Whether it’s to cut that padlock with the missing key from the backyard shed or to trim metal chain links for fencing installation, there are plenty of good reasons to have a quality bolt cutter in your collection.
While bolt cutters are a crucial tool for cutting heavy wiring, rods, and fencing, models range widely in the type and thickness of steel they’ll cut. We tested some of today’s top-rated bolt cutters to see which ones were true standouts. We cut fencing, all thread (threaded bolt rods), baling wire, and more. The performance of some models definitely impressed us, but not all the bolt cutters we tested lived up to our high standards.
With so many brands and sizes of bolt cutters available, figuring out which is the right tool for the job can be confusing. Learn what to look for when choosing a pair of bolt cutters and discover how the following models earned a spot on this lineup of the best bolt cutters.
- BEST OVERALL: Crescent H.K. Porter 0190MCP 24-Inch Bolt Cutter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WorkPro W017004A 14-Inch Bolt Cutter
- BEST FOR ALL THREAD: DeWalt DCS350D1 20V MAX* Threaded Rod Cutter Kit
- BEST CUSHION-GRIP: Tekton 3400 18-Inch Bolt Cutter
- BEST COMPACT: Tekton 3386 8-Inch Bolt Cutter
- BEST COMPOUND-ACTION: Crescent H.K. Porter 0090MCP 18-Inch Bolt Cutter
- BEST EXTRA-LONG: Pittsburgh 36-Inch Bolt Cutters
How We Tested the Best Bolt Cutters
Bolt cutters are a hand tool that’s easier to judge in person than online, but to ensure we had a selection of the best options to test, we followed some general guidelines. First, we considered brand. Crescent H.K. Porter and Tekton are manufacturers of a wide range of quality cutting products, including pruners, shears, and bolt cutters, so we picked their top-performing models. We also included lesser-known brands whose users rated their products highly. Finally, we ensured we chose bolt cutters that varied in size and cost.
In testing, we used a straightforward, hands-on process. We cut bolts, wires, and metal rods with each tool, keeping in mind that the size and type of the bolt cutter determined the thickness of metal it could cut, as specified by the manufacturer. For example, we cut rebar with the largest bolt cutter but didn’t attempt to do so with a small, compact cutter not designed for that purpose.
Throughout the testing process, we awarded points based on several aspects, such as the overall design of the tool, ease of use, cutting performance, and tool quality. Each tool was awarded points based on a rubric—the better it performed, the more points it earned. After testing, we added the points and used the final scores to categorize the tools.
Our Top Picks
The following bolt cutters feature durable handles and powerful cutting jaws, and they excelled in our hands-on testing. Each bolt cutter in our lineup is better suited for some uses than others, but each is a standout in its category. One is sure to be a beneficial addition to your tool caddy.
Even with a quality bolt cutter, cutting through metal can be an uphill task requiring significant upper-body strength. This bolt cutter from H.K. Porter makes cutting more manageable thanks to its double-compound hinge design, which increases the handle’s leverage.
We used this bolt cutter to cut through a variety of metal, including cattle panels, baling wire, fencing, 3/16-inch all thread (threaded bolt rod), and ⅜-inch rebar. These H.K. Porter bolt cutters are classified as “center cut,” meaning both sides of the blades are sharpened to a center point. This is one of the most common styles of cutters, and we didn’t have any problems cutting through the cattle panels, baling wire, or all thread. It took a little more squeezing power with these 24-inch cutters to get through the rebar, but we made it.
The double-compound hinge design features extra arm hinges that increase cutting pressure. We felt the design worked well for amplifying the leverage necessary to cut through the most challenging test: the rebar. H.K. Porter bolt cutters also feature nonslip padded grips that make it easier to grasp and squeeze the arms together without hurting hands.
The tubular steel handles didn’t bend during our tests, and we exerted quite a bit of pressure. We didn’t find any nicks on the steel blades from cutting the metal items—something that can occur with low-quality steel blades. The only downside we noticed was that the hinges were tight, making the arms slightly difficult to open. While this was initially annoying, the hinges loosened up after we cut through 20 to 30 metal items.
- Length: 24 inches
- Weight: 7.74 pounds
- Compound action? Yes, double compound
- Bolt cutter hinges feature double-compound technology that increases the user’s leverage and makes cutting easier
- Nonslip padded grips help keep users’ hands from getting sore
- Cut up to ⅜-inch rebar in tests, making it powerful and versatile
- Hinges were stiff at first but loosened up after making several cuts
Read our full review here.
Get the Crescent H.K. Porter 24-inch bolt cutters at Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Acme Tools, or Grainger.
Bolt cutters are one of those tools that most DIYers use infrequently. With that in mind, some shoppers may not wish to make a significant investment, and there’s no need to overspend for a medium-size bolt cutter. We tested the 14-inch version of the WorkPro bolt cutter, which turned out to be quite effective at cutting wire and bolts. It can fulfill bolt-cutting needs without taking a big chunk out of shoppers’ wallets.
For its size, we felt the WorkPro cutter was pretty effective. We expected to exert a lot more power, but the lever-fulcrum hinges (a compound hinge) cut through several metal items, including baling wire and cattle panels, with only a moderate amount of exertion. The blades are center cut, and the manufacturer says they’re made from chrome-molybdenum steel. Whatever they contain, they’re rugged and durable. On a whim, we tried to cut 3/16-inch all thread. It didn’t work, but our effort didn’t chip or bend the blades.
The grips are soft and ergonomic—designed to fit the hand—so users can get a solid hold without slippage. It started snowing when we were testing, and the cutters got some moisture on them. We took them into the shop to dry out, but we noticed some rust on the hinges the next day. For that reason, we recommend using them in dry weather or promptly wiping them dry if they get wet.
- Length: 14 inches
- Weight: 2.05 pounds
- Compound action? Yes
- Affordable pair of midsize bolt cutters that cut 3/16-inch all thread in testing
- Compound (lever-fulcrum) hinges give users more leverage for cutting bolts
- Ergonomic nonslip grips are comfortable to grasp and reduce hand fatigue
- Hinges may rust, so users should dry the cutters if they get wet
Get the WorkPro bolt cutters at Amazon, Sears, or Kmart.
We’ve owned and tested many DeWalt tools over the years and feel DeWalt is a top power tool producer. However, we’d never tried the brand’s hydraulic bolt cutter—we didn’t even know DeWalt made one. We know now, and we are impressed!
Anyone who’s done mechanical work or needed to cut off too-long bolts has likely run into the issue of cutting a bolt and getting a jagged end that had to be filed down by hand. This is a nonissue with the DeWalt bolt cutter. All we had to do was put a threaded bolt between the cutter’s jaws and pull the trigger. The curved blades on the tool (which comes with a 2-amp hour rechargeable battery and charger) immediately tightened around the bolt and cut it cleanly in half. We cut all thread up to 3/16 inch, and the DeWalt didn’t strain once under the task.
The manufacturer says the tool cuts up to ⅞-inch threaded bolts, and while we didn’t have any on hand to test, we think the DeWalt has enough cutting power to do the job. It features a forged steel head, multiple cutting blades, and steel handles with rubberized grips for control and comfort. A convenient carrying case provides storage for the cutter and a set of spare blades.
One caveat, though—this tool is only for cutting threaded bolts. We tested it on a smooth bolt, and it stalled. This was our fault and not the tool’s since it’s not designed to cut anything but threaded bolts, but it does limit the tool’s use.
- Length: 11.125 inches
- Weight: 12.5 pounds
- Compound action? Not applicable
- This bolt cutter works on hydraulics, so users can take it easy
- Multiblade jaws make clean end cuts; little or no filing is needed
- Rechargeable battery is interchangeable with other DeWalt 20V power tools
- Comes with a handy tool bag for keeping items organized
- Not suitable for cutting any wire or rods except threaded ones
Get the DeWalt bolt cutters at Acme Tools, Amazon, MSC, or Ace Tool.
Sometimes it’s not the hinge design that keeps users from being able to cut through steel rods and bolts. Sometimes it’s the discomfort that comes with applying a lot of pressure to the handles of the bolt cutters. Fortunately, we didn’t have that problem with Tekton’s 18-inch bolt cutters that come with cushioned nonslip grips.
The cutters feature center-cut jaws and compound hinges for added leverage. We tested them on cattle panels, baling wire, and 3/16-inch all thread. The Tekton 3400 cutters made it through all three types of metal, but we had to exert a lot of pressure to cut through the all thread. That type of pressure would have led to sore hands with some models, but the cushioning on the Tekton grips saved us from serious hand fatigue.
The downside is that after we powered through multiple steel bolt cuts, we found a couple of nicks on one of the blades. That was disappointing, but these are still good cutters for thinner bolts or softer metal. We recommend not pushing them too hard to keep them in top working order.
- Length: 18 inches
- Weight: 3.2 pounds
- Compound action? Yes
- Cushioned grips reduce hand fatigue that can occur when exerting maximum force
- Cuts through baling wire and cattle panels with relative ease
- Features a compound hinge configuration that increases leverage for easier cutting
- Blades suffered a couple of nicks after cutting through steel bolts
Get the Tekton 18-inch bolt cutters at Amazon, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Zoro.
For such a small bolt cutter, we found that this 8-inch Tekton packed quite a punch. It features compound hinges for added power and leverage. And the grips are made from soft rubber to absorb some of the pressure. We cut quickly through the baling wire, and it took just a bit more effort to cut through the metal on a cattle panel.
The manufacturer says these bolt cutters will cut through 3/16-inch wire, and maybe it will, but we didn’t have any for testing and feel the user would need to exert quite a bit of muscle to pull that off. We did test them on 3/16-inch all thread, and they didn’t make a dent. However, that doesn’t reflect negatively since they’re not made for that purpose. Even if the short handles don’t supply enough leverage to cut thick bolts and steel rods, they were durable enough to resist twisting or bending, and their soft rubber grips provided some comfort for our hands.
Despite using as much pressure as possible while trying to cut the all thread, we were impressed that we didn’t see any chips or blade distortion on the cutters afterward.As long as users remember that these are light-duty cutters, their 9-ounce weight and 8-inch length will easily fit in a tool belt or tool box for impromptu cutting at work.
- Length: 8 inches
- Weight: 9.1 ounces
- Compound action? Yes
- Lightweight and compact, these bolt cutters are easy to carry in a tool pouch or pocket
- The rubber handle grips resist slipping and add cushion for hands
- The compound hinges help this little cutter cut through baling wire and more
- Light-duty-only bolt cutters—don’t expect them to cut what larger models will
Get the Tekton 8-inch bolt cutters at Amazon.
As our second pair of H.K. Porter bolt cutters to earn a spot on this lineup, these 18-inch power players feature excellent cutting ability in a midsize model. Like their big brother that took top honors in our tests, these shorter cutters come with double-compound hinges that increase the user’s ability to cut through challenging metal items.
We tested these bolt cutters on baling wire, cattle panels, and 3/16-inch all thread. It was easy to cut through the wire and panels, but we had to apply more force to sever the all thread (though not as much as with other 18-inch models we tested). We attribute the increased cutting power to the cutter’s hinge technology, which H.K. Porter calls “PowerPivot.”
We then tried to cut ⅜-inch rebar but were not successful. Still, this is a robust set of midsize bolt cutters. Even after trying to cut the rebar, we didn’t find any nicks or chips in the blades, and the nonslip padded grips reduce hand fatigue.
Like the other H.K. Porter bolt cutters we tested, the hinges on this 18-inch model were stiff when we started testing. It could be something common to this brand of bolt cutter, but the hinges eventually loosened up after 20 or so cuts to where we didn’t have to pull the handles forcefully to separate them.
- Length: 18 inches
- Weight: 5 pounds
- Compound action? Yes, double compound
- Double-compound hinge technology provides extra leverage for metal cutting
- Nonslip padded grips help to reduce hand fatigue; ideal for longer projects
- Precision-ground steel blades withstand heavy cutting without damage
- Hinges are stiff at first but loosen up after several cuts
Get the Crescent H.K. Porter 18-inch bolt cutters at Amazon, The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Acme Tools.
Bring on the muscle! The Pittsburgh 36-inch bolt cutters were the longest model we tested, and the extra length added up to extra leverage.
We tested the power of these bolt cutters on baling wire, cattle panels, all thread, and rebar. The compound-action hinges made it a cinch to cut through the wire, panels, and all thread—even without exerting maximum force. It was also relatively easy to cut through ⅜-inch rebar, so we upped the ante by testing the Pittsburgh cutters on ½-inch rebar. This required more force—but we made it through. This was the only set of bolt cutters that cut through ½-inch rebar, and we didn’t find any damage to the blades afterward.
The cutters come with nonslip grips, though we felt they could use a bit more cushioning. And there is a downside to all that powerful length: The longer bolt cutters are, the more challenging it is to control the jaws accurately. This pair’s extra length and weight make the jaws unwieldy, especially when reaching overhead. Still, extended cutters mean more cutting power, so it’s a trade-off depending on the user’s preferences.
- Length: 36 inches
- Weight: 10.97 pounds
- Compound action? Yes
- Extra-long 36-inch length increases leverage and cutting power
- Compound-action jaws add even more force for cutting metal
- High-carbon blades can cut through tough metals without damage
- The added length and weight make the bolt cutters unwieldy
Get the Pittsburgh bolt cutters at Amazon or Harbor Freight.
We are long-time fans of Ryobi, one of The Home Depot’s flagship brands, but the Ryobi One+ 18V Cordless Bolt Cutters didn’t meet our high standards this time.
We charged the lithium-ion battery overnight and then started testing by cutting baling wire. Unfortunately, the blades left about a 1/16-inch gap when cutting rather than touching together, meaning the cordless tool failed to cut. We pulled the baling wire out of the almost-closed jaws, and it didn’t have a scratch on it. When testing them on all thread, the jaws stopped closing once they met the metal. We kept pressure on the trigger, but no deal.
We had to eliminate the Ryobi bolt cutters from our tests, but this specific tool failure does not represent the brand’s overall quality. Ryobi makes some excellent tools—perhaps we just got a lemon this time. We’re open to testing a different or upgraded model in the future.
What to Consider When Choosing Bolt Cutters
Most DIYers believe that bigger is better when it comes to bolt cutters. And while it may be true that longer bolt cutters can cut thicker metal, they’re not suitable for every DIY project. Below, we go beyond size to review all the factors to consider before making a purchase.
Despite the name, bolt cutters are helpful for many more jobs than cutting bolts. In addition to removing padlocks with forgotten combinations or missing keys, bolt cutters can cut wire mesh used to reinforce concrete pads, rebar used for landscaping, and metal wire for chain-link fencing. Since bolt cutters are so powerful—some can produce more than 4,000 pounds of force—their design makes them useful as powerful cutting tools for various materials, including cables, wires, fencing, all thread, and nails.
Size and Weight
Length does matter when it comes to bolt cutters. Longer arms create more leverage and, therefore, more cutting power. An 18-inch bolt cutter can often cut metal with a diameter up to 9/32 of an inch, while a 24-inch bolt cutter can cut thicknesses up to 5/16 of an inch, depending on the material’s hardness and the quality of the tool.
Large bolt cutters, which can be as long as 48 inches, can handle hardened steel rods, heavy chains, and thick threaded cable up to 7/16 of an inch in diameter.
Bolt cutters vary in weight from about 2 pounds for smaller 8-inch cutters to around 8 pounds for larger 48-inch cutters.
Bolt cutters come in various cut styles, including angled, shear, clipper, center, and hydraulic.
- Angled-cut bolt cutters feature a head angled between 25 and 30 degrees. This design makes it easier to position the tool’s head to make lower cuts. This style of bolt cutter can cut off nails and screws protruding from wood flush to the surface.
- Shear bolt cutters have slightly different blades. Unlike other bolt cutters where the sharp edges of the blades meet, shear-type cutters feature bypass blades—a popular configuration often found in pruning loppers. When the user applies pressure to the handles, the top jaw blade slides past the lower blade. This creates a slicing effect that is better suited to cutting softer cables than solid bolts.
- Clipper-cut bolt cutters feature an angle blade that runs to a flat side. The slight bevel on these blades creates high pressure on a single focal point, maximizing cutting power. Since they have a flat side, clipper-style bolt cutters are ideal for shearing off nails and making clean cuts through sheet metal.
- Center-cut bolt cutters feature blades that are beveled on both sides and are evenly spaced from each other. This is the most common type of jaw configuration and the only type we tested other than the powered all thread bolt cutter. When pressure is applied, the blades bear down on either end until they separate the material. Center-cut bolt cutters are ideal for cutting through cables, pipes, and metal rods.
- Hydraulic bolt cutters use a motor to power the cutting blades. A hydraulically powered piston drives the cutting edge forward with significantly more force than handle-operated bolt cutters can produce. Due to this additional power, hydraulic bolt cutters can cut soft metals nearly an inch in diameter.
Since users must apply a significant amount of force when using bolt cutters, the bolt cutters must have comfortable and durable handles to protect users’ hands and extend the tool’s life. Most bolt cutter handles consist of steel tubes that resist bending and feature padded grips to maximize comfort and control.
Bolt cutter handles also have metal stops near the neck, which prevent them from closing too closely together, causing the blades to overlap.
Blades on some types of bolt cutters (but not all) are adjustable. Bolts on the neck and jaws of a bolt cutter allow the user to adjust the blades. Turning the jaw adjustment bolts causes the corresponding blade to either move towards or away from the joint. A clockwise turn moves the blades closer together, while a counterclockwise turn moves the blades farther apart.
Adjusting the bolts on the neck changes the blade’s angle by moving the tips closer together or farther apart. Properly adjusting the blades is crucial for proper cutting and protecting them from damage.
The best way to extend the life of bolt cutters is to use them as the manufacturer intended. Attempting to cut materials that are harder or thicker than what the bolt cutters are rated to handle can damage the blade or the joints.
Routine maintenance includes lubricating the joint with an oil such as WD-40 to keep it clean and functioning smoothly. To lubricate, spray the joint and allow the solvent to soak in.
Periodically sharpen the blade and clean it using soapy water and a brush. Dry it with a soft rag to prevent the metal from oxidizing. Sharpen bolt cutters by clamping them in a vice and using a file or an angle grinder to file the edge.
Read on for the answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding bolt cutters.
Q. How do you use bolt cutters?
Look for a good place to grip the metal so the handles can move freely. Move the material as deep into the jaws of the blades as possible to maximize the tool’s cutting force. This also prevents the material from slipping out of the jaws as you apply pressure. Pull the handles together using controlled and deliberate action. Slowly apply more pressure until the blades cut through the material. Do not turn or twist the handles, as this could damage the blades or the jaws.
Q. How do you sharpen bolt cutters?
To sharpen the blades, you need a metal vice, oil, a file or an angle grinder, and a clean cloth. Make sure the head of the bolt cutter is clean, then firmly clamp it in the vice. Using a grinder or a file, file the blade, making sure to follow the beveled angle of the blade. Do not sharpen the edge as you would a knife. Bolt cutters have a beveled edge that forces material apart. It does not slice through metal like a knife. Wipe down the blade with a cloth, and then oil it using a metal lubricating solvent.
Q. What size bolt cutters should you use to cut a padlock?
Depending on quality, 24-inch bolt cutters can cut metal up to 7/16-inch in diameter, which will cut the bolts on most standard padlocks. For higher-quality padlocks that use a harder metal, use a 36-inch bolt cutter.