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A few years ago I purchased Olfa’s Compass Cutter, a simple blade mounted on a compass for cutting circles in fabric and other craft materials. It cut well but had a few quirks, the most important being that I had to stabilize the fabric before cutting in order to get a good circle.
Now Olfa has released a new circle cutter called the Rotary Circle Cutter (model CMP-3) which makes cutting fabric circles even easier than before.
The new Rotary Circle Cutter separates the handle from the pivot point, making it easier to use than the Compass Cutter. The new handle is also larger than the Compass Cutter’s handle and ratcheted so it is easier on the wrist and hands.
Because you can slide the handle to any position between the blade and the pivot point, you can cut firmly and confidently.
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In addition to making big improvements on the overall design, Olfa also added several small improvements to the Rotary Circle Cutter.
For one, the Rotary Circle Cutter includes both a pivot point cover and a blade cover for safety. The point cover stores on the nose of the cutter, just above the blade, when it’s not protecting the point. The blade cover is a self-storing sliding cover like the one on many of Olfa’s rotary cutters.
For another, the tick marks on the yellow bar now include inches as well as centimeters, so even Americans can set the size of the circle without a ruler or mat. The marks are much easier to see than the marks on the Compass Cutter, but they are still not labelled with the number of inches or centimeters.
The instructions don’t mention the marks, probably because they’re not labelled, and therefore of little use. Instead, the instructions recommend you use a mat or a ruler to set the Rotary Circle Cutter. I tried all three methods, of course.
I like using the ruler because I can park the Rotary Circle Cutter blade against the end of the ruler and easily line up the pivot point at the proper measurement before locking it into position.
Perfecting My Technique
On the first few circles I cut, this new tool felt a little awkward and I missed a few threads due to uneven pressure. But after a couple of minutes experimenting with my grip, I was cutting perfect circles. I had found a technique that worked well for me.
First, I set the distance between the blade and the pivot to exactly half the size of the circle I want. Then I position the pivot point on the fabric where I want the center of my circle to be, being sure I’m not putting it too close to any edge of the fabric.
I hold the ratchet handle with my dominant hand to make it easier to control the pressure I put on both the pivot point and the cutting blade. I use the back end of the yellow bar that connects the pieces of the cutter together to steer the cutting edge around the pivot point with my other hand.
Test Circles On Plain Fabric
Once I’d worked out a good technique, I turned to some serious testing. First, I tried using the Rotary Circle Cutter to cut circles on fabric without any stabilizers, something its predecessor didn’t do very well. The Rotary Circle Cutter handled the job just fine.
I did find that pressing too hard or trying to cut too quickly caused the fabric to bunch up in front of the cutting blade. But as long as I cut slowly, with the right pressure, the Rotary Circle Cutter did a great job on plain fabric.
Test Circles On Stabilized Fabric
Next, I stabilized some fabric. First I fused some fusible web onto the wrong side of the fabric. Then I tried cutting circles two different ways — with the fabric side up, and with the web side up.
With the web side up, the paper backing on the web made the surface a little too slippery for the blade to cut reliably, causing some moving and bunching.
With the fabric side up, I got a nice, smooth cut. It was even quicker and easier than cutting a circle from unstabilized fabric.
For my second stabilized test, I used my quilting iron and ironed some freezer paper to the right side of some fabric and repeated my cutting tests. Once again, fabric side up worked better than stabilized side up.
For my third stabilized test, I smoothed some Steam-A-Seam 2 onto some fabric. Steam-A-Seam 2’s temporary sticky surface is a light hold, too light to adequately stabilize fabric for the Compass Cutter. But the Rotary Circle Cutter worked just fine.
Test Circles On Everything In Sight
I also cut circles from web, from freezer paper, and from craft paper to see how well the Rotary Circle Cutter handles non-fabric materials. It worked well on all these items.
Next, I tried cutting circles in stencil plastic and in three different weights of template plastic. I had equally good results on all four. I was amazed that even the thickest template material scored easily and punched out cleanly. I didn’t even have to file the edges – the cut was that clean.
The only drawback to the Rotary Circle Cutter is that the smallest circle you can cut is 1-7/8 inches, quite a bit larger than the smallest circle you can cut with a Compass Cutter. I’d have to make awfully big grapes on an applique quilt if I used the Rotary Circle Cutter.
On the other hand, the largest circle the Rotary Circle Cutter will handle is much larger than the largest circle the Compass Cutter can handle.
Quick, Easy Circles
With the OLFA Rotary Circle Cutter I can cut perfect circles more quickly and easily than I can with any other tool I’ve tried. And since it’s so easy to cut circles now, I’ll have to make up some new patterns to put them to good use.