The 10 Best Bolt Cutters
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in September of 2015. A tough job calls for an extra-tough tool. The bolt cutters featured here can slice through thick wires, threaded rods, locks, chains, and more, utilizing up to 16,000 pounds of crushing pressure. Whether you're looking for raw power or a compact, one-handed option, you're bound to find the perfect model for your needs. Regardless of the size of the tool, always wear proper eye protection. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 30, 2020:
For this update, we removed the Klein Tools 63RBCHD due to availability issues, and added the Tekton 3400, an 18-inch model. The light weight of the Tekton 3400 makes it a great choice for those who don’t have the need or desire to lug around a heavy tool, but still want the cutting power to handle hardened materials like chains, bolts, and threaded rods. They don’t appear to be well-suited for use on softer materials like wire though, so keep that in mind.
Even though they are fairly simple tools, bolt cutters can be extremely dangerous if used incorrectly. Make sure to store them out of reach, either locked in a toolbox or hanging on the wall, and never leave them around children unattended. Considering how little effort it takes them to cut through metal, a small child can easily cut through a toe or finger with a bolt cutter in seconds.
Depending on what you’re cutting, the risk of flying debris can be high, so always wear proper eye protection. Work gloves should also be worn, to both provide a secure grip, and protect fingers from the sharp blades.
If these bolt cutters seem a bit too heavy-duty for the tasks you have in mind, you might want to consider diagonal cutting pliers. These won’t deliver the raw power of bolt cutters, but they’re smaller, require less effort to use, and are perfect for cutting through wires and small fasteners.
If you work with concrete and plan on cutting rebar, a dedicated rebar cutter would be a better choice. These tools come in a variety of styles, suitable for a range of rebar sizes.
May 10, 2019:
In selecting products for this list, durability, cutting force, and effectiveness over time were the most important considerations. We also made sure to include models of different sizes, since bolts, chain, and wires vary widely in thickness and density.
With regard to updates, the Workpro W017005A was promoted from the seventh to the first spot due to its dependability and popularity. Similarly, the GreatNeck BC30 was moved up to the third spot because of its comfortable grip and longer-than-average reach. The Fiskars PowerGear was downgraded due to complaints about it failing to cut through standard padlocks.
Bolt Cutters: A Perfect Application Of Force
If you examine almost any item with moving parts, from a computer to a cruise ship to a carousel, you will find multiple examples of simple machines within.
Before we get to the topic at hand, the bolt cutter, let us first discuss an underlying principle without which this mighty tool would not even exist.
A simple machine is, in the simplest terms, a mechanical device that creates or directs force. Simple machines create what is sometimes called a "mechanical advantage" but what is more commonly referred to as leverage. The term simple machine is almost always used to refer to one or more of the six devices defined during the Renaissance era. They are the lever, the pulley, the wheel and axle, the wedge, the inclined plane, and the screw.
If you examine almost any item with moving parts, from a computer to a cruise ship to a carousel, you will find multiple examples of simple machines within. Likewise you will find simple machines being used -- though often in advanced applications employing multiple examples at once -- in industries ranging from construction to manufacturing to medicine and beyond.
Now let's focus on one particular simple machine, the lever. A rigid lever can be used to generate great amounts of force to an object located a short distance from a fulcrum when much lesser force is applied at a greater distance from the fulcrum. If you have ever used a jack to raise a car before a tire change, you have seen this device at its finest, lifting a vehicle weighing many thousands of pounds with the strength of your own arms.
Given the right circumstances, a lever can theoretically generate enough force to lift any object. Levers can also be used to generate enough force for you to chop through solid steel with your arms alone, provided that the simple machine in question is being used in the form of a pair of bolt cutters.
The Bolt Cutter As An Everyday Tool
A typical bolt cutter can generate around 4,000 pounds of pressure in the hands of a reasonably able bodied person. That means they can easily chop through almost any material that will be found around the house or on a construction site, making them a great asset for the carpenter, electrician, plumber, or the DIY enthusiast looking to cut through anything from nails to wiring to chain link fencing to many types of pipe and even through sheet metal and rebar.
While bolt cutters are hardly precision tools (a pair might bend and crimp a pipe before severing it, for example) they are great for the rough and ready work of demolition that often precedes renovations or new construction. If you have to remove a section of concrete supported by rebar, for example, a sledgehammer (or jackhammer) will only take care of half of the project; a powerful bolt cutter can remove the iron bars. And if you need to cut away nails, screws or, of course, bolts, you can use a good pair of bolt cutters to make multiple cuts with minimal strain to your arms or hands. The leverage inherent in good bolt cutters will always be appreciated.
Don't forget that just because a bolt cutter was designed for use chopping metal, it can still be used to cut through other materials. A handheld bolt cutter (some options are small enough to be operated with one hand) can make amazingly swift work of the branches and brambles you need to prune, for example. They can also easily cut through dowels, zip ties, thick rope, and much more.
The Bolt Cutter For Law Enforcement Or Emergency Work
There are a few specialty bolt cutters available that are extremely pricey, but that can generate many thousands of pounds of force. Keeping in mind that about 4,000 pounds of force is an average figure for most bolt cutters, it is astonishing to realize that some hydraulic style cutters can generate as much as 16,000 pounds of cutting force using nothing more than a person's arm strength.
There are a few specialty bolt cutters available that are extremely pricey, but that can generate many thousands of pounds of force.
Such amazing cutting power is certainly excessive if you are simply trying to remove a lock whose combination has been forgotten or if you are snipping away excess fencing material, but there are multiple situations in which such power is of the utmost importance. If you are tasked with quick entry into a property to execute a warrant, for example, you and your fellow law enforcement professionals can't afford to waste a second, as every delay can put your team in danger and/or risk giving a suspect the advantage he or she needs to make an escape.
So too can a powerful pair of bolt cutters allow for quicker and easier access to a building that firefighters need to enter in order to fight a blaze or that paramedics need to get into before they can assist a sick or injured individual. If a lock stands in the way of a police officer or a first responder, it's important to have the best, most powerful tool available to get that lock removed. Bolt cutters can also help these types of professionals cut through fencing, chains, security cages over windows, and much more.
And for the repossession professional who has the legal right to tow away vehicles or other property that is being unlawfully held, a great pair of bolt cutters is an essential tool of the trade.