A Good Cut – 2

Skill of the Cutter

This is the second most important element of a good cut (after blade geometry). A skilled cutter can cut a hanging rope with an unhardened blade – providing the blade geometry is appropriate. An unskilled cutter can’t cut the same rope with the best knife in the land.

What’s the trick?

No trick: Find someone who does the type of cutting you want to do; Watch them and get tips; Practice, practice, practice; And repeat the whole process until you have achieved the level of skill you are looking for.

There are lots of cutting disciplines in this old world, and each has its own rules. A whittler of wooden toys and an ABS champion 2×4 cutter focus on very different aspects of cutting wood. Watching a Japanese chef turn cucumbers into paper thin slices or a French chef Julianne carrots are both fascinating views into the art of the cut – but they are far from being the same technique.

Every cutting discipline from chopping firewood to brain surgery has its unique requirements. And a single discipline often has competing schools of thought about the one right way to get the job done.

I’ve played with sharp objects and sliced and stabbed myself enough to give some basic pointers.

  • Use the right knife for the job.
  • Watch your angle of attack and control the cut.
  • Think about the follow-through.
  • Treat a dull knife like a dull knife and a sharp knife like a sharp knife. Pretending one is the other has given me many bloody lessons.
Right Tool for the Job

Mostly the right tool for the job is about blade geometry.

Specific tasks define the tool to use: Firewood? Axe or sledge-and-a-wedge. Thanksgiving turkey? Carving knife. Microsurgery? Obsidian or diamond scalpel.

The knife that is traditionally used for your job is certainly a good place to start.

Every Day Carry (EDC) knives are another matter. This is a lot about what you find pleasing to the eye and to the hand – but it’s also about the range of uses you put your knife to. Do you like to carry a pocket knife or sheath knife? What do the local laws allow?

Angle of Attach and Controlling the Cut

The whittler and the ABS cutting champ both cut wood – but for a different reason. The whittler will use a thin light blade and make small cuts at a variety of angles with a variety of pressures. The 2×4 champ will use a hefty chopper and impressively large swings of arm and body – and at specific set angles to pop the biggest chips possible with each stroke.

If you can’t watch a master at the type of cut you are working on, try a variety of angles and pressures. The ancient advice is “always cut away from yourself” because we’ve been slicing ourselves up since somebody flaked out a stone blade. If you stray from the ancient wisdom then be sure you are in control of the cut and plan the follow-through… and know where the first aid kit is.

Think About the Follow-Through

It’s not just about what you are cutting. It’s about where that blade is going to go after your target. Think about the whole path of that cutting edge. You can cut off a thumb if you don’t get it out of the way before the axe gets to the block you’re splitting for kindling. And if you really haul off to get through that stubborn round of oak you’d better be planning the end of the stroke downward, not staying stiff and letting the arc of the axe end in you shin.

No, Really!

Try to keep all your parts. If you are like me this will be a life-long challenge. So far so good – with a lot of little scars.

And it’s not just about you. If you are putting a point on a stick and slice your friend with the follow-through – or are cutting open a shipping box and the blade slips into your sweetie’s favorite sofa – those are not good moments.