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What is a Pipe Cutter?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 17, 2024
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When a plastic or metal pipe needs to be cut cleanly and quickly, a pipe cutter is the ideal tool for the job. Using a saw can be difficult and messy, and using a hinged scissor-like cutting tool with two opposing blades will often produce undesirable effects such as crimping or breaking of the end of the pipe, especially on those made of metal. There are two major different types of pipe cutters — plastic and metal ones. They can come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations for cutting pipes of varying materials, sizes and shapes.

A plastic pipe cutter actually resembles a pair of pliers or scissors, except one side of the jaw is a blade while the other side is circular, for the pipe to rest on. Since the blade can easily wear out after cutting through many heavy pipes, a plastic pipe cutter is typically designed with the ability to replace the blade. This is usually designed to cut through PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, which is among the more durable and unbreakable types of plastic pipes.

It can be particularly difficult to simply squeeze the two handles of a pipe cutter to cut through more dense material, so the mechanics of a plastic pipe cutter usually allow for ratchet-type action when cutting. This means that the handles can be squeezed together more easily to produce a greater force on the blade. The ratcheting handles may have to be squeezed together several times to get the blade all the way through, depending on the circumference and density of the pipe.

A plastic pipe cutter would be ineffective and would probably break if it were used on metal pipe, so a metal or cast iron one must be used. This type relies on different mechanics for a clean, fast cut through pipe that can be even more dense and rigid. Basically, two jaws grasp the pipe and hold a sharp circular blade in place. The blade then rotates around the metal pipe and tightens until it cuts all the way through. There are manual metal pipe cutters that must be turned by hand as well as powered versions, which will do all the work while a button is compressed. Most of the time, these can also be used to cut through plastic pipes and tubing.

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Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Aug 05, 2011

I find these discussions on whether or not to use a pipe cutter or a hacksaw interesting. Although the pipe cutter is a very efficient tool many people like to think that a hacksaw is as efficient. A hacksaw can be as efficient as a pipe cutter but the user is running a risk in making an uneven cut. Although a hacksaw is much cheaper than a pipe cutter, the user runs a risk when using a manual tool for a job that may require accuracy in cutting.

The pipe cutter was designed to prevent human error in the cut of the pipe and will always make an even cut. Although a hacksaw is cheaper, in saving money the user sacrifices the assured satisfactory job of a tool designed for the purpose of cutting pipes and makes the outcome dependent on how steady a cut they can make on their own.

By matthewc23 — On Aug 04, 2011

@jcraig- I understand what you mean by saying that a pipe cutter does a better job than a hacksaw, but pipe cutter's are much more expensive and will not serve other purposes.

As TreeMan said pipe cutters will do a better job but hacksaws will do an efficient enough job as long as the person is not reckless in cutting the pipe at takes care in the cut. As far as doing work around the house goes, I say using a hacksaw to cut a pipe is much more efficient and better suited than using an expensive pipe cutter.

I understand that there are people out there that cut pipes quite often and they are the people that need a pipe cutter. However, most people do not have a pipe cutter and a hacksaw will do a sufficient enough job in the absence of a pipe cutter and is probably a better investment in regards to cutting pipes and taking part in other projects that need things cut.

By TreeMan — On Aug 03, 2011

As far as using a pipe cutter or a hacksaw goes I feel that it really depends on the person making the cut and what tool they have available. Most people do not have a pipe cutter so they rely on a hacksaw, which is usually inexpensive and will also suit other needs.

Despite the practicality of hacksaws they are not as effective in cutting pipes as pipe cutters. Pipe cutters are specifically designed to cut pipes and hacksaws are designed to cut things manually, which does not leave as clean of a cut. As far as whether to use a pipe cutter or a hacksaw, I say that a pipe cutter always does a better job, but a hacksaw will do an efficient enough job, if one does not have a pipe cutter available.

By jcraig — On Aug 03, 2011

@matthewc23- That is a good point bringing in cost effectiveness, but when a job needs to be done it is best left to a tool that is designed for that purpose. What hacksaws do that pipe cutters will not is leave a burr on the inside of the pipe. Pipe cutters will also make sure that the pipe is cut evenly.

Although with smaller pipes a hacksaw is probably good for the job, a pipe cutter will evenly cut bigger pipes and prevent user error in ruining the pipe, such as cutting the pipe unevenly and will also provide a cleaner cut of the pipe than a hacksaw.

By matthewc23 — On Aug 02, 2011

When I need to cut a pipe I do not use a pipe cutter, I prefer to use a hack saw. Although pipe cutters have a specifically, designed purpose, which is to cut pipes, there is not much use for them other than that type of project. I have found out through experience that a hacksaw is just as efficient and more practical for other purposes besides cutting pipes.

With the exception of people that may cut pipes on a regular basis I find it more practical and cost effective to invest in a hacksaw, which can be used for other things, as opposed to a pipe cutter, which is expensive and only serves a single purpose.

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