Regardless of the knowledge acquired through the years, a rigger is only as good as the tools he/she uses. Without a good set of wire cutters at hand, it would be almost impossible to get the job done right.
Whether it's cutting hair-like telephone cable or thick overhead power cables, there's nothing like having the right tool for the job. In this article, we'll go through the vast array of options available to see which one is needed in your rigging inspection checklist.
Types of wire cutters
To get the most out of a wire cutter, it's important to consider the size, density, and type of material you'll be working with. For example, you shouldn't be using an average diagonal cutter if you're working with cables made using hard metals, such as piano wire.
Using the wrong wire cutter risks damaging both your tool and the cable you're working with. That being said, it's time we see what options we have.
The ubiquitous diagonal wire cutters can be found in the tool belts of all types of tradespeople, going from carpenters to electricians, mechanics, and IT professionals. They are short, have a wedged-blade, and are capable of cutting through a variety of materials, including:
Their small size and sharp jaws also make them ideal for precision work, such as stripping wire ends or trimming wires flush so they can be soldered into an electronic board.
To cut through thicker cables, you'll need to use both hands and a strong cable cutter. This is a heavy-duty tool which can be found in most rigging equipment inspections. It has 1-4 feet long handles and crescent-shaped blades which can grip rounded cable quite easily.
There are two types of cable cutters:
- Standard cable cutters: These resemble oversized wire cutters but with blades that have an exaggerated crescent shape that reminds one of the beak of a parrot.
- Ratcheting cable cutter: Unlike the standard cable cutter, ratcheting cutters require less brute force since they use a ratcheting mechanism to tighten both blades together.
From bike locks to chains, heavy steel wiring, wire mesh, and wood, bolt cutters are useful because they can cut through pretty much anything. Although their handles resemble that of cable cutters, their blades are flat and short which allows the user to put tremendous pressure on the object his working with.
Wire cutter characteristics
We've seen that there are three basic types of wire cutters. However, when we take a detailed look at their features, such as cutting edge or materials used, it's obvious that there are many more than that. Below is a list of the most important ones.
- Standard wire cutters: These have a slope on both edges, which gives them a strong cut. It's also easy to make a centered cut using them because both blades are perfectly aligned.
- Side cutters: Also known as flush or shear cutters, they are specialized tools which allow you to trim wires flush. They are used mostly when working with electronics, as the flush ending is well suited for soldering. They come in three types: semi-flush, flush, and full-flush.
- Pincers: Also known as nippers or end cutters, look somewhat like nail clippers because their cutting edges are at right angles to the handle. They are useful when you're working close to the surface of the workpiece, such as for removing nails or cutting protruding metal from a piece of jewelry.
- Ratcheting cable cutters: They are heavy-duty cable cutters which use a ratcheting mechanism to apply more force when cutting. They have a highly-curved jaw which surrounds the cable and cuts using a circular motion.
- Tapered jaws: They sacrifice cutting power in favor of precision. They are often used by electrical technicians since the sharp, tapered jaws make them easy to use when working with electrical panels.
- Broad jaws: They have a broad cutting edge which allows you to use plenty of force without worrying about damaging them.
- Angled jaws: They are used by vets and doctors because the cutting edge is only presented where the cut is made.
- Tool steel: Cheap and highly resistant, most tools are made using this type of carbon alloy steel because of its ability to resist abrasion and hold a cutting edge at high temperatures.
- High-speed steel: Is a high-quality type of tool steel which is used in some wire cutters. It can resist very high temperatures, which is why it's often used to make power-saw blades and drill bits.
- Steel plate: This is a cheaper material used in wire cutters/strippers which don't need to be so tough.
- Hardeners: They receive an additional furnace hardening treatment which allows them to cut cleanly through heavy-duty piano and spring wire.
Ease of use
- Spring: They come with a spring between the handles which opens them once you've finished cutting. If you're doing a lot of cutting, this can save you time and spare you the cramps.
- Handles: The longer the handle the greater amount of force you can apply.
- Lock: Some cutters come with a lock which allows you to keep the jaws closed. That way you can carry them around safely in your pocket or save some much-needed toolkit space.
- Markings: These give important information such as the safety standards the tool complies with, the type of material from which it's made, or what kind of wire it's designed to work with.
Material and price considerations
You can find all kinds of cheap wire cutters in the market. These usually cost somewhere between $7-$12. However, they are made using such poor-quality materials that they are easy to deform and can damage the objects you're working with. It's better to invest a little bit more than to have to go to the hardware store again later.
Mid-range standard wire cutters cost around $20 and come in a wide variety of styles, such as strippers and ratcheting cutters. They are mostly made using tool steel, so they're quite resistant to abrasion and high temperatures.
Top grade cutters can cost as much as $100, but they're made using the absolute best materials, including hardened steels which have a Rockwell rating. They also include specialized tools like those used by jewelers and cable installers.
Whether you're a professional rigger or a weekend warrior, the quality of the work you do has a lot to do with the tools you use. So keep in mind what you've learned in this article the next time you're at the hardware store, and you'll be able to choose the right tool for the job.