Your Glass Cutter

When you hold your glass cutter does it feel uncomfortable? Do you have trouble seeing the wheel the entire length of the score?

Being uncomfortable and not being able to see the wheel are just some of the problems encountered when you are cutting stained glass. Learn about the different types of glass cutters, for stained glass, and how to use them. Many of your problems can be solved by using the cutter that suits you best.

You can hold your glass cutter any way that feels comfortable to you as long as:

1. You can always see where the wheel is in relation to
the line you are cutting along.

2. The cutter is always absolutely perpendicular to the glass.

You can read more about this at Glass Cutting Tips and Techniques

Are you having problems with a technique or any other area of your stained glass work? If you are, click here to tell me about the problem. You should have an answer within 24 hours.

Oil Versus No Oil

All glass cutters that I will be talking about, for cutting stained glass, are oil filled cutters. There is always a big discussion as to whether to use oil or not. Just because there is a chamber that can be filled with oil, some people prefer not to use oil in these cutters.

I have always used oil, even back in the "good old days" when oil cutters were non existent. At the end of this page, you will see the type of cutter I learned with. Even then, I always dipped my cutter in a small jar that had an oil soaked cloth on the bottom. This kept the wheel lubricated and running smoothly.

I feel that oil is needed to lubricate the wheel of any glass cutter. It keeps the wheel of your glass cutter turning smoothly, and free of tiny glass chips that can lodge between the wheel and the shaft. It is also needed to keep the score clean and cool. It helps to prevent minute chips of glass from flying about. The final reason I use oil is because it preserves the life of the wheel. Did you ever listen to a dry cutter going over glass? It sounds like you're dragging it over sand paper. In my opinion, that shortens the life of the wheel.

To fill your glass cutter with oil, unscrew the brass cap on the end of the cutter and remove it. Fill the barrel with oil to about 1/3 to 2/3 full. Replace the brass cap. To regulate the flow of oil, open the brass cap about 1/2 to 1 full turn. Totally unscrewed will make the oil run fairly fast (not a good thing), and full closed will give you very little or no oil at all. Experiment with your cutter. They all seem to flow a bit differently. When your cutter is not in use, tighten the cap so that oil doesn't leak out.

What kind of oil should you use in your glass cutter? There is special cutting oil available at your local stained glass shop. I have also used sewing machine oil, 3-in-1 oil, lamp oil and kerosene, all of which work for me. Right now I use lamp oil, as I have an abundance of it, and it's cheap. My pistol grip cutter has not been used for several years, and I left it laying flat with oil in it. The inside is stained from the oil.

oil stained pistol grip glass cutter

Here is what it looks like now. Not a pretty sight, even after I made a valiant try to clean it out! On the bright side, the wick still feeds oil and the cutter works like a charm.
Double click on picture to enlarge

An alternate suggestion for oiling the wheel of your glass cutter is to keep a small amount of oil in a shallow container with a sponge or a piece of cloth in the bottom. Fill the contained with just enough oil to soak the sponge or cloth. Rather than filling the oil chamber of your glass cutter with oil, just roll the wheel over the oil soaked sponge or cloth before every few scores. That will keep the wheel lubricated.

Taking Care Of Your Glass Cutter

There are a few simple things you can do to preserve the life of your glass cutter...especially the wheel.

First of all, don't ram the wheel over the edge of the glass when you are finishing a score. That will eventually chip, or at least dull the wheel. A gentle roll over the edge is quite sufficient to finish the score. You don't need to let up on the pressure just be aware that you are getting close to the edge and be ready to gently roll the cutter over the edge.

If you don't use your glass cutter frequently, don't fill it absolutely full of oil. The oil deteriorates over time and will stain the inside of the barrel. The oil becomes thick and darkens. It makes a mess in the barrel and is very hard to clean out. A small amount of oil will last a long time. I'd recommend filling the barrel about 1/3 full.

When you are storing your glass cutter, leave it upright rather than laying on it's side. There is a cotton wick that runs from the oil chamber to the head of the cutter. Leaving the cutter upright will keep oil feeding the wick. If the wick gets dry, it will take a minute or so to get the wick saturated so the self oiling can begin.

When you have your glass cutter apart to put a new wheel on, don't pull the piece of string out, thinking it's something that shouldn't be there. It's the wick and the lifeline between the oil chamber and the wheel. I've had students come to me holding a "piece of string" they pulled out of their glass cutter. Believe me, it is an impossible task trying to put that wick back. Once the wick is out, you will no longer have a self oiling glass cutter. You will have two choices: either buy a new glass cutter, or use that one by dipping it in oil every few scores.

Every now and then, hold the cutter up to the light so you can see between the wheel and the head. You will be looking for tiny pieces of glass that might get lodged in there. If you see any, take a fine needle or pin and poke it through the opening (which is very small). That should push out any debris that is in there.

If your wheel is scoring a dotted line the wheel is chipped. If you are having to use more and more pressure to score the glass, the wheel is dull. It is time to buy a replacement wheel.

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Types of Cutters
and How to Use Them

There are many brands and types of glass cutters for stained glass work. The two most commonly used types are the pencil grip and the pistol grip.

Pencil Grip Cutters

To learn about the Pencil Grip Glass Cutter,
click here: Pencil Grip Glass Cutters

Pistol Grip Cutters

Pistol Grip Glass Cutter

To learn about the Pistol Grip Glass Cutter,
click here: Pistol Grip Glass Cutters

Two glass cutter, for cutting stained glass, that I really like are the Custom Grip and the Thomas Grip, made by Toyo. Both are small, and rather than holding them like a pencil or a pistol grip they have a saddle that sits between your thumb and index finger. As a result, they give you a lot of flexibility and take less strength to make a score line.

These two cutters are used less often than the pencil or pistol grip, but I think many people would switch to either one if they had a chance to try them and see how easy they are to hold and control.

Toyo Custom Grip Cutter

custom grip glass cutter

To learn about the Toyo Custom Grip Glass Cutter, click here:Toyo Custom Grip Glass Cutter

Toyo Thomas Grip Cutter


To learn about the Toyo Thomas Grip glass cutter,
click here: Toyo Thomas Grip Glass Cutter

How to Cut Along a Straight Edge

cutting along a straight edge

To learn How to Cut Along A Straight Edge,
click here: Cutting Along A Straight Edge

A Few Final Comments

As I said before, there are many brands of glass cutters for stained glass, both oil filled and non-oil filled. Each one has it's own merits and all should be investigated before you make a decision. I have used Toyo brand in all of the pictures above, because Toyo was the first to make oil filled cutters and that is what I started with. I've never seen any reason to change.

There are a couple of mechanical glass cutters that have a cutting wheel built in. With the Cutter's Mate you simply push and pull a handle to keep the cutting wheel going in the direction you want to cut, while the glass is laying on a flat surface. It sort of reminds me (in looks) of an old fashion pentograph, but is much more flexible and goes in any direction. The people that use it, love it. The other one is the Score One. This one is a two handed operation. You guide the glass with one hand and turn a wheel (sort of like a small version of a wheel on a sewing machine) with the other hand. It is also well liked by the people that use it.

I prefer to do it all with a glass cutter, by hand. Actually, I really enjoy cutting glass. However, if you have a lot of trouble cutting glass, just plain don't like cutting glass, or can't hold your glass cutter for physical reasons, then investigate the Cutter's Mate or the Score One. One of them might be the answer to your problems.

Steel Wheel Glass Cutter

This is the type of cutter I learned with. It certainly made glass cutting a challenge. It takes a lot of pressure to score the glass, and it makes your hand and wrist sore very quickly. Also, the wheel dulls at an amazing rate, so you frequently need to purchase a new cutter. What a joy it was the first time I used an oil filled cutter. And it has continued to be a joy every time I cut glass. If this is your glass cutter, do yourself a favor and get an oil filled cutter. You will never regret it.

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This page was last updated on March 5, 2016

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