How do you cut electrical wires?
When it comes to cable and wire cutters, any hardware professional will tell you there's nothing quite like having the right tool for swift & efficient cutting of wires, metal, and aircraft cables of varying diameters. These essential tools are commonly used by hardware enthusiasts, contractors, and engineers in the construction, marine, telecommunications, aerospace, and locomotive industries. The range in types is vast, with each having its own advantages and disadvantages specific to your task.
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Is it essential to consider the type of wire to be cut?
When selecting a wire cutter tool, first consider the type of wire to be cut. Guy Wire, ASCR (Aluminum Conductor Steel-Reinforced cable) or other hard wires. ACSR is a type of high-capacity, high-strength stranded conductor typically used in overhead power lines.
Standard wire cutters are designed for soft copper or aluminium.
Wire rope explained: The most popular small diameter cables are 1x19, 7x7 and 7x19.
- 1x19 wire rope is very stiff and non-flexible. 19 individual bundles stranded together.
- 7x7 wire rope has moderate flexibility—7 individual bundles of 7 strands bundled together.
- A 7x19 aircraft cable is very flexible consisting of several strands of small individual cables that are bundled together. 7 bundles of 19 individual wires are stranded together.
What does your wire cutter look like?
Designed much like scissors, wire cutters use two levers attached at the fulcrum that when pinched together pierce a piece of wire. The amount of force necessary depends on the width of the wire. By using the levels and the specialized blades, wire cutters allow for greater force to be applied in a precise area.
There are three main types of wire cutters: bevelled edge, semi-flush, and flush. Bevelled edge wire cutters are more durable and sever the wires so that each end has a pointed face. Semi-flush wire cutters are designed to cut fine wires to an almost flat face. Though this is preferable to a chisel-like point, they can easily be damaged and are not intended for steel wire. Flush cutters can provide a sheer faced cut but are often highly expensive and provide a level of precision which is often unnecessary.
Use wire cutters which have a grip span of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches to avoid pinching palms or fingers. To avoid pinching or unnecessary injury, it is also important that all fingers are kept around the handle grips of the wire cutters and not placed in between the handles.
Make sure the cutting edges on the wire cutters are sharp, clean, and not oily. Dull and dirty blades can result in much more force being needed to not only cut but hold the workpiece in place. In such situations, muscle fatigue and repetitive strain injury can result.
Always wear safety goggles when cutting wires to protect your eyes from little pieces of wire or insulation debris.
What are the different types of wire cutters?
Channellock E337CB Diagonal Cutting Plier
Channellock's pliers cut with more power than the competition, and the large, padded handles are among the most comfortable.
Channellock's E337CB cut far better than its competitors during our tests, managing tough jobs that the other wire cutters struggled with. The wide, padded handles—a surprisingly rare feature among wire cutters—eased hand strain during difficult, repetitive cutting. The durability is outstanding as well. After making at least 200 cuts through a wide range of materials, the jaws showed no signs of wear and still had edges that were sharp enough to cut a piece of paper. This pair of Channellock pliers cost toward the higher end of the scale, but it's worth the money if you want to be secure that your wire cutters have the strength to handle the toughest jobs.
Irwin Vise-Grip 2078307 7-Inch Diagonal Cutting Pliers
The Irwin pliers represent a great combination of cutting ability, comfort, and cost. While they're not as powerful as our main pick, they do cut as well as others that cost twice as much.
If the Channellock pliers aren't available, or if you want to make a smaller investment into a quality tool, consider the Irwin Vise-Grip 2078307 7-Inch Diagonal Cutting Pliers. These are among the least expensive models we tested, but they still have padded handles and cut just as well as their peers—except for the superior Channellock pliers. Irwin's offering will be able to deal with common tasks like cutting electrical wire and hardware cloth, but because these pliers have less strength, they'll struggle during hard jobs like cutting nails. For repetitive work, like snipping fencing, your hands will get tired faster than if you were using our top pick.
Hakko Micro Wire Cutters
The best thing about Hakko's micro cutters is their price. You can get a 3-pack of these for the same price that you could get one of our other wire cutters. Given the comparative price range, that makes this dirt cheap.
One thing to also love about these is that they are small and handy. If you have a very fine wire that you need cut, these let you snip it quickly and painlessly. We also like the grips, which make these comfortable to hold, unlike a lot of palm-friendly tools.
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Their size is also a drawback. These are designed for a thin, soft wire. If you've got something hard or big, you are likely to damage these while leaving the wire you want to cut more or less intact. If you have difficult wire cutting, you'll need to invest in something more capable.
Bahco 2101G-180 Ergo Cutting Pliers
The Bahco pair had the best handles and most precise jaws. You can also spring-load the handles if needed, but they don't have the cutting strength of the Channellock pair.
If you'll be using your wire cutters for a lot of repetitive cutting, like through hardware cloth, and if you're willing to sacrifice the overwhelming strength of the Channellock pair, we like the Bahco 2101G-180 Ergo Cutting Pliers. They offer the unique ability to toggle in and out of a spring-loaded handle setting, which opens the handles for you after each cut—ideal for continuous cutting and for cutting in tight spots. Of the cutters we tested, the Bahco pair also has the most comfortable padded handles and the smallest, most precise cutting nose with the sharpest jaws, making it a nice choice for small jewellery or toy repairs. The downside is that it just doesn't have the cutting strength of the Channellock pair, so it'll struggle through a thicker-gauge wire. So even though we like everything about this tool, we think most people would prefer the higher strength of the Channellock pair.
Stanley 6-Inch Diagonal WireCutter
We don't hate the Stanley 84-105. It's a good, affordable wire cutter capable of snipping things like guitar strings. Considering the price of a pair, they fill a pretty important niche in the market as affordable cutting pliers that can still do quality work on high-grade materials. That's the basic performance at a basic price.
It turns out that these are pretty specialized tools, actually. They can snip harder wires because the head is pretty bulky. There is nothing subtle about them. The can cut guitar strings, but it's also hard to see around them when cutting something that requires precision. If you use these, also be prepared to open them manually after each cut. No spring action pops the head back open. That makes them comparatively cumbersome to use.
BERRYLION 8-Inch Wire Cutter
The Berrylion 8-inch Heavy Duty Wire Cutters are not heavy duty, not well constructed at all, and expensive for what they can do. We'd say what we really feel about these, but we're also a little afraid the person who designed them will come across this review and feel so sad over it they don't want to face their children at the end of the day. We don't want to be responsible for that.
We will say that these are good at cutting single-stranded copper wire. They have the power to do that, comfortable grips and an angled head that allows you to reposition it from multiple angles.
They are also expensive for what they do, easy to damage, and if you need to cut the braided wire, you're just plain out of luck. You can get better performance out of a well-sharpened utility knife which, for a specialty tool like this, is about as damning an indictment as is possible.
Klein 11054 Wire Stripper-Cutter
Comfortable, spring-loaded handles, as well as large jaws and clearly marked wire-stripping holes, make this tool a solid choice for AV setup.
For the specific needs of the AV hobbyist—which include as much stripping as cutting, and the precision to snip, grip, and bend speaker wire—we recommend the Klein 11054 Wire Stripper-Cutter. We didn't do comparative testing of this model. Still, it was recommended to us by Wirecutter AV senior staff writer Chris Heinonen, who likes its comfortable grips, large cutting jaws, clearly marked stripping holes and spring-loaded handles.
How to choose a tool in cutting wire?
With the right tool and cutting technique, you can easily cut wire of all shapes and sizes. For instance, use Lineman's pliers to cut electrical wires, or use diagonal cutting pliers for an all-purpose choice. Make sure you put on safety glasses to prevent flyaway wires. Align the wire with the cutting part of your tool, and push down with gentle but firm pressure to make your cut.
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Use Lineman's pliers to splice or cut electrical wires. Lineman's pliers have their cutting device on the side, and they are used for much different construction and electrical jobs. If you need to grip, strip, or cut any sort of electrical wire, this is the safest choice. Lineman's pliers are also known as "side cutting" pliers.
Select long-nose pliers if you are cutting a small-gauged wire. Long-nose pliers have a slim, pointed end, and the ends of the pliers may be either straight or bent. These are often used to reach small wires or get into awkward places. Use these if you are cutting 8- to 24- gauge wire. Since they have a narrow tip, long-nose pliers also work great to bend loops into wires and attach multiple wires together. If you are cutting wire for a jewellery project or trimming guitar strings, this may be a good option.
Go with diagonal cutting pliers for a standard, all-purpose option. If you don't have many tools but need a basic wire-cutter, this is the tool for you. Diagonal cutting pliers have a sharp, rounded tip, making them great for stripping and cutting wire. You can use these for nearly any type of wire. Diagonal cutting pliers are also widely used for removing pins and nails as well. If you want to cut a wire hanger, for example, this is a good option.
Try end-cutting pliers if you want to make a close cut. End-cutting pliers have a short, stunted tip, which works great for trimming wire without taking much off the end. These work great for projects where you don't have much wire leftover or if you need to splice two wires close together. You can also use end-cutting pliers to cut nails and rivets.
Avoid using scissors to cut wire. It is best to use a wire cutter or plier hand tool rather than using scissors or a blade. Even a sharp pair of scissors may not cut through the wire without damaging the internal metal. It is also easy to slip and cut yourself when cutting wire with a pair of scissors, since the blade may not grip the wire as well as a set of pliers.
How to set up your workplace?
Wear safety glasses to protect against flyaway pieces. While you are snipping and stripping wire, pieces of the coating or the wire can fly up and pierce your eye. To prevent this, always put on safety glasses or goggles to cover your eyes. If you'd like, you can also wear protective gloves to prevent poking your fingers with the wires. While this is not required, it can be helpful if cutting lots of wire at the same time.
Put your wire on a flat work surface so you can stand comfortably. Place the object you are working with on a table or countertop. You want to stand comfortably without having to bend forward or backward when you make your cuts. This way, you have less chance of injuring yourself. If you are leaning forward or backward and happen to lose your balance, you have a greater chance of hurting yourself with your tool or hitting your head.
Shut down the power source if you have one before snipping any wires. If you are cutting electrical wires, audio wires, or computer wires, be sure to power down your device before you get started. If your device is still on, you could get shocked as you make your snips, or your wires can get damaged. For instance, if you are cutting the wires in your computer, make sure the computer is powered off before you begin.
Unravel the wire from the spool if cutting new wire. If you are cutting a fresh piece of jewellery wire, barbed wire, or electrical wire, for example, find the end of the wire and pull it off of the spool to your desired length. This way, you can have a smaller piece of wire to size and shape as needed.
How to cut the wire?
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Ensure your tools are clean, sharp, and in good condition. If the blade of your tool is dull or if there is a lot of rust, the tool may not cut the wire correctly. Also, wipe down your tool with a clean cloth before you get started. If your pliers or wire cutters are dirty before you use them, this can cause you to slip up as you cut. If your tools are not in proper working condition, do not use them. Additionally, apply a drop of oil to your tool every 1-3 weeks to keep them in good condition. The oil makes the hinge work better over time.
Grip the handles of your tool properly and securely. Hold the pliers in your dominant hand, so your thumb sits on top of one end of the handle, and your other fingers fit around the other end. This helps you control the tool when making your snips. If you hold the tool incorrectly, you can slip when you make your cut, injuring yourself or damaging the wire.
Bring the tool to your wire where you want to make your cut. Open the handle of your tool all of the way, and place your wire at the inner snipping section of your pliers or cutters. Place the wire in your tool, so the spot you want to snip is exactly centred with the tip of your tool. The inner snipping section is slightly different depending on your tool. For instance, diagonal cutting pliers will have a diagonally-shaped blade.
Make your cut at a right angle, so you don't damage the wire. For a clean, even cut, position your tool at a right angle after you bring the tool to the wire. This way, the blade of your plier or wire cutter can easily make a clean cut. If you do not cut the wire at a right angle, you may damage the wire, and it may not work any longer.
Apply force gently onto the handles to snip the wire. When you cut wire, it's best to slowly and gradually make your cut. Squeeze both sides of the handle together gradually, so you do not use too much force. As you do this, avoid rocking your tool from side to side or bending the wire. If you cut the wire too forcefully, the tail of the wire may fly up into the air. If the wire does not cut entirely with 1 snip, open the handle of your tool and make another cut at a right angle.
What are the dos and don'ts in using a cutter wire?
- There are many types and sizes, each designed for specific uses, although their versatility makes some pliers adaptable for many jobs.
- Pliers should not be used for cutting hardened wire unless specifically manufactured for this purpose.
- Never expose pliers to excessive heat. This may change the material properties and ruin the tool.
- Always cut at right angles. Never rock from side to side or bend the wire back and forth against the cutting edges.
- Don't bend stiff wire with light pliers. Using the tips to bend too large a wire can damage long-nose pliers. Use a sturdier tool.
- Never use pliers as a hammer or hammer on the handles. They may crack or break, or edges may be nicked by such abuse.
- Never extend the length of handles to secure greater leverage. Use a larger pair of pliers.
- Pliers should not be used on nuts or bolts. A wrench will do the job better and with less risk of damage to the fastener
- Oil pliers occasionally. A drop of oil at the joint will lengthen tool life and assure easy operation.
- Safety glasses or goggles should be worn when cutting wire, etc. to protect eyes.
- Never attempt to cut a "HOT" wire.
- Whenever you use pliers to cut the wire or even to remove a stripped screw, it's advisable to wear safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes in case any small parts fly.
- Note that unless you are using lineman pliers that are insulated, comfort grips on regular pliers don't offer any protection against electric shock. Never use any pliers near live electric circuits unless you're certain they are safe for use.
- If pliers are damaged, cracked, sprung, or the cutting or gripping edges are deformed in any way, it's time to discard them and invest in a new set of pliers.
- Hot wire cutters use low voltage electricity to heat a wire, thus allowing it to melt its way through polystyrene foam. Because a low voltage is used, there is no risk of electric shock. Neither is the wire capable of cutting your fingers, but it will burn them and anything else that you allow to come into contact with it. The main issue with hot wire cutter safety relates to the toxic fumes which can be given off when polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) is melted. We have tracked down some definitive advice about this, and we present it below. The bottom line seems to be that in hobby use, with sensible ventilation, the risks are manageable.
Warning: Comfort grips on handles are not intended to give any degree of protection against electric shock and shall not be used on or near live electric circuits.