In the course of my adventures in terrain making I’ve acquired a great many tools with various levels of usefulness. But once in a while a tool comes along that really deserves some special mention.
This is The Chopper II, the heavy-duty sequel to a relatively simple device made by Northwest Short Line, or NWSL for short. The Choppers are a line of hobby tools that are quite simply a razor blade attached to a handle with a hinge, designed for cutting strips of material. It sounds so simplistic that I passed it over for a very long time, unable to justify the $45.00 USD price in my head.
But eventually I finally gave in, my hands cramping from several days straight of scratchbuilding, and brought this baby home from my favorite hobby shop in town. My first impression was pleasantly surprised at the durability and stability of the base and handle assembly. The handle slides up and down with just the right amount of resistance so that you can leave it at any position, and has absolutely no give to either side, even while cutting hard materials.
I immediately put this thing to work, cutting plastic tubes to use as shingles on a house. The adjustable guides on the side allow you to cut the exact same sized pieces over and over, up to about 2 1/2″ in length. This feature alone really changed the way I worked, making it much less time consuming and tedious to cut rivets from styrene rods, or to cut balsa wood for roof beams, Etc. There is also less tendency for tiny plastic pieces to go flying across the room when cut, making it easier to gather your materials after cutting. Another very useful feature is the fact that it uses ordinary straight razor blades, the kind you can get almost anywhere.
Shingles, finished within minutes instead of hours.
While it’s hard to criticize such a handy, simple device, The Chopper II does have some negative points that any fair review must cover. First, it comes with two cutting guides that can be fastened into place near the razor to aid in cutting angles. I said they “aid” you, but they don’t provide any kind of precision method for getting the same angle every time. This could have been resolved by adding a set of thumbscrews and a secondary set of guides for the front of the cutting mat.
Also, the limited size of cuts may detract some hobbyists that work on larger scales, but NWSL does sell the Chopper III, which appears to be a larger system, and The Duplicator, which is designed for sheet materials.
On harder materials the razor blade does tend to deflect at times, especially if it’s getting dull. NWSL does give warning about this in the instruction manual, and I found that by cutting slowly, or making multiple cuts from both sides, I could minimize this effect.
Looking online, prices range from about $34.00 to $45.00 USD, plus shipping. This is not a cheap tool and probably not worth the investment for a casual hobbyist who only does an occasional scratchbuilding project.
Summary: Definitely worthwhile for the professional, great time saver. I always keep it nearby. Never get your finger too close to the blade, yikes this thing is scary.
Pros: Really lets you breeze through precision cutting jobs, very sturdy, smooth action and easy to maintain.
Cons: Size limitations on what you can cut. Somewhat pricey.
4 pirate skulls, one happy santa, one submarine.
UPDATE: While writing this, I noticed that Micromark was no longer selling the Chopper II, saying it had been discontinued, but I don’t see any news about it on NWSL’s site. Maybe they’re releasing another sequel? “The Chopper IV, The Choppening”
UPDATE AGAIN: NWSL is accusing Micromark of selling pirated Choppers. I guess you should “chop” elsewhere! HAHA get it? see what I did there? Oooh man, I’m genius.