Thread Tools
Jan 10, 2017, 03:21 PM
TLAR Aviation
Harry D's Avatar
Thread OP

Swann Morton knives

My question may be a bit out of place in this forum, but since it is my natural habitat I thought I would ask here.

Unlike what I believe is most of the modeling world, I've never liked X-acto knives or blades and hardly ever use them. I won't get into the reasons but there are a lot. I do have a few, which I use maybe once or twice a year when I absolutely have to, but that's all.

For many years, I've been using the snap-off Olfa cutters, with mostly the 9 mm blades but also the 18 mm, for almost all my modeling applications. They've served me well, but I've noticed that the quality seems to have dropped way off lately. New blades are not as sharp as they used to be, and they get blunt much more quickly. Even the ABB (black) type, which used to be excellent - very sharp, and long-lasting. But no more. Very likely, the manufacturer has changed and price/profit has become more of a priority than quality.

Anyway, I'm looking for something that will perform better than X-acto and the current Olfa products. I understand that Swann Morton, being surgical scalpels, are the "gold standard". I've always meant to try those, but have never got around to it. I went to buy some today, and was kind of blown away by the huge variety of blade types available. Understandable because of the intended surgical applications, but most of them would probably not be too useful for our modeling purposes.

So my question is this. What specific Swann Morton knife and blade type(s) would you guys who use them recommend, for the typical balsa model builder? Which blade styles have you found most useful? Which material - carbon steel or stainless?

Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Sign up now
to remove ads between posts
Jan 10, 2017, 03:53 PM
Who let the dogs out?
Phil_G's Avatar
We use Swann-Morton surgical scalpels:
Number 3 handle:
and number 11 blades: (box of 100)

They are ridiculously, stupendously sharp!
Jan 10, 2017, 04:25 PM
Registered User
I have about 5 x No3 handles and a couple of No 4s. Blades I use are mainly 11 and 10A on the No 3 and usually a 23 on the No 4 for heavier cutting. I prefer carbon steel which seems easier to resharpen but I actually use whatever is easier to find. Sterile or non-sterile also makes no difference.

BTW don't get fooled into buying cheaper no-name blades. Genuine Swann-Morton only.

Jan 10, 2017, 04:38 PM
I like real wooden aeroplanes!
Sundancer's Avatar
Absolutely the only modelling knife I have used for balsa and light ply cutting for the last 40 years is the Swann Morton No 3 handle with the No. 10A blade for general use and the lighter No 11 for tissue trimming. I have a full set of Xacto handles which are used for heavier ply cutting and with the 3 sizes of razor saw, and also with a long blade when block carvig is called for, but the Swann Morton scalpal is the only one I would consider for normal balsa work. As Phil says they are stupendously sharp. I use the carbon steel ones.

My system involves having 5 handles colour coded 1 to 5 with wraps of insulation tape. Handle no 1 always has the newest blade and they are shuffled down through 2 to 5 as they are used, so that 4 and 5 are used for rougher cutting leaving the newest blades for fine work. In addition I have a couple of the longer handles (can't remember the number) which are kept equipped with brand new No 11 blades for tissue trimming. You CAN sharpen the blades but, frankly, for what they cost I wouldn't bother, when the 10A blades expire on the 5 coded handle I ditch them. As you may imagine I buy No 10A blades by the box - compared with other modelling materials, they are cheap enough. Once you have used these blades to cut balsa, you won't want to ever go back to the Xacto or Olfa style ones, there is no comparison.
Jan 10, 2017, 06:47 PM
Registered User
>there is no comparison.

Absolutely right. I've been using one of the old brass handles for many decades, currently with a box of #1 blades to back it up.

Another advantage over Xacto - it won't roll off the bench and stick quivering in one's foot.
Jan 11, 2017, 03:03 AM
Registered User
Monza Red's Avatar
Originally Posted by Applehoney
>there is no comparison.

Absolutely right. I've been using one of the old brass handles for many decades, currently with a box of #1 blades to back it up.

Another advantage over Xacto - it won't roll off the bench and stick quivering in one's foot.
I use the same old brass handle I've used for the last 56 years but I prefer no. 11 blades.
Jan 11, 2017, 04:49 AM
Registered User
Brass (probably Aluminininium Bronze) handles and CARBON blades. Must have acquired about a dozen handles over the years. Have three X-acto handles that me dear old Dad bought in a set just after they appeared over here which have the original carbon blades and really do hold a resharpened edge but use restricted to gouging blades. Mortons 10As work for me in boxes of 100.

Regards Ian.
Jan 11, 2017, 05:26 AM
Registered User
DeeBee1's Avatar
Swann Morton are great. For many, many years I've use the plastic handle with the No 1 and No 2 craft tool blades. I buy boxes of 50 blades at a time.

In the UK, I get them from a very friendly chap at Scalpels and Blades

The Xacto tools I do own and rate are their aluminium mitre box and razor saws but I've never liked the feel of their modelling knives.
Jan 11, 2017, 06:53 AM
Registered User
DACH's Avatar
For more years than I care to remember, both at work in a graphics studio and at home building models, I used Swan-Morton No.3 scalpel handles usually with 10A blades. A couple of years ago I tried a No. 5A Acrylic handle which I find much more comfortable to hold. Now I use them all the time. The 5A handle also uses the same blade range as the No.3 handle.
Jan 11, 2017, 07:28 AM
So I'M meant to be in control?
Colonel Blink's Avatar
I'm a 10A blade man myself - never could get used to cutting accurately with the curves edg of the 10..............
Jan 11, 2017, 07:49 AM
Registered User
Me to Mr Blink. You have not lived till you have tried a 10a. Oh yes and a brass handle.
Jan 11, 2017, 11:54 AM
Registered User
Ditto on carbon steel over stainless steel..... the particles in carbon steel are smaller and can hold a marginally sharper edge.

Throwing out/replacing blades instead of honing/resharpening an existing blade?
Two points:
It's easy and quick to hone a blade edge with any variety of honing media - I'd suggest a 4000 grit waterstone from an outfit such as . Blade edges dull marginally with relatively few strokes - probably a couple of hundred, yard long strokes - and without a practice of honing, we probably continue to use a throwaway blade long after its best edge condition.
Just about any mass produced edge can be made uber sharper before initial use with an initial honing with some 8000 grit media; probably not necessary for balsa but might be beneficial for such tasks as cutting film/fabric coverings or fiberglass cloth.

If you want to see how relatively "jagged" a typically sharp blade edge actually is, go online to look at blade edges under 300 or 400 magnification.

Just my opinion; others will have other views,

Michael in Ontario, Canada
Jan 11, 2017, 12:15 PM
Registered User
I have sharpened 10a blades for years using a small slip stone. Usually I can make one blade last through the whole build of a model.
Jan 11, 2017, 01:05 PM
Hey, watch this!
Raymond-leflyr's Avatar
One of the best accidents I've ever had that involved sharp things - was when I picked up one of these knives (with a no.11 blade) at Toledo one year decades ago. Bought a knife and 100 blades immediately - and have never looked to the ubiquitous brand again.
Jan 11, 2017, 01:39 PM
I like real wooden aeroplanes!
Sundancer's Avatar
Well Harry, looking at these replies I guess you have got your answer!

Quick Reply

Thread Tools