Tools for making interior cuts in thick stacks of paper or wood laminates?
December 30, 2005 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Cutting Tools: I want to cut shapes out of thick stacks of paper and maybe wood laminates. Easy enough, right? Except I want to be able to do cuts that only go from one point in the interior to another point in the interior -- cuts that don't go all the way across or otherwise break the edge. Are there good choices for tools?

I tried just being patient with a box cutter and sharp razor blades, but that takes longer than I want to spend and really taxes the wrist. I tried a Dremel and had some limited success, but burnt out a motor (and some of the material). I've eyed some of the circular saws, but think the relatively wide diameters are going to mean I'm not going to be able to get uniform cut-lengths over the various depths (which are probably going to be at least 1/2" and possibly up to 2"). I can't start cutting in the center of the material with a jigsaw.

It's possible I used the wrong attachment for the Dremel or just abused it -- I'm new to them and an amateur with these kinds of tools in general, and picked out the "Carbide Cutting/Shaping Wheel" and a diamond abrasion/cutting tool. I'd be open to suggestions there.

But mostly I'm wondering if there's better tools out there. Bonus points for affordability and portability (full CNC machines are probably out).
posted by weston to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
How about a jig saw and a drill? Drill a pilot hole in the middle of the stack to insert the jig saw blade. Then, use the jig saw to cut whatever shape you want.
posted by richardhay at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2005

How thick are the stacks of paper?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:59 PM on December 30, 2005

1/2" to 2".

How thick can a handheld jigsaw handle?
posted by weston at 1:05 PM on December 30, 2005

It really depends on how tightly the material that you are cutting is going to be bound together. If you can really clamp it tightly, then you can easily cut 2.5 - 4 inches with a jig saw.
posted by richardhay at 1:10 PM on December 30, 2005

Drill plus jig saw, as above, for "neat" cuts - small ones.

Plunge router (Google it) for less neat/larger jobs where you need to remove material from inside.

A reciprocating saw (Google) would also work for larger jobs. Starter hole with plunge router or drill...
posted by jellicle at 1:13 PM on December 30, 2005

From his description it sounds like he wants the center component free of damage when the process is complete. All of the handheld or basic-fixture methods that I can think of have been mentioned, and they all involve a starting hole which ruins his peice. It would also be very difficult to keep a jigsaw blade perpendicular while cutting an error free 5-pointed-star pattern out of a 3" stack of paper, among other things. Unless I'm completely confused, he would like to trace "around" the star pattern (as an example) rather than make the criss-cross strokes you would during a quick sketch. You did say full CNC machines are out - so howbout a Shopbot?
posted by prostyle at 1:35 PM on December 30, 2005

Sounds like you want to do die cutting. For small jobs, these folks have tools, for larger quantities check with any good print shop.

Wood? Laser cutters do great work.
posted by Marky at 1:57 PM on December 30, 2005

From his description it sounds like he wants the center component free of damage when the process is complete.

Actually, in most cases, the center fixture isn't quite so important as the "frame." In most cases I have the latitude to destroy some portion of the center. Just not the edges.
posted by weston at 3:23 PM on December 30, 2005

Scroll saw. This is what they were designed for. I bought one to cut a lot of templates from 1/8" birch ply and it was pretty easy even though I'd never used one before. (And spiral blades are the easiest to use). They range in price from pretty cheap (~$100) to very expensive but unless you're going to do very fine work or beveling you probably don't need the expensive models. Delta is a big name.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:20 PM on December 30, 2005

Clamp the stack of paper to a masonite or thin plywood base, and use TimeFactor's scroll saw.
posted by jjj606 at 7:23 PM on December 30, 2005

High tech, best quality? Lasers. Find a laser cutting, marking or machining shop, or print house or print finishing shop with a laser cutter.

Lower tech, second best quality? Die cut.

Best DIY quality? Tiny, thin, long drill (if needed), strong clamps and jigs, and a very fine handheld scroll saw and patience.

Least amount of steps, DIY version, probably lowest quality? Drill saw or plunge router.

These are probably arranged in order of quality and price, but the laser cutting might just be cheaper than the die cutting. Making a "die" out of razor-edged steel rule with all the substrate ejection bumpers, pressure holding pads and breakaways is a fine art - and you can only cut so many sheets at once, and the dies dull, break and wear out.

Lasers don't grow dull.
posted by loquacious at 3:08 AM on December 31, 2005

What you need, my friend, is not lasers or CNC. What you need is a Cutawl.

Like a Jigsaw that got all grown up, stopped jumping around and settled down.

The blade mount swivels for easy cutting in any direction. The tool is heavy and has a smooth flat base that rides along the work surface.

They have been around for a while, see museum, but are still manufactured.

They are been used extensivly in theatrical scenery shops to cut thin materials into complex shapes with inside curves.

Another scenery shop trick with using standard jigsaws: if the top surface has to be cut clean, cut from below. The pulling action of the blade splinters the material around the edge of the cut. If you hold the jigsaw upside down, with the blade poking up through the material, any splintering will be on the underneath side. Sawdust falls away too, so won't get in the way of seeing the cut line. Be aware this method is more dangerous and requires practice.
posted by sol at 9:21 AM on December 31, 2005

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