Holding techniques for getting straight cuts with knives

Link from Anchovie Paste

I’m no master leatherworker, but I am a carpenter and wood carver. Whenever someone asks about cutting technique, the first bit of advice will always be “let the blade do the work” . The more you press, the more muscles in your wrist and forearm will twitch. It should be a gentle draw, with minimal pressure. If that means you need to draw the blade across the leather several times, then so be it. The more pressure you put on it, the more you’re going to rely on your body, which will never be perfect. Your blades should always have a hair popping edge on them, and you should not try to cut more than said blade can handle. As far as actually holding the knife, that will be up to you. Everyone is different so nobody can really tell you which technique will keep your hands steady. Just use a fence and try to use long, sweeping movements with as little force as possible to cut your material.

My own advice added in…

  • I clamp the leather do so it doesn’t move. I make sure it’s clamped to a steady table or on the floor to a board.
  • I use a sheet rock ruler with the 90 degree cross on it to setup the outside corners and a smaller 90 degree ruler based on those measurements. I clamp it down and snug a second ruler up to it and then clamp that down too.  The best way to ensure these don’t move is to smear them with rubber cement & let that dry.  This works especially well with pieces that stretch.
  • I often use a stylus pen create the line while the leather is dry to mark instead of a marker/ink pen…as the leather will recover its shape (or I take a corner beveler to it later).
  • I like to trace with a straight blade – but no pushing down on the blade at all a few times to get a groove
  • Then I whip out the rotary cutter and follow my groove – sometimes I leave the rulers in place, but I tend to get sloppy when I do, so to remind myself to go very slowly, I remove the rulers

I got a a couple bags of scrap veggie tan with the thin straps then practiced probably 20ish cuts about 15-20″ each to get my hand steady. Then I used the strips for dye testing of color mixes later. Worked out well, because I’d mix the silver, pearl, gold with each color in equal ratio, then 2:1, 3:1, 4:1 ratios and have the comparison all on the same strip.