Whether you are using a swage sleeve to attach a swivel to the fishing line or to connect cable railing hardware to the deck, or for any other form of rigging, you need a swaging tool to compress the sleeves. Otherwise, the connection might not withstand the load on the wire cable. This is why I have written this article to share more about the different types of swaging tools and how to find the best one for your trade. But first things first, what is a swaging tool?
What is a swaging tool?
A swaging tool is a type of heavy-duty pliers for compressing cable ferrule sleeves. The tool can be hydraulic or manual.
A hydraulic swager uses a hydraulic mechanism to compress the sleeves. It is ideal for large cable sleeves, steel sleeves, and for industrial use.
A manual or hand swager is just like large pliers. It has no hydraulic mechanism and therefore requires more force when squeezing the handles to compress the sleeves. A hand swaging tool is ideal for installing light-duty swage sleeves such as copper and aluminum sleeves. It is perfect for home and DIY projects.
However, regardless of whether a swaging tool is hydraulic or manually operated, most of them them are long-handled to provide more leverage. Furthermore, their jaws have either a single slot or multiple slots. Swaging pliers with a single slot only swage one size of ferrule while those with many swaging positions compress different sizes of ferrules.
What is swaging?
The process of compressing a swage sleeve onto a cable or wire rope is called swaging. It involves putting the cable or wire rope through the oval ferrule and using the swager to compress the sleeve all around so that it clamps onto the cable tightly.
Difference between swaging and crimping
The difference between swaging and crimping is that swaging compresses a ferrule all around while crimping just dimples a sleeve at different points. However, most people use the terms interchangeably, and so do I. But at least now you know that there is a subtle difference between crimping and swaging.
Reasons for swaging ferrule sleeves
There are three main reasons for swaging ferrule sleeves. You can swage a cable ferrule to splice cables, install a stop sleeve, or make an eye loop termination on a cable. The latter is the most common use. It involves looping back the end of a cable onto a ferrule and crimping it in place to make an eye loop. You can also put a thimble inside the loop to make it strong and to protect the cable from chaffing.
When swaging cables and wire ropes, you can use regular oval sleeves or double barrel ferrules. I prefer the double-barrel or hourglass sleeves because they have two separate holes that allow you to put the rope through more easily.
Before we explore the best swaging pliers, let us first see what makes a good swaging tool.
Features of good swaging pliers
Long sturdy handles
As I mentioned, all swagers need long handles in order to provide good mechanical advantage. So, when shopping for hand swaging pliers, you must make sure that the handles are long enough to provide the leverage you need to compress the sleeves.
The handles should also be strong and solid to remain straight even under intense pressure. If the handles are flimsy, they will flex and bend permanently when you squeeze them so hard.
Crimping range or swaging capacity
Crimping range or swager capacity is the number of notches on the jaws for compressing swage sleeves. Some swaging pliers have a single slot while others have multiple slots. Those with multiple slots offer a bigger crimping range. So, when selecting the best swager for your project, I suggest you go for those with more than one swaging position. They are more versatile because you can use them to compress different ferrule sizes.
Some swaging pliers have integrated cutters that are hardened enough to cut steel cables and wire ropes. So if you do not want to carry along an extra pair of heavy duty wire cutters, I suggest you go for swagers with cutters.
Unfortunately, very few hand swagers have cutters that cut steel cables repeatedly without taking a beating. So, the lack of integrated cutters on your favorite swager should not be a deal-breaker. You might still want to carry your trusty wire shear cutters, anyway.
A good swaging tool must have adjustable jaws for accommodating different ferrule designs. The two main designs are oval and hourglass. The adjustment mechanism also allows you to adjust the jaws to make up for the wear and tear after several uses so that you can get tight non-slip crimps all the time.
Best swaging pliers
In this section, I only focus on hand swagers because those are what you will need for most of your projects.
IWIS (1608S) Wire Rope Swaging Tool – Best Overall
- Length: 15″
- Swaging capacity: 3/64″ – 1/8″
- Slot sizes: 3/64″, 1/16″, 5/64″, 3/32″, 7/64″, 1/8″
- No integrated cutters
- Made in China
The IWIS 1608S hand swaging tool is one of the best in the market. The pliers are 15″ long and feature 5mm thick drop-forged alloy steel jaws that are hardened enough to withstand high hand compression. You can use them to compress different types of sleeves including stop sleeves, duplex or figure 8 sleeves, and oval sleeves.
Unfortunately, the IWIS swaging tool only works with aluminum or copper sleeves. This means you cannot use it to swage steel sleeves steel. In fact, the manufacturer discourages it. Sorry if you were planning to use the tool to install steel sleeves on guy wires for antenna. It won’t do the job but you can use it for all other projects that use copper or aluminum ferrules. Some of those projects include decking, fishing rig assembly, fencing, replacing cables for weights in gym equipment among other uses.
The 15 inch IWIS hand swaging tool offers a wide crimping capacity. The jaws have 4 slots that you can use to crimp 6 different sizes of wire ropes including 1/8″, 7/64″, 3/32″, 5/64″, 1/16″, and 3/64″. You can also adjust the jaws to accommodate both oval and duplex sleeves.
The downside of the IWIS swager pliers is that they do not have integrated cutters. But there is a 24″ version (IWS-1608B) that comes with a pair of wire cutters. Unfortunately, those cutters are not well hardened and won’t cut through a 16 gauge wire rope. They also become toast after a few uses.
Another alternative is to can get the IWS-1608MC. It is almost identical to the 1608S but has integrated cutters. The inline cutters only cut up to 1/8″ annealed copper wire rope, which is quite limiting. So I encourage getting a good pair of heavy duty cable cutters.
Overall, the IWIS 1608S swaging tool does an excellent job securing swage sleeves on wire cables. The quality of crimps you get from this tool is amazing and the connections are as strong as the cable itself. However, these pliers are quite heavy and you need some muscle to close the compound jaws all the way. Therefore, you may consider the 24″ version which has longer handles that provide more leverage so that you don’t use a lot of hand muscle.
iCrimp Wire Rope Ferrule Crimping Pliers – Best hand swager with cutters
- Length: 13″
- Swaging capacity: 1/64″ – 1/8″
- Slot sizes: 1/64″, 1/32″, 3/64″, 1/16″ – 5/16″, 3/32″-7/64″, 1/8″
- Integrated cutters
- Made from China
The iCrimp wire rope crimper is another great hand swaging tool for annealed copper sleeves and aluminum. It is 13″ long and has comfort grip handles for increased hand comfort when using them. The handles also have eyelets to which you can attach a cable or split ring for hanging the pliers during storage.
The 13″ iCrimp hand swagers are solid. They are constructed from Chrome-Manganese Oxide Steel which is strong and resistant to rust.
The jaws have 6 cavities that provide a swaging capacity of 1/64″ to 1/8″. There is also a jaw adjustment mechanism for adjusting the diameter of the crimping slots to fit different types of swage sleeves including double barrel ferrules and oval sleeves. The iCrimp swaging tool is ideal for various applications including crimping wire railing to studs on the deck, installing clothes lines, building fishing rigs, among other DIY applications.
The most outstanding feature of these 13″ iCrimp swaging pliers is the integrated cutters. The cutters are well hardened and slice through a 1/8″ wire rope like butter to make clean cuts.
Another unique feature is the ratcheting mechanism that locks the jaws in place to keep them from opening until a ferrule is fully crimped. This self-locking feature is very handy when you are working by yourself and need to assemble and hold the parts together before crimping. However, you do not have to wait until the ferrule is fully swaged to release the jaws. There is a small lever between the jaws that you can use to unlock the jaws at any time.
The only downside of the iCrimp swaging tool is the short handles. As I mentioned earlier, the longer the handles of a hand swager, the less the effort you need to crimp ferrules.
With the iCrimp swager, you need extra hand strength to squeeze larger sleeves. Otherwise, you may have to place the tool on a bench and use your body weight to crimp. But this happens even with other swagers when you have to swage thicker cables.
Overall, the iCrimp hand swaging tool is great for swaging small ferrules and for working in limited spaces. The ratcheting mechanism helps reduce hand fatigue while the integrated cutters eliminate the need for carrying another pair of wire cutters.