This week I was excited to receive my new disc cutter that I ordered from Otto Frei, and I have not been disappointed! I know purchasing new tools, especially ones that you use a lot and that are relatively expensive, can be a chore. So, I thought I would share with you my experience with disc cutters: what I like, how I use discs in my work and what to consider when purchasing your first disc cutter!
What I Like
When I bought my first disc cutter eight years ago, I really didn't know what I needed to consider. I was in an old rock shop in New Orleans, and made a mega purchase of heavy tools from the owner. He had a metalworking section, and I pretty much bought what he had. My first disc cutter was a Pepe. As with most tools, especially back then, there wasn't really that much information about how to use them on the internet. No videos that I can remember, and the instructions were so basic that for the most part, I would take a new tool and fiddle around with it to see what it was capable of.
My Pepe disc cutter has served me well over the years. One thing that is important to me is the ability of a disc cutter to come completely apart. Some disc cutters don't. I like the ones that do, because when I am making a pair of earrings or a pendant, sometimes I want to punch a hole in the design after most of it has been fabricated.
To do this, one must have a disc cutter that comes completely apart so that it is possible to strategically place the piece between the two plates of the cutter. For the earrings below, I don't want to punch the hole before I have reticulated the metal in order to set this large copper rivet.
The hole can't be distorted or I won't be able fit the copper tubing into the space it needs to go in. Does this make sense? Having a disc cutter that comes completely apart is important for many aspects of my design work.
Another thing that is important to me are the punches themselves.
With my Pepe, the punches were not one solid piece. With the smaller punches, this quickly became a problem. As you can see below, the punch on the right is from my new set.
The punch on the left is from my old Pepe. The black portion of the slimmer punches bend a little too easily when punched through because it is not one complete piece of metal. I snapped off the black portion of the punch that is one size smaller than the one photographed here a few weeks after I purchased the Pepe.
Of course, it never occurred to me to check and see if I could buy replacement punches with the Pepe (you can), but the actual disc cutter itself is now no longer aligned right, so it's time for a new tool.
Now, this punch and alignment issue could have been partly user error, since I wasn't using a brass hammer/mallet back then, nor was I using a shim ( a piece of brass that is the same gauge as the metal you are punching that is placed on the other side of the cutter to help distribute the shock of the strike). Back then, I didn't know what a shim was, or why I should use it.
And again, I wasn't using a brass hammer (you should, by the way!) when I punched metal with my cutter. Additionally, I wasn't aware yet that I didn't need to wallop the hell out of the punch in order for the cutter to do its job. But having the punches made out of all the same metal is important to me after my experience with my first Pepe. But other than that...the Pepe was a great tool for me. I mean, I've used it for eight years!!
What To Consider
Ok, so now you may be convinced that this is a great tool, but what should you consider before purchasing one?
Of course, price is a big issue. My brother was in my studio this week, and he remarked about the money that I have spent over the years on all the tools he was looking at.
Yes...I have spent a lot of money. But something to consider is how important the tool is in helping you make what you feel compelled to bring forth out of your imagination. You want your tools to last a long time, or even your lifetime. It's important to evaluate what you want a particular tool to do for you, and to understand its limitations.
As for price...there is quite a range in price. My new one is $145, which is about what I wanted to pay for it. I think I purchased my Pepe for around the same amount years ago.
What makes one better than another?
Again, it depends on what you want it to do, and how much you will be using it, as well as what it is made out of.
When my Pepe was beginning to wear out due to my strenuous abuse of it, I started looking around for a new cutter.
I looked at the Swanstrom round cutter, and even though I understand it to be one of the best on the market, the tool itself had some limitations according to what I want it to do. I don't like a round set-up. I prefer the rectangular shape for my usage.
I need a lot of wiggle room when placing my mostly fabricated pieces on the cutter. The round one just isn't optimal for my usage.
I thought about getting another Pepe, but the punches aren't as herfy as I would like. I've seen a disc cutter that looks to be made out of some sort of hard, clear plastic at Harbor Freight for 30 bucks, but that thing can't be good for heavier gauge metal over 26 ga. so that wouldn't be a good fit either.
I recently talked with a new friend online, and she picked it up; but from what she shared with me, it made a mess out of the discs she was able to finally punch out. In the end, I went to Otto Frei and found the disc cutter that you see above in the first photograph that got great reviews, and the price was really attractive too.
Of course, I had no idea about the quality as it is made in India, but I trust Otto Frei.
When I received the Ikohe Disk Cutter, I immediately went to my studio to try it out. Getting it to open up was a bit of a hassle, not because of poor construction, but precisely the opposite. It is made very well...very, very tight and precise!
When you purchase steel tools, usually there will be a layer of oil on them to prevent it from rusting. This oil was between the two plates, and it created a vacuum. I had a friend help me separate the two plates by unscrewing the bolt in the middle and lightly tapping it with my brass hammer. That helped to break the seal, and it separated easily after that.
I have used all the punches, using 22 gauge silver sheet metal, and all of my cuts were clean. The dyes are precision machined, and I believe that this disk cutter to be just exactly what I wanted.
Another thing to consider about a disc cutter is how many different sized punches do you think you will need?
I can share with you that I use every single size that is available to me...I use the 1" punch and the tiny 1/8" punch too. Like I mentioned in my last Ten Tiny Things on Tuesday post, if you have room to grow, growth happens. I believe that the more choices you have in sizes, even if you don't think you will use them now, that you probably will later if you continue growing in your craft.
I do have a rubber mat that I use underneath the disc cutter to help distribute the shock from hitting it, as well as a brass hammer. I also just purchased some more Bur-Life from Rio Grande to use on the punches when I use this disk cutter too. I believe these are three very important things to have in addition to help it last your lifetime.
I hope this helps you decide whether or not a disc cutter is in your future or not! I know there is no way my studio could be without one...and I'm really pleased with my recent purchase too!!
* Please note: I received no compensation monetarily or product-wise from Otto Frei or Rio Grande for this disk cutter post and review. I made my own determinations and bought the products that I feel work best for me and my needs.