Introduction: Restore Old Paper Cutter

Picture of Restore Old Paper Cutter

One of my favorite things is to find and repair old tools. Old typewriters, hammers, scissors, anything I can get my hands on - I just love bringing new life into vintage things. When I saw this old paper cutter I knew it would make the perfect item to refurbish and gift to my wife, who is a school teacher (she's crazy for these old school paper cutters over the newer style ones).

This paper cutter wasn't in terrible shape and the cutting action still kind of worked, but it needed some serious love to get back to its former glory. Here's how I brought a neglected paper cutter back to life.

Ready? let's make!

Step 1: Source Your Item

Picture of Source Your Item

Hunting for old tools is the only reason I ever stop at garage sales. I usually do a quick drive by and scope the scene, and more than a few times I've found a big box of random junk that's been in someone's garage for the last decade. This box of random junk almost always has some kind of old tool that I end up buying for next to nothing - it pays to keep an eye out.

An alternative would be to look for online ads selling vintage tools, there's a cottage industry of people who buy, sell, and trade these types of things. I got mine of eBay.

The paper cutter I got was in okay shape, but had warped from age and had seen many years of use and abuse. Some highlights of areas to fix were:

Tarnished cutting blade and plate. Debris and age had turned the metal a dark brownish grey and the blade action was sticking in some areas. Where the cutting arm attaches to the base there's a spring which was in good shape but not tensioning properly. This entire junction where the arm meets the base, blade meets plate, ruler, cutting guide, and spring assembly was a constellation of problems that needed the most care and attention.

The struts that gold the base had an attractive dovetail dado and key that had warped over time. After some investigation it turned out the strut was bent and not the maple base, which would have been much more work to correct. Both struts were warped, and a different wood than the maple base. The strut wood was a softer variety (I guessed Spruce) which would be the area that would warp more.

Worn ruler and bent metal alignment guide. The ruler was legible, but worn and smeared in some areas (see the numbers 7 and 8 in the picture above). There is a brass alignment guide above the ruler, I'm not sure exactly what it's for but there's a dent near the screw head and the entire guide had a patina.

Paint worn away, in some places missing completely. The handle, seeing the most action, was by far the worst. Since I was investing in paint I decided to apply new paint in a few additional places from the original manufacturer to give this paper cutter a fresh new look.

Step 2: Dismantle

Picture of Dismantle

Removing all the pieces is the only way to go when restoring old tools, it allows you access to hidden parts and allows you to really inspect the work so there's no surprises later on.

The maple base is what holds all the components for this paper cutter. The cutting arm is held on by a cast iron retainer with 3 screws, the arm and tension spring can then be removed from the retainer. Once the arm is off the ruler and alignment guide were removed, allowing the red safety bar to come loose. Lastly, the cutting blade and plate could be unscrewed.

Step 3: Get Scrubbing

Picture of Get Scrubbing

All the metal parts were gathered and thoroughly cleaned. I use a combination of simple green cleaner, a few Scotch-Brite scouring pads, and some various grades of steel wool to carefully scrub each piece until the grime and patina is removed.

Just like I teach in the sanding lesson of my Woodworking Class (you should enroll, it's free!), start with the coarsest grit/grade of scrubbing to remove as much as possible, then step your way up to finer grits progressively.

In the above picture you can see the dent on the brass alignment guide seen earlier.

Step 4: Hand or Power?

Picture of Hand or Power?

Cleaning metal by hand is hard work, and you'll be scrubbing for a while before you start to notice a difference. Using coarse grit to break through to the bare metal again is really the only way to do it, otherwise you're just polishing up the aged patina and not bringing out the original shine.

The process can be easily sped up by using power tools. For stubborn areas I used an air-powered angle grinder with conditioning discs.

Step 5: Sanding the Base

Picture of Sanding the Base

As discussed in the sanding lesson of my Woodworking Class (did I mention free?!), go from coarse to fine when sanding. I started with an 80 grit pad on a random orbital sander and blasted off whatever coating was on the maple base and got down to fresh wood. I continued with a coarse grit over the entire surface of the cutter until it was all down to just wood.

The only part I decided not to sand was the very front face that had the Ingento logo. I liked the way it looked, and since it wasn't damaged chose to leave it alone as a reminder of what the cutter used to look like.

After rough sanding I stepped up the grits to 180. I decided not to go further since there's really no need.

Step 6: Glue

Picture of Glue

Focusing on the warped struts I used scooped and poked wood glue as far into the separated opening as I could, then clamped the warped pieces back together.

I used a straight scrap of walnut on the top of the base to protect the surface from damage from the clamp. This also served a secondary purpose of ensuring the maple base was straight wile being clamped. Since the walnut was straight and the maple base was, too, I could see if I was using too much pressure and warping the cutting base further from over tightening the clamp.

While the glue was setting I could start painting.

Step 7: Masking

Picture of Masking

The arm of the paper cutter is held onto the retainer by a friction fitted bolt. Once installed at the factory that made this paper cutter there's little chance to remove it, so I decided to work around it. The neck and threads of the bolt were cleaned along with the rest of the metal pieces, so it was important to make sure it was properly masked to prevent paint from getting on it.

While I was masking this bolt on the cutting arm I decided to mark the threads of the large screws that hold the arm retainer to the cutter base. These screws are on the back of the cutter and usually not visible, but I decided to add a black color to them.

After the pieces were masked they were gently scrubbed with a fine Scotch Brite pad to remove any surface debris and paint chips.

Step 8: Paint

Picture of Paint

For the cutting arm and the arm retainer I color matched as best I could and found a camouflage tan that was fairly close. I didn't bother to use a primer and just sprayed 3 coats of the matte tan.

Once dry I used multiple coats of satin clear polyurethane. I really wanted to make this paper cutter finish bulletproof, so I kept applying coats until I finished the can, I think it was about 5 coats.

Since the retainer screws were not previously painted I primed them with white primer, then coated with a black semi-gloss.

With the paint drying I could move onto the maple cutting base.

Step 9: Protect Maple Base

Picture of Protect Maple Base

Protecting the new maple base was important, so I went with a durable polyurethane finish.

By now the repair glue had dried and all surfaces were brushed with a soft bristle brush to remove any dust

Using a foam brush, all wood surfaces were coated with polyurethane. Waiting for the previous coat to dry between applications, I painted on 4 coats to really make this durable.

Step 10: Wax Metal Parts

Picture of Wax Metal Parts

To seal and protect the metal parts of the paper cutter I used a metal wax. Though this isn't necessary I think adding a protective coat will help provide a few extra years against abuse that these parts will endure.

You can apply the wax directly to the bare metal with a shop rag and just rub it in, but to ensure smooth and even coverage I decided to heat my metal pieces up slightly with a heat gun.

Each piece was gently heated with the heat gun on the lowest setting. The aim here is to relax the metal and allow the wax to easily be applied to the metal and melt into every groove and pore evenly.

With the metal warmed a gob of paste wax was applied to each metal part. Since the metal was warm the wax melted and was easily spread evenly over each metal surface. The metal parts were then allowed to cool and then buffed with the same shop rag used to apply the wax.

Step 11: Ruler

Picture of Ruler

The ruler of this paper cutter was in bad shape. I was going to leave it alone as an homage to how it used to look, but it just seemed out of place with the remainder of the restoration.

I decided to blend old with new and refinish the vintage ruler with laser etched markings. Once I started sanding all the original marking all came off, and etching new ones on was easy with the help of an Instructable with a ruler cut file.

The interesting thing about this ruler is that the beginning marks start at 1/4" into the ruler, this is to account for the ruler being 1/4" short to allow for the blade action. After sanding and laser etching, the ruler was lightly sanded with 400 grit sandpaper and dusted off, then 2 coats of clear spray polyurethane were applied to protect the ruler.

Step 12: Reassemble

Picture of Reassemble

Here's the cutter after all the parts have been repaired except for the ruler, I decided to do the laser etching of the ruler after this picture was taken. I had reassembled the cutter and realized that the original ruler lacked the same style as the newly refinished cutter, so decided to add those laser etches after.

The cutter was reassembled the same way it was taken apart, using a hand screwdriver to secure each screw and ensure that they wouldn't be stripped.

Step 13: Add Feet

Picture of Add Feet

The restoration is nearly complete, but I wanted to add one more feature that I thought was missing from the original, rubber feet. A set of 4 rubber feet were inexpensive and really brought some stability to this old paper cutter.

Turning the paper cutter upside down so the bottom was accessible, I measured the center line of both struts and marked them with a pencil, then measured in from each end about 1" to and made another pencil mark of where the rubber foot would be placed.

Since these feet are screw on, I drilled a pilot hole at each pencil marked intersection to a depth of about 1/2". There's a few tricks to drilling holes straight and square, and you can learn all about it in the Drilling Lesson as part of my Woodworking Class (it's free!).

Lastly, each rubbed foot was secured with a screw tightened by hand as not to over-tighten and stripping the screws.

Step 14: All Done!

Picture of All Done!

This vintage paper cutter has a new lease on life and ready to cut thousands more sheets for decades to come.

The challenges here were making the restoration without sacrificing the original look and feel of the paper cutter, to that end I think this restoration was very successful. The paint color is very closely matched, and the metal parts have all accepted the patina removal without falling apart or drastically changing the look and feel of the cutting action.

Even though this paper cutter isn't going on my wall of restored tools, it is going to a great home in a classroom - serving the only life it's ever known.

Happy making! :)

Have you restored your own tools and been inspired by this Instructable? I want to see it!

Share a picture of your hydro-dip painting in your comment below and get a free 3-month Pro Membership!


nathanielh20 (author)2018-01-18

Where can you get hinge spring?

Alex 2Q (author)2016-12-28

Great restoration project! I think I will give an old kitchen scale a go after reading this.

ksjunto (author)2016-12-26

Top shelf restoration and write up!

rpd333 made it! (author)2016-12-20

Great job on the restoration and the article.

I have a cutter that is the little brother to yours (10 inch) that I got years ago at a garage sale. It is used mostly to cut my grand daughters school photos. The cuts have been clean (no nicks on the blade) but it didn't feel really sharp. So last week, before cutting this years photos, I unscrewed the blade and sharpened it. I have a 1x42" belt grinder so I used that but I am sure a bench grinder would work as well. Set the tool rest to match the original angle and take light passes, don't let the metal get too hot. It took a while but eventually I got a sharp edge on the blade.

What a difference, it cut OK before but now it is like a hot knife through butter.

mikeasaurus (author)rpd3332016-12-21

That's a fine looking paper cutter you've got there :)

Thanks for sharing your story.

Jimw1 (author)2016-12-21


I have had BRAND NEW paper cutters direct from the store that would not cut paper. They had a BAD flaw. I repaired them by just removing the deck cutter blade

and shimming it with "Cereal box pasteboard"to where they were level with the deck.

cflett (author)2016-12-20

I read the whole instructable to fine out how you sharpened the blade, only to find that you didn't.

mikeasaurus (author)cflett2016-12-20

Depending on your blade, you might not even need to. These are sheering blades, not scalpels, so don't need to be razor sharp. The cutting action comes from a the blades having a crisp edge (not necessarily sharp) and the corresponding blade with the same edge shearing the medium.

The take away here is to have clean, flat cutting surfaces, with crisp edges to allow the material to be cleanly cut. You can accomplish a lot with a conditioning disc and a little time without ever sharpening the blades. If you had to, sharpening the blades is a lot like sharpening a knife; smooth out nicks, long strokes along the cutting edge of a consistent angle, and taking your time to get it right.

lbrewer42 (author)2016-12-20

One day I walked into the teacher's office and noticed they had replaced the old metal cutter like yours with a cheaply made, modern version. I asked what they had done with the old one. As I feared, in this land of non-DIY people I live with, they had thrown it away. Granted, it could have used a paint job, but they had thrown it away b/c no one had the sense to tighten nut on the tension adjustment. The piece of junk they replaced it with was a couple hundred dollars and, when compared to old ones like this, is a total joke.

ronanry (author)2016-12-20

I just received your instructable in the daily newsletter, and just a step above, there is a "marking knife" made with an old saw blade ... And I had the idea to combine the saw blade (in fact 2 old mower blade) to make a paper cutter with all your step, i'm pretty sure i will be able to make one :)

Thanks a lot

mikeasaurus (author)ronanry2016-12-20

Pictures, or it didn't happen!

caitlinsdad (author)2016-12-19

Did you need to tune up the cutting edge or is a class on scissors and guillotine blade sharpening on its way?

mikeasaurus (author)caitlinsdad2016-12-20

The blades on this cutter don't even need to be very sharp, the cutting action between two edges is enough to make clean cuts every time.

A class on sharpening might be interesting, but I've found the best way to learn a skill with such a specific technique like sharpening is in person. Want to hang out and we'll learn together? I'm in NYC at the end of December :)

caitlinsdad (author)mikeasaurus2016-12-20

The holidays are always so busy. Stay safe. Stay warm.

mikeasaurus (author)caitlinsdad2016-12-20


Thespianator (author)2016-12-20

Excellent Tutorial! I have one of these, with a healthy respect for how sharp they are and how well made they were! The maple deck is warped and split in the middle along one of the deck section glue lines and the split is right down the middle of the deck and parallel to the cutting arm. It's warped about 1/8"-1/4" high at the split. Would Gorilla glue and a couple of clamps and oak straps be enough to keep it stable? Can I do that in place or should it be completely disassembled? I love the old thing and I'm just interested in making it work, not willing to get into a complete restoration (way too many projects for that). Thanks!

emrude (author)2016-12-20

Great job! I'm going to go down into the basement and bring up my old paper cutter. I really liked using it until it got caught in "storage hell." Great project for winter break. Thanks

mikeasaurus (author)emrude2016-12-20

This is the perfect project of the winter break!

srilyk (author)2016-12-20

That's a gorgeous job. I love seeing old restored equipment get a new lease on life! I love that you left the original logo on the front - I would have been sad to see it go. If you had to take it off it would have been a great idea to take some pictures of it first, then you could stencil/decal/whatever to re-make it.

mikeasaurus (author)srilyk2016-12-20

I was hesitant about leaving the logo on at first, but so glad I did when it was all finished. Thanks for the kind words!

nanaverm (author)2016-12-20

Beautiful restoration of this classic.

I fished an X-Acto one with a similar arm from a "Orifice Min" dumpster. The store had discarded it just because the blade was gummed up with adhesive! Easily cleaned and has been working fine for years.

mikeasaurus (author)nanaverm2016-12-20

Peaople don't know the value of things they throw away :)

quixotiCfluX (author)2016-12-20

Great job on this refurb and excellent photographs of the steps. I have one question though. I have a similar paper cutter, but the spring is broken. I've looked all over, but can't seem to find replacement parts for it, do you have any ideas where I could get a new spring?

mikeasaurus (author)quixotiCfluX2016-12-20

Thank for the kind words!

For such a specific vintage item you might have to find an very worn paper cutter and use it as a donor.

gm280 (author)2016-12-20

Bravo sir Bravo. Very nice refurbish job. I would love to find one as well. I don't need one often, but it does the job better then anything else possible could. You did a magnificent job on yours. You could have had the paint parts powder coated for a more robust lasting finish. But it looks good either way. Thumbs Up.

mikeasaurus (author)gm2802016-12-20

I considered powder coating, since the original was painted that way, but decided by the time the robust paint job I did wares off it's probably time for another tune up anyway :)

Phil B (author)2016-12-20

When I served as a pastor, we had a couple of these paper cutters, one of which got near constant use. The blade dulled in time. For a quick and effective fix, I removed the blade on the arm and held it a few degrees off of vertical while I stroked it on a fairly smooth area of a concrete sidewalk. It was not fast, but the blade was good for another dozen years when I had to do it again. I do not remember if I sharpened the blade portion on the square table.

mikeasaurus (author)Phil B2016-12-20

You're a resourceful man, Phil!

One of the reasons I like restoring old tools like this is that there's always interesting memories attached to them. Thanks for sharing!

RicksterInstructables (author)2016-12-20

Fantastic job. And great instructable.

Four comments:

1: are you at all afraid that glueing the warped side rails in will warp the walnut deck?

2: with this type of paper cutter you must be extremely careful with the two blade edges. The one on the handle and the mating edge on the deck. They may not look it, but they are razor sharp. Do not run your fingers down these edges any more than you would a knife blade!

3: while cleaning/restoring a cutter, you must be extremely careful not to do anything that will "round" the two cutting edges (right side of deck blade and left side of arm blade). You will ruin it forever. See below for how to remove nicks/sharpen blades.

For anyone who wants to restore a quality paper cutter - visit your local elementary school. Back in the corner of the copier room, they will have at least one cutter no one uses. They may welcome your offer to fix it, or offer to give it to you. When teachers cut through staples, it nicks the blades. This causes them to jam and tear paper instead of smoothly cutting it. Nothing frustrates a frazzled teacher more than running off 22 copies of something and then tearing them when they try to trim them. Trust me. My wife is a 28 year veteran second grade teacher. I've tried (often successfully) to refurbish the blades of many cutters they've "junked" because I couldn't stand them throwing these out. Good ones cost multi-hundred dollars.

4: with this type of paper cutter you must be VERY careful with the two blade edges. The one on the handle and the mating edge on the deck.

-- they are both extremely sharp. And must be for it to work. Do not run your fingers down the edges any more than you would a knife blade!

-- you must not do anything (like sanding) that will round the edges at all.

-- the only way I have found to sharpen/smooth the action of these:

--- remove the nicks (DO NOT really attempt to sharpen. You will ruin it forever).

---- making just a few passes with a ceramic (or diamond) knife hone (you will feel it when you hit the nicks and when you've removed them.

---- run a ceramic (or diamond) knife hone lightly down the "top" of the metal part of deck. Perfectly flat against surface.

---- run hone perfectly vertical along "right" edge of deck plate.

---- run hone perfectly flat against left edge of blade.

---- run hone down cutting edge of blade, trying your best to match the existing edge angle.

johnjcouture (author)2016-12-20

This is a GREAT tutorial. Thank you for posting.

ggallen103 (author)2016-12-20

Whenever I see these cutters, it reminds me of my high school art teacher who used to announce to the class "free circumcisions" when he would use it.......aaah the good ole days of unpolitically correct schoolling!!

rebeltaz (author)2016-12-19

Question, if I may... do you have any trouble with small bubbles when you use polyurethane? On every single one of my projects when I have used poly, there are always tiny bubbles left that make for a slightly rough surface as opposed to a perfectly smooth surface. I have used foam brushed as well as natural and synthetic bristle brushes. I always stir gently, never shaking. I just cannot figure out what is going on. Any ideas?

outlaw777 (author)rebeltaz2016-12-20

I've found if I thin the poly. and wipe it on, a thin coat at the time I eliminate the bubbles almost completely.

BeachsideHank (author)rebeltaz2016-12-19

I used to use a "spit coat" of dewaxed shellac first before the final coatings, it made a tremendous difference but one must be sure it is the dewaxed variety.

rebeltaz (author)BeachsideHank2016-12-19

So put the shellac on before the polyurethane? Hmm... that's one product I've never used before. I will give that a try on my next project! Thanks :)

BeachsideHank (author)rebeltaz2016-12-19

Dewaxed shellac is simply amazing all by itself, no other topcoat is needed:

I like it in flake form, kept in the freezer it will have an infinite shelf life, you simply mix up some of the flakes with denatured alcohol as needed. It's one of those few old standbys that will never become obsolete.

mikeasaurus (author)rebeltaz2016-12-19

You could try thinning your polyurethane a little, and maybe even moisten your brush with the same thinning agent (water or spirits, depending on your urethane).

rebeltaz (author)mikeasaurus2016-12-19

I have tried soaking the brush on the thinner for several minutes first, but I don't think I have ever tried thinning the polyurethane. I'll try that next time. Thanks.

Man Up (author)2016-12-20

FYI, if you find that you have to refurbish the base (like I did), then pay careful attention to grain orientation. It should run in the same direction as the cutting edge. The french dovetail of the ends will reinforce the base, and the stress of cutting will be channeled to these dovetails. Go perpendicular to the cutting blade, and it will split.

Ask me how I know (Rexo in my garage...)

armada157 (author)2016-12-20

Phil B.

Try a knife sharpening Stone keep it flat to the steel for a great sharpen.

Kevin J.

tomatoskins (author)2016-12-19

Even knowing how to use these safely as a kid, they scared the crap out of me! Good thing I overcame that fear and now work with power tools that can do much more damage on a regular basis. Beautiful restoration Mike!

mikeasaurus (author)tomatoskins2016-12-19

Thanks, Troy!

I considered painting a face and teeth on the arm so it would look like it was eating as it chomped through paper. However I still have the same childhood fear of these things, the anthropomorphic paint job wouldn't have helped :)

BeachsideHank (author)2016-12-19

The original design intent of that sliding dovetail was to allow cross grain movement of the main cutting board, and thus was usually affixed at only one end or the middle, the rest being free to move to and fro as it took on or gave up moisture, but over time (many years) it finally reached equilibrium and gluing it all down isn't such a bad thing now, and the restoration looks great.

Thanks for the knowledge, I wondered what that sliding dovetail was all about.

Jobar007 (author)2016-12-19

That finger-lopper looks great!

Lorddrake (author)2016-12-19

Nicely done sir. :)

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!
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