The Best Tools Used To Cut Plumbing Pipe


Plumbing relies on many different forms of pipes, that are made from all different types of materials to different sizes that accommodate different loads and are sold at varying lengths.

Being able to properly manipulate these pipes is important in to the plumber and the overall task at hand.

Because all of these vary, the tool needed to cut them also varies. Some materials are easy enough to cut by pressing in the handles of a cutter with one hand to slice through it, while others require a power tool.

All of it is achievable and are fun things to tackle. Stick around to learn more about the different pipes used in plumbing, how they are cut and what the best tools for the job are.

The Different Plumbing Pipes

Plumbing pipes serve different purposes with some like copper, PEX and CPVC that are used to supply water throughout homes, offices and buildings.

Others deliver your waste from point a (you) to point b (the sewer) and range in materials such as PVC, ABS, cast iron, asbestos cement (discontinued, but may still be underground) and even copper.

Some deliver gas like PE (polyethylene), PVC and galvanized steel. Galvanized steel even requires it’s own threading tool to allow for connection between pipe and fitting.

Pipe Cutters For PEX

One of the cheapest and cleanest ways to cut PEX pipe is with a pair of PEX cutters. These cutters are relatively small compared to the other tools, cheap and lightweight.

They cut pipes sized anywhere from 1/8″ and all the way up to 1 5/8″.

The cutters utilize a spring located in the handle to keep constant resistance pushing the handles away from each other, allowing you to keep re-adjust if need be, and keeping things one handed.

The end of the cutters is a blade on one side a semi-circle groove on the other, allowing you to firmly keep the pipe in place as you’re cutting and to rotate the cutters around the pipe if need be.

As the name suggests, these cutters are great for cutting PEX piping as well as some other softer forms of plastic piping.

How To Use Them Properly:

You may have a blade that is dull and will need to be sharpened. If the blade is dull, squeezing these cutters over top of the pipe can bend the pipe before it cuts.

This leaves you with a tougher time cutting through the pipe, and potentially a bend that stays.

To cut properly, apply enough pressure on the cutters to begin to compress the pipe, but not enough to bend it.

Keeping this pressure on the pipe, rotate the cutters around the circumference of it while slowly applying more pressure.

What this will do is allow you to dig in around the pipe and weaken it. Spinning the cutters around the pipe also helps to cut in. Once you feel you have compromised the pipe enough, you can then squeeze fully to cut through.

The same can be true for colder days. In the cold weather, I found it a little bit tougher sometimes to cut through the pipe even with a sharp blade.

Cost

I purchased a pair of these at my local EMCO store for about 9$. They lasted me about 2 years before I needed to replace them, and that was with solid every day use, working in the trades.

You can pick up my recommended pair by clicking on my Amazon link here.

I absolutely loved these cutters for working in the trades, their size allowed me to virtually fit it in any pocket I had with ease, as well as my tool bag, it gave me the ability to slice through pipes with precision and ease making my job quicker and they were just very easy to use.

Typical water distribution pipe sizes:

Piping in your home that supplies the water throughout your house range in a couple of different sizes:

1/8″ – 1/4″ – Tubing for trap seal priming

1/2″ – Water supply lines to toilets, sinks, showers etc.

3/4″ – Main branch of water supply throughout the home, hot water heater supply

1″ – 1 1/4″ – Main water supply that enters in your home

Pipe Cutters For Copper

Tubing Cutters

Next up are the copper cutters. These typically cut sizes from 1/8″ up to 1 3/8″ and include a twist-able handle that raises and lowers the blade.

These tend to be a little bit pricier than the PEX cutters but roughly the same size. The blade at the end is removeable and replaceable, allowing you to keep maintenance costs down.

These cutters can cut through both hard drawn copper as well as soft drawn. The great thing about this cutters is that they allow for a clean, precision cut that looks professional.

The tool also comes with a de-burring attachment that slides out and allows you to scrap the inside diameter of the copper to remove all of the leftover copper that was pressed into the pipe.

How To Use Properly:

  • Measure on the pipe to the point in length where you want to cut and mark it down with a marker (preferably thin point)
  • Adjust your cutters down to a point where you can fit the pipe inside of them, line it up with your blade and tighten down enough to keep it in place, but not overly tight
    • Having your blade already adjusted down allows you to quickly get the cut ready to go. Adjusting the blade fully down with pipe in hand is achievable of course, but much more of a nuisance
  • Spin the cutters around the pipe while slowly turning the handle to keep tightening it further
  • A trick is to make a couple motions in the opposite direction as well

Cost

You can pick up this style of cutter for roughly 60$ 70$ depending on what brand you get. The brand the I strongly recommend and have used for years was the Lennox tubing cutters and you can find them by clicking here.

Tubing Cutters For Tight Spaces (Imp Cutter)

As many of us know, not all pipes are easily accessible to cut. With the above cutters, you definitely require a bit of space to swing the tool around the pipe to make a cut.

So to appease this situation, tool manufacturers have designed a cutter that is small enough that it can fit around the pipe and in between potential other barriers, like drywall and wood studs.

These cutters come as either adjustable to fit different sizes, or made individually for specific sizes. They work by fitting them around a pipe and spinning in the direction of the orientation arrow that is labelled on the cutters.

How To Use Them Properly:

Some cutters don’t have orientation labels. To ensure you are spinning in the proper direction, take your finger and place it on the metal of the tool closest to the blade, slide your finger around the semi-circle of the tool until your reach the rollers. That is the orientation that you’re going to use to cut the pipe.

Cost of these cutters can range anywhere from 10$ to just over 30$. The ones I recommend for purchase are the adjustable cutters made by RIDGID. RIDGID is a solid tool company that has been making tools for plumbers for a very long time. They are a big name and you can find the tool here (link to Amazon).

Copper Cutter Power Tool

Another great way to cut copper, especially if you have joint issues is the power tool copper cutters.

Regular copper cutters do require a bit of effort to make the cut, and when cutting multiple pieces in a day, it can wear down your wrists.

This tool works by placing pipe inside the end of the tool, and pushing the button to get it going.

Pros:

  • Allows for effortless tube cutting
  • Precision cuts
  • Simple to use

Cons:

  • Initial cost is pricier than hand held tools
  • Requires a charged battery to work
  • A little harder to store away in comparison to the hand-helds

If you would like to check out my recommended pair, you can do so by clicking to my Amazon link here. Milwaukee is a strong name when it comes to power tools, and they have just about any and every tool imaginable.

While I don’t own a pair of these puppies, I have used them quite a bit in my time in the trades and have been very happy with how they preform.

For more of my recommended tools, power tools and products you can head over to my recommend products page by clicking here!

Pipe Cutters For PVC & ABS

PVC is the primary drainage and venting pipe found across the United States, and ABS is the main one found within Canada. Both have similarities to them and are effective for keeping costs low, work minimal and plumbing systems optimal.

Many of the tools are one in the same for cutting through these two materials.

Ratchet Cutters

Ratchet cutters use a ratcheting system to compress down over the pipe to eventually be able to slice through it.

They are much like the PEX cutters that have springs in the handles to allow you to only use one hand to accomplish the task.

I have found these to work both great and not so great depending on the situation.

They are great for the fact that they are compact enough to fit nicely within a tool bag and will do the job the majority of the time.

Where I found them to be a little bit of a challenge is when cutting into harder forms of piping. In Canada, a brand called Cellcore is becoming more and more common due to it’s lighter weight and cheaper cost.

The tool works great for cutting through this brand of pipe, but when it cuts to the harder, denser ABS material it tends to struggle a bit and sometimes even get stuck to the point where you can’t tighten down any further, but also a tougher time to get them out of the pipe.

Another con for this style of tool is that it requires a lot of strength in your wrists and joints and can be more of a workout.

Tubing Cutters

This style of cutter is one in the same as the tubing cutters for copper, only at a larger scale.

The handle twists allowing the blade to move closer to the pipe to tighten or further away. This style of cutter actually allows you to freely move the blade up and down with your hand as well, so you aren’t spending minutes trying to spin it into place.

PVC and ABS piping for drains and vents are typically going to be larger in diameter than the water supply pipes made of copper, CPVC and PEX.

Thus, the tool is also bigger and can cut pipe from 3/8″ all the way up to 3 1/2″ outside diameter.

Typical inside diameters of drain pipes and vent pipes range from:

1 1/4″ – Sinks

1 1/2″ – Sinks, showers, tubs, vent pipes

2″ – Showers, tubs, vent pipes

3″ – Toilets, vent stacks, stack vents

4″ – Main building drain

How To Use Them Properly:

  • Measure where on the pipe you would like to cut and make a mark with a marker or hold that spot with your finger
  • Fully extend open the cutters
  • Place the pipe inside of the cutters resting on the wheels
  • Face the cutters in such a way that when you push the lever to move the blade up and down, that gravity will allow the blade to move towards the pipe
  • Tighten enough to just barely cut into the surface of the pipe and spin
  • While spinning the tool around tighten the blade slowly so as to go deeper and deeper with each pass
  • It’s important to go in the proper direction. Follow the same principle for figuring out the direction you need to go as you did with the copper cutters for tight space (scroll up)

Cost

These cutters range in prices from 70$125$ and allow you to easily change out the cutting wheel when it gets dull.

The one I recommend getting and have used for years is the tubing cutters by Reed. They are 11″ and red. This size is a great size to get as it allows you to tackle just about all the different pipe sizes in your home. You can find it by clicking here.

The Hacksaw

The old standard for cutting pipe among many other things has been the hacksaw. This tool is great for giving the user the ability to rip through different types of materials.

Hacksaws come with removable blades and can cut through ABS, PVC and CPVC with ease.

Pipe Cutters For Cast Iron

Granted, this isn’t as popular of an option for a home when the plumbing is getting installed. The weight and price of cast iron makes for options like PVC and ABS to be favorable.

However, it’s not without it’s pro’s. While being a heavier product to work with, cast iron is excellent for noise insulation inside of it’s walls. This means no draining sounds in the walls when someone is flushing or taking a shower.

This maintains a market for this type of pipe and why I have included it in this list.

The cutters that are used to cut the cast iron are called snap cutters. Snap cutters are made in a few different variations, but all work by wrapping a thick chain around the pipe.

This chain has sharp ends to allow for as precise of a cut as possible.

How To Use This Style Of Cutter:

  • Wrap the chain around the pipe after you have measured where you want to cut and marked that point with a marker or chalk
  • Lock the chain in place by squeezing the part of the chain that fits the tightest into the ratchet (may take a bit of effort)
  • Lock it in and tighten the ratchet using the knob on the side
    • Older snap cutters – Press the two handles together in one, explosive motion
    • Newer snap cutters – Utilizes ratcheting only to snap the pipe
skip to 34 seconds in

Cost

These cutters are going to be the most expensive pair of cutters you’ll find within this post. Part of the reason for the price of these puppies is supply and demand. The average person isn’t going to the store to pick up snap cutters, and generally is only purchased by plumbers.

The cost of these cutters can be upwards of 450$600$ and if you would like to check out my recommendation for the pair I used quite often, then you can click here (link to Amazon).

I never owned a pair myself, as the plumbing company I worked for had all of the more pricey tools purchased for us to use but I have used them quite often and have to say that I was quite impressed with how they preform.

Pipe Cutters For CPVC

CPVC is one in the same as many of the other plastic versions of plumbing pipe. CPVC is specifically used for water service because of the chlorination added to the pipe.

This chlorination makes CPVC safe for potable water consumption unlike PVC, which should only be used for drains and vents.

The different ways you can cut this pipe:

Tiny tim hacksaw
  • Hacksaw – As mentioned before, this is a very easy pipe to rip through with a hacksaw
  • Tiny Tim hacksaw – This is the same as a hacksaw, but much smaller. Since CPVC deals primarily with water supply, the smaller pipes make it easier to use this handheld tool
  • Tubing cutters – Tubing cutters with a thin, plastic cutting wheel (made of metal, not plastic) can allow you to cut with precision
  • Ratchet cutters – Where before I mentioned this type of cutter had issues cutting through pipe, this style of pipe is much easier to use ratchet cutters with, as the pipe is much smaller and easier to cut

For the ratchet cutters, I recommend this one off of Amazon as it can range in sizes up to 1 5/8″ which will be more than enough for CPVC pipe as well as a lot of your drainage pipe as well.

Pipe Cutters For Galvanized Steel

This type of pipe has been phased out for potable water distribution due to the potential of trace amounts of lead to leach into the water stream.

However, if you have an older home, there’s a small chance you might still have this type of pipe.

Other than that, it’s primarily used for gas distribution to places like your stove, water heater etc.

It’s recommended to not mess with this or any of the other forms of piping mentioned in this article as there is potential for water leaks, gas leaks etc. If ever you need to replace or install piping, calling a licensed professional is advised.

The Sawzall

The sawzall is a power tool that features a removable reciprocating blade that allows you to cut through things at the touch of a button. These tools come as either battery powered or plugin.

For steel, you generally want a blade that features a bunch of little blades to cut through it, as opposed to a wood blade which has fewer, longer blades that allow you to hack through the wood.

Wood cutting blade (left) and steel cutting blade (right)

The sawzall is a great tool to have as it can cut almost all of the pipe mentioned in this post, and with the right experience, it can cut it with relative precision.

Cost

Sawzalls can come in a set with other power tools, or on it’s own. The price can vary from 80$200$ depending on things like the power source, brand and durability.

Steel Pipe Cutter

This tool offers the same exact functionality as the Reed pipe cutters for ABS and PVC, as well as the copper tubing cutters. This tool however is larger and requires more force to create the desired cut, but will leave you with a perfect cut every time.

The only thing that may be required along with using this tool is a vice or a pipe clamp that allows you to tighten down the steel pipe so you can focus on spinning the tool around. Didn’t get a work out in today? Use this tool for maximum gains.

Cost

This tool does have a slightly heftier price tag attached to it and can range from 60$130$+. My recommendation will come at no surprise to those who have been reading along to the RIDGID steel pipe cutters (link to Amazon).

The beautiful thing about this tool compared to the sawzall is that it much less noisey to operate, as well as leaves you with a cleaner work site. Power tool options are great for ease of use, but leave a mess of metal shavings every where, and may not be as precise of a cut.

The sawzall on the other hand has a wide variety of different uses and has the ability to interchange it’s blade for different tasks. While I was in the trades I used the sawzall quite a bit for cutting everything from steel pipe, ABS, PVC to wood studs and nails.

Either choice you make will benefit you greatly when it comes to these tools.

resources:

https://www.plumbermag.com/how-to-articles/pipe-cutters-tools-fitting/top-tools-for-cutting-and-fitting-pipes

https://www.thespruce.com/copper-pipe-cutter-2718637

https://www.homedepot.com/c/ah/how-to-cut-pipe-and-tubing/9ba683603be9fa5395fab90182d97f90

Tyler Takacs

My name is Tyler, I live in Ontario Canada and enjoy learning about common plumbing issues in the household. I have spent just over three years in the trades as a plumbers apprentice, but am now onto a less physical job. I still enjoy studying and learning about my own house's plumbing as well as finding ways to help others with their issues.

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