I’ve seen scalpels recommended by ship modelers before, but never really thought to try one until recently. Yes, a scalpel – that scary knife used by surgeons that want to cut you open. It was recommended to me in particular when dealing with paper modeling because scalpel blades are thinner than X-Acto type blades.
I don’t know a whole lot about the selection of handles and blades. But, I can tell you that the most common handle type is a Number 3 handle. It’s usually a standard, simple stainless steel handle. There are some variations to it, such as one that is rubber coated for more comfortable grip.
There are several types of blades available for it, but the two more common blades are the number 10 and number 11. These correspond in rough appearance to X-Acto #10 and #11 blades. I suspect that the similarity of X-Acto blades to scalpel blades is intentional, but I don’t know the history, so don’t trust me on this. But, even the slot in the X-Acto blades mimics the functional slot on the scalpel blades, though the two types are not interchangeable.
As I mentioned earlier, the scalpel blades are thinner than X-Acto blades, and thinner blades do come with the drawback that you’re more likely to break a blade. In fact, I recall that when I was a kid, my dad tried to get me into building wooden airplanes. He provided me with a scalpel for a cutting knife, and I recall being horrified when the blade broke one day. No injuries, but I felt so bad for breaking the nice knife my dad gave me. Little did I know then that scalpel blades were disposable.
So, the blades will break under heavy use. But, if you need to do some heavy-duty cutting and need to put that much pressure into a cut, it’s either time to swap out blades for a fresh, sharp one, or perhaps it’s time to use a razor saw instead. If that’s the case, I recommend you consider the Japanese super fine-cut saws that I reviewed here a while back. It makes a fast, very clean cut.
But, getting back to scalpels, one of the biggest differences between the X-Acto (or Excel) blades and scalpels can be the price. I bought a package of 100 No. 11 scalpel blades, each one individually sealed in a foil pack, off Amazon for less than $8 shipped, and that included a #3 handle. Certainly you can pay more, but I know I’ve paid a lot more for X-Acto blades.
Also, I haven’t been too keen on the quality of X-Acto handles lately. I have a lot of problems with them loosening up over time, the blade rotating as I’m trying to use it. I find I have to replace handles periodically.
The one thing that makes me hesitant to fully recommend scalpels is the way in which you have to change blades. The first time I tried to do this, I had a hard time sliding the blade slot over the tab that holds it in place. I finally had to resort to a pair of pliers. The issue might have been the handle, as I had no problems with two other handles and just inserted the blade by finger. Using pliers or forceps is probably a lot safer.
As for removing blades, I just learned that there are blade removers designed to reduce the possibility of injury. They are various types available. I found a disposable one online for $5 shipped. It holds the removed blades, up to 300 of them, until it fills up, after which you have a safe way of disposing of them.
So, using scalpels is an experiment for me and one you might want to try out too. So far, so good, and I haven’t broken a blade yet. Haven’t felt the need to change blades yet, but I’ve only been using them a week. I may force myself to do it, just to see how much sharper a new blade is. Ω