If you love a fine cigar – then you already know that a cigar cutter is a must-have tool in your arsenal of accessories. And while we’ve debated the merits of each type of cutter and how to cut cigars with each many times over in the past, it dawned on me how little historical information exists out there about cigar cutters. Actually, there’s pretty much nothing – except for the fact that we as smokers have been using our teeth to bite the cap off our cigars since, well, forever.

Let’s just say Zino Davidoff was not a fan of such uncultured behavior: “[this method] does not permit much precision…I never practice or recommend such a method,” he wrote in The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar. So if you bit the end off your smoke, Zino would have labeled you a philistine; apparently he never forgot his cutter at home.

A cigar perforator, patented in 1868.

A cigar perforator, patented in 1868.

The first incarnation of cigar cutters were most likely knives, and their design got more and more specialized for use on cigars as smoking became more popular. By the 1870s, smokers were using a piercer – sometimes called a cigar perforator – in addition to cutting their cigars. And this continued, until the popularity of the cigarette overtook the cigar as the king of tobacco in the early 20th Century.

Cigar smokers liked their toys even back then. Cutters ranged from simple pocket-sized blades to weighty and ornate mechanical gadgets that severed the caps of cigars. But if you see an antique cigar cutter, you’ll notice the size of the hole: it’s tiny. That’s because most of the cigars being produced back in the day were small, and rolled with a tapered, almost pointed head. Seems 60 rings were a long way off, yet.

Lady cigar cutters

The original cigar porn: It may seem like a statue, but it was made to cut cigars…and it works like our imagination says it would. Lift her left leg in the air, cut your cigar. Naughty Victorian age folk.

Cigar cutters began to fall a bit out of favor, however, as machine-made cigars became popular. You didn’t need one; if you smoked a machine-rolled cigar, the cap was already perforated for you, with a small punch-sized hole for your smoking convenience.

Premiumhand rolledd cigars stuck around, of course – so as long as they survived, so did the need for a cutter. That continues today, so here are 5 things you should know about cigar cutters

#1. Yes, you CAN sharpen and clean cigar cutters.

Depending, of course, on what kind of cutter you tend to use. For most non-disposable guillotine cigar cutters, sharpening and cleaning involves removing the case – not only a huge headache, but the surrounding case might prevent you from being able to get the entire blade surface as sharp as you’d like. And at the risk of voiding your warranty, you’re better off taking a crack at cleaning it first. I’ve heard of two ways to do it:

Use a cotton swab or clean rag dampened with rubbing alcohol to clean the surfaces, and the tobacco oils and leaf debris should come off with a little “persuasion.”
For cutters with stainless blades, drop it in a cup of hot water and let it sit until the water is able to penetrate the built-up shreds of tobacco and other funk. Once thoroughly soaked, they’ll come off. Make sure you dry your cutter thoroughly.

You could also try home-grown remedies for sharpening scissors (like cutting through aluminum foil or very fine grit sandpaper), but your mileage may vary – and I’d take any of these solutions with a grain of salt, mostly because (a) I don’t want you to ruin your cutter trying them, and (b) I don’t want you screaming at me because I told you to do something that turned out to be dumb and/or dangerous. I say plenty of dumb and/or dangerous stuff; ask my wife. For cheap plastic cutters with a single blade (you know, the cheap ones) – toss ‘em. Spend a buck on a new cutter, instead of demolishing the head of your next cigar.

If you absolutely need to sharpen a guillotine cigar cutter or a v-cutter, I suppose you could use a Dremel tool, a stone polishing burr and a very steady hand to maintain the cutting angle as you grind the edge. You might also try a diamond rod file, gun file or hobby file, but again – you’re slightly altering the shape of the cutting edge, which will probably diminish the cutter’s performance over a relatively short period of time. Save this method for bullet cutters and sharpening cigar punches – they’re a lot easier.

#2. You’re not limited to using a cigar punch on huge ring cigars anymore.

Cigar and cutter on a white background

How has cutting the cap been working out for you? I’m guessing you probably used a larger diameter punch cutter, or took a couple whacks at this tree stump with your guillotine with just-ok results.

#3. The world’s most prolific cigar smoker didn’t use one.

Winston Churchill

Go ahead – tell this face he’s doing cigars wrong.

Winston Churchill (no, not George Burns – his El Producto Queens were machine-made, with a formed hole in the cap; no cutter necessary) had a ritual, as we all do, for lighting a cigar: instead of cutting, he’d poke it with the end of a wooden match, or with a tool called a piercer. It’s kind of like a draw poker, though it makes me think the draw must have been terrible. Sir Winston would blow through the cigar from the foot, expelling the loose tobacco to make sure his cigar would draw.

#4. How you cut it will change the character of the cigar.

While certain cigars call for using different cutters – it’s extra difficult to punch a torpedo, for instance – no one single cutter or method is “right,” “wrong” or “preferred.” You do what makes your cigar taste good, when we’re talking straight-up parejo shaped cigars. But interestingly enough, the method you use to clip your cigar can make a significant difference in the intensity of the smoke. A classic guillotine or a scissors cut provides a wide amount of surface area at the head for a smooth, open draw. If you opt to go for a v-cut or a cat’s-eye cut on your cigar, you’ll notice a change in the concentration of the smoke and the flavors you pull through the cigar. The flavors are richer and fuller; that’s because the now-smaller opening you’ve created in the cap is funneling the smoke through a narrower opening. Even smaller is the resulting hole from punch or bullet cigar cutters; with an opening less than half of the surface area of a guillotine cut, a cigar that’s been punched might seem like it has a bit of a harder draw. But the resulting big blast of flavor that’s being channeled on the palate is what really speaks to fuller-bodied cigar smokers, upping the intensity even more. There is a downside, however, as focusing the flavor also focuses the tars and the other elements of the cigar that can lead to harsh flavors if you over smoke it…so be aware.

#5. Types of Cigar Caps

Before you cut a cigar, you need to know what you’re working with. There are two main kinds of cigar shapes: parejo and figurado.

A parejo is a cigar that has straight sides and a rounded cap

A parejo is a cigar that has straight sides and a rounded cap. These are the most common cigar shapes you see out there and include sizes like the Corona, Robusto, Toro, Longsdale and Churchill.

A figurado refers to any kind of cigar with a non-standard shape

A figurado refers to any kind of cigar with a non-standard shape. Most commonly we think of figurados having a pointed cap. Common figurados are the Torpedo, Belicoso, Pyramid and Diadema.