There are a lot of different pieces of kit available to the hobbyist. Saws, pin vices, files, there are a multitude of tools that can be used to fulfill certain roles in assembling or converting miniatures.
However there is one fundamental, one essential, tool that all hobbyists must possess. The hobby knife. Technically, there is no such thing as the hobby knife. What is commonly referred to as a hobby knife is actually part of the utility knife family. Utility knifes were originally fixed blades, used for tasks such as cutting and scraping hides or cleaning fish.
The modern utility knife refers to fixed blade knives, as well as folding or retractable blade knives. However, for many the term ‘hobby knife’ has come to represent a certain type of utility knife which sees a lot of use throughout hobby and craft activities. Hobby knives are usually made up of four key components; the handle, the sleeve, the chuck and the blade.
The blade fits into the chuck, the chuck fits inside the sleeve, and then the remaining segment of the chuck screws into the handle. As you tighten the chuck and sleeve into the handle the chuck compresses, securing the blade in place. Because the blade is removable, it can easily be replaced when worn out, or a new blade type inserted for a particular job.
There are a multitude of blades available, from the traditional scalpel-like triangular blade, to flat chisel blades, curved blades and oddly shaped blades for performing particular cuts and techniques or for cutting certain materials. Most good quality hobby knives are manufactured from metal.
Cheaper knives often have plastic components, like the chuck. While these are also perfectly acceptable, plastic components wear out and break much easier than their metal counterparts. There are also a number of handles available, from standard metal handles to cushioned grips. It is recommended to try out some different types of handles and select one that feels most comfortable to use.
There are a few basic universal safety rules when handling a hobby knife. Always cut away from yourself. Many people take this to mean to cut directly away from your body, but that is physically impossible when doing small or delicate work. What you should actually do is make sure that no part of your body is in the cutting path.
For instance, if cutting a piece of plasticard, hold the sheet at the top or the side, not the bottom where your knife is cutting towards. Where possible, use a cutting mat. Usually you should be able to, as parts of miniatures can be prepared separately and then assembled.
However, occasionally a piece cannot be easily accessible on a cutting mat. In these cases it is best to either proceed with extreme caution, or attempt the cut with a more appropriate tool. Use an appropriate sharpness blade for the job you are doing. When cutting through something, like plastic or card, a sharp knife is recommended.
The blade should glide though the material, rather than saw or rip its way. You should also make guide cuts, lightly running the blade along where the cut will be made. This allows the surface to break, and your knife to gain purchase in the material.
Once the guide cuts are made you can make two or three more forceful cuts to complete the job. You shouldn’t have to press to hard. The harder you press, the less control over the blade you have, and the more disastrous any mistakes you make. Dull blades have their uses, too. These can be used to lightly scrape away mould lines and unwanted detail. Always put your hobby knife away, or in the very least, attach a protective cap when finished using it.
Many single knives come with a protective cap. Knife kits do not usually have a cap, instead offering moulded indentations to insert handles into and magnetic strips to attach blades too. Lastly, if you are a younger hobbyist, it is best to perform any cutting with a hobby knife under the supervision of an adult