Whether it’s to cut that padlock with the missing key from the backyard shed, or to trim metal chain links for a fencing installation, there are plenty of good reasons to have a quality bolt cutter in your tool collection.
This powerful tool makes short work out of cutting metal and can serve as a must-have tool in your arsenal. With so many shapes and sizes available, figuring out which bolt cutter is the right tool for the job can be confusing. Read on to learn about a variety of sizes and types of bolt cutters and discover why this list of some of the best bolt cutters makes the cut.
- BEST OVERALL: HK Porter Power Link Bolt Cutter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WORKPRO Bolt Cutter
- BEST HYDRAULIC: Happybuy Hydraulic Rebar Cutter
- BEST COMPACT: TEKTON 8” Bolt Cutter
- BEST HEAVY DUTY: GreatNeck BC30 30 Inch Bolt Cutters
- ALSO CONSIDER: Olympia Tools Power Grip Bolt Cutter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Bolt Cutters
When it comes to bolt cutters, most DIYers tend to believe that bigger is better. And while it may be true that longer bolt cutters can cut thicker metal, they’re not right for every job. Below, we’ll go beyond size to review all the factors you should consider before making a purchase.
Despite the name, bolt cutters are useful for a lot 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—they can produce more than 4,000 pounds of force—their design makes them useful as a powerful cutting tool for a variety of different materials, including cables, wires, piping, sheet metal, and nails.
Size and Weight
Size does matter when it comes to bolt cutters. The longer the arms, the more leverage created and therefore, more cutting power. An 18-inch bolt cutter can cut metal up to 9/32 of an inch in diameter while a 24-inch bolt cutter can cut thicknesses up to 5/16 of an inch, depending on the material’s hardness.
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 the 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 inverted blades similar to the edges on a standard pair of scissors. Unlike other bolt cutters in which the blades meet, shear-style blades slide along each as they close. This makes them ideal for cutting cables, as they can slice cleanly through the cable’s strands.
- Clipper cut bolt cutters feature an angle blade that runs to a flat side. The slight bevel on these blades allows them to create a high degree of 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 equidistant from each other. 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 you are applying a significant amount of force when using bolt cutters, it’s important that the bolt cutters have comfortable and durable handles to protect your 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.
Bolts located on the neck and jaws of a bolt cutter allow you 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 will move the blades closer together, while a counterclockwise turn will move 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 for protecting them from damage.
The best way to extend the life of your 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 function smoothly. To lubricate, spray the joint and allow the solvent to soak in.
Periodically clean and sharpen the blade using soapy water and a brush. Make sure to dry it after cleaning with a soft rag to prevent the metal from oxidizing. Sharpen your bolt clutter by clamping it in a vice and using a file or an angle grinder to file the edge.
Finally, use the neck adjusters as discussed above to align the blades before each use.
Our Top Picks
Read on for some of the top bolt cutters for your workshop. They feature durable handles, powerful cutting heads, and come from reputable manufacturers.
Even with a quality bolt cutter, cutting through metal can be a laborious task requiring significant upper body strength. This bolt cutter from HK Porter is designed to make cutting more manageable, thanks to its PowerLink design, which increases the handle’s leverage so that cutting is 30 percent easier. This design allows it to make short work of cuts through soft metals up to 7/16 of an inch and hard metals up to 5/16 of an inch, letting you cut through everything from metal rods to wrought iron.
It also features large, soft grips that allow you to get a firm handle on the cutter while saving your hands from blisters. With tubular steel handles that resist bending and durable hardened steel blades, this bolt cutter is built to last.
Bolt cutters are one of those tools that most DIYers use infrequently. With that in mind, some shoppers may not wish to make a large investment. This bolt cutter from WORKPRO can fulfill bolt-cutting needs without taking a big chunk out of your wallet. Its forged steel and powder-coated jaws will cut through bolts, rods, chain, and soft metals. It’s available in four different lengths ranging in cutting power from diameters of 5-mm for the 14-inch size to 12-mm for the 30-inch cutter.
WORKPRO equips this cutter with large grips consisting of two different materials: one to provide a non-slip grip for maximum control, and a softer material for comfort.
The largest manual rebar cutters top out at just under 1/2 inch for cutting soft metals. Sometimes that just isn’t enough. For cutting thicker materials, you need more power. This bolt cutter uses the power of hydraulics to double that cutting diameter to 3/5 of an inch. That’s a lot of cutting power. This bolt cutter features a forged steel head, multiple replacement 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.
Despite its small size, this compact bolt cutter packs a lot of cutting power. It uses a sturdy alloy steel head and compound hinge to maximize leverage, allowing it to cut bolts, wires, and threaded cable up to 3/16 of an inch in diameter. This makes these center-cut blades perfect for cutting chain link fencing or similarly-sized materials.
TEKTON’s bolt cutter is durable too. The tube-shaped handles resist twisting or bending under pressure, while soft rubber grips provide comfort for your hands. Weighing in at just 6 ounces and at a length of just 8 inches long, these compact yet mighty bolt cutters easily fit into a tool belt or toolbox, keeping them ready for impromptu cutting at a work site.
It takes hard metal to cut hard metals, and that’s what you get with this 30-inch bolt cutter from GreatNeck. Made of Forged S2 steel, this bolt cutter is strong enough to cut through nails, bolts, and other metals without leaving a scratch on its hardened steel cutting edge. The BC30 features a shorter head designed to cut more easily through soft metals. Two sturdy tubular steel handles support the formidable head with large rubber grips that allow you to get a good hold on the handle.
While warranties aren’t everything, it can be an indication of the tool’s durability. GreatNeck stands behind the BC30 bolt cutters with a lifetime warranty on workmanship and materials.
A 42-inch bolt cutter is a lot of tool to store or tote to the job site. Olympia Tools uses an innovative handle design that adds convenience and power. The handles fold up, allowing even the 42-inch version to be easily stowed for transport or storage. Fully extended, the handles provide plenty of cutting leverage with its Power Grip handles.
Olympia Tools designs its bolts cutters with wider handles to evenly distribute the force on your hands, making for a less painful experience when applying maximum pressure. The handles also feature thick rubber grips for superior control and comfort. A heat-treated forged alloy steel head means you’ll be cutting many bolts and cables before these jaws will fail.
FAQs About Bolt Cutters
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. This will maximize the tool’s cutting force. It will also prevent the material from slipping out of the jaws as you apply pressure. Pull the handles together using a slow and deliberate action to prevent the material from slipping. 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 joint.
Q. How do you sharpen bolt cutters?
You’ll need a metal vice, oil, a file or an angle grinder, and a clean cloth to sharpen the blades. 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 blade. Bolt cutters have a beveled edge that forces material apart. It does not slice through metal like a blade. Wipe down the blade with a cloth then oil it using a metal lubricating solvent.
Q. What size of bolt cutters should you use to cut a padlock?
A set of 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.