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How to Choose the Right Bolt Cutters for the Job?

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A bolt cutter is a very handy tool.

Whether you’re a homeowner or contractor, there will be times where the only solution is to pull out the bolt cutter and make quick work of the offending obstacle in your way.

The most common uses for the bolt cutter is to cut through padlocks, bolts, rods or chain-linked metal of sorts.

That being said, choosing the right type of bolt cutter is very much dependant on the type, size and thickness of material being cut.

In this article we are going to look at some of the different cutters available, and how you can determine which is the right one for you.

Note: If you are in the market for buying a new bolt cutter you might want to check out our top 5 best bolt cutter review round up. Updated for 2018, it showcases the top rated options available today.

With that little plug out of the way, let’s dive in and take a closer look at this essential tool.


The different types of bolt cutter

First you should be aware of the different types of cutter available. The difference lies in the design of the cutting head and blades and the way they close together.

Some provide more leverage than others as well as a deeper style of cut.

Bolt cutter designs:
  • Angle-cuts – The head on angle cutters is positioned at an angle so that the blades can penetrate more efficiently. This type of bolt cutter is best used in tight, hard to reach areas where precision is required.
  • Shear-cuts – The blades on sheer cutters are inverted like scissors. This design is best suited for simple cutting on jobs on thin, light grade material. The cutter force here is lower than the likes of center and angle blot cutters.
  • Center-cuts – the blades in this configuration are set at equal distances from one another. This provides the cleanest cuts out of all types of blot cutter.
  • Clipper-cuts – If you want to cut materials on flat surfaces these are the ones to buy. The blades are flush against one face of the tool making it easier for such jobs.

What to look for when choosing the right bolt cutters

Now you have an understanding of the different types of bolt cutter available, it is time to look at the other variables you need to consider before choosing which one to use.

The type of material to be cut

Before you pick up any cutters and begin working, you need to assess the thickness and strength of the metal you want to cut.

Make the mistake of cutting material that is too hard and you’ll end up with a damaged tool, (chipped or bent blades as well as buckled jaws are the normal casualty elements).

The way you decide whether a tool is up to the job is to know its specifications, in line with what is called the Brinell and Rockwell (material hardness) scales.

Let’s explain further:

The Brinell and Rockwell scales

Manufacturers can be helpful at times. On the packaging on most available cutters you will find details on the maximum hardness the tool can cut.

This hardness is expressed in terms of the Brinell and Rockwell scales. This scale in turns provides you with an indication of the types of material the cutter can cope with.

As a general rule of thumb, the hardness tolerance of a pair of bolt cutters is in line with the size of the tool.

The larger the handles the more leverage and cutting force available.

Let’s take a closer look.

Bolt cutter limits (and relative maximum cutting force)

Below we set out the different maximum cutting ability of each size tool.

Bare in mind that this is merely a general guide. There are still large variations in the cutting capabilities of an individual tool, with factors such as quality of head and blade, and overall jaw design.

Compact size: 300mm (12″) and 350mm (14″) bolt cutters

Bolt cutters of a compact size can normally deal with soft and medium hard materials; (we’re talking values such as Brinell 300/Rockwell C31).

When cutting materials such as threaded rod and wire, the maximum you should play around with is 6mm (1/4″) in diameter.

If you have purchased a high quality models that states can be used with tougher materials, you may well have a cutting ability up to as much as Brinell 455/Rockwell C48.

This would allow you to cut through bolts and some chain, to a maximum 3.6mm (1/8″) in diameter. (Always read the specifications of your tool however).

Medium Size: 450mm (18″) and 600mm (24″) bolt cutters

Medium sized bolt cutters can cut through the same materials as compact and smaller cutters.

However, due to the increased leverage provided by the longer arms, materials of greater diameter can be worked on.

(By way of example you should be able to cut soft and medium hard materials (Brinell 300/Rockwell C31) up to 11mm (7/16″) with the capacity for harder materials coming it at (Brinell 455/Rockwell C48) 9.5mm (3/8″).

Large Size: 750mm (30″) – 1.2m (48″) bolt cutters

Finally, we have the largest sized bolt cutters.

Here you should be able to cut hard materials of up to Brinell 455/Rockwell C48. Examples of this include steel rods, copper cable and even alloy steel chain.

Again, look at the specifications, however most cutters of this size can handle materials up to 10mm (3/8″) or 11mm (7/16″) in diameter.

Final words

And there you have it, a quick guide on what you should look for before using a set of bolt cutters. The type of cutting head is one factor, however the most important two variables is the type and diameter of the material alongside the size and specification of the tool itself.

Check these first and if you follow the guidelines set out above, you will always be using the right tool for the job.


Image Credits: Pixabay.com, Wikipedia.com