It might sound like the start of a tongue twister – how thick can wire cutters cut – but it’s a question often asked. Wire cutters are an essential tool yet they’re not all the same. There are many variations with different features for different jobs – engineering, plumbing, electrical, fencing – so it’s important to use the right one at the right time. Let’s take a look so you’ll know what to say next time someone asks how thick can wire cutters cut and which type should you use?

First Things First

Here’s a rule of thumb: try to match the thickness and hardness of the material you’re cutting with the cutting tool you use. If you’re cutting a large cable for instance, you’ll need cable cutters with a wide jaw. If you’re cutting heavy duty locks then reach for a wire cutters with longer handles. This will let you apply more force and cut more readily.

What kinds are there?

One of the most common wire cutters are diagonal cutting pliers. They’ll give you a vice like grip and the jaws have a wedged blade which do the cutting. They’ll cut through most grades of wire like aluminium, steel, brass, copper or iron. They’ll even tackle a bent nail or two. What you need to cut will guide you in terms of the quality you buy – those made from softer (cheaper) metals won’t hack hard material like piano wire for instance. Cutters used specifically for electrical work will do a flush (not diagonal) cut so wire can then be soldered. 

If the wire you’re cutting is thicker, heavier or stronger, you may need cable cutters. These are essentially wire cutters on steroids and they’re designed to do the hard work. They look similar to bolt cutters but rather than having a flat blade, they’re curved into a crescent so they can grip rounded cables and wire more readily. The handles are longer to let you apply greater force when cutting. 

A variation on the cable cutter is the ratcheting cable cutter. They encircle the cable then, using a ratchet mechanism, close in to cut the wire or cable from all sides. With minimum effort you can cut through some heavy duty cables. As with all wire cutters, there is a variety of models available depending on the girth of the cable, its strength and the amount of work the cutter will do on your behalf.

Another variation is the bolt cutter. It resembles the cable cutter with a major difference – the blades are flat. These are designed for cutting through heavy duty wires, cables and metal such as locks and heavy wiring. The long handles let you apply more force and while they don’t always do an elegant job, they always get the job done.

Which one is right for me?

That depends entirely on the job you’re doing. Different wire cutters will be required for different tasks and you’ll probably need more than one in your toolbox. Make sure they feel comfortable and do the hard work for you (not the other way around).