"Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one." - Frank Lloyd Wright
Cigar cutters are accessories and accoutrements; equal part utilitarian tool and luxury item. Sure, they function to remove a portion of the cigar's cap allowing for a good draw, but they also rest in the pockets of sportcoats, on desktops, in golf bags, and in the dark corners of briefcases waiting for their chance to step into the spotlight. They are the cufflinks of the cigar world - occasionally peeking out to demonstrate their form and function simultaneously.
Personal preferences and zigzagging lifestyles are why cigar cutters have taken on divergent shapes, sizes and adornments. From the Double Guillotines' horizontal slice to the deep wedge of a V-Cut, the basics remain - the head of the cigar contains a cap that needs to be partially removed prior to smoking.
The Goal of the Cut
The majority of premium hand-rolled cigars have a cap that acts as a seal for the head while keeping the integrity of the roll. A proper cut will open the cap, enabling the smoker to draw smoke through the cigar, while not removing anything that is not the cap. The shoulder of the cigar (where cap and head unite), should remain intact. Cutting below the cap can cause the head of the cigar to unravel prematurely.
The "Guillotine" Cut
When most people think of cutting a cigar, they are probably thinking of some type of guillotine cut. A blade - or ideally two blades - are used to chop the cap of the cigar. When executing a guillotine cut (pun intended), it is better to initially cut too little than to cut too much for reasons mentioned above. The key to a good guillotine cut is to do it quickly, and ideally, with the entire circumference of the cigar being cut at the same time which reduces the risk of damaging the cigar.
An alternative method of "clipping" a cigar is to actually pull a piece of the cap out of the top of the cigar. This is done with a punch cutter, sometimes referred to as a bullet since many punch cutters are in the shape of a bullet. It should go without saying, but make sure the cigar's ring gauge is large enough to accommodate the hole that is created. The punch cut is the least risky as there is no risk of taking off more than the cap.
A pocket or cigar knife will also work to shear the end, as well as improve your hand eye coordination. Experiment with what works best for you and then make sure you have your preferred cutter on hand. Cigar knives can take extra skill since there is nothing other than your hand to apply counter-pressure to the cut to ensure that the cigar remains in tact. This is why the guillotine or cigar scissors are so popular -- their design automatically applies pressure to the entire head of the cigar.
If you are just starting to smoke cigars, you can always allow someone else to cut your cigar. If the someone else is working in a tobacconist, you're probably in good hands. Anywhere else and you may prefer to keep matters in your own hands.
That being said, there will come a time when the Best Man is unexpectedly handing out Padron Anniversarios and you're left sans cutter. Please don't stand around aimlessly. Go ahead and use your incisors (the teeth on either side of your two front teeth) or a well-manicured fingernail...this time. Remember that while an improper cut will not ruin the cigar, it could somewhat diminish the smoking experience. Even if drinking Johnnie Walker Blue from a plastic cup is still fantastic, you could have done the dishes.
There is no single correct way to cut a cigar. Your preferred choice of cutter will be influenced by aesthetics as much as functionality, and that's just fine. Learn to master whatever cutter you have, and you'll be happy. Different strokes for different folks with different smokes.