Yes, the Cut Doctor is in, and she wants to help you improve your cut health today by helping you understand how to use your blade. This is the most basic tool we use in Silhouette machines, but often the most misunderstood. Let’s examine exactly what that blade number means, how to choose the right one, adjust it and insert it correctly into the machine. As long as you use this tool correctly, you’ll get great results (as long as you follow all the Cut Doctor’s advice). To start with Lesson 1 in this series, go here.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. All opinions expressed are my own and are not tied to any compensation.
Common misconceptions about blade number
Are you guilty of diagnosing yourself by looking up your symptoms on the internet? Yep, we’re all raising our hands right now. And most of the time, we come up with the wrong answer, often freaking ourselves out. It’s much better to go to the professional, a.k.a your doctor, to figure out your illness. Consider me your Silhouette GP. Let’s start off by talking about the most common ailments Silhouette users have with the blade number, and the faulty treatments they prescribe for them.
“If the material isn’t getting cut all the way through, I need to raise the blade number.”
Not necessarily. The default settings are pretty spot on for most materials. This is particularly true for materials you purchase from Silhouette. They do a good deal of testing to decide on those settings. They may need slight tweaks, but changing the blade number is a more drastic adjustment.
Those defaults are also very good on materials such as adhesive vinyl or heat transfer vinyl (HTV). The companies that make those products have a pretty consistent industry standard with little variance. So you won’t often need to adjust the blade number.
Cardstock or paper of any kind is the material that has most variance. Think about how MANY paper companies there are and how many different products they manufacture. You’ll need to adjust cut settings more often for paper, but it’s not always the blade number.
If you’re using a material that’s not on the list in the software, you’ll obviously need to do some testing. But trust me — don’t start cutting a large project until you’ve cut a few small things on that material first and figured out your perfect cut settings. There’s no need to waste time and money recutting because you didn’t find those settings first.
For any material, it’s often better to adjust something else first before the blade number. I’ll give you recommendations for which settings to alter in future lessons in the series.
“If the material is tearing, the blade isn’t sharp enough so I need to extend it more (take the blade number up).”
The truth is you usually need to go the opposite direction. Ripping and tearing is most often a symptom of settings that are already too high. The blade gets stuck in the mat and can’t move smoothly through the material. The motor box that houses the blade isn’t moving, but the roller bar is still. Once it’s free, it “jolts” forward and pulls the material with it. Or, if you have the blade number set way too high, you’re no longer cutting with the sharp tip because so much of it is down into the mat and you get ripping.
“If a blade number of 2 doesn’t cut through the material and a 3 is ripping or tearing it, I’m stuck.”
What you’ve discovered here is that it’s another setting you need to adjust instead of or in addition to the blade number. If a 2 isn’t cutting through, you can raise the force (we’ll talk all about that in a lesson soon). Or, if you have to adjust the blade number up to a 3, lower the force in conjunction with that.
The premium and deep cut blades have a sliding adjustment. Instead of ratcheting them to change the blade number, you twist. That means it’s not clicking into each number. So, you can set the blade to, say, a 2 1/2.
Now that we’ve gotten rid of the bad information on the blade number, let’s learn some good info.
What does the blade number mean?
The Cameo 3, Curio and Portrait 2 machines have a 2mm clearance under the bar. That means the thickest material you can cut is 2mm. The other machines have a 1mm. (Although, as we’ll learn when we discuss force, the density of the material matters as well).
The higher you set the blade number, the more of the blade you expose. The regular blades — ratchet, premium, fabric — adjust from 1 to 10. At 10, the blade is sticking out 1mm. The deep cut blade goes up to 20, which means 2mm. So each number on the blade is equivalent to 0.1mm. You choose a blade number that is just deep enough to go through your material.
How to select the blade number
When you’re ready to cut, you go to the Send area of the software and select a material. The software shows you the recommended settings for that material. You’ll see a wheel with numbers — that’s for the blade number.
Use the arrow keys on either side of the wheel to change to a different number.
Just remember — those are a starting point. There are many variables (which we’ll discuss in this series), so you may need to change the blade number.
Special notes about the ratchet blade
When you are using a ratchet blade, you have to physically change the blade to set it to the number you need. Changing it in the software does nothing. Even changing it in the cut settings on the screen of your Cameo 2 does nothing. There are 2 reasons you’ll see it in the software.
- To show you the suggested default blade number to use.
- To help create custom settings.
How to adjust the ratchet blade
When you get a new ratchet blade, you may notice there’s a small gray tube in the pack.
You only need that if you have the very old machines — the original QuicKutz Digital Craft Cutter or the Silhouette SD.
All other machines have a built-in blade adjuster. The Portraits and Cameos have them on the left end of the platform in front of the motor box.
The Curio has one on the platform.
On some early Cameo models, the adjuster is raised off the platform.
The red line indicates the blade number it’s currently set on.
Line up that red line/number with the arrow on the ratchet adjuster (it’s facing you). Twist the blade, making sure you click on EACH number, until the number you need is lined up with the arrow. The blade is now adjusted.
The Premium Blade and Deep Cut Blade also have the red line under the current blade number setting. Twist to change to a different number.
When you get a new ratchet blade
The first time you use a new ratchet blade, it’s a good idea to move it down to 0 and up to 10 a few times, clicking in each blade number, before setting it to the one you’re going to need. Just make sure you do NOT pass below 0 down to 10, or beyond 10 up to 0. That will get the blade permanently out of whack and it will be very difficult to know which blade number you’re actually set on. Doing this makes sure that it’s actually at the right spot and is adjusting correctly. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the Premium or Deep Cut blade.
Here’s an example. Once I was cutting a piece of glitter HTV and did 3 things I NEVER do:
- Set a new blade to the number I needed without doing that click-through procedure.
- Put the blade into the machine and sent the job without doing a test cut.
- Left the room as the machine was cutting, so I didn’t see how it was cutting.
Why did I do that? Simple — I thought I was such an expert that I could. I was wrong! And here’s my ruined piece to glitter HTV to prove it.
Once I did the click-through procedure, the blade worked great. Unfortunately, I wasted a full sheet of really pretty glitter HTV.
Special notes about the AutoBlade
The Cameo 3 and Portrait 2 machines have the ability to use an AutoBlade. The machine reads the number that you selected (or left at the default) in the Send area and adjusts the blade to that number for you before beginning the cut. You MUST have the AutoBlade selected as your tool in the software for it to work. Use the AutoBlade in the left tool holder only. You can use a ratchet blade in place of the AutoBlade in either tool holder if you choose.
Proper installation of the blade in the machine
Many folks think they need to have the number the blade is set on facing forward when putting it into the machine. That’s not what you want to do. You want the fin facing forward. If it isn’t, that fin can catch on the mechanisms of the motor box and prevent the blade holder from moving up and down during the cut. The fin doesn’t go down into the vertical gap on the blade holder, but that’s a good reference point of where to position it.
Premium or Deep Cut Blade
These blades don’t have a fin, so it doesn’t matter which way they face.
Make sure the fins slide into the channels.
The collar of the blade needs to sit all the way down on the blade holder. This is one of the most important things to remember! If it isn’t seated completely on that blade holder, you blade isn’t going to come into full contact with your material. These 2 blades are sitting all the way down…
…and these aren’t.
Locking the blade in
On machines with a sliding blade lock
Make sure you see the blue dot through the hole on a white machine, the white dot on a machine of other colors.
Be careful that the blade doesn’t pop up as you engage the lock, as that happens frequently. Check that collar again.
On machines with a twisting blade lock lever
You need to know the correct locked and unlocked positions.
- Unlocked — the lock lever points at 10 and 4 on a clock.
- Locked — it’s 2 and 8.
If that lock lever is pointing straight up and down, it’s neither locked or unlocked. When the lock is in that position, the blade pops up as it goes over the machine rollers when you’re cutting so you’re left with uncut strips going down the page in line with the rollers.
And if you try to remove the blade when it’s at 12 and 6, you will likely break the blade holder. And guess what? That part can’t be replaced.
Don’t overtwist past those spots when you’re locking the blade. The blade lock can pop off. You might not even notice, but it’s not holding the blade tightly. Notice the difference in the amount of the gap that’s in line with the fin compared to the previous photo.
If your twisting blade lock lever falls off, make sure you put it back on correctly. The fat part should be up.
If you put it on with that fat part down, it can bump up as it goes over the rollers so the blade doesn’t go down all the way.
You may notice some words and arrows on the lock lever. They can be confusing. When it’s locked, the word Open is at the top with an arrow pointing left. Lots of folks think it says Opened. So they are looking at it with it locked and thinking the lever is telling them it’s opened, not locked. It’s the arrow that’s the clue. It’s saying, “Twist this way (counter-clockwise) to open (unlock).” Similarly, when the blade is unlocked the word Close is at the top.
How to set a default blade in your Preferences
So let’s say you have a Cameo 3 or Portrait 2 and you prefer one type of blade. You want to not forget as often to select the right one before you send a job to the machine. You can tell the software to ALWAYS choose either the AutoBlade or the Ratchet blade in your Preferences.
Open your Preferences by clicking the gear at the extreme lower right of the software. Go to the second tab called Defaults. The second option is Blade Type. Select the one you want. If you want the software to choose based on the connected machine, you can select Choose Automatically. That chooses AutoBlade for the machines that have it, Ratchet blade for machines that don’t.
If you don’t have a Cameo 3 or Portrait 2 hooked up, even if you set AutoBlade as the default blade type you won’t see it as an option in the Send area. That’s because only those machines use the AutoBlade and the software knows that.
Cleaning out the blade
Did you know you can clean out a Silhouette blade? This will solve quite a few cutting problems. As you cut, debris such as tiny bits of vinyl, paper fibers, glitter, etc., get through the little hole that the blade pokes through. That can bind the blade, which keeps it from rotating as it should.
The blades have a tiny cap at the end.
Unscrew the cap to remove it.
HINT: I usually set my blade to 5 before removing the cap. That way I don’t accidentally twist past the 10 or 0.
The newer machines come with a tool that helps you. It’s officially called the Bluetooth Removal Tool, but that’s not how you use it most often. There’s a hole at one end to grip and remove the blade cap. You line up the flat sides of the opening to the flat sides of the blade cap.
It’s much easier to grip with that than your fingernails. It’s also great because it holds the cap for you so you don’t drop it on the floor and spend the rest of the day hunting for it. If you try to cut without that blade cap on, it can also rip your material.
Here’s an example of a time I needed to clean out my blade. I was cutting quite a few butterflies for the All Things Silhouette Conference I taught at recently. I noticed that there were some getting pulled the corners.
When it’s always in the same area of the design and the rest is fine, that’s the tip-off that there’s probably something binding the blade. I checked the blade, and here’s what I saw.
Once I removed that, the blade went back to cutting perfectly.
ALWAYS test cut!
I always recommend a test cut, but it’s ESPECIALLY important with a new blade. After 10+ years of using Silhouette machines, I still do a test cut on every single project. It saves me lots of time, money and frustration in the long run. I don’t like the automated one in the software, so I make my own. See this post to find out why and how.
Here’s the big reason it’s critical you do a test cut with a new blade, besides what I mentioned above in the click-through technique. Not all blades are equal. Here are 2 blades, both set on a 2. Notice the difference in how much of the blade is sticking out.
Here’s a general rule of thumb for figuring out if your blade number is corresponding correctly to how much blade is out.
- 0 — you shouldn’t feel the blade sticking out at all, or else so little that you aren’t sure if you’re feeling the blade or the edge of the hole in the cap.
- 5 — you should easily be able to see the blade.
- 10 — you can see that the blade is at a 45° angle.
When is it time to replace a blade?
This is a great question, without an easy answer. It depends on how often you cut, what materials you’re using, how intricate your designs are and how well you’ve chosen your cut settings.
As your blade gets older, you’ll start to notice cutting issues. But cutting issues don’t automatically mean it’s time for a new blade. When I was a newbie, I thought ripping and tearing meant that my blade wasn’t sharp enough so I needed a new one. Now that I’m a veteran, I know to always try to tweak the settings first and test small shapes.
Replace the blade when it stops cutting as it has been on the same material, or when all your adjusting of settings doesn’t work. Then try a new blade and see if you can get that one to work. Sometimes it isn’t a blade or cut settings issue at all, but a material that’s just not great.
Let me show you some examples.
Here’s a piece of vinyl I was cutting one day. You can see in the areas circled in black that the blade kept pulling the material. And in the spots circled in green that the starting and ending points aren’t meeting up, and the blade was pulling the small dots off the backing paper. I kept adjusting everything and just could NOT get it to work right.
So I finally put in a different blade. I changed absolutely nothing else. It was the same piece of vinyl on the same mat with the same settings cut on the same machine. You can see in the areas circled in yellow that the problem areas were perfect with that new blade.
I was cutting the butterflies I showed you above to use as a coupon giveaways to students in my classes. I cut a total of 240 — 20 pages in total. Since I was also using sketch pens on them and was using my Cameo 2, I was changing out the tools during each cut job.
During one job, I pulled out the pen and put the blade in. When I continued the cut, I began to have all sorts of ripping. I stopped and lowered my cut settings. No luck. I tried the same thing a few more times. Still no luck. When I tried to pull the background piece off from around the butterflies, I saw it hadn’t cut all the way through in many spots. This was the same mat and cardstock, so it didn’t make sense to me.
Then as I started looking around my craft table I realized that I had had 2 premium blades on the table and had picked up a different one that I had been using all day. I plopped the other blade in and I went back to getting perfect cuts.
The background came off cleanly.
I realized the other blade was one I had been using in my Curio to cut leather for earrings. I marked it so I wouldn’t mix them up again and would be sure to test it before using it again.
Can you sharpen the blade?
Some folks say they have good luck with sharpening a blade by balling up some tin foil and punching the blade into it. It usually doesn’t work for me very well, but it’s something to try when you’re in a pinch. I’ve learned to always keep an extra blade on hand.
I know you’ll hear lots of folks recommending the CB09 blade and the like. They like them because they feel they cut better than the Silhouette blades and last longer. But if your blade setting and other cut settings are right, you don’t need a fancy blade. It may even cause some harm — just like other home remedies. Here’s why–
- It’s made for commercial cutters, not Silhouette machines. Not only can it damage the machine under the cutting strip, it can stretch out the blade holder. When that happens, the blade holder will no longer hold a regular Silhouette blade.
- If you use one, it voids the warranty on your machine.
- It’s hard to know if you’re getting a legit one, so you could get a knock-off that ends up being a waste of money and gives you lots of frustration.
- Getting it assembled and set to the correct depth isn’t easy.
I think it’s just not worth the risk. Stick with the ratchet or premium blade and keep reading this series, and you’ll be able to cut things beautifully as long as you use good settings.
Whew! You really got to spend lots of time with the Cut Doctor today. How rare is that with a regular doctor? Don’t forget to book your next appointment. We’ll take it a little easier and just talk about speed.
If you’d like to see some of these tips in video form, check out my class When Good Cuts Go Bad on Terri Johnson Academy. I filmed it in an older version of the software, but the concepts are the same.
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