How to Cut a Cigar - Cigar Cutting 101
So you're gonna smoke a cigar. Whether it's your first, as you're just figuring this whole thing out - or you count your cigar conquests in the thousands - you know that there's a method to the madness of getting a good smoke started.
Whether you're a noob about to tear into a torpedo, or an old hand getting ready to savage a Salomon - here's a couple things to remember (or wonder why you forgot) when it comes to cutting a cigar.
Think you know everything about cutting a cigar - well, you probably do. Especially if you've been doing this for a while. But even those of us who have some significant "time in the aircraft," as it were, could use a bit of a refresher - or maybe a little push to try a method we haven't used, or tended to avoid. Hell, even I shied away from using a punch for 15 years. I owned three of them, but never used any of them - terrified of turning my Hecho a Mano into Hecho a Mangled. After all, if I'm going to pay upwards of ten bucks for a smoke, the last thing I want to do is turn the business end into a horror show. So you can appreciate (or at least understand) my hesitation with reaching for the punch to poke open a puro. Until one day I just said, "time to bite the bullet." Ha! Cutter puns. Awesome. I really didn't say that. Actually, what I said was, "maybe it's about time I learn how to use this thing the right way, and see if I'm missing out on something."
Moral of this story? I did - and I was. I did learn to use a punch, and I was missing out on something: the enhanced flavor (my opinion, of course - your mileage may vary) of channeling the smoke through a smaller opening in the head of the cigar. I now punch and v-cut my cigars about 50/50, depending on their size.
But this isn't about me, it's about you - so if it's your first time, or you're an old pro, or somewhere in between, it doesn't matter, but there are a couple of important things to remember:
Use a quality cutter. "A poor carpenter blames his tools," it's said. But in this case, quality really does count. Cutters dull and get dirty, and will need sharpening or cleaning; others just plain suck. Since the goal is to slice (not tear) the leaf at the head, make sure you're using a very sharp edge - no matter what your implement of choice.
When you select a cigar to smoke, make sure you have the right apparatus. Certain cigar shapes require certain types of cutters. You can't cut a figurado with a punch...or can you? Hmmm...actually, there is a method, which we'll get into shortly. But the key really is, don't make it harder on yourself than it needs to be.
Be quick, strong and decisive. Again, slice - don't tear. Commit to one quick and forceful movement for best results.
Concentrate on what your cutting hand is doing, but pay mind to the hand holding the cigar. Don't get so focused on making the cut that you squeeze the cigar like you're choking the life out of it. What good is a perfect cut on a cigar you just crushed in that meat hook of a hand?
Be careful - regardless of the kind of cutter, you're still messing around with a sharp blade. Don't take my word for it, ask Michael Jordan:
Lastly, some simple caveats:
Yes, you can cut off too much of the cap and head. Unless you want an up-close-and-personal lesson on the dissection of a cigar, starting with the wrapper picking up and leaving town - take off only what's needed. The cap itself is a good line at which to cut.
Yes, you can cut off too little. Maybe you wanted to play it safe, and cut it short so the cigar doesn't unravel. Taking too little means you'll end up with tighter draw, and a pain behind one of your eyeballs. The good news is you get another bite at the apple - you can cut a little deeper to improve the draw. The average depth of a good cut is only about 1/16th of an inch.
We wrangled the editors here at Cigar Advisor Magazine to give a bit more insight on how they prefer to slice, dice and make it nice. Because, like me and the punch, I asked somebody to show me how to do it right. Let's say we start with the guillotine, just because we're going in order of relative popularity. You probably got one of those single-blade plastic cheapies with your first cigar purchase ever...but rather than endure a series of messy beheadings that would make even King Henry VIII blush, here's how to use it.
How to Cut a Cigar with a Guillotine Cutter
By Lou Tenney
Among cigar cutters, the guillotine cutter and its two-bladed cousin, the double guillotine, are easily the most widely used and recognized. Ranging anywhere in cost from under a buck to over a grand, this ingenious device comes in a multitude of materials, shapes and colors.
At its most basic, the guillotine cutter is a thin, rectangular piece of plastic housing a blade, with a hole in it. The blade is manually opened and closed to cut off the cap of the cigar.
The single blade variety, however, can have a tendency to tear rather than cut cigars over time, a problem solved by adding an additional opposing blade. With its second blade, the double guillotine cutter is a vast improvement. It, too, is often presented in the slim plastic shape.
Some cutters feature a "backstop," or solid piece behind the cigar hole. By resting the cigar's head against the backstop, the smoker is assured that he will not cut too much off, thus avoiding an unraveling cigar. (Quick tip: if your cutter doesn't have a backstop...lay it flat on the table top and put the cigar in the hole, with its head touching the table underneath. Now cut. Shazam: no mess, and not too deep of a cut.)
XiKAR and others have popularized a more ergonomically sound teardrop form factor with spring-loaded blades. These cutters feature rubberized handles, wooden handles, and even ivory from a wooly mammoth. Unsurprisingly, the cost also increases sharply with these higher-end implements.
Pros: Easy. Wide variety of guillotines to choose from, and pretty easy to find anywhere you might need one. Cuts any shape of cigar easily.
Cons: Easy to cut off too much, allowing the cigar to shed its wrapper like a snake shedding skin.
Maybe you'd like to take some human error out of the equation? The V-cutter may be for you. The only catch here is that you may end up being a bit limited on the variety of cigar sizes you can cut - bigger ring gauges are a little bit of a challenge with the V. But if a regular Robusto or Toro is in your near-future, here is...
How to Cut a Cigar with a V-cutter
By Gary Korb
When it comes to cigar cutters, I think the V-cutter is perhaps the most underrated. Based on its design, the V-cutter is perfectly suited for cutting figurados, or tapered head cigars such as Torpedoes, Pyramids, and similar shaped frontmarks. Though the V-cutter is also effective at cutting standard, rounded head cigars, just as the double-blade is fine for cutting figurados, the V-cut has its advantages over the double-blade when it comes to these pointy primos.
On average, the V-cutter is designed to cut no more than a quarter of an inch. This is important for cigars like Pyramids, since the idea behind the tapered head is to concentrate the smoke through the "bottle neck", offering a richer-tasting smoke.
Secondly, because the V-cut is limited to the amount of tobacco it can cut, you avoid the risk of cutting your figurado too deeply, which can happen with a double-blade, sometimes causing the wrapper to unfurl. The V-cut keeps most of the pointy head intact, which is what you want.
When the V-cutter is closed it looks like a cat's-eye. The blade itself is long and thin with a sword-like tip that's been bent in the middle to form the V shape. To use it, simply open the cutter, place the head of the cigar through the front of the "eye," hold the cigar steady, and SNAP the cutter closed. The result is a cleft-shaped tip, which should provide a good draw and an enjoyable smoking experience.
Pros: Almost (and we do stress almost) foolproof. Channels the smoke for a robust and flavorful draw. Great for torpedoes.
Cons: If the cutter is dull, or you don't snap it shut quickly enough, that cap is a goner. Might not open enough of the head for a good draw on larger ring cigars.
One way to solve the big-ring cutting issue - while still focusing that blast of Nicaraguan pepper on your palate - is to go for the punch. And that part about punching a figurado? Read on...a little finesse gets it done, and you don't have to worry about taking too much of the head off when you cut with a...
How to Cut a Cigar with a Punch or Bullet Cutter
By Tommy Zman
The punch, aka the bullet cutter, is a favorite among many cigar smokers for a few good reasons: it's small and easy to carry, it's quick and easy to use, and it doesn't make a mess like the traditional guillotine. All you need to do is remove the cover, place the sharp cylindrical side up against the head of your cigar, then push in while giving the punch a slight twist left and right. The idea is to simply cut/punch a hole through the cap of the cigar, allowing the smoke to easily draw through the opening.
There are a couple of additional great uses for the punch cutter that I wanted to share. It's excellent for cutting a chisel type cigar. You use the same push and twist method, but you actually pierce completely through the chiseled end of your stick, leaving a see-through hole that allows you to draw out the smoke.
Now here's a cool little tip for you... a lot of guys think they're out of luck when they have a pyramid or torpedo to smoke, but they only have a bullet cutter, because you obviously can't punch down into the pointed top - that just won't cut it (pun intended). But a neat trick is to place the punch about a quarter inch down from the top of the point, then push in, twisting it back and forth, just enough to create a hole through the wrapper. So, upon lighting, you actually place the pointed, un-cut end in your mouth and draw the smoke through the hole in the side of your figurado!
Pros: Keep it on your key ring and you'll never go without. Very little mess, and provides a nice clean opening through which to draw.
Cons: Push too hard and you'll crush the cap. While you can use it on a torpedo or pyramid, it's kind of a pain in the ass, but it'll get you through.
One more option remains - cigar scissors. Probably the hardest to pull off, but you'll be glad you did. Especially if, all of a sudden, you need to cut off the hot end and stash the rest for later (just don't put the un-smoked half back in your humidor). Or, if you're a "chewer" - when you get a gnarly lookin' chew-gar nub after grinding it with your teeth for an hour, you can cut that bad boy right down to size with...
How to Cut a Cigar with Cigar Scissors
By Jonathan Detore
Cigar scissors are extremely effective and practical cutters compared to traditional cutters. Not only do they offer a clean and even cut, but when you use them properly, they make you look super stylish. Well, at least they do in my opinion. Besides being the pinnacle of cigar accessory style, they can also prove to be very useful time-after-time. The main advantage to owning a pair of cigar scissors, besides the "coolness" factor, is the ease in sharpening them. We have all had cigar cutters dull down on us and it's a waste of money buying more of the same cutters that we know will also dull, and sharpening an old cutter can be annoyingly difficult since the casing is rather troublesome. With a pair of cigar scissors, the casing is eliminated and you can easily sharpen them, extending the life of the scissors far beyond traditional cutters.
Another benefit to using cigar scissors is, you simply get more leverage when you cut your cigar. Traditional cutters involve quite a bit of squeezing, and if the blade is dull, it can make cutting your cigar a bit of a chore, resulting in a rather uneven cut. Because of the leverage cigar scissors give you, they glide through the tobacco effortlessly and offer an even cut.
Pros: Wicked clean cut; and you look classy as hell if you can pull off using them right. Long lasting, too.
Cons: In addition to some skill and precision in their use, scissor blades need to be kept sharp - like almost religiously - or they'll tear your stick to shreds. Even a cheap pair of cigar scissors, which are often dull as a result, can be honed to near surgically sharp standards.
So there you have it - that's how we cut our cigars. Maybe you picked up a couple of pointers, or acquired the inspiration to try something different for a change. At the very least, I did want to reference a recent Q&A I saw on Facebook...when asked "what do you use if you're in a pinch and forgot your cutter," the inner MacGyver in our brothers and sisters of the leaf came out in spades. Here are a few samples/suggestions/comments...cigars first, safety second!
"I've used an awl, a box cutter, a power drill, teeth, whatever it takes to get it done."
"I like my leather awl."
"I used a Philips head screwdriver once."
"A small screwdriver"
"A pick from my tool box, if I'm in the shop."
"I've used my side cutters."
"A small screw"
Lock n Load:
"I use a 9mm shell casing."
"I have pulled the eraser out of a pencil and used it as a punch."
"End of ink pen cover."
"I've used a wine bottle opener."
"Meat cleaver." [Seriously, guy?]
"The end of the match."