Having wire cutters in your toolbox can make for a handy tool on jobs big and small.
Wire cutters are meant to make clean, fast cuts for just about any type of wire. This includes brass, copper, steel, building wire, and plenty of others.
Not all of us have wire cutters in our toolbox, though. So, what happens if you have a job that requires cutting some wires, but you don’t have the appropriate tool on hand to do the job?
Keep in mind that while there are substitutes, it is always recommended that you use wire cutters.
Wire cutters are not only relatively inexpensive, but they also allow the job to be done as safely and securely as possible.
But let’s assume that you don’t have wire cutters in your toolbox and going to get a pair is out of the question for the time being.
Here are a few alternative methods that you can use to cut or break wiring on a job without using wire cutters.
1 – Bend it
If the wiring in question is on the thinner side and relatively pliable, you could try bending it.
Simply bend it back and forth until the wire starts to break away.
Keep in mind that it won’t work if the wire is thicker or has a jacketing over the top.
Another thing to keep in mind with this method is that if you are repeatedly bending the wire, you’ve compromised the overall integrity of the wire.
The area surrounding the break or bend will have what is known as work-hardening. This can make the area both harder and stronger than the other portions of the wire.
When using the bending method, the wire will likely suffer a bit of deformation as well.
This makes its reliability a question mark going forward. If the rest of the wiring performs poorly going forward, you can reasonably assume that it has to do with the bending of the wire previously.
2 – Hacksaw
Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that wire cutters should be the go-to option for cutting any wiring. That said, a hacksaw will make for a fine cutter if you don’t have any wire cutters available.
Make sure to use a hacksaw that has a higher teeth-per-inch count; this is what will provide the cleanest possible cut.
When it comes to using a hacksaw to cut wire, it tends to be difficult regardless of the teeth count. This is because the majority of wires are smaller; a hacksaw is generally best used on larger diameter wires.
If you use a hacksaw on a smaller, thinner-diameter wire, there’s a good chance that you will bend and deform the wire way too much before you are finally able to cut all the way through.
3 – Tin Snips
A pair of tin snips comes equipped with a pair of sharpened blades that have (generally) 8-inch handles. Their original design is to cut through sheets of thin metal, though snips are certainly capable of cutting through some softer wire like copper.
Take your time if you plan on using tin snips. Position the wire carefully between the blades and make sure to close the handles evenly.
The tin snips can provide an even cut, but there is a chance that they could wind up bending and contorting the wires instead.
4 – Reciprocating Saw
With the aforementioned hacksaw, it is a workable method but can result in damage to the wire because a person can only move a hacksaw so quickly.
With a reciprocating saw, you get much more speed and power. This is the best way to get a more even cut.
The reciprocating saw comes with variable length, thin blades that get attached to the end. The motor that is built into the unit moves that saw blade backward and forward at very high speeds.
Normally, the reciprocating saw is meant to cut through things such as pipes and wood in tighter spaces where a larger saw may not fit.
Like a hacksaw, make sure your teeth-per-inches is high; a reciprocating saw with a high tooth count should be able to cut through the wires with little problem.
Just turn on the saw and slowly move the blade against the wire, pushing gently until you have cut all the way through.
It is especially important that you wear protective eyeglasses while doing this. The speed of the saw can result in the wire pieces getting whipped in different directions.
The good thing about a reciprocating saw is that it can cut through larger wires as well as smaller ones.
5 – Angle Grinder
Lots of amateur handymen have electric angle grinders available to them.
An angle grinder has a circular disk of a cutting blade that rotates at hundreds of revolutions per minute.
What’s great about an angle grinder is that you can attach soft, circular brushes to get a deeper, more thorough clean on surfaces made of metal.
Put on your eye goggles, turn the grinder on, and introduce it slowly to the exterior of the wire. Move slowly until the blade of the angle grinder has cut entirely through the wire.
Like a saw, this works best when it is cutting through wires that are a larger gauge.
Don’t Use Scissors or Nail Clippers
While it may seem like you only need a sharp pair of blades to properly cut through wire, that isn’t at all the case.
Using scissors or clippers generally will not work because that’s not what they’re intended for.
Not only will you be unable to cut the wire, but you will also likely end up with a dull pair of scissors. At the very worst, you could ruin them entirely.
These types of tools simply aren’t sharp enough to cut through the wiring. Instead of performing a cut, they will simply distort and bend the wires.
Not only does this potentially damage your tooling, but it will compromise the integrity of the wire and make its future performance unreliable.
There is also the risk for serious injury. Since neither of these tools are insulated, you are putting yourself at risk for potential electrical shock.
Between the risk of injury and the ineffective results, scissors, shears, and nail clippers are definitely not a good idea.
Different Electrical Wire Types
The reason that wire cutters are so great to have is that they are versatile and can cut just about any type of wiring.
Wires are conductors that are meant to transfer electricity from a transformer into the outlets running into your home or business. They will also conduct that same electricity into your electronic devices and appliances.
Despite this relatively universal use, these wires can come in several different sizes, casings, and materials. Wires are commonly made from aluminum and other metals, but nearly every electrical wire is comprised of copper.
Despite the similarity in materials, there are a variety of different types of wires that are implemented in a variety of situations and projects.
The single most common electrical wiring out there are single-conductor wires.
There are also two variations on the single-conductor wire: solid and stranded. Stranded wires are seen most often in your more common electronic devices, things such as cell phone chargers. This is because they are flexible.
Solid wires are just that: they are more rigid and because of that rigidity and stability, they produce a much better electrical conduction. These solid wires are the ones that are implemented when wiring needs to be both even and long.
The most common types of single-conductor wires are thermoplastic high-heat-resistant nylon-coated and thermoplastic high-water-resistant nylon-coated. As the name suggests, they have built-in resistance to excess water and heat, allowing them to hold up in most conditions.
The wiring that is used to connect the appliances in your home – your stove, dishwasher, washing machine, and so on – are done so with multiconductor cables.
They are typically referred to as type NM for nonmetallic. These are your hot or live wires, neutral wires (which are covered in a plastic sheath), and ground wires.
The NM cables that are used for heavier appliances are designed to be used with 120/140 circuits. This is the wiring that you will find with the heavy, black sheathing that provides both ample protection to the wiring and the user.
Metal-clad, also known as MC, wire has a special housing made of metal.
The most commonly used metal housing is aluminum and it contains a ground, live, and neutral wire.
Generally speaking, you will find metal-clad wiring used for industrial applications.
Metal-clad is used for industrial work because of its natural ability to hold up against heavy loads. Not only that, the metal casing gives it a measure of protection when it comes to wire failure while also reducing the chance of fire.
Because of its safety measures and the materials that are used to make them, metal-clad cable wiring is much more expensive.
These are generally only found in commercial and industrial applications for just that reason.
Speaker wire, electrical wiring, and wires that have their use in jewelry crafting all find themselves subject to gauge requirements.
For instance, a proper wire gauge for a speaker will be determined by whether or not it’s in a wall and how long the wire runs.
Electrical wiring gauge will be the determining factor for how much current is able to run safely through those wires.
When it comes to jewelry makers, there are physical stress factors that come into play.
Thankfully, there are measuring tools that can help you determine the right gauge of wiring for any kind of project.
How to Determine Your Gauge
First, remove the insulation from your speaker wires and electrical wiring before you measure the diameters.
Make sure to clip the end of the wire using the wire cutters and use them to bite into the insulation. You’ll want to be about a half-inch from the end of the wiring with your cutter blades. Make sure to slice around the entire circumference of the insulation and then slip the insulation off of the end that you cut.
You can measure nonferrous wiring using a gauge measure that has specific measurements for those kinds of metal.
Nonferrous means that those metals do not have iron in them. Make sure that you push the wire in at those circular slots that look to be close to the diameter.
Make sure that you use the denoted gauge so that there are no gaps and that the wire fits as snugly as it can.
Keep in mind that the gauges for nonferrous metals will have a different gauge scale than one of your ferrous metals.
Measure the wires that contain iron. You can do this using the Standard Wire Gauge (SWG).
Make sure that you slip the bare wires all the way into the rounded holes and use the gauge that shows up beside the hole to get the best possible fit. Remember, you don’t want to leave a gap in your wiring.
When you’ve determined your proper measurement, measure the diameter of your wires with calipers. Use the calipers by closing the jaws on both sides of the wire and checking your measurement for verification.
You may have to use a conversion chart; these can be found relatively easily from various sources on the internet.
There is quite a bit more that goes into wiring than simply running it through a space or cutting it with whatever you can find. Certain tools simply will not work in delivering a clean, accurate cut, and you could end up compromising the integrity of the wiring instead.
Find sharp, accurate tools if you don’t have access to wire cutters.
But at the end of the day, picking up wire cutters makes for an effective tool to have in your toolbox. You’ll be thankful that you have it whenever you need to perform a quick snip.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies…I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.