Cigars 101

Prime Cuts

What you use to cut the head of your cigar and how you use it can mean the difference between a smooth, intact wrapper cap and a soggy shredded mess of tobacco leaf. Keeping in mind that a sloppy cut can easily ruin a really fine smoke, the purpose of this article is too illustrate the various types of cigars cutters, their appropriate use and the pros and cons of choosing a particular cutter. Here’s what you ultimately want to achieve when cutting a cigar: You want to open the cigar just enough to get an easy draw with a relatively thick amount of smoke, while leaving the cigar cap intact. Sometimes, just a little hole made with a toothpick is enough. But whatever cutter you choose, the blade has got to be sharp! A dull blade will mangle the cap, which may also cause fraying and unwinding of the cap spattering bits of filler tobacco all over your tongue. (Not a pretty picture, folks.)

The “punch” cutter is ideal in several respects. It gives you a wide enough hole to get a good clean draw and leaves the round outer rim of the cap intact. The key here is to buy a good quality punch that has a very sharp blade (some manufacturers sell replacement blades). It’s also one of the simplest cutters to use. Just place it against the head of the cigar and twist gently. As you twist the cutter out, you should get a nice clean recessed hole about 1/4″ in diameter. These are great for wide-body cigars like, Toros, Churchills and Robustos. The only drawbacks to using this cutter is that if the cigar is dry, the pressure of twisting the cutter, even gentle twisting, can crack the head of the cigar. They don’t do well on slim cigars like Panatelas or small cigars due to the narrow ring sizes and you can’t use a punch at all on a Pyramid because of the pointed head. Suffice it to say, Punch cutters are great “starting pitchers,” but you should also have a straight cutter standing by in the bull pen.

The “V” cutter is a very cool tool both in concept and practicality. When used properly, like a punch cutter it will also give you a nice clean cut while preserving the round edge of the rapper cap. The “V” cut forms a straight, 1/8″ wide, wedge-shaped slice that goes into the body of the cigar at a depth of about a 1/4 inch. This deeper cut opens more surface area of the filler creating a bigger and more “luxurious” draw. What’s nice about this type of cutter is there’s no guesswork involved. You just place the cigar against the indentation on the cutter and press the lever. Voila! If you use a “V” cutter on a narrow ring cigar it will slice across the entire cap from edge to edge. On a large ring cigar, it will cut a nice neat slice in the middle of the head preserving the round outer rim of the cap. If the blade is really sharp, the cap should stay intact regardless of ring gauge. The “V” cut is especially good to use on figurados like Pyramids and Torpedos because it slits open the head without chopping off too much of the point. The main thing with the “V” cutter is, you have be sure to buy one that’s really sharp, not only to get the cleanest cut possible, but because of it’s design, you can’t sharpen or usually replace a “V” cutter blade.

The straight or “guillotine” cutter is by far the most popular among cigar smokers. It’s not only the easiest to use, but with some practice you can precisely control the depth of the cut to your liking. Practically all guillotine cutters feature a large hole, a single or double blade and will cut just about every cigar shape. The key here is, if you have a preference for very large ring cigars, be sure to buy a cutter with a hole that will handle ring sizes over 50. Most guillotine cutters will only cut up to a 48 or 50 ring cigar, while others can cut up to a 54 ring. The key to using the guillotine is to be sure the cut runs perpendicular to the cap, not at an angle. More importantly, you want to cut off the least amount of the cap as possible; just enough to open up the end of the cigar. Try not to cut of more than an 1/8 of an inch, the thickness of most caps. Since the cap often tends to fall off naturally, this depth is perfectly acceptable. If your cutter is really sharp you should be able to cut off just enough to expose the filler without mangling or chopping off the cap entirely. Double blade cutters tend to cut cleaner than single blade cutters. The reason is that, as it slices, instead of the blade pushing the head of the cigar against the edge of the cutter hole, the head of the cigar is pushed against an opposing blade.

Cigar scissors are another good way of getting a clean, straight cut. The best thing about them is the size of the cigar is no object. Because they tend to be long and odd shaped, scissors are not as “portable” as guillotine cutters, but some manufacturers do make pocket-size cigar scissors. Blade sharpness is especially important with scissors because they’re harder to steady than other cutters. But if you have a steady hand and know how to use a file to sharpen the blades when they become dull, cigar scissors are an excellent way to go.

In terms of dollars, don’t be too frugal when buying a cutter. Sure, those “free” cutters you get with cigars sometimes are at most, adequate, but if you’re willing to spend a little more, a high-quality cutter will easily pay for itself over time. What you want to look for is sharpness (some models claim to be “self-sharpening”), solid construction, smoothness of action, and particularly in the case of double blade cutters, virtually no play or gap between the blades.

Finally, like everything else in the cigar world, personal preference takes priority. Just be sure you’re comfortable with the cutter you choose and that it consistently cuts the way you like. Try to have several different cutters on-hand, too, for variety as well as for “back-up.” Finding a cutter you like is not that much different from finding a cigar you like. After all, they go hand-in-hand.