Cut Through the Confusion: How to Sell the Sharp Stuff
by Kari Anderson
Cutting tools is a big category, covering way more than scissors and utility knives. It includes chisels, wire, trimmers, paper cutters, punches, mat board cutters, drills and engraving tools. Since we can’t devote the whole magazine to discussing cutting tools, we’ll boil this down to the basics. We’ve divided cutting tools into six main categories, and for each one, we’ll point out some features to consider when making a sale and what trends are influencing the category right now. Here we go.
Demand is up for cutting tools, according to Alan Iwig of Excel Hobby Blades, a manufacturer of tools such as craft knives, torches, burnishers, scissors, pliers and tweezers. “These are tools you’ll find uses for,” says Alan. “If you don’t have the right cutting tool, you’ll search for something to make do with, but once you have a good tool, you’ll use it for all kinds of different applications.”
Alan says the popularity of certain materials directly affects the popularity of related cutting tools. “Right now there’s more work being done with metal and there are more types of metal to choose from – there’s even clay that can turn into metal when it’s heated,” he says. “When we’re at shows, we walk the floor to see what’s new so we can develop tools that will work for different activities.”
When selling craft knives, Alan suggests considering several of the following features.
Safety – Craft knives should have safety caps. Not all brands offer this.
Honing – A double-honed blade will be extra sharp. “A razor is honed only on one side, but it’s sharp because the metal is thin,” explains Alan. “A thicker blade won’t be as sharp with only a single honing, but if it’s honed on both sides, the blade will be even sharper than a razor.”
Kinds of chucks – The chuck is the part of the knife that holds the blade to the handle, like a clamp. A four-jaw chuck holds the blade in four directions, while a two-jaw chuck only holds in two directions, with the jaws parallel to the blade. The four-jaw chuck is tighter. Also, some chucks are die-cast and some are machined, but Alan says machined chucks won’t loosen as easily as those that are die-cast.
Quality of steel – With a low quality blade, the tip will be more likely to break off. A tip should flex without breaking.
Intended use – Be sure to use the right cutting tool for the job. A cheaper utility knife might be just fine for small jobs, but don’t try cutting anything heavy-duty with it, or it will probably break. This is especially important when you’re doing in-store demonstrations.
Photography is pushing sales of paper trimmers, says Chris Jackson of Dahle North America, a company that specializes in paper cutters. “Rolling trimmers are the biggest sellers right now because of their ease of use. People can print out their digital photos at home and cut them on their own little rotary trimmer.”
How can you help a customer choose between a lever trimmer and a rolling trimmer? Here is Chris’s advice.
Safety – “Safety is number one. You’re dealing with something very sharp, so it has to be idiot-proof,” says Chris. The blades on rolling trimmers are encased in a housing unit, and the whole unit slides back and forth, so there’s much less opportunity for accidents. Lever cutters also have safety shields that can cover the blades when not in use.
Capacity – This indicates the number of sheets the cutter can cut at one time. Chris likens this number to a car’s horsepower; it’s an indication of the maximum amount of power, but you shouldn’t expect to use it to the maximum capacity all the time. “The more sheets you cut at one time, the less precise the cut will be,” explains Chris. “A cutter with a higher sheet capacity will be able to cut heavier materials such as cardstock. It used to be that level cutters had a higher capacity, but now you get more capacity with rolling cutters.”
Blades – Customers can choose from disposable/replaceable blades, self-sharpening blades, or those that can be sharpened manually.
Size – Some rotary trimmers are only 12.5 inches by 8 inches, so they’re easy to store for home use.
Mat board cutters
When picture framers started using thicker mat board, Logan Graphics, a maker of mat board cutters, had to adjust their products, says Carl Alguire, Logan’s vice president. “Double-thick mats are popular because they add more depth to the finished piece.”
Another trend currently pushing sales of mat cutters is scrapbooking. “Scrapbooking is almost 10 years old now, and the people who’ve been doing it that long have gotten really good,” continues Carl. “Now scrapbook artists are incorporating their craft pages into home décor, which requires matting and framing. This is a huge trend.”
Carl says that artists who cut their own mats and do their own framing not only save money, they also maintain creative control over their projects. “Customizing frames and mats allows artists and crafters the luxury of separating themselves from the masses.”
There are plenty of styles of mat cutters to choose from. Here are some things to consider when helping a customer select the one that’s right for her needs.
Price – Prices of mat cutters range from $20 to $800. “Cutters at both ends may produce the same quality of product, but with the more expensive models, the level of efficiency and speed goes up,” says Carl.
Volume – How much are they going to do? A hobbyist who is only going to produce two pictures a month may only need one very basic machine. If it’s a professional who plans on making money from her work selling pictures at art shows, then a more efficient mat cutter makes sense.
Size – The smaller size may be more convenient for someone who’s framing a small piece at home, but a professional will be more likely to buy bulk sheets of mat board and will need a cutter that can handle that size.
No metal-on-metal components – Carl warns that if you have steel and aluminum rubbing together (as in a joint), over time it can become loose and sloppy. It also creates friction, but if you lubricate the joint, you could end up getting oil on the artwork and ruining it.
Safe demos – Carl says retailers who display mat cutters and offer demonstrations find they sell more product. However, for safety sake, he recommends removing the blades or covering them when not in use.
Scissors and punches
“Artists and crafters are using more interesting materials these days,” says Suzanne Fanning of Fiskars, makers of scissors, punches and paper trimmers. “For example, people are cutting aluminum, crafting on CDs, and using more found materials, as in altered books. As the materials change, we try to keep up with people’s needs by introducing appropriate cutting tools.”
With scores of products to choose from in this category, it’s difficult to know where to begin when directing customers. To help sift through the choices, Fiskars offers a “scissor selector” on its website, www.fiskarscrafts.com. First, visitors are asked to choose the activity they’re doing: crafts, scrapbooking and paper craft, or sewing and quilting. Second, they’re asked what materials they’ll be cutting. There are a plethora of items from which to choose, including Styrofoam, rope, floral, plastic, fur, yarn and wood. Third, visitors are shown a variety of tools, each appropriate for the task described. Retailers can use this online resource to gain product knowledge.
While a good portion of the selection process comes down to personal preference, there are a few things to be aware of.
Ease of use – Scissors with spring-back handles are much easier to manipulate for people with arthritis.
Sticky crafts – Nonstick scissors save time because they can cut through gummy materials without having to be constantly cleaned off.
Sizes – Long scissors are good for cutting large pieces, such as fabric. Material cut with a 10-inch scissor will require half as many cuts as a 5-inch scissor.
Precise cuts – For projects that require extremely precise cuts, a trimmer that holds the piece in place works well because it eliminates slippage.
Demo – Suzanne suggests having a cutting table in your store where customers can check out the features of different scissors or punches. Some products, such as scissors with spring-back handles, can’t be fully appreciated if they’re just seen in the packaging.
Hand engraving tools
Gary Owens of Edward C. Lyons makes hand engraving tools. “Our products are higher-end tools used for printmaking,” he says. “The category is engraving/intaglio and can cover different mediums. For example, our tools are used to engrave copper plates, zinc plates or wood, such as boxwood or hard maple.” Mezzotint and lithography are two of the disciplines that Gary is seeing a resurgence in right now.
Since hand engraving tools are such a niche category, Gary says his tools are used mainly by professional printmakers and students. Still, he did suggest some guidelines for selling.
Re-sharpening – At the higher end of the spectrum is high-carbon tool steel, which is made to be re-sharpened. Lower-end products are disposable because they don’t lend themselves to sharpening. “They dull quickly and become a hassle to work with,” says Gary. “But the tradeoff is they’re cheap.”
Starter sets – For someone who is just beginning the craft, a starter set is ideal. Then later, individual pieces can be added on.
Effects – “Printmakers love tools, and they’re excited when they find tools that can produce unique effects,” says Gary. To show off what you’ve got, try displaying a sample of the effects your tools can create.
Art professors – Gary suggests contacting the professors of printmaking classes to find out what tools they’re recommending. It will help you in selecting product, and you’ll be prepared when the professor’s students come shopping.
Another niche category, sculpture actually encompasses five sub-disciplines, according to Bruner Barrie of Sculpture House, which sells all manner of sculpture tools. “Within sculpture, there is chip carving, or whittling; carving in the round, or woodcarving; stone carving; pottery clay; and plastilina,” he explains. “Each of these requires different cutting tools.”
To cut through the confusion, Bruner has written a book entitled A Sculptor’s Guide to Tools and Materials, which he suggests retailers use as a reference in their stores. “Each of these five areas of discipline is so vast that it’s too much for most staff members to remember,” he says.
He did name a few general guidelines, however.
Wood on wood – For carving wood, use chisels with wooden handles and tap them with wooden mallets.
Metal on metal – For carving metal or stone, use a metal-handled chisel with a hammer head that is either made of steel or iron.
Wires not knives – “For clay, you’re not talking knives but wires,” notes Bruner. “Use a toggled clay cutter or a half-round wire for clay and a sharpened steel wire for plastalina.
“Don’t give bad advice,” admonishes Bruner. “These are materials that your staff people likely have no idea what to do with because each of the sculpture disciplines is such a small field. Instead of guessing when you’re helping a customer, refer them to the manufacturer for specific technical questions that can’t be answered by your staff.”