DIY Mini Cutters

I wrote recently about the joys of attending a polymer clay retreat where I was able to benefit from the sharing of great ideas with other clayers. There were lots of good ideas and fantastic inspiration from lots of people. Today’s post comes right out of that wonderful sharing. I learned about this idea from another clayer at the retreat, and now I’m sharing the idea with you. Here’s a wonderful little set of DIY mini cutters that you can make yourself.

Chris Crossland, aside from being a phenomenal artist and excellent teacher, is also a wonderfully generous human being. As we were all packing up, she gave me a small plastic bag full of small bits of tubing. I quickly realized it was a complete set of tiny cutters in graduated sizes, and in several shapes. Chris showed me how she had made a little customized box for her own set of cutters. Knowing a fantastic idea when I saw it, I quickly took a few pictures and asked her for more information on sourcing the tubes.

The Perfect Box

Chris Crossland's mini cutter box.I initially only intended to share the pictures of Chris’s box with you. I didn’t intend to make a box of my own. But on a trip to Staples (an office supply store), my eyes landed on a pretty blue box that I knew instantly was the same kind and size that Chris has used for her mini cutter box. In that moment, a plan was hatched. I bought it and headed home.

The box is a nicely engineered little 0.3 liter size box with a locking lid from Really Useful Products, Ltd. And it’s blue. 🙂 Okay, okay, they come in other colors, too. And it’s a UK company that seems to have pretty much a world-wide distribution, so you will likely be able to source this box near you.

Small blue box from the Really Useful Products company. I use this to hold my DIY mini cutters.

The Tubes

Chris told me that she used brass and aluminum tubing from a hobby store. I had thought of making a nesting tubing set, myself, so I did have a few tubes on hand. I bought them at Ace Hardware in my town. They’re from K&S Precision Metals. I have seen this brand’s display of hobby tubing in hobby stores many times over the years. Not all stores will have every size and shape, but you’ll likely find a decent assortment.

Brass tubing of various sizes - These can be cut to create DIY mini cutters for polymer clay or other clays.

If you can’t find the tubes locally, you can always order them online. Many hobbies use these tubes, and they’re particularly useful in with model aircraft and small engine builders, so they’re readily available in most places. In fact, the teardrop-shaped cutters were created from a special kind of aluminum tubing that aircraft modelers use, called streamline tubing. You might need to order this online as it does seem to be fairly specialized.

Tubing tends to come in 12″ to 36″ lengths (30 cm to 1 meter), so you’ll likely want to make this a group project with several friends and share. You’ll only need pieces that are about 1 1/2″ (38 mm) long or so. Obviously, even a single length of tube will make many cutters.

Try to choose tubing with the thinnest walls possible. Some tubing comes with thick walls and these will not make as good cutters.

The best way to cut the tubing is to use a Dremel or other small rotary tool with a cutting disk. Don’t try to use metal cutters or a tube cutter because that will crush the tube and alter the shape. This might be a job for the “honey-do” list if you don’t do power tools yourself. But it’s not terribly difficult. I was able to cut some pieces myself…okay…I messed up the first few. But I did get the hang of it quite quickly. Use the Dremel to polish the ends of the tube, too. You don’t want to get sore fingers using them.

Most of these mini cutters were given to me by Chris. I did, however, have a couple of sizes of tubing that weren’t included in the ones she gave me, so I cut those and added them to the set.

Note that for the tiniest of the tubes, Chris included a pin, wire, or skewer to act as a pusher. This is because those tubes are so small you can’t use another tube to push the clay out.

UPDATE: You can find a mixed bag of cut-off pieces of tubes at Hobby Lobby (though I couldn’t find it at my store) or you can find them online. This super sized bag is from Amazon. You can also find small sets of these tubes, pre-cut, at Monkey Ann in the UK, and at Superfluity Shop on Etsy for US buyers. Also, I found these really neat little tiny cutter sets by an Etsy seller in Bulgaria named Little Funky Flames.

Small pieces of metal tubing make perfect small cutters for cutting tiny shapes in polymer clay, fimo, and other clays.

Make a Base for the Box

I made a little piece of card to fit exactly in the bottom of the box. I then used it as a guide to make a stack of clay roughly the right size.  I made my stack 4 sheets thick, each rolled on the thickest setting of my pasta machine. I then made each hole using the next larger size cutter, leaving it in the hole during baking. I cut the entire stack to match the card before I baked the clay. (Full disclosure…I failed on my first try. It didn’t work using the same size cutter to make the hole. The fit was too tight. Use the bigger cutter to create the hole for the next size down.)

After baking, several of the holes needed a bit of fine-tuning with an X-acto knife and some carving chisels. Be very careful! This is where you get hurt!

I used polymer clay to create a base and holder for my small metal cutters. This fits inside the small box with lid. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.

I then traced all the cutters onto the card, labelled each one, and taped it to the top of the lid. And there you have it. A perfect little box for holding your very own set of DIY mini cutters. Many, many thanks to Chris for the mini cutter set, the idea, and the inspiration. Now…pay it forward and share your great ideas with the next person!

Small box with DIY metal cutters that I use with polymer clay.

 

Don’t want to use a box? Here’s what Krithika Parthan did with hers. She just used a large heart-shaped cutter to create a block of clay that holds her tubes. A very fun variation, and it keeps them right there at the ready, easy to be used.

Heart shaped cutter holder by Krithika Parthan.
Heart shaped cutter holder by Krithika Parthan, used with permission.

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31 thoughts on “DIY Mini Cutters”

  1. If you use seed beads in your work, you probably have an assortment of different size and width plastic bead tubes. They can be cut with a scissors without losing their shape.

  2. Micro Mark is an online small tools specialist who has just about anything available for the hobby modeler. They have a whole pound of those small tube cutoffs for $25.95 (https://www.micromark.com/Bits-Pieces-Of-Metal-1-Lb-). Total overkill for most people, but a good deal for anyone who uses metal bits and pieces for jewelry, or who has lots of friends who want to get in on a buy for making clay cutters (or an Etsy store to sell the leftovers). I love Micro Mark; have had lots of good experiences with them over the years — they have any kind of tool to deal with small stuff, plus casting supplies

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  5. Robin Stevens

    Hi Ginger,

    I ordered the Little Funky Tool set (all three shapes) from Little Funky Flame the day I read this article. They arrived today and I sat down and played with them. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THEM!!! I didn’t realize how tiny they really are-the smallest almost as small as the dot on the “i” here. The tiniest ones are best for texturing clay and it’s hard to get the clay out of the hole. The other sizes have no seams and cut through sharply and neatly. Using plastic wrap on the clay like when you want to bevel your shape helps stop the problem of the clay getting stuck in the tubes especially if you want to roll the pieces into balls. The middle size round tube is about the size of the smallest Kemper circle tube.

    I played around dipping the tubes into Pearl-Ex to get a different color border around the shape when I wasn’t cutting all the way through. It kinda works but it’s so messy and I’ve never been able to just coat something neatly with it. Want to try some other ways of coloring without antiquing. Can get some really nice texture shapes in the clay.

  6. Thank goodness there are creative, imaginative people who are willing to share the wonderful ideas they come up with! Thank you to Ginger and Chris, both, plus all the good comments here. I have struggled with how to get the cutters I want. I hate cutting freeform because I don’t get the kind of edges I want, but I’ll go broke buying all the cutters (even if I could find them). I found a tutorial (I think it was on CraftArtEdu? – I apologize to the source if I’m wrong) that suggested cutting strips from aluminum soft drink cans and gluing them into shapes. They work pretty well, but they work best if you have a shape to form them around, plus they aren’t rigid. Anyway, I’m going to go find some pipe this weekend! Thank you!

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  8. My husband bought an assortment bag of these brass tube pieces and he only used a few so he gave me the leftovers. I didn’t know what to do with them so they’ve just been sitting in my studio. Thank you for the idea 🙂

  9. Thank you Ginger for yet anther brilliant idea 🙂 I have so many little cutters that I have been collecting or making since I started working with clay gosh only since October last year 🙂 where has the time gone 🙂 and I have been having a lot of fun working with it 🙂

    I loved the idea of the box, but as I have the corner of the living room so limited on space I have gone with 2 “ditto” stacking draw set which fits in the new shelf I put on the wall next to me and I am going to use this for my cutters and molds.

    I like the template idea 🙂 this I can do this and put on top of each draw 🙂 for all of my different shaped cutters 🙂

    up till now I was not sure how to sort them out, but once again you have come to the rescue with a great idea 🙂 thanks 🙂

  10. We, the folks at the Twister retreat, loved having you here with us this year! We hope you come back next year.
    Chris is indeed an amazing artist and designer who shares so generously.
    Thanks for sharing your box with us all.

  11. WOW! What a wonderful idea. And so easy to do. Thank you so much for this post. I have been searching for this kind of tool set for the last six months…..why didn’t I just think of making one? Must have been the winter blues. I am very excited about this idea–I even have some of these little pipes lying around (I usually cut them down and make them into beads). Thank you.

  12. Oh that box of cutters looks dreamy, I have so many cutters but you can never have to many and to have them organized like that is awesome. You could use Styrofoam for the base too, who doesn’t have Styrofoam around on a regular basis. I’m going to give this a try. Even if I don’t make any new cutters, the base alone to organize what I have would be fabulous!

  13. Loved the article, but you failed to mention the size of the little blue box. Since they come in so many sizes this information would be helpful. Looking at your picture I surmise that if the ceramic tiles on your counter are 4 x 4″ they are 3″ x 4″ or so. I have some of Linda’s cutters and they are handy and they do work and the footprint to pack them up for the retreats I attend, plus workshops is very small. There are however sizes between the popular Kemper Kutters and Linda’s cutters that these small pipe cutters would fill. Very nice article. As an aside, retreats are awesome and I always learn something new at each one I attend. Check out the various guild websites to find one near you.

    1. I did, actually. The one I used is a 0.3 liter box. It’s from the UK, so they express their size in liters. The box is about 4 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ and about 2 1/2″ high.

  14. Love the idea. finding the tubing is going to be the larger issue for me, but the storage box…YES! Can use the idea for a couple other things floating around that have been bugging me! Made me face slap and go DUH! Love your posts, Ginger. Thanks for being so generous with us clayers. You are a wonder.

  15. I have seen these bags of tubes for many years now and was using them in metal clay when we decided to make our own….and then sell them. If you don’t have the time or inclination to buy long pieces of tube (you only need 2″ of each one) and cut them down then I suggest our sets and different shaped tubes. Each is cut to size, filed sharp on both ends by hand and cleaned up pretty to use in any kind of clay. The smallest openings need some kind of plunger to get the clay out (which we provide in the sets), but you can get those small rods to do the job. I’m toying with the idea of making a set of different size plunger rods for the different tubes. (The sets come with one and each rod is graduated in size to act as a plunger for the next larger one – which makes them easy to store more in your box!) I’ve also got some shapes that aren’t to be found in those bags of pieces too. Sorry Jayne, no hearts. You can get them from my Etsy Shop SuperfluityShop. Thanks for the box idea Ginger – it’s always hard to devise a way to store the different sizes yet make them easy to access when working – I’ve used bullet boxes so far to hold my large set of small cutters. Whatever works!

  16. When I saw this I squealed! Yay, someone made a set of cutters like this. Sadly, no. Why can’t someone step up and make a set in a box like this? I bought the little dotties (and the shipping was high). Can’t really see making these at this point for me anyway.

    1. As it turns out…someone has contacted me and they’ll have them for sale very shortly. Stay tuned. I’ll update this article when I get more information.

  17. I have made mine out of knitting needles in assorted sizes, you can pick them up at Op-shops for next to nothing and the points come in handy as well for an assortment of uses.
    I love the idea of the storage box, mine sit in a box that holds pant brushes etc and I cut them about 6″-8″ long for easy use, but then I have trouble holding some small things .
    Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Love it, especially the index in the lid! Now to find some tubing. You have got me wondering if some of the tubes could be ‘pliered’ into a heart. Thank you you Ginger. Xx

  19. Arlene Harrison

    Hobby Lobby has an assorted bag of different little pieces of pipe in different sizes. Wonderful source for small cutters, bale supports, etc.

  20. If your clay-dedicated oven isn’t large enough to fit the 4 stacks of clay, you probably could use a stack of those foam sheets available everywhere.. Every mom is familiar with them. Glue each one on the edge to keep them together after cutting the openings individually. Thanks soooo much for sharing this brilliant idea with us, Ginger! You’re the best. Love to make my own everything and can’t wait to do this one in the next few days!!

    1. Okay, I didn’t even think of using something besides clay to make the holder part. I guess I’m just too clay-centric in my thinking, LOL. But honestly, the cutters aren’t sharp enough to cut foam. And most of us have plenty of scrap clay sitting around. The stack is going to be really small…it would fit in any oven, even a tiny one. Mine is only about 5/8″ thick (1.5 cm) and it’s plenty thick enough to hold the cutters.

      1. A Jeweller’s saw does work but it takes a while and leaves a very rough, jagged edge, which then needs to be smoothed off. I am very lazy and have not smoothed off my rough edges. Mind you I have arthritis, and cutting lengths of tubing by hand with a saw took a lot of doing for me. I do have a mini drill (it’s not Dremel, Dremel was too expensive) but haven’t used it much simply because I’m not sure which head/bit/whatever to use for which job. (This hasn’t stopped me from buying a new kit with a range of collets (and lots of other things), but I needed the full range of collets to use all my drill bits with.) Lol!

        I cut my tubing for making a set of texturing punches, but they could also be used as cutters if you push all the way through the clay instead of just adding texture to the surface.

        Oh and brilliant to see the ‘Really Useful Boxes’ used in this instance cos I’m in the UK and already have lots and lots of these marvellous boxes, from tiny ones in a sort of case making them into a set of drawers, to huge 64 litre ones for storing everything in.
        The great thing is you can get them in lots of stores, from Staples to Homebase to B&Q, The Range, and even in some supermarkets. It’s such a relief not to have to hunt for something. Or to find that you simply can’t get it at all.

        Great news! The little boxes also come in purple! (my favourite colour) ROFL!

        Although I already have a few of these punches/cutters/texturers, I hadn’t thought of putting them in slots in a RUBox, so thanks for that. I am now very happy – an idea that UK Clayers can easily do.

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