A bolt cutter is a tool used to cut metal, meaning any type like chains, padlocks, bolts, wire, cable, wire mesh or a number of other forms. They are designed to multiply the force applied to the handles using leverage, or mechanics built into the head of the bolt cutter, or a combination of the two. There are several different types and sizes of bolt cutters. Some common types include angle cut, center cut, shear cut, and clipper cut. Typical sizes include 8, 12, 14, 18, 24, 30, 36 and 42 inches. The larger the size, the more leverage. The longer the handles, the greater the multiplier between the force applied at the handles to the force realized at the jaws. For example, if you are cutting a ½” thick threaded rod, it may take 50 ft./lbs. of force on a 14” cutter, but only 20 ft./lbs. of force on a 36” cutter. (These are not exact numbers, but simply an example to illustrate a point.)
Let’s talk about the different type of cutters for a moment. I mentioned angle cut, center cut, shear cut, and clipper cut. The angle cut is a cutter that has an angled head (typically 25-35 degrees) for easier insertion. A center cut bolt cutter has two blades that are equally opened from the center point of force and they both move equally towards the center as the handles are squeezed together. Shear cut bolt cutters are similar to scissors, in that they are slightly offset and slide next to each other as they are closed. The last type of cutter is the clipper cutter. This type of cutter has a single blade that moves to meet a face.
Bolt cutters are different sizes base on the size of material they are designed to cut. Since a small bolt cutter is going to multiply your force less, it is obviously designed to cut smaller material. You are not going to want to try to cut a ¾” bolt with a small bolt cutter. Not only are you not going to able to apply enough force at the handles to cut it, you are probably going to break the cutter and crush the blades. How hard the blades are is directly proportional to the size of stock the cutter is designed to cut. It also is a deciding factor in the cost and quality of the cutters. You will find that you can buy one 30” bolt cutter for $9.99, while the next one is $49.99. Why? A major factor is how hard the blades are. A cheaper cutter will not have as hard of a blade (the most expensive part of the tool, and the way companies can cut the cost of the tool) as the more expensive cutter. Another factor is the material used in the handles, and the actual mechanism that the blades are attached to. Some mechanisms will multiply force more than another. Depending on the quality of construction and type of multiplying force, this part of the tool can have a large factor in the cost. The handles are often made from fiberglass, tubes, or solid metal handles. Fiberglass has the advantages of being lighter and not conducting electricity. Often, cutters with fiberglass handles will be used in cutting live electrical wires in emergency and rescue situations. Pipe or solid handles can handle more force before failing or bending for use in heavy duty applications.
Ridgid Bolt Cutters
Ridgid is a name often associated with quality and endurance. Specializing in everything in plumbing tools, hand tools, cameras and vacuums, Ridgid’s 90 year history has proven them to be a reliable source of great tools.
Ridgid bolt cutters are designed and built to insure the longest possible blade life by using only hardened alloy steel. The internal cam is a one-step design that is simple to ensure the cutting blades remain aligned, giving you the cleanest, most consistent cut. The grips and handles are designed for maximum comfort and mechanical advantage for precise, quality cuts.
Heavy Duty Bolt Cutters
Bolt cutters that are 24” or greater are often referred to as being heavy duty bolt cutters. They typically will have the hardened steel alloy blades, strongest mechanisms, and handles designed to handle large amounts of force. These cutters are designed for cutting galvanized steel, hardened steel, or larger stock.
Hydraulic Bolt Cutters
Sometimes, more force is needed than can be reasonable applied by hand. There are cases where large amounts of cutting must be done continuously. A good example is cutting heavy rebar in construction applications. One person may be assigned the task of cutting all the rebar in a new construction site. It is unreasonable to think that this person would cut continuously, as he or she would become very tired very quickly, if he or she is even capable of using a manual cutter to make the cut. This is where hydraulic bolt cutters come in. A hydraulic bolt cutter is going to operate from pressure provided by a pump and fluid. This way, the user simply operates a lever and the pump does the rest of the work. There are hydraulic bolt cutters that attach to a hose that is attached to an external pump. While this type of cutter can apply much more force than any human can apply through sheer force, they can be inconvenient, since they must have a hose attached to a pump at all times. A solution for lighter applications is the electric hydraulic bolt cutter (also simply called an electric bolt cutter). These units have an internal hydraulic pump that is electrically driven. These units are hand-held (although heavy), and much more portable, as an electric cord is much easier to work with than a hydraulic hose. While these electric bolt cutters will cut much heavier stock than can be cut with a manual bolt cutter, they are still limited. For extreme cutting a hydraulic bolt cutter may be necessary.
Mini Bolt Cutters
Mini bolt cutters are typically 8” and actually look more like sheers than bolt cutters. They are often used for fencing, small electrical, or small wire cable cutting. Because they multiply cutting force, they will work better than diagonal cutters in cutting larger stranded wire, or small solid wire. They do not, however, work well in cutting small stranded wire.
HK Porter Bolt Cutters
HK Porter has been manufacturing cutters since 1880. They are world renown for their quality craftsmanship. They produce a huge line of cutters, including hand, hydraulic, and pneumatic. If it needs to be cut, HK Porter has the cutter. HK Porter bolt cutters have been called the best bolt cutters on the market. HK Porter bolt cutter parts are produced with the same quality and craftsmanship as the entire units, and can be purchased separately to keep your bolt cutter working for years.
Pneumatic Bolt Cutters
Pneumatic means “operated by air”. Air pressure can be used, just like hydraulic pressure to operate heavy duty tools. While pneumatic bolt cutters are not able to cut as heavy of material as a hydraulic bolt cutter can, they are able to apply more force at the cutter blades than manual force can. Since air is commonly available at most construction sites, it is reasonable to use pneumatic bolt cutters. Air hoses are lighter, smaller, and easier to maneuver than hydraulic lines. Pneumatic bolt cutters also weigh much less than hydraulic. For industrial applications where high pressure is needed, but does not require extreme cutting power, this is a good solution.
The most popular bolt cutter on Amazon.com is the TEKTON 3386 8” Bolt Cutter. This bolt cutter is actually considered a small bolt cutter, or mini bolt cutter. At only $7.84 (compared to the retail price of $17.99) it is a great bargain. The hardened alloy steel jaws are drop forged for long-lasting, reliable use in cutting small bolts or screws, chain, or small grade threaded rod. The handles are made more comfortable by the non-slip cushioned rubber grips that cover rolled steel handles. Cutting hard metal requires a large amount of force, so the design of these cutters employs a compound cutting action that multiplies the force you apply with your hand. These cutters come with a lifetime guarantee.
The reviews of the product list it as a good bargain and high quality that holds up to the force needed to cut small chain, small bolts and fencing. When used in fencing, they found that the small size and compound cutting action make it easier to use than diagonal cutters. They would recommend it to others and purchase it again.
The next most popular bolt cutter is the Neiko Heavy Duty 4,000 lb. Bolt Cutter. This cutter has long handles. The over length is 30”, and the blades are made from a chrome molybdenum. This cutter is designed to cut much larger material than the small bolt cutters I reviewed above. This cutter will shear large bolts, padlocks, heavy chain, and fairly thick threaded rod. This cutter sells for just $37.99. The CrMo jaws are hardened and designed to last a long time. The 30” length gives you plenty of leverage to cut thicker and harder metals. With only 50 lbs of force at the non-slip, padded handles, 4000 lbs of force will be applied between the jaws.
Reviews of this cutter list it as a “serious tool” that is built to last. One reviewer states that it cut through a Master Lock “like it was water”. The reviews express that this is solid, well-built tool designed to not only last for a long time, but to work as well as the day they were purchased.
The final cutter I am going to tell you about is the portable electric heavy duty cutter designed to cut up to #10 Rebar. It is the largest portable rebar cutter available from Benner-Nawman. This large cutter uses an electric pump to operate a hydraulic pump. The above cutter applied 4000 lbs of pressure. This one delivers up to 90,000 lbs of pressure. There is almost no metal bar or bolt that you cannot cut with this tool. As long as it fits between the jaws, you can cut it. At $2,701.94, this is not an inexpensive tool. It is, however, a great buy for the ability to make the cuts this heavy duty, industrial-grade cutter is capable of. This tool is designed for construction type of use, especially in environments such as highway and bridge construction where heavy rebar is common.
Unfortunately, there are no reviews on this product yet.
Bolt cutters are a tool with a wide variety of sizes, shapes, styles, and applications. If you are in need of a bolt cutter, choosing the right size and type will make your job much easier. Having the right tool makes all the difference. Work smarter, not harder, and get the bolt cutter that best fits your need.