Some pipe cutters, mainly adjustable ones, are made from solid cast aluminium (specifically die cast aluminium).
Die casting is used to temper the aluminium so that it is strong, corrosion resistant and can withstand high temperatures whilst still being lightweight.
As adjustable pipe cutters are some of the largest pipe cutters, they need a lightweight structure to make them easy to use. Cast aluminium also has good finishing qualities such as a glossy and smooth texture, which gives the tool an attractive look.
Die casting is when molten metal, in this case aluminium, is forced in between two dies (moulds).
The exterior of single-handed pipe cutters are usually made from ABS plastic to make them corrosion resistant. The inner parts are made from steel.
ABS plastic is a common thermoplastic which is made from a combination of polymers to make it rigid and strong.
As a raw material, ABS plastic is ivory or white, so pigments are added to give it colour. This means that the tool can be designed however the manufacturer desires.
ABS plastic can be used in temperatures between -20°C and 80°C. If exposed to very high temperatures, the plastic can melt, and if over 100°C, it can boil. Though pipe cutters are unlikely to be exposed to such temperatures, the fact that the plastic can be damaged if it touches a hot object is a weakness when compared to aluminium cutters.
As the single-handed pipe cutter made with an ABS plastic coating is not as strong or made to last as long as the aluminium adjustable cutters, there is a selection of single-handed cutters made from die cast zinc. However, these are less common and more expensive.
Die cast zinc is much stronger than ABS plastic and made to withstand frequent use. This means that if you prefer using the single-handed pipe cutters and need to use them often, a die cast zinc model would be preferable over an ABS plastic coated steel model.
Which material should you use?
Despite the ABS plastic coating being strong, it is not as strong as the aluminium body and can be prone to cracking if hit or dropped with a high impact. If cracked, the steel parts underneath the plastic coating are open to corrosion. As adjustable pipe cutters are made from solid aluminium, they are much stronger than plastic cutters and are therefore designed for more prolonged use.
Single-handed pipe cutters have an ABS plastic casing as they are used less frequently so do not necessarily need to be as strong. Furthermore, this type of cutter is cheaper than aluminium cutters, so is more cost efficient for infrequent use.
However, if using a single-handed pipe cutter frequently, a zinc cast model is built to withstand high impact and frequent use, although these are more expensive than the plastic coated cutters.