If you are a scale modeler or are planning to start a hobby in building scale models and toys with plastic sprues, you should know two things. That 1) Making a good scale model starts with getting good quality sprues and, 2) knowing how to cut off sprue parts is a valuable skill.
If you get one of these two steps wrong, you will end up with a finished product that you will not be proud to look at or even show off.
To get a good quality sprue kit you need to do your research and find a reputable source before placing an order. There is not much you can do here than just hope that you get value for your money.
But getting the best quality kits does not guarantee that you will end up with an earth-shattering model. No. It matters just as much how well you cut off the sprue parts and join them together.
In this article, I look at the tools you can use to cut off sprues effectively to reduce the need for cleanup. These tools also help speed up the process of building the models.
Which is the best sprue cutter tool?
There is a variety of tools you can use to cut sprues and plastics. You can use a sharp obsidian rock and mallet if you are a neanderthal or sprue cutter pliers and nippers if you want excellent end cuts.
Other tools you can use but don’t produce the best results include a nail clipper, chisel and hammer, and any type of cutting pliers including diagonal cutters and end nippers.
My preferred choice is a pair of nicely forged sprue cutter pliers or nippers. In this article, I will look at my top 5 sprue cutter pliers that I would recommend to anyone in the industry of making plastic scale models either as a beginner or a professional.
What are sprue cutter pliers?
Sprue cutter pliers are a type of cutting pliers for removing parts from scale model kits. They are also called side cutters for plastic because they are meant for clipping parts from sprue plastic kits.
Sprue cutters typically have fragile jaws with super sharp blades for slicing through plastic sprues as effectively as possible. Most of them are spring-loaded and have either a single cutting blade or double blades.
Characteristics of the best sprue cutters
Joint type: Forged joint or stamped joint?
Always remember that pliers with forged joint are more durable and cut more predictably than stamped pliers. They also cut more smoothly and you won’t have parts flying all over. However, most of the forged nippers cost a tad more than the stamped nippers.
So, have it in mind when shopping for the best sprue cutters. Forged nippers will last longer and produce better results than stamped ones.
Cutting style: Flush cutter
Because you want to minimize the need to sand down parts after cutting them off from the sprue, it is good to get pliers that cut flush. These are pliers which when they close, the jaws come together to create a consistent flat surface on the outside. They are wedged on the inside and flat on the outside.
Flush cutting pliers cut straight and do not leave sharp edges on objects. They are the right choice for trimming sprue material.
Curved back or flat back?
Although flush cut pliers cut straight, the design of the back determines how clean the cut will be. Sprue cutter pliers that have a slightly convex back provide the cleanest cut on sprue gates because they are thin whereas those with a flat back are better for cutting thick runners.
Jaw length: short or long?
The rule of thumb when it comes to cutting pliers is that the shorter the jaw the better the leverage. The downside of stubby jaws is that they have limited access to tight spaces.
Therefore, since most of the cutting of sprues involves getting in tight spots, you would be wise to get sprue cutters with sharp tapered jaws. These get in between parts better to snip them off cleanly.
Handles: Are they comfortable
Lastly, when buying any type of pliers, it is important to consider your hand comfort. Pliers with cushion grips provide the most comfortable non-slip grip. Rubber grips are not bad either.
Another thing to look at is if the handles have a spring mechanism. A spring action on plier handles allows you to operate the pliers with one hand. This enables you to use the other hand to hold the object you are cutting.
Spring-loaded pliers are also good for people with arthritis in the hands because they require less effort to operate.
When selecting the best sprue cutters for your scale modeling, always pay attention to the thickness of the jaws. Nippers with the thinnest jaws cut more smoothly and hardly leave stress marks on the nubs. They also allow you to cut much closer to the part during cleanup.
However, very thin jaws are also very fragile. They break so easily when subjected to a lot of force or impact. You should be extra careful with them.
But since there is more to a good nipper than just the thickness or shape of the jaws, it is good to look at all the other features as well to get a good balance.
Cutting blade: Single blade or double blades
Some nippers have a single cutting blade while others have double blades. Mostly, well-forged single blade sprue cutters produce cleaner cuts and slice through plastic a lot more smoothly. You won’t have to deal with offcuts flying all over or stress marks that run deep into the model parts.
Best Sprue Cutters
Tamiya 74035 Nippers – Best double-bladed nipper
- Length: 4.5 inches
- Double bladed
- For Plastic sprues only
Tamiya brand offers a great collection of side cutters for model builders. They include the Tamiya 74123, 74035, and 74129 among others. All these cutters are great and nicely built to high Japanese standards. They are forged from steel, well-machined, and nicely sharpened.
But if I have to choose only one model it would be Tamiya 74035. These cutters have thin sharp jaws that are specifically designed for trimming plastic model parts. However, the jaws are not as thin as the 74123 model. So you might have difficulty getting them in very tight spaces.
Another challenge is that the nippers might leave a sharp edge in the middle where the two blades come together. This might require you to use a file to sand down the edge. But of course the processing work after making a cut is not that much.
I have these Tamiya nippers to build some Gunplas and Gundams and to trim off some 3D printed objects and they worked amazingly well. I have now had them for almost a year and they still look new.
The secret for making these Japanese sprue cutters last longer is to take good care of them and to cut only what they are meant for. Otherwise, if you use them to cut wires, the blade will become dull and they won’t clip plastic sprues cleanly anymore. You will inevitably have to get new ones.
Also, make sure you don’t drop them on the floor because I can bet they will land on the tips and will break off.
These are a nice investment for anyone working with plastic sprues. But if your work involves nipping lots of pieces off of runners that do not have a lot of clearance, I would recommend the Tamiya 74123. This version has thinner and more tapered jaws that can get into tighter spaces with ease. But its jaws are more delicate and you need to be extra careful with them.
Tamiya 74123 Sprue Cutters – Best for tight spots
- 4.5 inches long
- Narrow pointed jaws
- Double cutting blades
- For plastics only
The Tamiya 74123 is sized for delicate and small pieces. It is the best pair of nippers for getting in between packed sprue parts.
The jaws are extra thin and pointed to get at narrow gates more easily. They also have a nice flush grind that leaves a nice flat cut with minimal stress so that you won’t need to do any cleanup. This effective cutting from these pliers helps reduce the overall build time.
That being said, these nippers from Tamiya are not for cutting anything thicker than the average gate. If you attempt to use them to cut thick sprues, you will either break the jaw or the kit. Also, you cannot use them to cut anything that’s not plastic lest you will dull the blades if not break them.
And if you thought the 74035 are delicate, try dropping these to the floor. I can guarantee you that you will not have a tool. The jaws are delicate and could bend or break from rough handling. You should care for them like a baby.
Oh, and they are spring-loaded. The spring opens them wide enough for normal use. It is quite fragile so don’t even attempt to open them further. But in case you find yourself needing to open them further, know you are using the wrong tool. These nippers are just for cutting small plastic mold connections, nothing bigger or harder than that.
Lastly, these Tamiya sprue cutters PVC on the handles. It is not the most comfortable handle material but at least it prevents the pliers from slipping in the hands.
Overall, the Tamiya 74123 is one of the best sprue and plastic nippers for getting into tight spaces in sprues. It has some of the thinnest and sharpest blades. You can also use them in place of a hobby knife or file to tidy up parts before sanding them down to a smooth finish.
Godhand Ultimate Nipper SPN-120 – Best overall
- Length: 4.5 inches
- Blade & anvil design
- Comes with protective leather cap
- Strictly for cutting plastic
Most scale modelers in the Gunpla community swear by the Godhand nippers. These are arguably the cream of the crop of nippers. IMO, they are the best cutting pliers for plastic model kits.
Unlike the good old Tamiya that cuts with both jaws, the Godhand pliers have a single blade. They have one sharp cutting jaw and the other one is a flat surface that acts as an anvil. In theory, the flat surface stabilizes the material while the blade slices through smoothly.
But you will hardly notice the benefit of this blade & anvil design on plastic nippers until you cut thicker materials where pinch-off would be more pronounced.
The single cutting blade ensures that cutting takes place only in one direction, just like a knife on a chopping board. This increases the chances of having a straight clean cut all across the material.
Another outstanding feature that makes the Godhand 5.0 the best nippers is the super thin jaws. They cut through runners and nubs like a hot knife on butter, leaving little or no stress marks on the parts.
These jaws are much thinner than the Tamiya but extremely fragile. You have to look after them very carefully or you will cry.
Lastly, GodHand SPN-120 cutters have a set screw that you can adjust to prevent the blade from putting too much pressure on the anvil. The best way to use this godsent feature is to set it to just finish the flush cut and check if it is properly set every day before use. This will keep the blade sharp and unbroken for a longer time.
And if you thought it is a gimmick that these pliers are called Godhand nippers, you are wrong! They actually make you feel like you have a hand of god when trimming off parts from model kits. These nippers slice through sprue gates and runners super smoothly like butter whilst the contoured PVC plier handles provide a comfortable, non-slip grip.
My buddy James builds plastic scale models for a local museum and has used these particular Godhand nipper spn-120 on over 60 models and still counting. He says the blade is still very sharp and in good shape as he sets it routinely before cutting.
He is also keen to protect the fragile jaws by putting them inside the protective cap that comes with each pair. This prevents them from breaking accidentally from an impact. Another thing my friend does to maintain a smooth action on his Godhand 5.0 cutters is to oil the hinge occasionally.
These simple practices will keep your Godhand nippers working great for a longer period of time.
USA Gundam Nipper 2.0 – Best godhand alternative
- Length: 4.5 inches
- Forged jaws
- Comes with a plastic protective cap
- Strictly for cutting plastic
If you are looking for single-sided nippers for plastic models that are almost the same standard as Godhand but not as expensive, then these Gundam nippers 2.0 are the real deal. They are made in the USA.
These nippers are forged and very solid. They have very thin blades (but not as godhand) and a sharp cutting edge that slices through soft plastic with precision leaving little to no stress marks on parts.
Like the Godhand, these Gundam 2.0 sprue cutters have a stopper screw for preventing excess stress on the blade. You should set it every day before using the pliers to keep the blade safe.
Lastly, these pliers come with a protective sleeve for the jaws. As a safety precaution, you should apply the cap to the jaws when the pliers are not in use. This will protect the delicate jaws from accidental damage.
Generally, the Gundam 2.0 nippers do a fantastic job of cutting parts from sprue kits. Though not as excellent, these cutters are a perfect, less pricey alternative to the premium god hand nippers.
Xuron 170 Micro shear cutters – Best multi-purpose nippers
- Length: 4 inches
- Shear-type cutting blades
- For plastic and soft metal
Xuron 170 micro cutters are a type of general-purpose side cutters for soft materials. You can use them to cut fine jewelry wire in jewelry making, electronic wires in electronics projects, and plastic parts in scale modeling. They specifically do an excellent job of clipping off sprue materials.
My wife uses them to make jewelry and I happened to use them when building a Gunpla and they did an ok job.
These micro-shears from Xuron are made in the USA from stamped steel. They have sharp jaws that cut smoothly through materials with a shear action like scissors.
Why I these Xuron 170 nippers despite being built from stamped sheet is the fact that they are made in the US and they are multi-purpose. You can use them to cut different materials, not just plastic. Also, you can use them across various trades including plastic scale modeling, electronics repairs, jewelry making, aerospace, and fishing.
When cutting sprues, these pliers provide clean straight cuts with their stainless steel blades. However, the blades are not exceptionally terrific. They also cannot stay sharp longer than the forged alternatives.
The PVC handles are very comfortable in the hands. They provide a nice firm grip, allowing you to operate the pliers with confidence.
Lastly, Xuron 170 cutters are inexpensive. They are a nice option for a beginner in scale modeling and jewelry making.
In conclusion, nothing beats a nice pair of sprue cutters when you are a scale modeler. Whether you build models as a hobby or as a profession, a good pair of nippers makes building a model a more pleasant experience. It cuts through runners and gates like a hot knife through butter leaving little or no stress marks on the nubs.
Furthermore, the best sprue cutters will save you a ton of time on sanding and trimming because you can use them to cut as close to a part as possible. Sometimes, you won’t even need to clean up the parts with a hobby knife or file if you cut the out from the sprue meticulously.
Out of the five best nippers shared in this article, I consider the Godhand nipper 5.0 as the gold standard for nippers. It has the thinnest jaws and cuts with a single blade. As a result, the Godhand leaves little or no stress marks on the nubs and you can use them to cut the closes to a part.
That being said, godhand cutters typically cost twice as much as the next alternative and have the most fragile jaws.
If you dont want to spend the money on godhands, you can try Gundam 2.0. They are very similar but with slightly thicker blades.
And if you are looking for nippers with two cutting blades, look no further than the Tamiya brand. These are my favorite double-sided nippers. They are affordable and cut cleanly too. Tamiya 74123 is excellent for tight spots and small materials whilst the 74035 cuts everything on a sprue kit.
Lastly, the Xuron 170 are my favorite multi-purpose micro cutters that can be used in multiple trades including scale modeling, jewelry making, and electronics repairs. However, they don’t cut plastic models the cleanest but they do the job.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
All sprue cutters are delicate and require proper care and maintenance. If you want your trusty pair to last a long time, make sure you use and store it properly. Don’t use it to cut materials it is not designed to cut and resist the temptation to use it to cut wires. Use regular side cutters instead.
During storage, avoid tossing your pair of nippers in your toolbox. Store it gently and cover the jaws with a protective sleeve. Some sprue cutters sets such as the Gundam and Godhand come with nylon or leather sleeve for covering the fragile jaws. You should also be mindful not to place your nippers on the edge of the workspace where they would easily fall to the floor accidentally and get damaged. Lastly, apply a dab of oil on the hinge to keep the action smooth and prevent rust.
Although you can use regular side cutters as sprue cutters for scale modeling, they do not cut cleanly and flush. They would pinch off the plastic parts instead of cutting straight through and this would leave sharp nubs with stress marks. Ordinary cutters are just not the right tool for cutting sprues.
When cutting narrow workpieces such as gates, single-sided and double-sided nippers cut the same. But when cutting thicker workpieces, the single-blade cutters tend to cut more smoothly and flat.