Hot Cutting

Here's what I do for hot cutting:

Surface:  Two 2' X 3' pieces of formica bonded with contact cement to the sides
        of a thin piece (16 guage?) of sheet steel.  Fabric can be stretched
out and held in place with magnets.  This really works well.  The formica does
get slight grooves in it from the heat of the iron, but I have yet to see one
get so bad that it's unusable.  The formica was scrap at a flooring/counter-top
store, so was really cheap.  The sheet metal was from a scrap iron dealer, and
was only three or four bucks too.  Glass is nice, but it's not cheap unless
you can find scrap somewhere.  Glass also has a nasty habit of breaking when
dropped.  I know sooner or later I'd drop mine.  I can put my formica/steel
cutting board in the back of the jeep and pile stuff on top of it and not
worry about it.

Cutter:  an old radio shack soldering iron with conical tip.  I even made a
        little thing with a lamp dimmer that allows me to turn the heat down
a bit.  Nylon melts at a lower point than solder, and turning down the heat
a little allows you to slow down and be more careful in following the template.

Templates:  Cardboard, cut to *FINISHED* size.  The cardboard I use, I found
        at an art shop.  It's thicker than posterboard, but still only a
couple bucks a sheet.  Can be cut with an X-acto knife, utility knife, or
even scissors.  Thin cardboard templates can also be held down to the fabric
and cutting surface with magnets, as mentioned above.  Keeps them from sliding
around when you're not paying attention.

Cutting wheel:  I'm surprised nobody mentioned this already.  This is a 3/4"
        diameter teflon wheel with a hole the size of the cutting tip in the
center.  You run the edge of the wheel around the template (which was cut to
finished size, remember?), and the cutting tip is "magically" held away from
the edge of the template by exactly 3/8" of an inch, which is the "standard"
hem allowance.  If you want more or less hem allowance, cut bigger or smaller
teflon wheels.  I had a heck of a time finding a chunk of teflon.  I was
lucky to find some here at work, but I don't know where you'd find it in the
"real" world.  The piece you use should be about 1/4" thick.  If you can cut
it with a "lip", or groove around the edge, you won't have to be as careful
about the wheel hopping over the edge of the template.  Mine doesn't have this,
and I have to watch it, or it can ride over the edge of the template, cutting
into the hem allowance and pissing me off.  Not that much of a deal if you're
careful though.

Curve template:  If you're trying to make a template with curved edges, invest
        in a "Flexi-Curve".  This is essentially a flexible "straight-edge", if
you'll pardon the oxymoron.  You can bend the thing around till you've got the
curve you want, then use it as a template to draw the same curve as many times
as you want.  Get the longest one you can find.  I think mine is 18", and cost
about $10.  You can find them at drafting supply stores, or places that sell
office or art supplies.

Magnets:  Get lots of them.  I found some pretty cheap at an arts and crafts
        place.  The more you use, the more securely the fabric and template
will be held in place while cutting.  You may have to move some of them as
you cut.

Really obvious safety tips:
        1)  Don't burn yourself!  I'm really surprised how easy it is to get
distracted while intently setting up the fabric/magnets/template/straight-edge,
and then reach over without looking and put my hand on the wrong end of the
iron.  I really need an iron that sits in one of those little protective cage
things.  Mine doesn't have one, and it likes to pivot itself around so that
the hot end is always easiest to grab.
        2)  Don't drop the hot cutter on anything you want to keep.  I also
find that after I've been working for a few hours, I start getting "the drops".
Believe me, you won't be happy when you drop the iron right in the middle of
a piece you just cut out.  Also, don't drop it on the rug, the cat, or
anything belonging to your spouse.  These things will make you lose points
*real* fast.  If you start getting tired or spacey, call it a night.

These things work really well for me, but I'd like to hear more about tricks
the rest of you have come up with to make this job easier.

Marty Akerman

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