How to Use an Exacto Knife

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Things You'll Need

  • Safety glasses or goggles

  • Cutting board or cutting mat

  • Wood or similar material to practice cutting techniques

  • Lubricating oil or WD-40 (optional)

  • Clean, dry cloth or rag (optional)

  • Pliers (optional)

X-ACTO knife and blades

One of the most useful tools ever invented for the hobbyist, craftsman or artist is the original X-ACTO knife. The classic knife is a pen-size tool composed of an aluminum handle with a replaceable, short, pointed, very sharp blade that can be used for precision cutting and detailed carving. This article details the basics of the X-ACTO knife's construction and proper handling for optimum safety and efficiency.


Step 1

Familiarize yourself with the parts of the knife. The solid aluminum handle has two added parts that lock together to hold the blade in place. The cylindrical collar, which has a rough, knurled surface, can be loosened by turning it counterclockwise (as viewed from the tip). Turning the collar counterclockwise loosens pressure on the slotted collet. The collet grips the blade firmly when the collar is tightened. (Note: Always wear safety glasses or goggles when working with X-ACTO knives --- the sharp blades are brittle and can chip or break under high stress.)

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Step 2

Change a blade that has become dull, chipped or broken by holding the handle firmly with the blade pointing away from you. Grip the collar with your thumb and index finger, and turn it counterclockwise. If the collar is stuck and you cannot turn it, lubricate the collet and collar with oil or WD-40, and let it soak for at least 30 minutes before trying again. (A severely stuck collar can be turned by using a pair of pliers. Pad the jaws of the pliers with cloth to keep from damaging the collar.)


Step 3

Remove the blade by turning the cutting edge away from you, gripping the blade between your thumb and index finger, and sliding the blade out of the collet. A blade that sticks in place may need lubrication and the use of pliers to dislodge it. Slide the new blade into the collet, and tighten the collar by turning it clockwise. Carefully wipe away any oil or lubricant with a dry cloth. Test the collar to ensure it is tightened properly and that the blade has not become loose in the collet before cutting or carving.


Step 4

Use a cutting board or cutting mat, placed on a stable counter, table or working surface, whenever you cut through thin material or slice strips. For precise cutting operations, such as working with paper patterns, cloth pieces or leather, a "self-healing" cutting mat is highly recommended. The self-healing mat has a soft gel surface over a tough plastic base. Cuts in the surface will slowly close and re-fuse, as if the surface is healing itself. Cutting thin material on this type of mat is much easier, and the blade will stay sharper for a longer period of time.



Step 5

Grip the handle of the X-ACTO knife with all four fingers, and place your thumb on the collar when carving material by hand. Always point the blade's cutting edge away from your body, and push the blade away from you. Always grip the material behind the cutting edge of the blade, and never cut toward the fingers or the hand that is holding the material. Whenever possible, secure the material in a clamp or vise before cutting.


Step 6

To slice or chop strips of material, grip the handle with three fingers of the hand while placing the index finger on the collar. Slice the material by drawing the blade back diagonally, while applying pressure with the index finger. Chopping material can be accomplished by firm, even pressure or by rocking the blade as you push it downward. Use the same grip when cutting paper, cloth, leather or similar flat sheets of material.


Always wear safety glasses when using X-ACTO knives. Keep a first-aid kit nearby. Keep all sharp knives, blades and accessories out of the reach of small children.


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