Which bolt cutters should you choose for a particular job?
When choosing a pair of bolt cutters, you will need to base your decision on a couple of different factors. It is important to consider the types of materials that you are likely to cut, as well as how heavy the tool will be.
Always assess the thickness and strength of the metal you want to cut before you use a pair of bolt cutters. Trying to cut material which is too hard for your tool will only result in dented and buckled jaws.
Check the product specification on the internet, to check what it is made of, or pop to a builder’s merchant to ask their advice. A general guide to the limits of different sizes of bolt cutter is listed below.
What are the Brinell and Rockwell scales?
The packaging of a pair of bolt cutters – or the actual tool itself – will usually display the maximum hardness of the material that the tool can cut. The hardness of substances is worked out with special machines which test how far an indenter (the small hard object used to produce an indentation in tests) can penetrate them. This hardness is expressed as numbers on the Brinell and Rockwell scales, which is what is shown on all bolt cutting tools.
Individual Bolt Cutter Limits
Below is a guide to what each size of bolt cutter can cut. It is important to remember, however, that there are large variations in the cutting capabilities, depending on the quality and strength of the tool – particularly its jaws.
Compact, 300mm (12″) and 350mm (14″) bolt cutters
Soft and medium-hard materials of up to Brinell 300/Rockwell C31, e.g. threaded rod and wire, maximum 6mm (1/4″) in diameter. High-quality models with hardened steel jaws may also be able to tackle harder materials of up to Brinell 455/Rockwell C48, e.g. bolts and some chain, to a maximum 3.6mm (1/8″) in diameter.
450mm (18″) and 600mm (24″) bolt cutters
These can cut through the same materials as compact and smaller cutters but, because of the leverage from their long arms, they can handle greater diameters: soft and medium-hard material (Brinell 300/Rockwell C31) up to 11mm (7/16″) and hard materials (Brinell 455/Rockwell C48) up to 9.5mm (3/8″).
750mm (30″) – 1.2m (48″) bolt cutters
Bolt cutters of this size are able to take on hard materials of up to Brinell 455/Rockwell C48, e.g., steel rod, copper cable and even alloy steel chain, to a maximum of 10mm (3/8″) or 11mm (7/16″) in diameter.
Which kind of handle is best?
The weight of the handles is a significant factor to consider when choosing which bolt cutters to buy. If a small to medium pair will be big (and strong) enough to tackle the material you want to cut, then the weight of forged or tubular steel handles – being short – should not be a problem.
If, however, you need a pair of bolt cutters with long handles to access the material you want to cut (or for the extra leverage they provide), then it might be worth considering a model with lightweight fibreglass or aluminium handles.
Of the two, the fibreglass will be cheaper, but still strong enough to tackle most household cutting. See the table below for our recommendations on the best heavy-duty bolt cutters.