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"A bad knife cuts one's finger instead of the stick"
|Logan 750 Simplex Plus Mat Cutter|
At some point, you have to realize that most framing operations relatively high barriers to entry - and that's about it. The Logan 750 Simplex Plus is an excellent example of that. The 750 (or something like it) has been in production for decades. It is a basic mat cutter, possibly the cheapest one you would actually want. But it's still $250 to buy one.
Matting: the problem
In theory, matting is simple. You are cutting a piece of cardboard with a razor blade, with an opening a little smaller than the image you want to frame. In practice, cutting a straight line with a razor blade is a complete pain, the measurements can be perplexing, and the cardboard can cost $30 a sheet. Let's take these in turn. First, though you can buy a handheld mat cutter that theoretically works with a straightedge to make mats, it is an incredibly cumbersome and unreliable way to do things. Between the board slipping, the straightedge slipping, and the blade hooking, you will quickly ruin enough materials to make up the difference between a cheap cutter and a good one. So you either need to pony up for a good cutter or hire someone to do your cutting for you.
Second, the measurements are indeed a pain. Why? It's not because there is anything screwy about fractions. It is because mats are measured and cut by the border, i.e., the distance from edge of the board to edge of the image. This means that if you don't have consistent and accurate outside dimensions, the scaledown to the opening won't be accurate either. Most matboard is not perfectly square out of the gate, and so cutting it down with all four corners at right angles is not always guaranteed. This translates into openings that do not have exact right angles. The measurements also get unpleasant if you have borders on your prints, and you want to have white showing. The human eye can detect a 1/16" difference; most mat cutters can only cut to a 1/8" resolution. It doesn't really help to size the image to the a uniform size smaller than the opening, at least in a darkroom, since enlarging easels also only resolve to 1/8." The best solution is to overlap the mat over the edge of the image by a little bit.
Third, the raw materials are quite expensive. Four-ply matboard generally costs a minimum of about $12 per 32x40 inch sheet. From that, you might draw 6 11x14 mats, making them cost $2 apiece. By comparison, the most luxurious Bainbridge 8-ply pre-cut, rag mat costs $10 and the most economical Golden State machine-cut 4-ply mat is about 80 cents. So before you sink any significant amount of money into a mat cutter, understand that its real utility for most casual users is the ability to run into an art supply store on a Saturday, buy some board, and be able to crank out any size of mat within an hour.
The Logan solution
The Logan 750 is a production mat cutter. That means that it is set up to generate repeatable mat cuts, both to the outside dimensions of the board and to the opening. The 750, when assembled, takes up about 48x48" on a table. About 40x12 is the actual unit; the rest of the depth is the squaring arm.
This is how it works.
1. You screw the squaring arm into the base. This is important, because it acts as the right angle for aligning mat board squarely (or as well as possible). It also acts as a measuring tool for cutting down the outside dimensions of a board. Looking at the init with the squaring bar on your right, you load a board to cut outside dimensions from your left to your right.
2. The border bar fits into two diagonal tracks in the base. This has a little ruler with which you set the borders. You insert the blank, cut-down board from the right and rest it against the border bar. Use a pencil to mark the border all the way across the back of the board; rotate the board through the other three sides (adjusting the border if necessary). Now you have four lines that intersect to make your window opening.
3. You then cut by hooking the appropriate cutter (straight or beveled) into the cutting bar and pull toward you. You need to use a backing board under the bevel cutter because otherwise the blade will dig into the cutting base. Why this couldn't be engineered to avoid this problem is mysterious; my suspicion is that this is a feature of using the same channel for a straight and a beveled cutter.
In theory, you then flip the board over and the center piece (dropout) drops out. Often, you have to adjust the blade depth and re-cut to get this to work.
The unit comes with three production stops. Two attach to the cutting guide and arrest the travel of the cutter (just in case you can't stop at the line). The third attaches to the squaring bar for sizing boards.
I found that without doing much more than watching a 5-minute video, I was able to cut 20 out of 24 11x14 mat blanks to 6x9 withi about 45 minutes. The "blanks," by the way, are the backboards packaged with Bainbridge 8-ply precut mats. Bainbridge doesn't bother to tell you that the backboards are really just thinner archival mat material. If you didn't know this, and you typically used foamcore to frame, you would probably have thrown these parts away.
Things to watch.
The base of the unit is called "laminate," which I think is charitable even in the age of Ikea. It is made of particleboard with a vinyl marbled surface on the top, a white surface on the bottom, and six rubber feet. The board is not finished on the edges or in the "slot" except that the particleboard is spraypainted black. There is a warning in the book not to store this unit standing up; this should be heeded as the base can warp if you look at it wrong. Fortunately, when set on a horizontal surface, it will normalize. The quality of the base is one thing that makes the 750 incredibly expensive for what it is; you would think that at a list price of $450 and a probable manufacturing cost of $25 for all of the rest of the parts, the manufacturer could provide a base that doesn't look like a piece of Home Depot cabinetry.
The track for the cutter, the hinges, the border bar, and the squaring arm are all of very good quality. Most of this is aluminum; the screws and the hinges are steel. And when your baseboard gives up, you could probably embed these parts in a scrap of tougher laminate from the Ikea scratch-and-dent/parts department.
The Logan bevel cutter is metal and takes #270 blades. A #270 is a cheapo copy of an old safety razor blade. They cost about $15 per 100, and that should give you a clue about how cheaply they are made and how often you should replace them. The blades dull quickly and lose their points. This will cause you to adjust the cutting depth too far and overcut the mats. I would recommend replacing the blade on every mat cut. The cutter itself is fairly well made, with a metal body and a screw adjustment for depth. There a screw that locks the cutter in the up (safe) position. It is my impression that there is a small amount of drift in the depth-control mechanism (or very fast wear on the blades).
The Logan straight cutter is a cheap plastic handle that has three settings: 4-ply mat, 3/16" foamboard, and "safe." The only way to activate the "safe" mode, ironically, is to remove the thumbscrew completely and push both the blade and the indicator plate with your finger into the up position, then replacing the thumbscrew. The same procedure applies when changing between the two depths. This also takes the #270 blades.
The Logan 750 is ok as a mat cutter for the casual to moderate user. As a professional tool, absent a lot of care, the baseboard would be cut to shreds, if not fall apart on its own. The Logan is not a Terry or any other high-end cutter, but for most purposes, dropping a grand on a mat cutter would be an absurd exercise. I would hope that Logan would improve the quality of the baseboard. This cutter doesn't need to be much cheaper, but it would be nice to make it more durable.