Best Craft Knife for Paper, Veneers, Leather, Textiles & More

To tackle new crafts with confidence you need a craft knife you can rely on. But finding the right craft knife for the job can seem rather complicated and can vary depending on the material being cut.

In this article, we help you:

  • Choose the right duty craft knife based on the material being cut.
  • Make product suggestions from our own range of craft knives.
  • Find the best option for popular materials including paper, card, leather, veneers and polystyrene.
  • Identify warning signs the knife being used in not suitable for the material being cut.

Light, Medium & Heavy Duty Craft Knives

As you explore your hobby knife options, you’ll find an almost endless range of utility knife blade and handle combinations. And this variety can make it difficult work out which knife you need for the job. With everything from Scalpels to Utility knives on the market, how do you pick the right tool?

Fortunately, manufacturers have a helpful way of classifying craft knives according to their uses. We can break this down into three simple categories: light duty, medium duty and heavy duty knives. 

Each of these categories is designed to cut materials with different strengths.

Light Duty Craft Knives

Light duty craft knives are mainly intended for paper and thin card, as well as veneers, balsa and polystyrene. A light duty craft knife is often the same size as a pen, with the look and feel of a scalpel – in fact for many light duty craft applications, users often turn to surgical scalpels. With a light handle of plastic or metal, light duty craft knives are easy to manipulate and require little pressure. This makes them ideal for precision cuts.

Perfect for:Papercutting, Sugarcrafting, Deburring, Scoring, Marquetry, Trimming, Etching, Jewellery Making, Model Making, Stenciling, Shaping, Cake Making, Paper Craft
Best for cutting:Paper, Thin Card, Tissue & Crepe paper, Balsa Wood, Resins, Thin Veneers
Popular Blade Shapes:Fine Point, General purpose and Concave
Our Most Popular Handles:No 3 Handle or ACM No.1 Handle, Craft Knife Handles
Our Most Popular Blades:Surgical Blades:  No. 10, No. 10a, No. 11, No. 15, No. 15a.
Craft Blades: ACM 7,10, 11,16 and 17, Craft Tool Blade 1-3
Blade Thickness Range:Surgical Blades: Thickness 0.394 mm  1.25% Carbon Steel
ACM: Thickness: 0.508mm  1% Carbon Steel
Craft Blades 1-3: 0.394 mm 1% Carbon Steel
When not to use:Light duty craft knives should not be used when any application of force is required. Alongside, potential injury, the handles and blades can be damaged when attempting to cut tougher materials such as cardboard.

Medium Duty Craft Knives

Medium duty craft knives are similar in many ways to lighter knives but can cut through tougher materials like PVC, as well as silicone and rubber. These knives will also make easy work of thicker card, photo paper and craft foam. The handle will be slightly thicker than a light-duty knife to provide a stronger base for the user.

Perfect for:Shaping, Carving, Deburring, Marquetry, Model-Making, Chiselling, Leather Work
Best for cutting:Thicker card, Plastics, Foam, Rubber, Leather, Photo Paper, Wood Veneers, PVC, Modelling Plastics, Textiles, Felt, Tape
Popular Blade Shapes:Fine Point, General Purpose, Chisel, Convex
Our Most Popular Handles:ACM No. 2, Acrylic Handle 5A/6A 
Our Most Popular Blades:Surgical Blades:  No. 21, No. 24, No. 25, No. 25A, No. 26
Craft Blades: ACM No.2, ACM No. 22, ACM No. 24, Craft Tool Blades 1-3
Blade Thickness Range:Surgical Blades: Surgical Blades: Thickness 0.394 mm  1.25% Carbon Steel
ACM Blades: Thickness: 22 and 24 Thickness 0.635 mm  1% Carbon Steel.
Craft Blades 1-3: 0.394 mm 1% Carbon Steel
When not to use:Should you be planning delicate work e.g. Papercutting or know you will be needing to apply significant force e.g. working with thick foams and card.

Heavy Duty

Heavy-duty craft knives are designed to tackle the toughest craft materials. If you’re working with wood, cardboard, and tape, or thicker leathers, plastics or rubbers, you’ll want to choose a heavy craft knife. The handle will be noticeably thicker than other types of knife, to give you a firm hold whilst applying necessary cutting pressure.

Perfect for:Chiselling, Woodworking, Model Making, Scoring
Best for cutting:Lino, Cardboard, Rubber, Thick Foam, Styrofoam, Textiles, Hardwoods, Wax, Thick Foam, Polystyrene
Popular Blade Shapes:Concave, Convex, Chisel, Fine Point, Deburring, Scoring, General
Our Most Popular Handles:ACM No.5, Supatool, SMO-R, SMOO, SMOR-II, SUPA-R
Our Most Popular Blades:Surgical Blades:  n/a
Craft Blades: ACM No. 18, ACM No. 28, SMO1-4, Craft Tool Blades 1-3, Supatool S/T/V/W
Blade Thickness Range:Surgical Blades: n/a
ACM Blades: Thickness: ACM Blades: 18 and 28 Thickness 0.635 mm  1% Carbon Steel
Craft Blades 1-3: Thickness 0.394 mm 1% Carbon Steel.
Supatool Blades: Thickness 0.635 mm 1% Carbon Steel
SM01-04 Blades: Thickness 0.635 mm 1% Carbon Steel
When not to use:Crafting when a very sharp cut is required, delicate materials or when the material being cut can easily be damaged by the user

The Best Knives - By Common Craft Materials

Using the wrong duty knife can lead to poor cuts, damage to your materials and frequent breakages. This can be frustrating, time consuming and potentially dangerous. For this reason, it’s important to have the right knife for every material your work with.

Paper

Paper is among the thinnest materials a craftsperson can work and can easily pull or rip. This means paper-cutters are best browsing light duty handles and blades. To create intricate detail, you will need a light, dextrous handle that’s easy to manipulate. As a matter of fact, many paper cutters use scalpels as they provide them with a surgeon-like feel and opens the crafter up to the world of surgical blades manufactured from steel with a higher carbon content thus providing more consistency of incision and additional durability.

Typically paper crafters choose between our Swann Morton No. 3 and the ACM 1

You can learn more about our papercutting products here including expert opinion from some of the best crafters around as well as some comparisons between surgical / craft handles to help you identify the right option for you. 

Card and Cardboard

Card comes in a variety of thicknesses, which can call for different kinds of knives. Lighter card, for activities such as card making or scrap-booking, can be tackled with a light-duty blade. 

Thicker card will require a more medium-duty knife. For those working with model kits such as railways, then the ACM No. 2 Handle c/w ACM No. 2/11/28 blades is recommended. 

Finally, cardboard itself will require a professional utility knife for day to day work (such as industrial/warehouse box cutting) for more occasional work, then our ACM. No 5 is a good shout.

Worth Considering: A Swann Morton ACM set provides a range of handles (ACM 1,2 & 5) and blades that can grapple with all kinds of paper and card. This includes a handful of No. 2 and No. 11 ACM blades specifically designed for card, alongside a range of extra blades for other uses perfect for all kinds of craft activity.

Leather

Possibly more than any other material, the quality of leatherwork depends on a clean, sharp cut. This is where a Swann Morton No. 10a blade excels. You can pair this blade with a No. 3 handle, providing reliable performance on thinner leathers.

For slightly thicker leathers, you could consider an Ergonomic No. 6 handle, paired with a No. 24 blade. The textured handle will help you keep a firmer grip when tackling sturdier stuff. As an-all-round option, the ACM 2 is also worthy of consideration.

For thick leathers, then specialist tools are required and a craft knife may not be suitable. 

Polystyrene

Though polystyrene is an easy material to break, creating precision cuts requires a fine knife. For thinner pieces we’d recommend a lightweight handle like the No. 3 metal handle, combined with a precise 10 or 11a blade. This will give you the fine control you need to tackle any 3D modelling task with confidence that the finished model will have crisp, clean and smooth detailing. 

It should be noted that thicker pieces of polystyrene will need a different approach. In some cases, you may need more industrial cutting knives should you be working with thick polystyrene that need cutting to size prior to your work commencing.

Rubber

Working with rubber? You’ll probably be best served using an industrial knife which is more designed for day to day cutting of this material. If you are doing more delicate work, then any of our light duty options would be suitable. These are good options for thin rubber purchased from craft suppliers specifically designed for crafting work.  

Wood Veneers

Craft knives are a key tool for shaping and creating patterns in Marquetry. To make fine patterns and pictures you will need a light, exact knife with a small, sharp tip. For marquetry, you should consider an ACM 11 blade, ideally paired with a light ACM No. 1 handle to give you the freedom to create all kinds of intricate, curving patterns. Alternatively, you could opt for the Swann Morton Plastic Craft Tool or the No. 3 Handle.

Plastic

During model making, you’ll more than likely need to cut or trim plastic. This is true whether you are shaping pieces yourself, or assembling a popular Airfix kit. 

For model makers looking to trim thin plastic, Swann Morton has the No. 5 Ergonomic handle. This heavy duty handle provides a comfortable grip for long use, but is compatible with the full range of precision No. 3 blades. Alternatively, you could opt for the versatile, retractable Supa-R, another strong and sturdy choice.

Polymer Clay

For work with polymer clay, a medium-duty craft knife provides a perfect balance between sturdiness and dexterity. The ACM No. 2 is a medium duty, comfortable handle that remains easy to manipulate and can be paired with a range of non-serrated blades perfect for shaping clay.

Spotting You Are Using the Wrong Duty Craft Knife

Here are the most common ways to spot the knife/blade combination you are using is wrong for the material being cut:

  • It is hard to grip the scalpel or craft handle to apply the necessary force to cut through the material at hand. 
     
  • The knife slips in the hand or across the material being cut. 
     
  • The blade and/or handle flexes under pressure with the potential for it to snap.
     
  • Multiple passes are needed to cut the material at hand.
     
  • The blade pulls/damages the material being cut or leaves behind an uneven or messy edge. 
     
  • The craft knife obscures vision and partially or entirely blocks the user from accurately seeing the area being cut.  
     
  • The blade snaps and has to be replaced before its lifespan is complete.

The Importance of Regular Blade Replacement

Some of the above examples may also be the result of using blunt blades. 

In general, the tougher the material being cut, the quicker the blade will blunt - so it is important to ensure you regularly change the blades in your knife. As a result of this, it is therefore important to look into how easy or difficult it is to change blades on the product you are looking to buy. 

If this information is not readily supplied, then you may find past customer reviews helpful which can be found online. 

Most craft knives in our range use thumbscrews or metal collars to fix and unfix the blades. For those using any of our Surgical Handles / Blades, we also provide a range of blade removal systems (if you are less confident in changing blades on surgical handles using forceps these are a good idea). These products provide a hands-free way to remove and dispose of used blades and can help reduce sharps injury both in replacement and disposal scenarios. 

If you would like any further information on how to change or replace Swann-Morton Craft Knives, please do not hesitate to contact us. Many of our products are also reviewed online so please also take a look at some of the independent stockists websites for further details. 

Further Help & Advice

If you need any further advice on choosing craft knives, then please take a look at our craft knife buyers guide. In it we interview experts from the world of papercutting, textiles and model-making to gain insight into the knives they use, how they use them and tips and tricks which can be copied by hobbyists of any level. 

Useful related content you may like to read:

Papercutting: Finding The Perfect Craft Tool For Your Art

Common Usage of Swann-Morton Craft Products

Tell us about your project

Share your work in the craft community. If you have a work project, how to guide or general tips on getting the most use from our blades and handles - we would love to hear from you!