What is an Exacto Knife Used For? 2 Techniques To Keep it Sharp

Exacto, or X-Acto knives, are one of the more popular choices for hobbyists and craftsmen to produce art. I think these knives are easy to learn, but hard to master. If you’re serious about improving your crafting and modeling skills, then you need to improve your skills with these blades. But what are Exacto knives used for?

Exacto knives are used for cutting precision cuts that allow craftsmen and hobbyists to produce amazing works of art. We often call the Exacto knives, although their real name comes from the company that makes them – X-Acto. These knives come with a blade on an aluminum body that looks like a pen. This allows the user more precision when making the cuts.

History of Exacto Knives

Exacto knives have been around for quite a while. The first knife of this sort was produced in 1930 by Sundel Doniger, who primarily made these knives to be used as scalpels. However, surgeons found it hard to clean these knives, which is the main reason they weren’t accepted. But many people noted these knives for effectiveness and started using them for making precision cuts.

You can see where this leads.

Craftsmen and model makers at the time were hungry for a tool like an Exacto knife. Very soon, the concept spread like wildfire. One of the in-house designers at X-Acto used the knife to retouch a print advertisement. And this is how these blades made their way into the world of design.

What Can an Exacto Knife Cut?

An Exacto knife can cut all sorts of soft materials – from leather, paper, cardboard, linoleum, to other crafting materials that are relatively thin. And if you’re not careful, an Exacto knife can cut human flesh!

Yes, an Exacto knife is sharp. But you do need to keep it sharp from time to time. I’ll discuss how to do that later on.

Exacto knives will cut through most materials that are thin enough, although it’s perfectly capable of cutting through even some more sturdy materials. That’s especially true for stainless steel blades and the ones that are covered with zirconium nitride.

Now note that most of the Exacto knives are relatively cheap. The difference between most of them is the type of blade you use and the material from which the blade is made. There are more than a dozen different types of blades, and you can easily replace it on the Exacto knife.

You’ll also need a cutting mat to start using the knife. It’s an essential part of a crafter’s toolbox that can prevent you from cutting the wrong materials. This knife can do quite a lot of damage to wooden tables and even other materials, but especially to yourself. Be careful when using the knife.

How to Sharpen an Exacto Knife?

Exacto knives have a replaceable blade that you can replace when the blade gets dull. That’s what most Exacto knives opt to do, not knowing that you can keep your Exacto blade for years!

That’s what I’ve done to my Exacto knife. I’ve kept it sharp enough for long enough, which extended the lifetime of the blade for years! And sharpening the blade is pretty straightforward, although you will need a tool to sharpen it with.

Sandpaper or a sharpening stone (diamond stone) are both good options, and you can opt for the one that suits you best. Let’s take a look at both methods and see how to sharpen an Exacto knife.

Method #1: With a Sharpening Stone

For this, you’ll need a good sharpening stone. I’ve found diamond sharpening stones to be the best for this task (Check this one on Amazon). And it’s relatively straightforward, too. Now that I know how to sharpen it, I think that it’s much faster than just switching blades.

Here are the steps to sharpen an Exacto knife with a diamond sharpening stone.

  1. Identify the cutting edge of the Exacto knife. Then, put the knife next to the sharpening stone and start dragging the blade across the knife. Do that for 5-6 times, that should be enough to make the knife sharp again.
  2. Turn the knife over, and start sharpening the other side of the blade. Repeat the same practice – drag the blade 5 or 6 times, or until you think the blade is sharp, across the surface of the stone.

And that’s all there is to it! Really simple, right? You’ll keep the blade sharp and prevent additional costs of buying a new blade. Now, for the other method.

Method #2: With Sandpaper

The second method is also relatively simple. For this, you’ll need medium or fine sandpaper grit. It’s an easy and cheap method that’s been tried and tested. However, you’ll need to be fairly moderate with this method. You can easily over-sharpen your X-Acto knife.

How to do it? Simple.

  1. Get the sandpaper ready, and place the blade onto the sandpaper.
  2. Start scrubbing the blade back and forth until you notice that the blade has gotten sharper. Don’t overdo it! It’s the key to get a good, sharp knife without over-sharpening.
  3. Turn the blade on the other side and start sharpening there. Follow the same method as you did in step #2.

And that’s the second method. You can choose any method you find useful. If you have sandpaper, use sandpaper. If you don’t have sandpaper lying around, use your sharpening stone.

What Blades to Use on my Exacto Knife?

You may know that there are tons of different blades out there for Exacto knives. There’s more than a dozen of blades to choose from, and the choice can be somewhat confusing.

Image Source Here

However, most of the time, artists and crafters will use the #2 or #11 blade, as seen on the picture. The #11 blade is slightly sharper and also smaller, which makes it great for precision cuts. The #2 blade, on the other hand, is slightly bigger, which is great if you need long, undisturbed cuts without many curves.

The rest of the blades here are used for very specific projects. For example, the #16 blade is great for extremely fine projects, while #25 blade is perfect for curves and rounded shapes.

I would recommend that you stock up on #2 and #11 blades. These are the most common blades that you’ll use. However, if you want to avoid the cost of replacing the blades constantly, I would recommend sharpening the blades instead of buying new ones.

The utility blade is a great, versatile blade that can be fitted onto the X-Acto knife. You can get this one if you need the knife in various situations. For example, it can be used for mundane projects like cutting paper or instead of the Olfa knife.

My Recommendation For The Best Exacto Knife

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Wrapping Up

Exacto knives are very popular with craftsmen and artists, or those who use them professionally. However, they are getting replaced by technologically-advanced knives for professional uses. Nonetheless, keeping good maintenance on your Exacto knife is key – this means constant sharpening and cleaning.

So now that you know more about Exacto knives, are you willing to buy one and try it out? Let me know in the comments about your experiences with Exacto knives, and share the article if you enjoyed it.


I’m Ahmed, the guy behind Knifepulse.com. I’ve owned several types of knives and sharpeners over the last few years and have become obsessed with everything to do with knives. I’m always trying to improve my cleaning and sharpening process, and always on the hunt for the next best knife. But when I’m not spending time with my hobby, I’m here, writing about Knives and Sharpeners on KnifePulse to share with you what I learn along the way.

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