The Chopper II

A handy cutting tool for all your large-scale projects
Eric Ogundipe
The Chopper II
Northwest Shortline
PO Box 423
Seattle WA 98111-0423
Price: $39.95
Photo 1: Styrene, X-acto knife, and metal ruler
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 2: A straight cut using an X-acto knife
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 3: An inadvertant shift with the X-acto knife will create an angled cut.
Eric Ogundipe
Over the years, I have read some fantastic articles in which a number of very talented modelers have shown their abilities to create some well detailed locomotives, cars, and structures with incredible precision. While I have always admired such talent, I had convinced myself that my lack of abilities made it impossible for me to ever create models with such a level of detail and accuracy. As I have gotten older, and the hobby has grown due to the introduction of new models and tools, it has put a crushing blow on my former beliefs that I lacked the talent to make an accurate model!

As a (full-size) railroader, it can be very difficult to have time at home to build models, but in order to utilize the time away from home, I would sometimes pack styrene strips, X-acto (photo 1) knives, and a metal ruler for fabricating parts while passing the time on the other end of the road. I would use the ruler to measure the parts and the X-acto knife to cut them, and while it sounds easy, these tools don't provide accuracy due to a few fundamental problems.

Even after measuring the parts, they can shift on your work surface. I'd noticed that after cutting several strips, they varied in length. It would not only create more work when I had to re-cut the parts, but it also wastes material. When eyeballing that nice 90-degree angle of your knife in relationship to the material, the angle of the knife may start straight, but it can change because keeping the blade straight is essentially a balancing act. In photo 2, the knife is straight, but the blade has shifted in photo 3. Instead of having a clean, squared cut, you could have an unwanted vertical or horizontal angle. I have also had the misfortune of the knife slipping off the material and cutting my finger. The ultimate result from these examples is that it creates more work and causes burn out from the project. The creation of models is fun, but a task so fundamental should be quick and easy.
Photo 4: NWSL's Chopper II in its packaging
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 5: The Chopper out of its packaging
Eric Ogundipe
One day, while having a conversation with my friend Mike Roberts, he asked if I owned a Northwest Shortline Chopper. I said I didn't, but until that point, I never really thought much about it at all. Shortly after the conversation, I noticed an ad in a magazine for the Chopper II, and after reading the ad, I thought, maybe I need something like this! It's not a cheap tool, costing around $45, but after wasting time and energy, the money was worth making the hobby fun again and ridding myself of the frustration from the knife and ruler tricks.

When it arrived, the packaging was simple, (photo 4) and after pulling the Chopper out of the box, I noticed that it came with two templates which allow the user to make straight 90 degree cuts, 60 degree cuts, 45 degree cuts, and 30 degree cuts. The Chopper II itself was actually a bit smaller than I expected, but the small size takes up little space on the work surface.

The construction is made of a durable metal, (photo 5) and unless you are blatantly careless, it's not a tool that you will have to worry about breaking. The handle is very sturdy and the blade is VERY sharp, so always remember to keep your fingers clear of the blade. I have already found out that the blade is sharp enough to peel skin just from grazing it very lightly, so extreme caution is a must!

The chopper also has a mat with a grid pattern that fits firmly in the middle. This is helpful for perspective not only when you cut, but also when the blade comes down, it should be parallel to the grid line which assures a straight blade and straight cuts. The grid mats do wear out after numerous cuts, but replacements mats as well as replacement blades can be purchased from Northwest Shortline.
Photo 6: A frustrated Marty Cozad in his workshop
Eric Ogundipe
When I had initially ordered the Chopper II, I tried to patronize one of my local hobby shops, but because the product was backordered, I ordered directly from Fred at Northwest Shortline.

Within a week after my Chopper II arrived, the first Chopper II had finally arrived at the local hobby shop. I felt obligated to purchase the this Chopper II as well, but since I didn't need both, I suggested the extra Chopper II to my friend Marty Cozad. After seeing his exhaustion and sore fingers from having cut numerous pieces for 3 projects one afternoon (photo 6), I felt he would certainly find the Chopper II much easier and faster. After having used it for a few months, he too, is sold on the ease and accuracy of the product as can also be seen in his article on kitbashing an E8 B unit in the October 2007 issue of Garden Railways magazine.
Photo 10 The finished cut
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 11: A clean, accurate cut
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 7: Aligning the material in the chopper
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 8: Securing the guide and material
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 9: Lowering the blade
Eric Ogundipe
Let's look at how the Chopper II is used. In the example, I will take a strip of Evergreen styrene and cut two pieces of identical length, and after cutting the two pieces, I will use the 45-degree angle guide to produce a 45 degree angle on one end of each of the parts. The result will be two identical pieces that could possibly be used in making window frames for a building structure. This is just one of many ways in which the Chopper II can be used.

Photo 7: We will choose the 90-degree template guide that will allow us to cut the two identical pieces. The material which has already been measured is placed on the measuring ridge behind the blade, and the blade is slowly brought down to assure proper alignment with the pencil mark.

Photo 8: The guide is firmly butted up against both the measuring ridge and the material to be cut, but be sure not to bump the material out of place. The guide is then secured in place by screwing the fastener down on top of it.

Photo 9: Another check is then made to assure proper alignment between the blade and the material before the cut is made. As the old saying goes, measure twice and cut once.

Photos 10-11 Hold the material firmly against the ridge and the guide, and lower the blade for the cut. If the measuring was accurate to start, the cut should be right down the middle of the pencil line.
Photo 12: Two pieces cut at a 45-degree angle
Eric Ogundipe
Photo 13: The two cut pieces fit together perfectly.
Eric Ogundipe
The same steps are repeated in order to make the 45-degree angles except we use a different template guide. Once the guide is set to where we want it, the piece must be placed at a 90-degree angle to the guide. At the same time, line the end of the part that will be cut in relationship with the grid line on the mat. Once again, we use the philosophy of measure twice and cut once.

Once the parts are cut, the two parts should fit together in a nice 90-degree angle (photos 12-13). There are times when mistakes are going to be made with cuts because the part may have shifted, so this is why it is always important to hold the parts firmly against the measuring ridge along the back and the template guide. I would be lying if I said that I never made a bad cut, but the actual time to cut the parts from our illustration took about 3 minutes. The majority of that time is setting up the guides and measuring for the cuts. If I needed to cut up to 100 parts or more of material, I could easily have it done in minutes as opposed to hours using the "primitive" method of the X-acto knife and ruler.
The X-acto knife does have its uses as you may have read in a past article in this series, but in this case, the Chopper II takes the prize. Perhaps you will find your uses for the Chopper II and rid yourself of any beliefs that you lack the skills or the patience to attempt an intermediate or even an advanced project. The Chopper II has allowed me to accomplish anything that necessitates the need for cutting multiple duplications of small strips or rods, which is a high percentage of many of the tasks I had put aside because I lacked this tool.

With the proper tools, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished, and I hope this series on tools has been helpful to some extent or another to all who have read each article. I felt the need to share my experiences because I know that I am not the only who has struggled with difficulties when the right tools were not used. Now that you have some encouragement, get those tools working, and let's create those contest quality models!


Read and share your comments on this article

Want to leave a comment?

Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.


Get the Garden Railways newsletter delivered to your inbox twice a month

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Garden Railways magazine. Please view our privacy policy