Best Wire Cutters

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

45 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
247 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best wire cutters

Last Updated December 2019

When it comes to cutting wire, a standard pair of pliers will cut some types, but any professional will tell you there’s nothing quite like having the right tool for the job. It makes life easier and gets the work done faster. If you need to cut wire, you need wire cutters.

With wire cutters you have a vast choice, from those designed to cut thread-like filaments on electrical components and jewelry to those that can cut through overhead power cables and telephone lines. If you’re unsure what type you need, we can help.

In the following shopping guide, we look at the subject in more detail so you can have all the information you need to choose the best wire cutters for your tasks. We’ve also provided some examples of the specialist tools available and highlighted a couple of all-rounders that would be valuable additions to any toolbox.

Wire cutters are often called diagonal pliers, a name derived from the fact that the handle on one side becomes the jaw on the other on the diagonal.

Types of wire cutters

To look at the whole range of wire cutters, you have to ask yourself what constitutes “wire.” It can be as thin as a silver strand used to make jewelry or as thick as the steel hawser that anchors a ship. It can be gold, platinum, or other metal, glass (fiber-optic), or a whole host of multilayered (coaxial) materials. A nail is just thick wire, and a bolt is thick wire with a screw thread, so it could be argued that bolt cutters are just heavy-duty wire cutters.

What wire cutters cut

Most plain wire that you’ll come across in home and garden situations is steel, and general-purpose wire cutters cope with this very well. However, they tend to fracture or shatter fiber-optic cable, which is made of glass strands. They also struggle to cut coaxial cable, causing it to compress and fray (which can make it difficult to fit connectors).

Sometimes it’s important to be specific with your cutting tool. That’s why there is such a vast range of wire cutters available. If you’re not sure, it’s best to seek specialist advice. Once you’ve cut something off, it’s usually very difficult to go back and fix it!

EXPERT TIP

Handle length is a good indicator of the purpose of a pair of wire cutters. In general, the longer the handle, the more leverage available, and the thicker the wire you can cut.


Staff  | BestReviews

Wire cutter features

Despite the diversity, there are elements we can use to define different types of wire cutters and their purposes, such as the cutting edge, jaw shape, and materials.

Cutting edge

General-purpose wire cutters: The jaws are beveled on both sides to give a strong, centered cut.

Side cutters (flush cutters or shear cutters): The jaws are flat on one side and beveled on the other to allow you to cut objects flush with the surface. With electronics tools, these can be further defined as semi-flush, flush, and full-flush.
Pincers (end cutters): These change the angle of the jaws completely so the cutting edges are at right angles to the handle. This is usually a heavy-duty cut-off tool like you’d use for snipping off nail heads.

Ratcheting cable cutters: These have a heavily curved jaw, which surrounds the cable, is tightened, and cuts with a circular motion.

Jaw shape

Tapered jaws: These are used for detail work in which precision is more important than cutting power. The thinnest are known as needle-nose wire cutters.

Broad jaws: These have plenty of substance behind the cutting edge so you can apply lots of force.

Angled jaws: These are found on vet’s and orthopedic cutters, so only the cutting edges are presented where the cut needs to be made.

Materials

Tool steel: Most wire cutters are made of tool steel. It’s hard but offers a degree of flexibility.

High-speed steel: HSS is used on some wire cutters. It’s a type of tool steel that retains the sharpness of the cutting edge longer.

Steel plate: Wire cutter/wire stripper combination tools tend to be made from steel plate because they don’t need to be so robust.

Hardeners: Some blades have an additional hardening treatment and may even quote a Rockwell rating, which is an international standard of comparative hardness.

“Sprung” jaws means the blades always return to the open position ready for the next cut. It’s very convenient if you have a lot of cutting to do.

Ease of use

Spring: Wire cutters employ some type of spring to keep the jaws open, so as soon as you’ve made a cut, they’re ready for use again. If you’re doing repetitive work, this makes the job quicker and can save you from getting a cramp in your hand.

Handles: Longer handles offer greater leverage. Composite handles offer higher levels of comfort for the user.

Safety

Lock: Some wire cutters have a lock or a clip at the end of the handles that keeps the tool closed. That way the jaws won’t catch on your pockets and will take up less space in your tool belt or toolbox.

Markings: You’ll find all manner of markings on jaws and handles. Some are just manufacturer part numbers, but others tell you safety standards the tool complies with, specify the materials used, or define the sizes of wire the tool is designed to work with. Numerous combinations are used, which can be confusing, and there’s often little chance of deciphering them unless the maker tells you!

Wire cutter prices

There are some very cheap wire cutters available, but in general, they tend to blunt quickly or the hinges jam or soon become very loose. If it’s a tool you’re going to use often, you ought to invest in quality, but that needn’t be expensive.

Inexpensive: You’ll find entry-level electrical cutters for around $7 to $10.

Mid-range: Good general-purpose wire cutters cost around $20, and there is an enormous variety of tools – including cutters and strippers – for a few dollars more.

Expensive: Even the finest wire cutters available, including highly specialized tools like those used by cable installers, seldom exceed $100.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re looking for cutters for fencing or barbed wire, consider a fencing hammer. This tool can cut and grip the wire and has a hook for removing old staples and a head for driving new ones.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Avoid holding the cutters too near the jaws. there’s a chance you’ll pinch your hand, and it’s surprisingly painful!
  • Oil the hinge. An occasional drop or spray of oil on the hinge – and spring, if fitted – will extend the life of your tool. If you get any oil on the handles, wipe it off with a cloth or paper towel so your hand doesn’t slip.
  • Don’t wiggle the cutters when cutting wire. Wiggling cutters back and forth will eventually damage the blades. If the tool you’re using won’t cut at 90° to the wire, use larger cutters that give you more power.
  • Always wear eye protection. Small pieces of wire and nail heads can fly off at unexpected angles.
  • Check the specifications carefully for electrically insulated wire cutters. Rubber handles alone do not guarantee protection from electric shocks.

Other products we considered

The following tools underline the tremendous diversity when trying to define wire cutters. The Knipex Electronics Super Knips are side cutters designed primarily for use on circuit boards and hardened to produce a very sharp edge. They can also be used for small-diameter fiber-optic cable. Sticking with electronics, we have the Irwin Tools VISE-GRIP Wire Strippers capable of cutting, stripping, and then crimping a variety of diameters from 10 to 22 AWG (American wire gauge). Need to tackle some heavy-duty communications cabling? The BETOOLL Heavy-Duty Ratchet Cable Cutters will take on aluminum or copper-core up to a diameter of 600 millimeters (2.6 inches). A tough canvas bag is also provided.

Ratcheting wire cutters incorporate gears that magnify the force you exert with your hands. Some can cut copper cable over 2.5 inches in diameter.

FAQ

Q. Is there a safety standard for insulated wire cutters?
A.
There are several. Tools may have any or all of these markings, but at minimum they should be stamped with the international safety symbol, which is two triangles above one another, and “1000V.” Note that the following standards are only valid if the insulation on your wire cutter handles is intact. If it’s damaged in any way, replace the wire cutters immediately.

ASTM F1505-10 is the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard. Tools that comply protect you from “incidental contact” up to 1,000 volts AC. To reach this standard, tools are actually tested to 10,000 volts.

IEC 60900 is the European standard that the ASTM was originally based on, though there are now some minor differences.

NFPA 70E is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard that covers electric shock, arc blast, and arc flash.

Q. Can I resharpen blunt wire cutters?
A.
In general you can, but it depends on the blade. Standard wire cutters can be resharpened with a fine-grade file (usually called a smooth file) or a diamond hone. Work slowly and carefully to preserve the blade angle or you could make things worse rather than better. Wire cutter/strippers are difficult to resharpen. Depending on the configuration, you might be able to use a small round file, but often the only solution is replacement. Some manufacturers of premium wire cutters offer refurbishment services, which includes resharpening.

Q. What does it mean when wire cutters are ESD or ESD safe?
A.
ESD stands for electrostatic discharge, which can damage sensitive electronic circuits. ESD-safe wire cutters allow the charge to dissipate harmlessly through the handles. These charges are so small as to be virtually undetectable to us and present no risk to users.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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