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Pipe Cutters

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Pipe cutters are one of the plumbing tools that can make diy plumbing projects easier. Just as there are many different types of pipes there are many types of pipe cutters available for purchase. Knowing a little about the types of cutters on the market can help you select one for your project.

Copper Cutters

Copper cutters
Aaron Stickley
Copper cutters come in many shapes and sizes. When buying a copper cutter make sure the one you choose cuts the range of pipe that you plan on cutting now and in the future. Copper cutters are really only meant to cut through copper so the blade will not usually be thick enough to cut iron pipe or ABS pipe unless the cutting blade is changed. So, use a copper cutter strictly for cutting copper to keep it working well.

Types of copper cutters -

  • a standard pipe cutter cuts by rotation. It is clamped onto the pipe then the cutter is turned around the pipe. Every turn or two the cutter is tightened so the blade cuts further into the pipe until it cuts through the pipe completely.
  • Thumb cutters are my favorite because they can get into tight spaces. Some can cut copper pipe up to 1” which has a 1 ⅛” od (outside diameter). This type of cutter works similarly to the standard copper cutter but it is tightened with your thumb every turn or two until it cuts through the pipe.
  • Auto cutters are also a great tool that takes up even less space when cutting. There are quite a few different brands available but they mostly work the same way. The auto tube cutter is clamped onto the pipe and turned in one direction until the copper pipe is cut all the way through.
After cutting always clean the pipe before installing fittings.

PVC Cutters

PVC ratchet cutters are an amazing tool when it comes working with PVC pipe. Each time you squeeze your hand the cutters will rachet closed cutting a small amount of pipe material until they cut all the way through the pipe. PVC cutters are made to cut various sized pipes up to 2”. The most common sized PVC cutters cut up to 1 ¼ pipe and start at about $10 so they are very affordable. If you have decent hand strength they you can easily rachet the cutter until it cuts right through the PVC pipe. The cutters are also great for cutting CPVC and PEX.

ABS Cutters

Most people cut ABS pipe with some kind of a coarse saw. There are specific saws for cutting ABS but really you can use any type of saw, even a hacksaw. A coarse saw is also good for cutting PVC. On both ABS and PVC pipe you will need to clean off the inside and outside of the pipe after cutting because using a saw does leave large burrs on the plastic pipe material.

Iron and Galvanized Pipe Cutters

There are specialized pipe cutters for cutting iron pipe. These are really nice if you are cutting either type of pipe. Iron pipe cutters make a nice straight cut every time. Most pipe threading machines have this type of cutter attached to cut the pipe before threading it. Iron pipe cutters work exactly like the larger copper cutters but have a thicker and stronger cutting wheel since iron pipe is much thicker. Turn the handle to clamp down tighter every turn or two until the pipe cutter cuts all the way through the pipe. This type of cutter does require a lot of room to turn so in tight spaces you may have to use a Sawzall.

Soil Cutters

These large chain type cutters cut cast iron, clay, and concrete pipes. There are ratchet and scissor types of cutters. Soil cutters basically squeeze the pipe evenly on all sides while digging in cutting wheels. Once squeezed enough it will break off the pipe evenly as if it were cut. This type of pipe cutter takes some practice to learn how to set the chain and it is really heavy to maneuver. To be safe it helps to practice a few times on spare pipe before cutting a pipe in a tight space.

CPVC and Pex Cutters

Soft tubing plastic cutters work great for cutting pvc and pex. They are like the ratcheting PVC cutter but cut all the way through in one squeeze. Just wiggle the blade back and forth to get it started in the pipe and then squeeze the handle to cut all the way through. This type of cutter works great but I notice my hands get tired after cutting too many in a row. PVC ratchet cutters still work great for cutting this type of pipe as do most saws so feel free to use whatever you have in your plumbing tool box.

Multi Purpose Cutters

It is helpful to have some multi-purpose cutters available when doing plumbing projects. In my tool box the multi purpose cutter I prefer are a hacksaw, a jr. hacksaw, and a Sawzall. You can cut just about anything with these, but they do not cut as cleanly as many of the specific cutters for the type of pipe you are cutting. If you do cut a pipe with a hacksaw or similar multi-purpose cutter be prepared to file or clean off the pipe to remove any burs left by the cutter.
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