[subscribe]
Forums -> Terrain Making Wiki

Knives? . . . Let's talk.


[Knives? . . . Let's talk. --- this placeholder title to be replaced by a proper one later]

an article by HobbyDr. Edited and compiled by Pendrake.

Knives? You wanna talk Knives? . . . OK, I like knives, let's talk. Smile

The knife is the #1 tool of any modeler. With it he can accomplish nearly anything. The most important attribute of a knife is its sharpness. It is not box-cutter sharp, it's not Swiss Army Knife sharp, it must be scary sharp. It needs to be so sharp, it makes you a little nervous to use it. (But just a little.) Everytime I've ever cut myself (and believe me, that's a lot) was because I didn't respect the blade. I was either lackadaisical, or using a dull blade. The knife will always punish you for not paying attention. The second thing a knife must be is comfortable in your hand. A sharp blade in an uncomfortable handle is a recipe for disaster. The knife should be a part of, or an extension of, your hand. A comfortable grip gives you the control and confidence to work with that scary sharp blade. A sharp blade and a gentle touch is Knife Nirvana.

OK, enough of that, you just want to see my knives, right? Well, I have a few:

Standard Knives

Standard Knives
The knife at the top is what I use to cut the foam. It is a 2-1/2" inch blade in a large handle. (It will actually fit in the handle below it, but I get much more control with the big one.) To start, I make a shallow cut to break the surface and establish my cut line. The next one is a little deeper to give me my vertical. The next cut is almost the rest of the way through, maintaining the vertical. The last is a light pass to slice the other side without any tears in its surface.

The next two down are #2 handles with a chisel and #24 blade. These handles are a little bigger, and hold larger blades, for cuts that require a little more pressure. When I was recently cutting a lot of 0.060 styrene sheet, I used the #24 blade extensively. This one usually goes into the knife drawer when not in use. The chisel stays in the tool tray on the bench. (That means I use it a lot.)

The next one is a #1 contour handle made for your standard #11 blade, though I have a chisel blade in this one. This one really fits comfortably in the hand, giving subtle control, but also allowing more pressure to be applied. From 20 years ago until just recently, this was my handle of choice. This knife also stays in my tool tray.

The next one is your standard #1 handle with a #11 blade. This is what most people think about when they hear hobby knife or X-acto knife. Most are just plain aluminum, but this one has a non-slip coating and a blade quick-change knob at the bottom (a very nice feature). I started using the plain handle over 40 years ago, and only stopped when the contoured handle came out. Now I only use these handles with seldom-used specialty blades. In fact, this particular handle holds a #11-sized saw blade.

The bottom knife is my new Number One. It is a Martha Stewart brand I found in my wife's toolbox after she passed away. This is the best hobby knife I've ever seen. It fits my hand like a sixth finger. Not cheap (about $20) but if you want the best, it's definitely worth it. Plus, I only use stainless steel blades in it. Yeah, they're more expensive too, but they stay sharp longer, and the tips don't break as easily. (I hate having to dig a broken-off tip out of a cut.) Needless to say, this is in the #1 position in my tool tray.

Specialty Knives

Specialty Knives

Here are some specialty knives I use. The one in the rear is a retractable knife. Handy when you witness a modelling accident, and have to render first aid until help arrives. Wink

The next is a stencil knife. It has a small blade that swivels in the handle. Good for cutting a line that keeps changing direction. Those of you who use paper or light card might find this one useful.

The next is a micro knife, my new favorite. It uses several surgical blades, but I usually keep the smallest chisel blade in it. (Anyone noticing a trend here?) It's hard to tell in this picture, but the handle is only about 3/16" (3mm) in diameter. It gets in places the larger knives can't reach. This stays on the bench.

The next two look like your standard #1 handles, but they are much skinnier. They usually are found in kits with an assortment of blades. These blades are also smaller than your standard blades. I would avoid this direction, as replacement blades are usually not available.

The knife on the left is a custom job I made. It holds two #11 blades a certain distance apart to cut parallell lines at the same time. I used it to cut gaps in masking tape.

The one on the right is another home-brew, just a #11 screwed to a length of tube. I used this to under-cut some foam terrain I had already glued down.

Straight Edges

Straight Edges

Now while the knife makes the cut, the cut is only as straight as the edges used. Of course, a nice long, heavy steel ruler (in the back) works great. Sometimes you need to get in cramped quarters, where the one in front is better. For right angles, I always have my thin beam and regular square handy. Sometimes I need a 45° cut, so I use the triangle. For odd angles I have the adjustable protractor.

So what's that pointy thing in the middle? When working with styrene, a sharp blade and a straight edge do not always guarantee a perfect cut. The styrene's surface is a little harder, and a pointy blade tends to wobble, so many times you get a wavy line. What you need to do is scribe the line first. It breaks the surface and gives the blade a path to follow. You can buy scribes made for this purpose, I have many. But what you see in this picture is a sewing needle in a pin vise. Not your grandmother's sewing machine needle, this one is a large, hand needle made for sewing canvas and other heavy materials. (I stole, er borrowed, this one out of my mom's sewing kit 35 years ago.) It stays sharp and stiff. When you draw it along a straight edge, it rides it without deflection. This is the secret to straight lines (particularly in styrene).

Must Haves For the Beginner

Start Here

Now, would I suspect anyone of having all of the foregoing items? Of course not. I've been collecting all this for many years. But, if I were suddenly to start over, what would I consider must haves, on a budget? First, a #1 contoured handle with a #11 blade. Second, a #2 handle with a chisel blade. Next, a simple square (I do the majority of my measuring with this) and a 12" straight edge. And finally, the scribe.

Most of what I know I've learned from other modelers before me. I believe in passing it all on. I hope this helps out any beginners or perhaps veteran hobbyists as well. Any questions (or rebuttals) are always welcome.

Don [aka HobbyDr]

Some Samples of HobbyDr's Precision Cut / Scratch Built Terrain

HobbyDr's 40K Bunker Complex In Progess: Note the handlles in the background.

Left End of the 40K Bunker Complex In Progress

A Close-up of the Big Multi-Barrel Gun. Knife Handle Sneaking Into the Background on the Right.

Credits & Acknowledgements

Original Author: HobbyDr
Photos: HobbyDr
Compilation, TG Tagging, Proofreading and Editing: Pendrake


Forums -> Terrain Making Wiki