Don’t you just hate it when you need to cut a cable, but can’t find your trusty wirecutter? Relax, you can still use other tools to cut wires, but please, before you do something dangerous, follow this advice. You’ll need some basic knowledge of safety, wires and cables, and tools to work with first.
Always use tools for their intended purposes. While incorrect usage of tools can hinder progress or, even worse, hurt you, sometimes we need to improvise. However, we need to first think about the risks and efficiency of our methods, all while ensuring it is safe for ourselves, our work-mates, and the environment.
Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) no matter what.
- Work gloves will protect you from calluses and cuts and increase your grip on the tools.
- Proper overalls will protect you from sparks and flying shards that could damage your torso.
- Protective boots keep you from accidentally crushing your toes with heavy machinery and prevent electrical shock.
- Face masks and work glasses protect your eyes and face from random projectiles or shards.
Turn Off the Power!
Double-check that the power is off before you cut the wire. A strong electrical shock could send you flying or even to the hospital.
All About Wires
It’s a good idea to take a look at the wire and get a general sense of its composition, materials, and purpose before cutting into it. A wire or cable is a component used to relay information or electrical currents from one end to another using some kind of conductive material such as copper, silver, and aluminum.
A wire is generally composed of the core and sheath. The core is where the primary conductor is located. Sometimes the core is complemented with a thick strand of steel at its center. The sheath is located in the outer ring of the wire.
The sheath protects the core from external dangers such as impact, chemicals, water, and even plants. The most basic cable sheath is rubber or plastic.
Note that a cable can have multiple cores depending on its size and purpose.
Types of Wires
The wire is a widespread component that is used in various fields. They fill different roles, purposes, and use different materials depending on their applications. The currents carried by cables can vary.
Here is a list of common wires and cables.
1. Tiny: Electronic Wires and LAN Wires
Wires used in electronics are tiny, mostly using 0.25mm2 solid copper cables with PVC (Poly-Vinyl Chloride) jacketing. The currents used in various electronics appliances are small (less than 2 Amperes). You only need a small cable to do the job, generally the size of 0.25mm2 – 0.1mm2.
LAN cables are eight pieces of 0.1mm2 solid copper cables with color-coded PVC jacketing twisted and arranged into one with another PVC jacketing on the outermost layer. Each wire has different color codes and carries different pieces of information.
2. Small: Common House Electrical Wires, Coaxial Wires
The wires used for your house’s electrical installation ranges from 1.5mm2 to 4mm2. It uses solid copper cables with heat resistant PVC. Sometimes strand cables can be used as a replacement. The wires carry a medium amount of current with a maximum of 5-10 Amperes, depending on your electrical needs.
The coaxial wire is used as a transmission line. It can be as thin as 2.5mm2 and as thick as 4mm2. The wire consists of a solid or stranded copper core with an inner dielectric insulator to distance the core from outer components. A braided metallic mesh or tape usually made from copper shields the core from electromagnetic interference (EMI). A PVC jacket is on the outermost layer of the cable.
3. Medium to Big: Industrial Wires, Machinery Wires
Industrial wires have a cross-section area of 4mm2 to 150mm2. Thin cables are used in industrial power outlet installations. Medium cables are used in electrical distribution panels. The thickest cables are used in heavy machinery such as motors, specialized production machinery, and welding machines.
The cables have a multiple solid copper core with heat resistant PVC for electrical and installation and distribution panels. While portable, high power machines like motors and welding machines generally use strand copper core with PVC sheath for extra flexibility when moving the machines around.
Tools and Methods
The following are tools that can be used for cutting wires in order of the cable’s thickness. Please be advised that you should always use a proper wire cutter if available.
1. Nail Clipper
The nail clipper is the best alternative to cut or strip tiny cables. It is small and easy to use and produces a clean-cut. It can even be used to strip bigger wires that it cannot cut, but can still fit in between the mouth. Try to buy nail clippers with rubberized grips for added insulation, just to be extra safe.
Small scissors can be used to cut tiny cables, although they can not cut solid copper cable very well. Tin scissors can be used to cut small cables and tiny solid copper cables. You can make the cut cleaner by applying tension on the wire.
You can use a knife to cut wires. The trick is to hold both ends of the wire in your palm with a firm grip. Then, put the blade on the apex of the fold between the cables (make extra sure the knife is facing away from you). Pull hard. Another method is to cut the wire against a hard surface while holding both ends of the wire. This will get you a clean cut on a tiny or small strand core wire.
A hacksaw can be used to cut through small solid core wire very well. It can even cut medium and big ones, but with extra effort. It can also cut through small-medium strand core wire, albeit with a slightly messy result. You would want to ask someone to help keep the wire taut while you go at it with the hacksaw.
5. Angle Grinder
Overall, an angle grinder is the best choice for cutting big and thick wires, both for solid and strand core wire. Ensure you keep the wire you are cutting from moving with the help of a friend or with a clamp. An angle grinder is a power tool, so make sure you handle it correctly. Always wear protection and the proper safety gear.
To reiterate, turn the power off and wear PPE before cutting wires, whether with a wire cutter or not! Safety is top priority.