How to Choose the Right Pipe Cutter for the Job

For a professional-quality outcome and no leaks or clogs, the right pipe cutting tool is essential. 


When you’re starting a major plumbing project, it may seem like cutting pipes is a small consideration. But getting a clean cut is instrumental to making a snug coupling and avoiding leaks and clogs in the plumbing later on. So it’s critical to choose the right pipe cutter for the job. 

“Having the right tool for the job makes the job so much easier and more professional,” said Steve Lachance, a master plumber in Manchester, New Hampshire, with 35 years of experience. 

Choosing the right tool starts with knowing what type of pipe you’re working with. “For each type of material there’s a proper pipe cutter,” said Lachance. The right tool will help you get a clean, square cut. That makes it easier to fit the pipe correctly. 

Know what you’re cutting

While some products claim to be able to cut any pipe, they don’t do a professional job. “Multitools don’t do any of them well,” said Lachance. Here’s an outline of the appropriate type of pipe cutter for five of the most common plumbing materials.

  1. Copper: To cut copper, use a wheeled pipe cutter. These devices have wheels that slice around the pipe, producing a clean cut. You’ll need to know the diameter of the pipe you’re slicing through. Pipe cutters for smaller copper pipes might have only two wheels, while larger pipe cutters can have four or more.
  2. Iron: Iron pipe is much stronger than copper, and iron pipes are generally larger, so you’ll need a heavier-duty pipe cutter to get through them. A hinged pipe cutter is designed to saw through iron cleanly. Again, you’ll need to know the size of the pipe you’re cutting. Slicing iron can be physically draining work, so you might consider a power pipe cutter to get the job done. “For one task, one time, the hand tool is fine, but for more than once, you’re better served to have the electric tool,” said Lachance.
  3. Waste pipes: Pipes that carry waste are usually made from cement, clay or cast iron. These are known as soil pipes, and you’ll need a soil pipe cutter to cut them properly.
  4. PEX: To cut pipes made of PEX (cross-linked polyethylene, a type of flexible plastic), you’ll need a sever cutter. These tools, which look a bit like pliers, have a razor edge on one side, designed to get through the plastic in one pinch, leaving you with a straight edge.
  5. PVC: Cutting PVC doesn’t require any special tools. A hacksaw will do the trick. Just be sure to take the time to line up a nice, square cut. When trimming PVC, it’s important not to cut the pipe when it’s cold, since the plastic becomes brittle at lower temperatures and this can lead to cracking. 


Smoothing the interior 

Once you’ve made your cut, you must ream the pipe to remove any imperfections or burrs from the inside of the pipe. Even small imperfections can cause material to get stuck, eventually leading to clogs and poor performance, said Lachance. 

“Once you glue it you can never get back in again,” he said. So it’s important to get it right the first time. A reamer will remove burrs. Choose one that fits the size pipe you’re working with. 

Taking the time to find the right pipe cutter and reamer from the start will make your project less stressful and help ensure a professional result. 

“It makes it easier and more fun when you have the right tool,” Lachance said. 

Kelly Burch is a freelance writer who covers business, manufacturing and consumer guidance. 

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