How the Hole Punch Works

Imagine you have a three-ring binder and loads of lined paper with no holes. You’re going to need to put some holes in those papers to use that binder. Perhaps we take for granted the simplistic usefulness of the hole puncher. Delve with me a moment into the inner workings of things and lets discover a few things about how the hole puncher works.

A hole puncher is a mechanical tool used to cut holes into paper, or wood or other malleable materials. Hole punches are used for paper, plastic, wood and even some metals such as aluminum and copper. They can range in size from millimeters to inches or more. Furthermore, they don’t necessarily have to be round.

Let’s eliminate the larger manufacturing hole punchers, for brevity, and focus a little closer to the familiar stationary variety. There are many shapes of holes that can be made, but let’s also narrow our focus to the round hole puncher, since it is the most common. These hole punchers are basically round scissors. To explain this statement, come with me on a thought experiment.

Strolling through the isles of your local stationary store, at some point, you will come across the paper hole punch. They vary in size from handheld to the larger levered versions meant for large sheets of paper. The hole punch is as complex as a pencil in outward appearances. Put paper in, squeeze or push the lever and presto – holes. Not too complicated on the surface, but looking deeper, there is a scientific aspect to the process.

To understand the hole punch let’s first examine its cousin, the scissors. Scissors cut by applying force to a very thin, linear area of a material on both sides. This thin linear area of the scissors is sharp, and the sharper it is the easier the cut. Just like the way a knife is more efficient when it is sharper. In fact, scissors are a knife or, more precisely, two knives working together in opposite directions. This allows for a straight line to be cut with less effort and more accuracy.

Scissors allow for precise straight cuts, but they are linear in nature and can only cut corners by moving the paper in the scission (area that is being cut.) Unless you have a precise robotic arm, getting a perfect circle is going to prove a challenge.

If you take the scissor concept but use a cylindrical knife, you have the basis for the hole punch. A cookie cutter is a cylidrical knife. Plop it down on the dough and the cut makes a nice round cookie shape – or star shape or whatever shape your cookie cutter is. Try using a cookie cutter on paper. You can push and slam that cookie cutter down on the paper all day and not get a full cut without a huge amount of force.

Scissors use two knives going in different directions. If we use two cookie cutters, where one is just small enough to fit inside the other, then we have cylindrical scissors. Now place them on opposite ends of the paper and squeeze them together. That still won’t work well because the surface area is too large. It is like trying to use the flat edge of a long butcher knife to cut a line in a block of wood without striking the knife down in murderous fashion. If the pressure is the same from one end of the knife to the other, or centrally balanced, the wood will resist the cut. Make the edge rounded and, viola! Rock the rounded edge back and forth for a nice straight and deep cut.

All that we did with the knife was to lower the surface area of the point touching the block. If we take our cookie cutters and tilt one slightly so that one side touches before the other side, then we will get a better cut. That is how the hole punch works. One side of the two edges touch the paper before the parallel side does. Mystery solved.

Now that we know how the hole punch works. All we have to do is cut up some confetti and celebrate our newfound knowledge. I think I will use my hole punch for that. What a great tool!