squares or rectangles, is that by its very nature, you can easily square up the glass. So let's say you're using a sheet of glass that doesn't have a perfect 90 degree corner and you're trying to cut something perfectly square. To square this up without the Morton System, you would need a t-square or a protractor to create a 90-degree angle. That would mean measuring, marking and making an accurate cut to snap off the excess glass to have your 90-degree corner.
With the Morton System, you place your glass under the metal rail and against the lower orange guide and whatever excess shows beyond the metal rail, is what gets broken off to square up the remaining piece of glass. It's very simple, very quick and always accurate.
Once the corner of your glass is squared, making the strip is very easy. Using the adjustable stopper to mark the width of the cut, the glass easily slides under the metal rail and against the orange guide along the bottom. Then, make your score, run the break and you're done!
The waffle grid alone is a great feature. Any tiny little chips or shards of glass that would normally fall onto your work surface, now fall into the waffle grid. This means you spend less time sweeping your workbench and you're less likely to get slivers in your hands.
Granted, the Morton cutting system is more expensive than a circle and strip cutter combined, but it does SO much more.
Despite the cost, your return on investment will be paid back through ease of use while gaining more enjoyment as a crafter!
Now it's up to you.
Are you ready to use one of these tools for cutting strips and straight lines perfectly? Have you built up your basic skills enough to reliably cut the same way each time? Or have you been at this awhile and just keep struggling with getting a straight line no matter what you do?
It could be time to look at investing in a new tool to help you create your projects easier, quicker and more accurately.
In the end, it's all about creating YOUR project successfully and reaching YOUR artistic goals.
Just remember, you have to learn to walk before you can run! And, these tools are by no means a necessity, but they can certainly be super helpful to have .
I'd love to hear from you! How do you like to cut strips? Have you tried any tools and found some you love? Share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below.