Best Bolt Cutters: Never Get Locked Out Again
Stop making metal shavings and bust through anything with these bolt cutters.
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Heather Fishel / LAST UPDATED ON July 28, 2021
Bolt cutters are incredibly handy. Contrary to the name, a bolt cutter doesn’t have to be used solely for cutting through bolts — it is a multi-purpose tool that helps in several different situations. Sure, power tools are just as quick and require less effort to operate. But think about safety. Power tools are often far too aggressive, and a little accident can have significant consequences. Plus, don’t forget that they’re useless without a power source. That’s precisely why you should invest in a good set of bolt cutters.
Of course, as the name implies, they are great for cutting bolts. This is an excellent function for many occasions. But the powerful jaws can be put to use for many other projects, such as trimming solid core wire, metal shelving, and even steel straps that keep cargo on pallets. No matter what you’re using your bolt cutter for, make sure you invest in one that offers good grips that deliver control and leverage. You also need bolt cutters that can make tough cutting jobs effortless.
8-inch bolt cutters that feature use of quality materials for construction.
- Lightweight and compact
- These cutters are easy to use and carry anywhere
- Narrow jaw opening limits the usefulness of these cutters.
Compact and affordable cutters make quick work of thin materials. Hardened materials and design characteristics provide performance and longevity.
- Very affordable, but still offers plenty of performance
- Hardened cutting edge offers several advantages
- Quality control is subpar and based on user reviews, many faulty models seem to exist
Premium professional-level mini cutters perfect for regular use. The compact design is complemented by the compound function that multiplies force for maximum performance.
- Ultra-hard edges and quality construction promote superior performance and reliability
- Premium price point is equivalent to full-size models with greater capabilities
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Bolt Cutters
- Quick and efficient. Have you ever struggled to cut through a rusted or seriously thick lock? A bolt cutter can make quick work of just about any type of lock, no matter how long it’s been hanging on a gate, door, storage unit, or any other item. You can slice through locks in no time, working quickly and efficiently with very little difficulty or resistance in your way. By multiplying the force on a lock, they can snap a lock off in just seconds.
- Safe to use. Power tools that promise to cut through locks can put you in serious danger. They seem like powerful and quick-working alternatives to bolt cutters, but they can be more challenging to control and less effective than a bolt cutter. And they could wind up sending parts flying or lead to mistakes. Bolt cutters, on the other hand, cut only what you place inside their jaws. There’s no recoil or bounce back, and there are no parts that could cut or otherwise harm you.
- Eliminates effort. You don’t need a whole lot of physical strength or individual effort to operate a bolt cutter. With just a bit of arm strength, you can crack right through even the hardiest locks with a smooth, swift motion. The power of a bolt cutter allows you to accomplish more with less effort, which makes the hard work of lock cutting a whole lot easier and less straining. You’ll have mechanical force and pressure on your side.
- Doesn’t require cleanup. If you’ve ever attempted to cut off a lock with a hand tool or power tool, you’ve likely discovered just how messy that process can be. These tools leave behind shavings and a whole lot of little bits and pieces to clean up before the job is officially finished. However, bolt cutters don’t make a mess at all. They simply snap a lock at one point, leaving you with nothing but the lock itself to take care of.
Types of Bolt Cutters
Traditional bolt cutters feature all the typical design elements you should expect to find. They do not feature any design characteristics they do not need, but still perform their intended task. You will find that this type dominates our list. Even mini or compact models can be lumped into this category as they feature the same design, only scaled down.
Bolt cutters can be hard to store; therefore, some models with folding handles do exist. The handles fold upward onto the jaws to decrease their overall length. While this makes them wider, they are short enough to store in most toolboxes and bags. Integrity is only slightly compromised because the handles are mostly solid materials. The exception being a separation that allows them to fold.
Though none are featured on our list, there are bolt cutters with extendable handles. The handles can be left at the shortest length for use in tight spaces, as they are much easier to handle in this configuration. However, the handles can be extended to increase the mechanical advantage. The only problem with this design is that the handles may lack structural integrity because they are hollow.
Located in Grand Rapids, Mich., Tekton is the proud producer of consumer-level hand tools. Despite its economical pricing, this family-owned operation still manages to incorporate top-tier performance characteristics into their designs. The Tekton 8" Bolt Cutter is an excellent example of this.
Founded in 1882, Knipex remains headquartered in its home city of Wuppertal, Germany. It was initially focused on pincers and blacksmith's tongs but gradually began developing other hand tools. There's no arguing that it is a leading producer of high-quality pieces of equipment, such as the Knipex Tools CoBolt Compact Bolt Cutter.
For more than two decades, Workpro — a company that’s also known as Workpro Tools — has created an array of quality tools that are aimed at making your work easier. Designed and built for durability as well as professional-level results, products like the WorkPro Bolt Cutter are a solid investment.
Bolt Cutter Pricing
- Under $50: Most bolt cutters list for less than $50. The closer they list to $50, the better their quality will be. However, many will still perform as well as premium listings.
- $50 and up: Bolt cutters above $50 are of premium quality. These are top-grade options that are intended for regular use in professional settings.
High-Strength, Highly Durable Build
In order to buy the best bolt cutters available, you’ll want to make sure you choose a product that’s high-strength and built for long-term durability. Bolt cutters rely on force to work effectively and efficiently — so if yours can’t handle a lot of force or fail in the face of sturdy locks, they aren’t going to be strong enough to meet your needs. Look for a bolt cutter that’s made out of durable materials from the cutting jaws all the way down to the handles.
Size and Weight
Bolt cutters come in all different sizes and weights. And these two details can make one particular bolt cutter better suited to your needs than others. When you’re considering size, you want to look at the handle length. Longer handles (or arms) mean more leverage, so a 24-inch bolt cutter is going to deliver more force than an 18-inch bolt cutter. A longer-handled bolt cutter can also cut through harder materials and metals. The bigger and tougher the locks are that you’ll be dealing with, the bigger you’ll need your bolt cutter to be.
Additionally, the weight of a bolt cutter determines its portability and can affect its force. Lightweight bolt cutters are easier to work with and keep on you at all times. However, heavier bolt cutters are the best choice for extra-tough locks. You can find bolt cutters as light as two pounds or as heavy as eight pounds or more.
Here’s a feature you absolutely can’t skip over. The jaw opening on a bolt cutter directly affects how and what it can be used for. If the opening is slim or small, it can only work on thinner locks. If the opening is quite wide, you’ll get more versatility. The standard jaw opening for bolt cutters is 5/16-inch. Anything smaller will be better suited for cutting wire or thin pieces of metal. If you’re working with extra-tough locks, however, you might need a larger opening.
- Comfortable Grips. Grip design is essential to the operation. You will be exerting a considerable amount of force, so you want to make sure you have something that is both comfortable in your hand and easy to hold onto. While it shouldn’t be a driving reason to consider a bolt cutter, it is something to prioritize during selection.
- Foldable Design. If you need to carry bolt cutters in a tool bag, you might want to invest in a set designed with that in mind. This is especially true if you know you will need longer handles for an increased mechanical advantage. Again, this is not a standard design feature, so you will need to search specifically for sets that offer it.
- Adjustable Blade. Most bolt cutters feature an adjustable blade. With this adjustment, you can set the proper cutting depth to fine-tune performance. How this adjustment is made can vary, and it is something to pay careful attention to. You want to make sure that the mechanism is both easy to use and will provide reliable results.
- Cutting Style or Angle. If you think all bolt cutters cut in exactly the same way, it’s time to take a close look at the ones you’re thinking about buying. Bolt cutters actually have different cut styles, or angles, which creates different end results. You can choose from angled, shear, clipper, or center cut bolt cutters. Each of these types of cuts can shape how you position your bolt cutter, how much pressure is applied to one point, and how the jaws open.
- Hydraulic or Hand-Powered. Most bolt cutters are powered by nothing but your own force applied via the handles. However, you can opt for a hydraulic bolt cutter if you’d like. In these tools, a motor powers the cutting blades via a hydraulic piston. That piston moves the blades with increased force — more force than you could likely create with hand- and handle-operated bolt cutters. Hydraulic bolt cutters are especially helpful if you’re trying to cut through thicker locks.
Best Bolt Cutters Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Wear eye protection. Bolt cutters can send metal pieces flying. Even if they are only being used for a quick task, eye protection is a must.
- Handle objects with care. The cut-ends of bolts and wires may be sharp. It is always safe to be mindful of this and wear gloves while collecting cut pieces.
- Adjust blades before each use. Bolt cutters feature an adjustable cutting head. Before each use, it is wise to double-check this setting and make sure the ends are not in direct contact with one another.
- Avoid diagonal cuts. Bolt cutters are meant to make level cuts. You should always avoid offsetting the jaws to cut diagonally as it can damage the edges during use.
Q: What are bolt cutters used for?
As the name suggests, bolt cutters cut bolts. However, they are also useful for cutting wire shelving, nails, and other thin pieces of metal. They can also be used for cutting padlocks, so long as it is done in a legal manner.
Q: How thick can bolt cutters cut?
This depends on the design of the cutters. Different designs offer different power and cutting abilities. Both the length of the handles and how wide the blades can open contribute to cutting power.
Q: Can bolt cutters cut through hardened steel?
In most cases, they cannot. Cutting through hardened steel typically requires very hard materials that are often found on the blades of hacksaws and power tools.
Q: Is it legal to own bolt cutters?
You’ll want to check the specific laws in your hometown, but in most places bolt cutters are perfectly legal to own. They typically only become illegal when you’re carrying bolt cutters with criminal intent, or the intent to break into a structure or property.
Q: What locks cannot be cut with bolt cutters?
Many heavy-duty padlocks can’t be cut through with bolt cutters. But the only truly foolproof locks are those that are completely shrouded in exterior housing. If the slim metal arch of the lock itself is exposed, it’s at risk of being cut through, or at the very least damaged, by anyone wielding bolt cutters.
At the end of the day, the Tekton 8” Bolt Cutter takes our top pick. This set is affordable and safe for professional use. However, an even more affordable option is the Neiko Heavy Duty Bolt Cutter, another perfectly capable set.