Help Selecting the Right Cutters

No matter what brand of cutters you are looking at, unless you are only doing one task with the same material forever, there is no single cutter for all your needs. Trying to save money by using the wrong cutter can damage your material and shorten the cutter’s life, costing you more in the long run.

The cost of a tool is NOT a gauge of its cutting capacity.

With our extensive experience in selling and supporting precision cutters, we have learned that most often, when there is a problem, all brands have the same problem. This common issue is what is known as “Over Ranged”. It is not the fault of the cutter or of the manufacturer, but of the user trying to cut material the cutter was not designed to cut. This may be the gauge (thickness) of the material or of the “Type” of material (ie.. Copper, Brass, Stainless). Most often, it is an issue the user of the user trying to cut a “Type” material that is harder than what the cutters were rated for.

The capacity rating provided (other than specific “Hard Wire” cutters) is most always for “soft solid copper wire”. Most all other material used in the Jewelry Trade is harder than copper. I am not saying you cannot cut this harder material; I am saying you should use an appropriate cutter to do so.

The second most common issue is cutting the material at the very tip of the cutters, which happens to be the weakest part of the cutter. The capacity rating published is for the throat and not the tip. When a tool is damaged, we find that most often it was caused by the material being cut, which was not copper but of a harder material. In the Jewelry Trade, there is a need to get into tight small areas to trim up pieces and you want to use an extra small tapered head cutter to do so. Be Careful! Make sure you know what the material is. Maybe pull the wire out so that you can use a larger appropriate cutter, then push/tuck it back in.

Most manufacturers have a “Guarantee” that covers defects in material, manufacturing and workmanship. “Over Ranging” is not covered by a manufacturer’s guarantee, as it is considered misapplication/abuse.

Here are the essential points to consider when buying a new pair of cutters: 

  • What type and gauge of material will you be cutting?
  • What handle fits your hand best?
  • What head type and size do you need?
  • What type of cut is required?

When selecting a cutter, you must determine the gauge and type of material you’ll be cutting. Except for hard-wire cutters, cutting capacity ratings are based on soft copper wire. Published cutting capacities are normally for the throat of the cutter, not the tips. The tips most often have a cutting capacity of 4 AWG or less (bigger number/smaller size) than the published cutting capacity.
If you’re using precision cutters and are having to squeeze hard to cut your material, you’re probably cutting beyond the cutter’s capacity.

If you’re going to be cutting 18 AWG soft copper wire all day, every day, I wouldn’t settle for a cutter that is rated up to 18 AWG. Instead, select a cutter that’s rated up to 16 AWG because it will hold its edge longer.

If you need to cut hard, semi-hard, or memory wire, you’ll need a specialty cutter like Xuron’s 2193, Knipex 74-12-160 or Lindstrom’s TRX-8180. The 2193 will cut steel wire up to 12 gauge, and memory wire up to 18 gauge. Trying to cut these materials with a pair of precision cutters will surely damage them. For even heavier gauge material, I would look at the Knipex 71-12-200 Mini Bolt Cutters.

Handles: When selecting a pair of cutters, your first decision will be which handle fits your hand. Many manufacturers offer multiple handle options. Find the handle that fits your hands best. With precision cutters, it should be easy to cut through your material. If you are needing extra strength or longer handles to get more leverage, you are using the wrong cutter.

Head Types & Size: There are 3 basic head types: oval, tapered, and tip cutters. There are also many subtypes, such as relieved and angulated. Choose the strongest head that still allows access to the material to be cut.

  • Oval head: The most common shape, combining strength and durability, an oval head evenly distributes cutting impact. This is the strongest head type and will provide slightly higher cutting capacities.
  • Oval and relieved: Like the oval head above, but with the underside cut away, this head has a smaller profile for better access to limited spaces. This cut away will affect the rated cutting capacity when compared to the same size head that is not relieved.
  • Tapered head: The sides taper diagonally, providing improved access in limited space, improved maneuverability, and good durability. With less metal in the head, a tapered head’s cutting capacity is slightly less than the oval head.
  • Tapered and relieved head: Tapered on both sides with the underside cut away, this head’s minimal profile provides access to very limited spaces. This configuration is one of the most popular in the Jewelry Trade for its fine finishing cut. With even less metal, this head has an even lower cutting capacity than the above heads.
  • Tip cutter: Tip cutters and angulated tip cutters give you the best access to tight places of all the cutters. They also have the lowest cutting capacity. Unlike the other heads, the rated cutting capacity for these cutters is for their tips. The angulated version has the cutting edge at a steeper angle from the handle.

Types of Cut:

  • Semi-Flush: Makes a low-profile cut. This type of cutter handles heavier gauge material than the other two types and holds its edge longer. This is the least popular of the 3 types of cuts in the Jewelry Trade.
  • Flush: Cut result leaves a narrow and short peak along the “pinch” line, decreasing the surface area at the cut. This is the most popular cut of the three types and can normally cut heavier gauge material than razor flush and lighter gauge than the semi-flush.
  • Full-Flush: The finest cut result available with the smoothest lead-end. This is the second most popular of the three.

Please note that different manufacturers may use their own trade names for these different cut types, whereas I’m just using the generic names here. When comparing the cutting capacities of cut types, the Semi-Flush cut gives you the highest cutting capacity. The Flush cut will provide a lower cutting capacity than the Semi-Flush cut and the Full-Flush provides the lowest of the three. Another thing to consider is that a Semi-Flush cutter will hold its edge (sharpness) longer than a Flush cutter and a Flush cutter will hold its edge longer than a Full-Flush cutter. The head style is not limited to any one type of cut. For example, an oval head cutter can come in any of the three types of cut, but for maximum cutting capacity, an oval head with a semi-flush cut will give you the highest cutting capacity.

The Strongest Cutter:

The Strongest Cutter is going to be a Semi-Flush, XL, Oval Head (non-relieved) cutter. The main feature that makes one cutter stronger than the other, is the quantity of the metal backing up the cutting edge.

  • The Smaller the head, the lower the cutting capacity.
  • Taper Head Cutters have less metal backing the cutting edge than Oval head cutters lowering the cutting capacity for equivalent sized heads.
  • Relieved Head Cutters have even less material backing up the cutting edge, lowering the cutting capacity even more.
  • Tip Cutters normally have the least amount of material backing up their cutting edge.
  • Full-Flush & Flush Cutters have less material backing up the cutting edge than Semi-Flush Cutters, lowering the cutting capacity.
  • In the case of cutter strength, size does matter.
  • Carbide cutters are extra strong for their size, although they are much higher priced and they are fragile. If you drop a pair of carbide cutters onto the floor, they can break.

If you have more question or need help selecting a cutter,
Please email me at or call 707.446.1120

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