Editor’s Note: Today we have some tips for cutting your own stencils, courtesy of artist Fran Cicero.
Stencil Cutting Tips
by Fran Cicero
Long ago I tried different methods to protect my fingers from the pressure of cutting stencils. I hated cutting them because it was so awkward and painful. Based on my experience, here’s what I suggest:
- Use a foam finger pad (like they put on pencils). I cut one in half and put a half on either end of my stylus too. You can get a 6 pack in Staples. I don’t like the triangular ones, I think they are too hard.
- Use a snap blade, the kind that slides up and down, preferably with a lock, and you can vary the length of the blade during the project to decrease finger fatigue, plus it is flat so it doesn’t seem to press as hard on the fingers. When the blade gets “draggie” you can snap it off easily with pliers (horizontal and close to the score mark)
- Use a big utility knife (some call it a box cutter). These have replaceable blades.
I always use a glass surface instead of a self-healing mat, I find there’s less drag and you can turn the stencil easier when you are cutting.
I use a hot knife stencil cutter for small curvy pieces and sand the edges with a fine sanding disk. I find that if the tip is very clean, it cuts well. The melted plastic tends to build up and cook onto the tip and seems to reduce the temperature of the tip and makes cutting clumsy. I lightly sand it, even when it’s hot, with a sanding disk — it doesn’t take much effort to make it clean and shiny.
Also, if you cut with the handle angled slightly toward the piece that will be thrown away, the possible “melt down” spots that can happen at turns, or because of hand fatigue, seem to happen on the throw away piece, rather than the stencil part you want “perfect”.
For shapes like circles, teardrops, hearts, etc., I use a decorative hole punch. For example, after you cut a flower and need little circles in the centers, use a hole punch of the correct size! You can usually get it to fit by placing it through an area you already cut, or make a separate piece.