When I made my first canvas project, a mainsail cover, I cut out the pieces using scissors as usual. Later, when I made the cabin cushion covers, I discovered how much better a hotknife works for cutting synthetic marine canvas like Sunbrella. Instead of the edges unravelling, they fused solid. That not only makes them easier to work with and prevents getting pieces of thread everywhere, but it also helps to ensure that the seams won’t come loose after years of use and abuse.
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Rather than buy an expensive industrial hotknife, you can get similar results using a tool that you might already own, an ordinary soldering gun with a blade shaped or rope cutting tip. If you don’t already have one, I do not recommend trying a cheap Harbor Freight soldering gun. They aren’t built to withstand the long periods of use that it takes to cut canvas. Instead, get a high quality soldering gun like a Weller D650.
Unlike scissors, you can use a straightedge with a soldering gun to make perfectly straight cuts. I have a leftover pane of glass that makes a good burn-proof cutting surface. Cutting this way produces a little smoke from the melted acrylic that can be irritating, so do it in a well ventilated area.
A soldering gun is also handy for making clean cuts in other synthetic materials like zippers, hook and loop fastener tape, sail cloth, webbing, and yacht braid.
Here’s a tip for cutting rope with a soldering gun. First wrap the rope tightly with tape over the point where you want to cut it and then cut through both the tape and the rope. After the cut ends cool, remove what’s left of the tape. The tape will hold the rope strands together while the soldering gun fuses the ends. This makes a smaller cut end that is easier to pass through blocks, deck organizers, fairleads, and so on.
A soldering gun works so well as a hotknife that I’ve used it for numerous projects including: running rigging lines, cabin cushion covers, mainsail cover, foredeck sail bag, bimini cover, crib board storage bag, and lifeline cushions.
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