Exacto Knives: Types, Uses, Tips And Tricks

If you love crafting, or have a hobby that requires frequent cutting, then you already know that having the right tools for the job is vital. The right tools can mean the difference between efficient work processes and wasted time, a well-finished piece of work and a disaster. In today’s article, we are looking at an essential tool – the Exacto Knife, also known by other common names such as the precision knife, hobby knife, or utility knife.

What is an Exacto knife?

An exact knife, true to its name, is used to assist its users in making exact cuts. Shaped like a fountain pen, it is like an upgraded version of anti-cutters that offers way more precise cuts. An Exacto knife consists of four parts: the handle, the collar, the collet, and the blade. The handle is used for gripping the knife. The blade does all the cutting. The collar and collet hold the blade in position, and when loosened, you can remove the blade to insert a new one.

What are Exacto blades made of?

Made of steel (about 12 to 14.5% chromium + 0.6% carbon + iron and other trace elements), the exact blade has a thickness of 0.02 inches and has a sharpened tip that can pierce through the paper, getting you your desired cuts. Some blades are made of stainless steel that keeps your knife rust-free, preventing accidents in your cutting process.

Handles and blades have various types and it is essential to pick them with care to make sure your working procedure does not include too many obstacles.

Types of Exacto knife handles

Generally, three types of handles are used – type one, type two, and type five, although you might find that some companies offer you a bigger range. Which type of handle you use depends on what kind of material you are going to cut through. With a change in handle, you will also need to change the blade.

The type one and type two handles are similar and are commonly used for cutting materials that are not too thick. You can interchange their assigned blades, although it’s advisable to use the allocated ones unless during emergency situations. Type five handles, on the other hand, are known for their sturdiness and can thus hold large blades.

Types of Exacto knives Blades

Unlike handles, there is a wide range of options that you can choose from when it comes to the blade of an Exacto knife. This is because professional users prefer blades of different sharpness and size in order to smoothly carry out tasks. Some common blades include:

  • 2 Exacto Blade: Compatible with the type one handle, the number two Exacto blade claims to be one of the finest. It is triangular shaped with dimensions of 4.5 x 0.5 x 2.13 inches and a pointy tip that is quite often used for detailing. The #2 Exacto blades, popular among artists for their precision, are used for cutting through medium and heavy weight materials (e.g., plastic, paper, vinyl, wood, cardboard, and so on).
  • 10 Exacto Blade: With a blade of length 1.52″, the number 10 Exacto knife blade has a rounded edge that makes it look identical to most typical knives. When fit with the type one handle, the blade can be used to curve and smoothen the edges of wood, rubber, foam, plastic, etc. The likeness of its shape to regular knives allows it to be used for slicing through materials as well.
  • 11 Exacto Blade: The number eleven Exacto blade could pass for number two’s twin if it were not for the difference in size; both are shaped like a right-angled triangle but number eleven has slightly bigger dimensions of 5.38 x 2.5 x 0.75 inches. Praised for its perfectly detailed precision cuts on wood, plastic, and paper, the #11 blade is to be used with the # 1 handle and is, for sure, one of a kind.
  • 16 Exacto Blade: The uniquely shaped number 16 Exacto blade is 1.34 inches in length and can be used along with the number one handle. Mostly used for cutting papers, stencils, decals, etc. it can be guessed the blade is used to work on comparatively lighter materials.
  • 17 Exacto Blade: The 17 Exacto blade looks very different from other blades with a circular cross-section – that is used for balancing and is connected to a rectangular piece that is used for cutting. Once connected with the type one handle, it can be used for chiseling delicate materials like light wood, linoleum, plastic, and at times, clay.
  • 18 Exacto Blade: Designed for heavy-duty tasks, the number 18 Exacto blade requires a type 2 or type 5 handle. It is perfectly suitable for chiseling on light materials and can also be used for shaving off the wood.
  • 22 Exacto Blade: Although the number 22 blade is shaped similarly to the number 10, it is bigger at 1.8 inches long and 0.3 inches thick, making it suitable for carving large pieces that require a lesser amount of effort to achieve your precision goals. It is used along with the number two or five handles to make big cuts or trims in wood, linoleum, plastic, etc. As with the number 10 blade, due to its shape, the number 22 can also be used for slicing.
  • 24 Exacto Blade: Also known as the deburring blade because of its use in smoothening uneven sections, the number 24 blade has dimensions of 3.13 x 0.75 x 2.5 inches. The tapered edge makes it the perfect smoothening tool and an important addition to the toolsets of crafters. It can also be used for slicing and cutting whilst attaching it to type two or five handles.
  • 28 Exacto Blade: With a curved shape, the number 28 blade has a length of 1.78 inches and a thickness of 0.3 inches. It is mainly used for carving on wood, plastic, leather, and linoleum after attaching it with a type two or five handle.

How to use an Exacto knife:

Cutting things with an Exacto knife can be difficult, but with practice, patience, and the right kind of tools, you will find yourself mastering the art in a little amount of time.

Things you will need and why you need them:

  • Although it is possible to cut without one, a cutting mat will help you safely cut your stuff without scratching the surface you are working on. Besides that, it also helps you get a little additional grip on your paper.
  • A metal scale will help you effortlessly cut through your straight lines. It is a better option than plastic scales as there is less chance of the Exacto knife slicing through it instead. Tape the back of your scale (the side that will touch the paper) with masking tape if it doesn’t have an anti-sliding backing. This will prevent the scale from slipping all over the page.
  • A suitable blade and handle need to be chosen to help you easily cut through your paper without requiring too much force on your behalf. Make sure your blade end is attached to the collet and the collar is tightened properly.

Steps to follow:

  • Place the paper you will be cutting through on top of your cutting mat and make sure all your cut lines are outlined properly to prevent any mistakes.
  • If you are cutting straight, perfectly align your scale with the cut line.
  • Hold the knife’s handle with the cutting edge pointing away from you (at most, a 45-degree angle with the paper).
  • With the tip of the knife, outline the cut lines slowly – patience is a key ingredient in the process if you want flawless cuts.

What are Exacto knives used for?

The question, although small like the knife itself, has a rather long answer as the Exacto knife can be used to successfully complete lots of tasks. Below we will list some uses of an Exacto knife.

Highlighting artworks

Artworks require a lot of detailing to look realistic. Did you know that exacto knives can be used to create some amazing effects that can elevate the quality of your paintings?

Adding highlights is essential when it comes to painting. We all know that while doing portraits, giving the hair a realistic look is one of the toughest jobs. However, with this trick, you can easily get the job done.

Once you are done coloring, add strokes using the tip of your Exacto knife. After each stroke, wipe off the excess from the tip and follow the above procedure again and again until you are satisfied with the look. This method of adding highlights is guaranteed to give you some amazing outcomes.


Stencils are used to effortlessly get designs on surfaces or paper. All you need to make them is the right kind of paper, a printer to print designs onto the paper (i.e. if you are not going to draw them by yourself), and an Exacto knife.

You can easily find tonnes of designs online. After selecting one, print and cut out perfectly with the help of the outlines to get your stencils.

Making architectural models

Architects often have to cut cardboard and all other kinds of sheets to produce models of the building. These materials can be easily cut or scored using an Exacto knife.

Decorating cakes

Bakers these days go out of their way to produce some of the most elegant designs. An Exacto knife can be used as their kitchen equipment for creating designs and cutting out parts of fondant to create unique looks.

Nail art

Often enough, we see videos popping up on YouTube and social media apps that show videos of people getting their nails done. With the increasing popularity of such content, nail technicians have been finding methods to create exceptional designs. Once again, it is Exacto knives that came to the rescue of artists, helping them create designs, cut out extensions, and put on beads.

Designing leather

Exacto knives are frequently used on leather to make incisions in designs. One can use the knife to score through leather pieces and then cut out the pieces to get outlines of designs. Deep and light incisions can be mixed to create shading effects.

Appliques on leather

 Have you noticed how some pieces of clothing have a piece of the design stitched onto their surface?

These pieces with designs on them, often looking like badges, are known as appliques and are often made using leather. Such patterns can be engraved on leather using Exacto knives.

Making sculptures

Sculptors often use different-sized Exacto knives to add details, curves, or scrape off clay from certain places in their sculptures.

DIYs and crafting

When crafting or making DIY goodies, people often tend to use an Exacto knife to cut out certain designs or paper. Stickers can also be cropped out using the blades.

Tips for using Exacto knives:

We would like to end the article with some tips that will help you use the knife safely while getting the most of it.

  1. When you can’t concentrate on your work, such as when you’re tired, don’t use the knife. This may result in you cutting through your fingers by mistake as the knife is very sharp.
  2. If you do not have metallic blade holders in your compression case, get one! This is very important to make sure your blades don’t fall out anywhere and cause damage to you or other people when moving or keeping them away.
  3. The knife should not be held vertically. Instead, maintain a 45-degree angle at most to the paper.
  4. Never forget to cap the knife once you are done using it. This will prevent you from getting injuries when in a rush.
  5. It’s always best to keep your knife away after work. When kept uncapped on the table, it may roll down and fall, stabbing your foot.
  6. To avoid dangerous accidents, always make sure the blade is lowered into the collet and the collar is tightened before using.
  7. Hold on to the handle, far away from the blade to prevent cutting fingers.
  8. Once again, we will mention that patience is the key to ingraining its importance. If one cut isn’t enough, it is okay to outline the cut lines a few times rather than applying too much pressure.
  9. Practice makes perfect. Print out shapes and lines online and cut through them for practice before getting to work. You can also print on cardstock and cut them to make sure you become a pro when it comes to using the knives.
  10. Rusty blades should not be used as they can break in the middle of your task and cause harm to both you and your art piece. Buying stainless blades is a really good idea to avoid such problems.
  11. Make sure your blades are sharpened. Dull knives will take you nowhere and instead add to your frustrations.
  12. Make sure your cutting mat has no bumps that can cause your knife to slide back and hurt you or destroy your work.
  13. While disposing of the blades, it is important to wrap them up in masking tape so that you do not have sharp objects lying around in your garbage.
  14. Work under bright lighting to make sure you are cutting along the right lines. Nowadays, knives with lights attached to the blades are available, which allow you to shine light upon your work.
  15. If you are a regular worker, it is advisable to use ergonomic handles to avoid aching hands.

We hoped to provide all the necessary details you might require regarding Exacto knives in the article. Wishing you a safe and good crafting journey up ahead!

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