There are numerous tools for cutting wire, cables and conductors, and these tools can be very job-specific. Selecting the right tool for each task affects work quality and efficiency.
In training, apprentices are introduced to various cutting tools and their uses, said Cliff Stewart, training director for Western Oklahoma Electrical JATC, Oklahoma City. Stewart provide an overview of these tools and what they do.
The basic tools used for cutting wire and cables start with the smallest data lines that can be cut with specialized scissors. Then it moves up to wire strippers, diagonal pliers, needle-nose pliers, and lineman’s or side cutters. These tools can be found in almost any electrician’s tool pouch.
Although all can cut wire and small cables, each is best used for a specific task. Many of these tools can cross over and perform a number of the same tasks; it would be up to the individual to find the tool that he or she prefers for the task at hand. There are many high-quality manufacturers of these tools, and there are different levels of protection from shock hazards.
Wire strippers need to be considered along with wire cutters.
A wire stripper can be used to strip back the insulation of a conductor so it can be terminated. Wire strippers are typically used on smaller conductors, but they can go up to No. 8 AWG. Anything larger would require a specialized tool, or, as so many electricians do, a pocket knife can be used.
To make their tools more desirable, many manufacturers have built in other functions to their basic tools. Many have added small bolt cutters, and others have added a crimp tool.
Diagonal pliers have one of the more specific tasks. They can come in a variety of angles so the cutting edge is closer to the conductor or small material that needs to be cut.
Needle-nose pliers also come in a variety of shapes, sizes and added functions. With its narrow, tapered end, the tool can reach into tighter areas. These pliers are used to back up hardware for tightening, grabbing conductors from an area of limited space or used for terminations. Many now have a built-in wire stripper or crimp tool function, which limits the number of tools electricians need to carry around. They also have a cutting edge to trim back or cut conductors to length.
The main tool in the electrician’s pouch is the lineman’s pliers, which are also described as high-leverage side cutters. These tools are essential to every electrician and are used by other trades as well. They are built to withstand many years of use and have a cutting edge to trim back and cut conductors to length. The tool has many functions, from twisting conductors for termination, grabbing fish tapes for pulling conductors and stripping wire when terminating smaller conductors. They are built strong enough to cut small bolts when other methods are not available.
Most projects call for cutting larger conductors or cable. The ratcheting cable cutter is an effective tool for ease of use and saving time. The manual cable cutter is also an option, but requires a little more effort and space. Even these tools will only get you so far. The larger cables will require some type of power tool to make the job efficient and safe.
Workers occasionally have to improvise on a job site and use a tool that is not necessarily made for the task at hand. This could lead to tool damage or a worker injury. One of the most frequent tasks that can damage a tool is trying to cut a triplex or multiplex cable—the messenger cable in the grouping is made of hardened metal and can easily break or damage a cutting edge. In addition, side cutters are often used to hammer objects or punch through walls. That, of course, is not their intended use.
Ryan DeArment, vice president of sales and marketing at Channellock Inc., Meadville, Pa., said that the trend for wire cutters is to make them more versatile so users can “do more with less.”
He believes the most important considerations when evaluating these tools is their strength, reliability, grip and whether they are made in the United States.
“We believe several things set our wire cutters apart in the marketplace”, he said. “Our Xtreme Leverage Technology (XLT) require considerably less force to cut than traditional high-leverage designs, reducing hand fatigue.”
In addition, Channellock wire strippers have a uniquely curved shear that is shaped to contain material during handling and a reaming head to debar, clean and flare up to 1-inch conduit with the versatility and strength of a forged reaming head with precision-machined grooves.
DeArment said Channellock’s forged wire strippers are precision-machined to prevent damage to threads when cutting 6-32 and 8-32 machine screws.
American-made Channellock XLT high-leverage diagonal cutting pliers make cutting easier by positioning the rivet closer to the cutting edge, which results in requiring considerably less force for cutting compared to other high-leverage designs. A state-of-the-art laser heat-treating process provides a strong and consistent pattern across the cutting edge for increased strength and longevity. Precision-machined knife and anvil-style cutting edges ensure perfect mating for superior performance and longevity. This tool also has a slim, light and better-balanced design for maximum performance and accessibility.
“Our company’s best-selling cutters are our 337 diagonal cutting pliers, and best-selling cable cutters are the 911 cutting pliers,” DeArment said.
Ryan Berg, director of product management for Greenlee, Rockford, Ill., said the focus for wire-cutting tools the past few years has been on available leverage for increased capacity or hard metal applications.
“This really is an effect of the increased focus on the science of ergonomics in the electrical industry,” Berg said. “Leverage and capacity are two of the most important factors. Leverage really addresses the long-term effects of repetitive motion. Capacity addresses the efficiency of work and being able to address a wide range of wire gauge and materials.”
Berg observed that ratchet cutters have been used in the industry for quite some time, and the design is proven, but there are new ratchet designs that incorporate an “open face” configuration that allows for a true one-handed application.
“The Greenlee 45206 and 45207 ratchet cutters are our best-selling manual cutting tools,” Berg said.
Klein Tools, Lincolnshire, Ill., offers a variety of tools for cutting wires and cables. A new product introduced last fall is a high-leverage tool with cable-gripping shear-type jaws and a high-leverage design to provide exceptional cutting capability with less force required.
“The high-leverage cable cutter (catalog number 63225) gives professionals a durable cutting tool that is effective on aluminum, copper and communications cable,” said Jeff Meek, director of product management at Klein Tools. “The higher-leverage and improved knife design requires less force to cut as compared to previous models, making it easier for trade professionals to get the job done.”
Other features include the following:
- Cuts 4/0 aluminum, 2/0 soft copper, and 100-pair 24 AWG communications cable
- Precision, one-handed shearing action
- Perfect for working in confined spaces
- Through-hardened (not case-hardened) for a longer-lasting cutting surface
- Hot-riveted joint ensures smooth action and no handle wobble
- Forged, custom, U.S.-made steel for maximum durability
Adam Moscherosch, senior product manager at Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis., said that over the past few years, multifunctionality has become a top priority for electricians when purchasing new hand tools such as wire and cable cutters. The fewer number of tools they have to bring to a job site, the better.
“Not only do electricians expect their pliers to cut wires and cables today, they also expect them to go beyond and complete other electrical applications, such as pipe reaming, loop making, wire stripping, bolt cutting and more,” he said. “Users are looking for wire and cable cutter capabilities that act as multiple tools in one. To maximize productivity, our new 7-in-1 pliers easily equip users with all the hand tool solutions they need without having to weigh themselves or their tool belts down with multiple hand tools.”
As examples, Moscherosch cited the popular 6-in-1 combination pliers and the 7-in-1 high-leverage combination pliers introduced in 2020. The 7-in-1 includes a built-in reamer that enables users to ream ½- to 1-inch conduit, a bolt cutter that cuts through No. 6 and No. 8 bolts, a wire cutter, a wire stripper and a loop maker for quick wire preparation. New, wide jaws easily grab and twist wire. There is also a crimper for added functionality for working with insulated and noninsulated terminals, as well as high-leverage handles for easier cutting and crimping.
Moscherosch said the 6-in-1 is Milwaukee’s best-selling cutting tool for the electrical market. It can strip and cut wire, ream edges of metal pipe and cut bolts all with one hand.