Physical review letters

Slicing softly with shear.

PMID 23368324


A soft solid is more easily sliced using a combination of normal and shearing deformations rather than diced by squeezing down on it normally with the same knife. To explain why this is so, we experimentally probe the slicing and dicing of a soft agar gel with a wire, and complement this with theory and numerical simulations of cutting of a highly deformable solid. We find that purely normal deformations lead to global deformations of the soft solid, so that the blade has to penetrate deeply into the sample, well beyond the linear regime, to reach the relatively large critical stress to nucleate fracture. In contrast, a slicing motion leads to fracture nucleation with minimal deformation of the bulk and thus a much lower barrier. This transition between global and local deformations in soft solids as a function of the angle of shear explains the mechanics of the paper cut and design of guillotine blades.