When you need a stealthy way to cut a padlock after losing your keys, try a pair of bolt cutters. Bolt cutters are heavy-duty pliers for cutting metal rods and thick wire. Primarily, these pliers are for cutting bolts but you can use them to cut thick and hard metal. A lot of people use them to cut rebar rods, padlock shackles, and fencing wire to name just a few.
Table of Content
In this article, I explore more about bolt cutters, their uses, and how to find the best one. You will also find out if it is illegal to have bolt cutters and when they can potentially get you in trouble. Lastly, I will share the best bolt cutters in the market to help you choose the right one for your project.
What are bolt cutters?
As I mentioned, bolt cutters are a type of heavy duty cutting pliers for large bolts, thick wire, and metal rods. They have long handles and compound jaws that provide the leverage you need to cut through tough metal. Good bolt cutters have hardened cutting edges that can cut through hard metal without getting deformed.
Are bolt cutters illegal?
This is the most asked question about bolt cutters and the simple answer is No. Bolt cutters are not illegal but they can get you on the wrong side of the law.
See, bolt cutters are very powerful cutting pliers. Thieves and cops use them to break into stuff or gain forcible entry. For this reason, several states classify bolt cutters as burglary tools but this does not make them necessarily illegal.
The illegality of possessing bolt cutters is rather subjective. You will not be arrested for buying them but how you handle them can get you in trouble.
For instance, if you go swinging large bolt cutters in the streets of California, law enforcers might pull you over and confiscate the tool. In some cases, the cops can arrest you for being in possession of a burglary tool.
But it depends on how they judge you and the explanation you give them for carrying the tool carelessly.
So, don’t take chances with your heavy-duty bolt cutter pliers. Always transport them in their packaging if they are not in the toolbox or in the vehicle kit.
Factors to consider when choosing the best bolt cutters
Although bolt cutters are just simple cutting pliers, it is not easy to choose the best one from a variety of options. There are a couple of factors your selection must tick to be sure it will do a good job of cutting bolts. Otherwise, you may end up paying a lot of money for a tool that will become toast after a couple of uses.
So, these are the most important factors to consider when you go shopping for a pair of bolt cutters.
It is not easy to tell that a tool will be durable before using it. But you can hope it will last longer if it is made with quality material. Bolt cutters that have a high chance of withstanding abuse over a long period of time are made from alloy steel.
Preferably, chrome vanadium
A rule of thumb when it comes to pliers is that you get more leverage from longer pliers. This is a rule of the class A type of levers. The further the effort is from the pivot, the less force you need to move the load.
So, if the bolt cutters are long, they give you the mechanical advantage of cutting tough bolts and metal rods. However, size is not the only thing that gives you leverage. The weight of the pliers does too.
Ideally, heavy pliers are not the best for daily use because they cause a lot of hand fatigue. But when it comes to choosing bolt cutters, heavier is sometimes better.
Because you will be exerting a lot of force on the handles to cut bolts and tough metal, you need something that can withstand the pressure. This is what makes beefier bolt cutters better. They can take more clamping force without the handles bending out of shape.
Moreover, since you don’t use bolt cutters every day, their weight is bearable. You only need to avoid using them for long hours.
The cutting capacity or cutting diameter of bolt cutters is simply how wide the jaws open. A good pair of bolt cutters should at least open as wide as the stock you want to cut. So, before you go shopping for the cutters, make sure you know beforehand the size of bolts and metal rods you intend to cut. But generally, the cutting capacity of pliers goes hand-in-hand with overall pliers size. So, don’t expect to cut 1/2″ rebar with mini bolt cutters.
Since you will be using bolt cutters to cut very hard metal, the last thing you want is the cutting edges getting ruined or handles bending. And since the best bolt cutters are not cheap, a warranty on them would come a long way. But if you cannot get a warranty cover on the entire tool, you should get a guarantee on the jaws, at the very least.
4 Best Bolt Cutters
Ridgid Bolt Cutters 31 inch (14228) – Best for the Money
If you want bolt cutters that are not too large but will cut nearly everything, try the 31″ Ridgid bolt cutters. They are constructed from strong hardened steel and boast a nice design and comfortable handles.
The Ridgid 14228 cutters offer different cutting capacities for different types of metals. They allow you to cut up to 1/2″ soft metal, 7/16″ medium-hardness metal, and 3/8″ hard metals. These pliers are great for cutting rebar, regular and master locks, and bolts, of course.
Why Ridgid cutters?
The Ridgid 31″ bolt cutters are great for many applications. You can use them to easily cut through 3/8″ rebar, locks, and bolts. Truck drivers love them for cutting off bolt seals from trailers. Linesmen also love these bolt cutters from Ridgid Tools. They use them to cut steel utility strand conductors of sizes 1/4″, 5/6″, and 3/8″.
If you need bolt cutter pliers for your DIY projects, these Ridgid 31″ bolt cutters are good even though they seem like an overkill. They are worth showing off and you won’t need to buy another pair in your lifetime.
You can use them to cut bolts, fencing wire, bull panels, and any other metal objects that the jaws can go around.
Overall, these Ridgid bolt cutters are the real value for money. They are a “buy once, cry once” type of tool. They are the best for cutting padlocks and industrial master locks, heavy-duty chains, rebar rods, and other heavy-duty metals. What is so good about these Ridgid 14228 bolt cutters besides their strength is the lifetime warranty cover. Ridgid Tools Company provides a lifetime warranty cover for any defects that may cause the tool to malfunction. So, if the cutting edges wear out, the company will replace the tool free of charge.
Gedore Mini Bolt Cutter (8340Z) – Best Mini Bolt Cutter
If you need to cut steel nails and screws but your side cutters are not up to the task, then you need a pair of mini bolt cutters. One of the best mini bolt cutters is the 13-inch Gedore 8340Z. These small bolt cutters fit in one hand like regular pliers and have superior cutting ability.
The Gedore 8340Z mini bolt cutters are forged from hardened steel. The cutting edges are further induction hardened to a 65 HRC hardness to improve their cutting ability. Moreover, the cutting edges have a double cutting surface that makes cutting hard metal easier. It also helps preserve the main cutter.
When cutting an object, you first place it near the pivot to crimp it. Then move it further from the pivot to the main blade to cut it. This double-cutting design provides great efficiency when cutting and keeps the main blade sharp for a longer time.
The handles of the Gedore 8340 bolt pliers are excellent too. They are uniquely designed to not open too far. This makes it possible for people with arthritis to use them without a problem. The handle material is very ergonomic and makes the tool very comfortable to use even when cutting through tough screws and nails.
Why Gedore 8340 Mini Bolt Cutter?
The Gedore mini bolt cutters are excellent for regular use. You can use them to cut screws, nails, and fencing wires that are too large for side cutters. These pliers easily fit in the toolbox like other pliers.
So, if you need a high-quality bolt cutter that you can easily carry in the toolbox, you can consider these german-made Gedore 8340Z bolt cutters. They have superior German quality and will not let you down. Also, you won’t pay through the nose for them.
HK Porter Bolt Cutters 24″
The HK Porter cutters are another great pair of bolt cutters for soft, medium, and hard metal. They have an overall length of 24 inches and their jaws are induction hardened to provide great cutting strength.
Although these heavy duty bolt cutters open up to 5/8″, their cutting capacity varies with materials. They can cut up to 7/16″ medium to hard materials and not more than 5/16″ of hardened materials.
HK Porter bolt cutters incorporate a unique technology in the jaw mechanism to reduce the effort needed to make a cut. This makes using the pliers to cut hardened materials such as lock shanks less laborious. However, you will still need to apply a decent amount of force to cut hard bolts.
What makes these heavy-duty bolt cutters from HK Porter great is their cutting ability and the price point. At half the price of the Kleins, these bolt cutters cut better and more cleanly. You can use them to cut a variety of materials including wire shelving, bolts, padlocks, chain link, chains, etc.
Knipex Bolt Cutters 8 inch (71 01 200) – Most Compact
Bolt cutters are not just for cutting padlocks. And they dont necessarily have to be massive such that you must carry them separately. Sometimes all you need is a pair of cutting pliers that is a little more powerful that regular side cutters but compact enough to fit in your small toolbox. This is the territory of the 8″ Knipex bolt cutter.
The Knipex 8″ bolt cutter is as compact as the Gedore 8340Z but much smaller. It is the perfect size for carrying in a daily tool bag or fitting in the back pocket or tool belt rig.
These mini bolt cutters from Knipex have induction hardened blades that deliver exceptional cutting performance on wires of different thicknesses and hardness. They are not great for cutting padlocks, but you can use them to cut up to 1/4″ soft wire, 13/64″ medium hard wire, 5/32″ hardwire, and 9/64″ piano wire.
Unlike the big-size bolt cutting pliers that require you to use both hands, these Knipex mini cutters are small enough to operate with one hand. They feature a compound action lever that multiplies the hand effort to make the cutting exercise less strenuous on your hand.
I like the small form factor and the excellent engineering of these mini bolt cutters from Knipex but my favorite feature is the gripping jaws behind the lever. You can use them to pull nails from wood or pull fencing wires. The jaws make these cutters an excellent fencing tool that you can use along with a claw hammer when you dont have multifunctional fencing pliers.
You can use Knipex CoBolt bolt cutters in many applications besides wire fencing.
For example, if you are a fisherman, you can keep these pliers in the tackle box for cutting large fishing hooks. My friends use them to snip the tough hooks for Muskies, Northern pike, and other big fish.
If you are in the construction industry, you will be amazed at how these cutters cut through different wires including steel grate, high tensile fence wire, nails, and screws. Any remodeler should have them for cutting tough screws for trim materials.
Lastly, you can use these bolt cutters to cut small locks. Good thing is that they will not get you in trouble for carrying them across the streets. As you know, large bolt cutters are a risk to swing around in the streets.
The only challenge with the Knipex 8″ Compact Bolt cutters is the price. They cost twice as much as the Gedore mini bolt cutters. But for the quality, versatility, and power they bring to your hands, I would say they are worth every penny.
And if you are a Knipex fanboy like me, I bet you would not hesitate to get them. Moreover, they come with either comfort grip handles or plastic grips. They are also available in either a straight head or an angled head.
Frequently Asked Questions
Small bolt cutters might not provide the leverage you need to cut the hardened shackle of a master lock. But nothing will stop a solid pair of 30″ bolt cutters and above such as Ridgid 31 inch from chewing up an industrial master lock like a piece of cake.
Above is an example of an industrial lock broken with Ridgid 31″ heavy duty bolt cutters by an Amazon Customer.
Having bolt cutters is not illegal but carrying them carelessly across the street could get you in trouble. I have discussed it more extensively above.
Many bolt cutters can cut locks that are not hardened. But when it comes to hardened locks, only the large heavy-duty bolt cutters can have a stab. However, some large industrial master locks are difficult to cut with bolt cutters. You would need an angle grinder with a diamond cutting blade.