How to Cut Vinyl Records
We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of getting a new vinyl record that doesn’t play. Whether it’s so covered in dust that you can’t even see the grooves or it looks like Freddy Krueger tried to take it off the turntable, even high quality vinyl records may eventually get to a place where you can no longer use them.
If your vinyl records are past their prime, there are ways you can repurpose the plastic into something other than a vehicle for music. With the proper tools and a knack for craft projects, you can cut old vinyl records into a beautiful wall hanging, a new pickguard, coasters, even a magazine rack if you're talented enough, along with anything else you want to create.
Today, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about how to cut vinyl records (for crafting, not for recording--you can use Phonocut for that), including all the tools you’ll need, various techniques you can use, and safety precautions and mistakes to avoid the next time you try cutting a record.
Finding a record to cut
The first step is to choose what record you’re going to cut into a design. If you just want to have a piece of art made out of a vinyl record, then this choice won’t make a big difference. However, we see a lot of people that choose an album that means something to them for projects like this.
Maybe the first album you and your significant other listened to together was Santana’s Supernatural, so you cut that into the shape of a heart for your anniversary.
If you are using a record that means something to you, you absolutely should practice on something from the dollar bin first. Unless you’re a craft master, you probably won’t get it right the first time.
Even if it’s close, you can probably do it cleaner and a little less rough around the edges on a second attempt.
Choosing a design to cut your vinyl record into
You may have already decided this, but there are so many awesome and unique ideas you can try out. Here are some of our favorites:
- Cut down to just around the label to create drink coasters for your coffee table
- Create a pickguard for your guitar or bass
- Create any shape you want and turn it into a wall clock. Common cutouts include the shape of a tree, or even the bat signal
Whatever design you choose, the process to create it is the same. You need an outline for the design, some heat, and something sharp to cut with. You may want to consider a photo editing program to help you with the design, which you can then print and stencil onto the record.
How to heat a vinyl record using an oven
The first and probably the simplest method only uses two tools: an oven and a pair of scissors. The first step is to place your vinyl record in an oven heated to around 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave it in there for about two or three minutes. If you leave it much longer, it could start to melt the vinyl.
What this does is it softens the plastic, making it much easier to handle when you go to start cutting it. If you want to make it easier on yourself later, you can also outline the design you want to cut out on the record before heating it.
After a few minutes, take the record out of the oven, being careful not to burn yourself. You don’t want to let it cool back down, as the heat is what will make it easier to work with. You may even want to leave your oven heated in case you need to reheat the record during the process.
It's helpful to use a cookie sheet to make sure the vinyl doesn't melt or get extra marks on it when it comes into contact with the hot metal of the oven rack. Don't forget your oven mitts!
How to cut a vinyl record with a pair of scissors
Once you’ve heated the vinyl, all you have to do is go at it with a pair of heavy-duty scissors. You can cut out your design and call it a day.
If you want something a little bit cleaner, you can also use a utility knife if you have one lying around. If that’s the route you take, you will likely need to break the cut-off pieces away from the center of the record after making your cuts.
The biggest downside to this method is that you will likely end up with a messier design. The heat can cause the vinyl to warp around in shape, and it’s difficult to cut vinyl with a pair of scissors and maintain any sort of design.
Also, the edges of your record will likely come out rough and a little frayed, so you’ll want to sand those rough edges down with some fine sandpaper.
If you want a relatively simple design without a lot of equipment, this can be a great option. However, there are other methods to get the same result.
How to cut a vinyl record using a hot knife
If you already have one lying around or you’re willing to spend a few bucks on Amazon, a hot knife (also known as a heat knife) can make this much easier. It works the same way, but it removes the need to heat the record in the oven. You will also get much cleaner cuts with a hot knife than a pair of scissors. A wood-burning tool is similar and can also substitute a hot knife.
Just like with the other method, you want to start by tracing out your design on the vinyl. The easiest way to do that is just with a pencil. You can cut it out with a piece of paper and use that as an outline.
Once your knife has heated up for a couple of minutes, you just have to stick it into the vinyl where you want to start your cuts. The record will start to heat up quickly, so you want to keep the knife moving. If you don’t, you could start melting the vinyl instead of cutting it.
All you have to do is trace your lines with the knife, and you’re set. Once you’ve made your cuts, you just need to peel the cut-off pieces away from the main part of your design.
If you like DIY projects, a hot knife can be a great investment, too. It’s useful for a ton of different styles of projects, and it makes the process a lot smoother and simpler.
How to cut vinyl records with a rotary tool
If you have a rotary tool that you’ve used for other projects, that’s another great method for cutting vinyl. You can use the tool for cutting and sanding, making for a simpler workflow overall.
Start with the grinder tool and begin making your cuts. With this method, we recommend cutting a little away from your traced lines, as it’s easy to slip and cut a little too much. You can always go back and sand it down further later in the process.
Once you’ve cut off the initial chunks to start your design, you can switch the bit for a wire brush wheel. Use this piece to clean up the jagged edges and to take off any additional vinyl where you need to go in a little closer.
The last step is to swap out for a sanding bit and clean everything up. As long as you are experienced with the tool and know how to use it, this is likely the easiest method, especially if you have past woodworking experience. Either way, we still recommend safety gloves.
How to sand vinyl records
Regardless of which method you use to cut the records, you’ll want to spend some time sanding down the edges. They’re going to be a little rough either way. This is also a great time to trim off any cuts you missed or anything that doesn’t look quite how you wanted it to.
You want to use sandpaper with a grit of between 120-300, as that will yield the best results. The better you want it to look, the longer it will take.
You just need to take the sandpaper and smooth out all of the rough or jagged edges left from your cuts. This is what will take it from looking like a home job to a professional piece of art.
Make sure to also remove any leftover pencil markings at this stage. You don’t want the outline you traced to still show on the finished product.
Is it dangerous to cut vinyl records?
When you cut into vinyl records, they do emit some potentially harmful gases, but this isn’t a cause for concern. Just be sure to wear some sort of mask or facial protection when doing the project, and it is perfectly safe to cut your own vinyl.
Do I need special tools to cut vinyl records?
While having something like a hot knife or a rotary makes the process easier, all you need is a home oven and a pair of scissors. Cutting vinyl is not complicated at all once you know what you’re doing.
Now that you have one less record to play, check out our collection at Sound of Vinyl to help build your collection back up. We have hundreds of rare and limited-edition vinyl records, including colored vinyl that makes for a beautiful piece of art all on its own.