Whether you’re an electrician, mechanic, or DIYer, a quality pair of wire cutters can make an indispensable addition to your toolbox. The name “wire cutter” can be deceiving, since most of them incorporate one or more additional features that give them multipurpose functionality. Wire strippers, bolt cutters, and snub or needle-nose plier jaws are just some of the available options to choose from, depending on your specific needs.
Along with that, there are a few different types of wire cutters that you should know about, each with various features that impact functionality. Read on to discover the different types of wire cutters available, how they differ in quality, and how to choose the best wire cutters for your next job or project.
- BEST OVERALL: IRWIN VISE-GRIP Wire Stripping Tool / Wire Cutter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: DOWELL 10-22 AWG Wire Stripper Cutter Wire Stripping
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: 4-in-1 Lineman Plier Pro Lineman Tools 9” Combination
- BEST FLUSH: Klein Tools D213-9NE Pliers, 9-Inch Side Cutters
- BEST DIAGONAL: IGAN Diagonal Cutting Pliers, 7-inch Ultra Tough
- BEST NEEDLE-NOSE: LAOA Needle-nose Pliers with Stripper
Types of Wire Cutters
The first step in determining the best wire cutters for you is learning about the three different types of cutters available. While each one has a certain set of tasks for which they are specialized, most can be used for a variety of different purposes. Becoming aware of the differences, along with the additional functions each type is capable of performing, puts you well on your way to finding the variety most suitable for you.
Flush cut wire cutters (also called “combination” or “lineman’s pliers”) look like an ordinary pair of pliers but feature a pair of cutting blades flush to the outside edge and directly behind one of the plier’s gripping jaws. The flush cutting blades are capable of making clean and straight cuts without leaving a sharp point that could cut your hands, such as diagonal cutters tend to leave. However, they may require more manual force to cut the wire than diagonal cutters.
In addition to the cutting blades, the plier jaws can be used for cutting, gripping, and bending wires and small cables. Some flush cutters are also equipped with bolt cutters capable of cutting screws and nails flush to the fastened surface and a few wire stripping slots for stripping back insulation.
As opposed to flush cut pliers, diagonal cutters are used exclusively for cutting. They feature a pair of curved cutting blades that extend all the way to the tip. Because the cutting blades are diagonally offset by about 15 degrees, they can be used to cut wires at an angle. Instead of cutting with a shearing action like scissors or flush cut pliers, diagonal pliers use a wedging action to separate the wire connections with their v-shaped cutting blades.
This special cutting mechanism typically makes cuts easier to make, which is a contributing factor to them being the most commonly used cutting instrument for electrical wire and other light-gauge metal wire. Just like flush cut pliers, they can also be used for flush cutting a variety of screws and nails.
Needle-nose wire cutters are a variety of flush cut pliers that have a set of cutting blades flush to the outside and behind one of the plier’s jaws. However, with needle-nose models, the jaws taper down to a much smaller tip at the nose. This slender tip makes it easier to grab and manipulate small wires and to maneuver in confined spaces where conventional flush cut pliers can’t operate.
There are needle nose cutters with 45-degree and 90-degree bends in the nose to make grabbing material in awkward spaces easier. Needle-nose pliers can possess many of the same additional features as conventional flush wire cutters, like wire strippers and bolt cutters.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wire Cutters
Not only are there different types of wire cutters, but each one can have different qualities that influence its performance and durability. Consider the following features when assessing the differences between wire cutters and for determining what features your wire cutters need.
The two most important factors to consider when choosing a handle are its length and grip materials. A longer handle provides more leverage for making easier cuts but at the cost of not being able to easily maneuver in tight and confined spaces. A smaller handle fits into smaller spaces, but it requires you to apply more manual force to make your cuts.
The size of the handle also influences how comfortable the cutters are to use. It’s generally recommended to use at least a 4-inch long handle that’s capable of comfortably fitting in the palm of your hand, but some experts suggest a handle length of at least 5½ inches for optimal comfort. The handle can feature grips composed of various polymers (most commonly plastic and rubber) and can be soft or hard.
The more affordable models of wire cutters typically come with hard grip handles, but they’re the least comfortable to use over a long period. Soft, or “comfort” grip handles are more comfortable to use but usually come with a higher price tag. Each type can offer some degree of insulation against electrical shock, depending on the material’s level of nonconductivity.
A wire cutter’s design can heavily impact its performance and ease of use. While you’ve already discovered the different types of wire cutters and learned about the advantages of multipurpose functionality, some wire cutters are designed to provide an all-in-one solution for cutting, stripping, crimping, and grabbing wires. These multipurpose tools typically have 10 or more individual slots for stripping wire, a needle nose plier head for grabbing, and a crimper at the base of the plier jaws.
Unfortunately, because they aren’t specifically designed for cutting, they don’t usually offer the same cutting ability as a cutter made exclusively for that purpose. But, they offer an excellent general-purpose solution to the widest variety of work required on electrical wires. Another design factor to consider is the pivot point. The pivot point is the round piece of metal that sits directly behind the jaws and is responsible for allowing the jaws to open and close. A pivot point that’s closer to the jaws provides greater cutting force and leverage, so it’s best to use a wire cutter with a pivot point that’s as close to the jaws as possible for maximum cutting ability.
It’s also important that the pivot point is designed to be as durable as possible. A lower-quality pivot point can become loose, resulting in “play” in the handle’s mechanism, which can make it difficult to close the blades directly on top of one another and cause lower quality cuts. Also, a poorly designed pivot point can develop “stickiness,” making it difficult to open and close the handles and jaws.
It doesn’t matter how well a set of wire cutters works if you’re discouraged from using them for an extended period of time because they’re uncomfortable to handle. As you’ve already seen, the handle length and grip material play a crucial role in how comfortable a wire cutter is to use.
Another key feature that contributes to comfortable use is a spring-loaded opening and closing mechanism, which reopens the cutter’s jaws when pressure is relieved. This allows for easy one-handed operation and also reduces the effort required to reopen the jaws after a cut has been made. A wire cutter with multifunctional capabilities also contributes to ease of use, as you won’t have to switch between tools in between tasks, such as cutting, stripping, and then crimping wires together.
Wire cutter blades are usually made from a type of “tool steel” with or without the addition of various metal alloys. Tool steel is simply iron with added carbon to achieve a hardness and durability that works particularly well for hand tools. Additional alloys, like higher quantities of carbon, chromium, nickel, and vanadium, can also be used to influence a tool’s hardness and durability.
Generally speaking, wire cutters designed with conventional tool steel are affordable and offer a moderate level of hardness and durability, while steels that feature additional alloys are harder and more durable, but more expensive. The other main difference between blades is whether they are made with a case hardening or induction hardening process. Most blades are case hardened, meaning that the tool is surrounded by carbon and heated until the higher—and harder—carbon material plates the blade’s surface, while leaving the core alloy unaffected.
Induction hardening uses a multistage hardening process that heats the metal through electromagnetic conduction to harden the blade all the way through. Case hardened blades are generally the cheapest, but they’re not as durable and are difficult to sharpen. Inducted hardened blades are more expensive, but retain a sharp edge for longer and are easier to sharpen.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of wire cutters and the various features they can have, you’re well equipped to start looking for the best pair of wire cutters for your individual needs. Consider the following top-rated options in several different categories.
Whether you need to cut and strip wires, crimp terminal connectors, or even cut small bolts, Irwin’s wire cutter and strippers can do it all. Featuring an 8-inch handle covered with a comfort-grip material, it offers maximum cutting leverage with minimal fatigue. The wire cutters on the end of the jaws are induction hardened for increased durability, and the needle-nose end makes grabbing onto small-gauge wires a breeze.
For increased versatility, it also features various wire stripping slots that accommodate 10 to 20 AWG wires and a crimper for splicing wires with terminal connectors. It even offers a small bolt cutter, capable of cutting small bolts with enough precision to leave enough lead thread for nuts to screw onto.
Don’t be fooled into thinking these wire cutters are a low-quality option just because they’re so affordable. They’re made with durable, corrosion-resistant high carbon steel that maintains the blade’s sharp edge for longer than comparably priced cutters that use lower quality materials. With these durable components, they can cut, crimp, and strip a wide range of wire sizes. It features a 7-inch comfort-grip handle for comfortable operation and a spring-loaded mechanism for easy one-handed use.
The main disadvantages are that the pivot point isn’t as sturdy as some higher-end models, and it doesn’t offer needle-nose jaws for grabbing and manipulating wires. But taking all the other impressive features into account, DOWELL’s cutters are strippers that offer an incredible value for the price.
For professional-grade cutting power and durability, consider these chrome vanadium steel wire cutters that maintain a sharp cutting edge while offering superior corrosion resistance. In addition to the cutter and plier jaws that typical lineman pliers feature, these cutters also offer a crimper and stripper for optimal versatility and functionality. The 9-inch handle offers increased leverage for maximum cutting and twisting power, and it’s wrapped with a comfort-grip material that reduces fatigue.
The handle’s material is also rated for insulation against electrical shock, so it’s ideal for professionals that may encounter live wires. The main disadvantage is that it only offers five unmarked, wire stripping slots, which limits the tool’s overall multipurpose functionality. That being said, these cutters offer pro-grade features without breaking the bank.
Klein’s line of pliers and cutters have been used by professionals and DIYers for decades, and this pair of flush cutters doesn’t disappoint. The long 9-inch handle and a durable pivot point, situated close to the jaws, combine to offer a huge amount of cutting leverage. To compliment this leverage, the cutting blades are induction hardened to produce an incredibly hard blade that stays sharper for longer.
The ergonomically designed handle fits snugly and comfortably in your hand. The main downside to this cutter is that it’s fairly expensive, and the higher price may be hard to justify for the average homeowner or occasional DIYer.
If you need a wire cutter that’s strictly designed for consistently making powerful cuts, then IGAN’s diagonal cutters may be just what you’re looking for. Its blades are made with induction-hardened, high-carbon steel for maximum durability and longevity. A sturdy pivot point is in close proximity to the cutting jaws for easy and powerful cuts. The comfort-grip handles are coupled with a spring-loaded mechanism for comfortable one-handed operation, minimizing fatigue from prolonged use.
If you want a flush wire cutter that can access tight spaces and grab small wires, LAOA’s needle-nose wire cutters have you covered. The durable induction hardened, high carbon steel blades and plier jaws don’t just cut and grab wires; they also feature a crimper and a couple of wire stripping slots.
The spring-loaded, comfort-grip handle isn’t just comfortable to use but is made with electrically insulated, nonconductive rubber for working with live wires. The primary con is that they’re more expensive than many other needle-nose cutters. However, the higher quality and additional features may make them well worth the extra cost.
FAQs About Your New Wire Cutters
Before you start using your new pair of wire cutters, you may have some lingering questions about some of its features and how they’re used. To that end, consider the answers to following frequently asked questions.
How should you use wire cutters?
You can use wire cutters like a pair of scissors: by separating the handles to open the cutting blades, inserting the wire in between the blades, and closing the handles to bring the blades together and sever the wire. You can also insert a wire terminal connector into the crimping slot (if equipped) for crimping or insert a wire into the appropriate wire stripping slot for stripping wire.
How should you open a wire cutter?
A wire cutter with a spring-loaded handle opens automatically when you’re no longer applying manual force to keep the handle closed. If the wire cutter isn’t spring-loaded, you can either use your nondominant hand to open the handles or use a flicking motion with the hand with which you’re using the pliers.
Is it safe to cut a cable wire?
Before cutting a cable wire, you should ensure that it’s not supplied with electricity (“live”). You can use a line tester to verify that the wire isn’t electrified. To be extra careful, you can shut off the electricity to the section of your home where you’re working at the main fuse box.
Can wire cutters cut through metal?
Whether or not a wire cutter can cut through metal depends on what the cutter is rated to cut and whether it features an additional bolt cutter specifically designed for cutting metal. Some wire cutters are only capable of cutting through small copper wires, while others can cut through screws, nails, and other metal objects.
What are ESD-safe wire cutters?
ESD stands for “electrostatic discharge.” An ESD-safe wire cutter is rated by a third-party certification agency that determines their level of electrical insulation. Even if a wire cutter isn’t considered “ESD-safe”, it may still feature insulated handles that offer protection from electrical shocks.