Choosing the Right Pipe Cutter

DIY plumbing projects can be made much easier by using the correct pipe cutter.  Just as there are many different types of pipes, there are also several types of pipe cutters available for purchase. Knowing a little about the types of cutters on the market can help you select the right one for your project.

  • 01 of 07

    Copper Tubing Cutters

    Copper pipe cutter
    Aaron Stickley

    Copper tubing cutters come in many shapes and sizes. When buying,  make sure the one suitable for the range of pipe sizes you'll cut now and in the future. Copper cutters are really only meant to cut through copper, so the blade will not usually be thick enough to cut iron pipe or ABS pipe unless the cutting blade is changed. Tubing cutters can cut PVC or CPVC in a pinch, but to keep the copper tubing cutter sharp, use it only on copper pipe. 

    Types of copper tubing cutters:

    • A standard pipe cutter cuts by rotation. It is clamped onto the pipe, then the cutter is turned around the pipe. Every turn or two, the cutter is tightened so the blade gradually cuts further into the pipe until it severs it completely. Standard tubing cutters come in several sizes.  
    • Thumb cutters are a favorite because they can get into tight spaces. Some can cut copper pipe up to 1" (which has a 1 1/8" outside diameter). This type of cutter works similarly to the standard copper cutter, but it is tightened with your thumb every turn or two until it cuts through the pipe. Cutting with a thumb cutter is a little more work than with a standard butter, but it is a very handy little tool that belongs in every home tool box. 
    • Auto cutters are also great tools that take up even less space when cutting. There are quite a few different brands available, but most work the same way. The auto tube cutter is clamped onto the pipe and turned in one direction,  tightening automatically, until the copper pipe is cut all the way through.

    After cutting always clean the pipe before connecting pipes and fittings.

  • 02 of 07

    PVC Cutters

    PVC ratchet cutters are amazing tools for working with PVC pipe. Each time you squeeze your hand, the cutter ratchets closed, cutting a small amount of pipe material until cutting all the way through the pipe. PVC cutters are made to cut various sized pipes up to 2" in diameter. The most common sizes will handle pipe up to 1 1/4" and are priced starting at about $10, so they are very affordable. If you have decent hand strength, you can easily ratchet the cutter until it cuts right through PVC pipe. These cutters are also great for cutting CPVC and PEX.

  • 03 of 07

    ABS Cutters

    Most people cut ABS pipe with some kind of a coarse saw. There are specific saws for cutting ABS, but you can really use any type of saw, even a hacksaw. A coarse saw is also good for cutting PVC. On both ABS and PVC pipe, you will need to clean off the inside and outside of the pipe after cutting, because using a saw does leave large burrs on the plastic pipe material that can interfere with solvent gluing. 

  • 04 of 07

    Iron and Galvanized Pipe Cutters

    Specialized pipe cutters are available for cutting iron pipe, which is very hard to cut any other way. Iron pipe cutters make a nice straight cut every time. They work exactly like the larger copper cutters but have a thicker and stronger cutting wheel to handle the thicker, harder walls of the iron pipe. Turn the handle to clamp down tighter every turn or two until the pipe cutter severs the pipe. This type of cutter does require a lot of room to turn, so in tight spaces, you may have to use a reciprocating saw equipped with a metal-cutting blade. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Cast Iron (Soil) Snap Cutters

    These large chain-type cutters will cut cast iron, clay, and concrete pipes. There are both ratchet and scissor versions of this cutter. Snap cutters squeeze the pipe evenly on all sides. Once squeezed enough, the tool will snap off the pipe as evenly as if it were cut. A snap cutter requires some practice to learn how to set the chain, and it is very heavy to maneuver. To be safe, it helps to practice a few times on spare pipe before cutting a pipe in a tight space.

  • 06 of 07

    CPVC and PEX Cutters

    Soft tubing plastic cutters work great for cutting PVC and PEX. They work like a ratcheting PVC cutter but cut all the way through in one squeeze. Just wiggle the blade back and forth to get it started in the pipe, and then squeeze the handle to cut all the way through. This type of cutter works great, but extended use may tire your hands. PVC ratchet cutters also work great for cutting this type of pipe, as do most ​​saws, so feel free to use whatever you have in your plumbing tool box.

  • 07 of 07

    Multi-Purpose Cutters

    It is helpful to have some multi-purpose cutters available when doing plumbing projects. Among the better choices are a standard hacksaw, a mini-hacksaw, and a power reciprocating saw. You can cut just about anything with these, though be aware that they do not cut as cleanly as many of the pipe-specific cutters. If you do cut a pipe with a hacksaw or similar multi-purpose cutter, be prepared to file or clean off the pipe to remove any burrs left by the cutter.​