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What is the best way to cut Spectra line?

2010 January 4
Dear Boat Doctor,
I have started to do some line splicing and am finding lots of good uses for Spectra. I am replacing a lot of the Nicro-pressed wire on my boat, like the ones used for tack pendants. I really like working with this material, but I am having a hard time finding a way to cut it. It seems like I need to sharpen my knife after almost every project.

I know you have done a fair bit of splicing, do you have any ideas for me?

Matt Farnum
San Diego, California

Dear Matt,

Welcome to the world of splicing and replacing metal with fiber! You'll find countless uses for little bits of Spectra or other fibers; you can replace wire, shackles and lots of things. Using fiber is ultimately lighter, cheaper, stronger, corrosion free and just plain cool. Your only enemies are chafe and UV damage, so inspect early and often.

Spectra is very strong and pretty hard to cut. Spectra is a trade name for ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. This material is used in industrial applications because it is somewhat self-lubricating but also very chafe resistant. These properties make it hard to cut, and even harder on the tool you are cutting with.

I have traditionally used scissors to cut cordage; at least smaller sizes. The scissors dull quickly but work well, the trick is to get a pair of scissors worth sharpening and then sharpen them often. I've had great luck with the all-metal models from Gingher (www.gingher.com, 800-446-4437). You can find them online or any sewing store should carry them or be able to order them for you.

Another option is to use a knife with a ceramic blade. These blades are very sharp and very hard, the downside is that they are brittle and a little pricey. The edge will stand up for a long time cutting fiber. You can find many fixed-blade models designed for hunting or culinary use. I recently purchased a nicely designed folding ceramic knife from Brion Toss Yacht Riggers (www.briontoss.com, 360-385-1080). Brion designed this knife specifically for rigging purposes and it is fairly priced at $69.