It wasn't too many years ago that quilters had only a few choices when it was time to buy a rotary cutter. Things have certainly changed because now just about every manufacturer who makes rotary cutters lets us choose from a variety of blade sizes, handle types, safety latches, and other features. That's good news for quilters because it means there's a cutter out there to suit every need.
Rotary cutters are available with several different blade sizes, and most commonly from 18mm to 60mm in diameter. In general, the larger the rotary blade the easier it is to slice through a fabric, especially multiple layers of fabric.
Smaller rotary cutting blades are somewhat easier to navigate around curves and intricate shapes (if you have a ruler that allows intricate cutting), but rotary cutters with larger blades will be the tools you reach for most often.
We recommend Ofla blades. They seem to stay sharper longer than other blades and will fit in most rotary cutters, but there are many quality brands to choose from.
Some quilters buy a small tool that lets them resharpen rotary cutting blades. Other quilters can help you decide if that's a good option, so ask your friends for opinions.
Handles are where rotary cutter styles fly off into every direction. You'll find straight handles and handles that are curved to fit into the palm of your hand. Every manufacturer seems to have come up with its own ideas for a cutter that's ergonomically correct.
While it's fun and convenient to shop online for quilting supplies, we do recommend going to your local fabric or quilt shop to try out several rotary cutters to make sure you're getting a good fit.
Most rotary cutters have a safety latch that moves back and forth to either expose the blade or keep it covered. Latches work differently and some might be difficult to manage if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or another condition that results in weakened hands or wrists. Several manufacturers do make rotary cutters with automatic closures.
Hold each cutter in your hand and flip its latch open and shut. Is it a simple action? You'll open and close the latch constantly as you work, so ease of use is critical.
Chances are you'll buy more than one rotary cutter because you'll find that certain cutters are more suitable for some quiltmaking tasks than others. Start with a basic device and add to your collection as you discover what works best for your needs.
Always follow basic rotary cutter safety advice. Make sure the blade is retracted every time you put the cutter down and follow each manufacturer's advice when you replace blades. Store new blades in a safe place and dispose of old blades responsibly.
Never cut on anything other than a special cutting mat, and learn how to clean and care for your cutting mat to keep it in tip-top shape for years.