Sure, someday you might have to use bolt cutters to cut through a fence to get into a compound to rescue a beautiful damsel in distress, just like they do in those movies where the guys never have a problem finding all-black outfits, but in the meantime, a set of reliable bolt cutters is a handy thing to own. Because when you need them, no tool is more effective.
And besides, bolt cutters are on the list of manly tools you should always have around, like a good knife, a Louisville Slugger, a Zippo lighter, Wolverine boots, Persol sunglasses, and a dog that’s smarter than you.
When you have to cut a chain, a lock, a fence, heavy-gauge wire, hinges, cable, rebar — even small dowels or sailboat rigging — bolt cutters get the job done. And, you know, they can also be used to cut bolts. (The name “bolt cutter” derives from the fact that they were originally used to cut bolt seals from shipping locks.) Good models can convert 50 pounds of force on the handles to 4,000 pounds of cutting force. Not many round metal objects can withstand that. And, truth be told, it’s mighty satisfying to cut through virtually anything.
And sure, you can use them for unauthorized entry or egress. Which, under certain circumstances, may be called for. Besides, if everything you do in life is authorized, things will turn out rather dull. That’s another reason it’s nice to have them around. Because you never know.
Listed below are the best bolt cutters you can buy. Click the links to see detailed spec’s and make your purchase. I’ve already done the shopping to find the best prices and most reliable stores online.
Klein Tools has been producing top-of-the-line tools since 1857, when Mathias Klein hand-forged his first pair of pliers. Professional tradesmen, particularly in the electrical industry, swear by Klein. They make pretty much the best bolt cutters in the world. Such as these: Klein Tools 30-inch Bolt Cutters (63130) with fiberglass handles (almost a pound lighter than their steel-handled bolt cutters of the same length; they’re also non-conductive, in case you ever have to cut a live electrical line). If you’re going to get bolt cutters, you may as well get 30-inchers since they produce terrific leverage (making your job easier), yet are not too unwieldy to carry around.
These bolt cutters will slice through soft, medium, and hard materials. Technically, this translates to: soft and medium-hard materials, they’ll handle up to Brinell 300/Rockwell C31; hard materials, they’ll cut up to Brinell 400/Rockwell C42. (In materials science, both the Brinell scale and Rockwell scale are measures of hardness — the resistance of a material to indentation. The Rockwell C scale is applied to harder steels, such as titanium alloys and case-hardened steel. To give you a rough idea, steel with a Rockwell hardness in the C range could be used in manufacturing crankshafts. By contrast, aluminum has a Brinell rating of around 70.) The hand-grips of these Klein bolt cutters are heavy-duty vinyl. The bolts of the tool-steel, precision-ground, center-cut jaws have lockplate reinforcement and one-touch adjustment. Most Klein Tools are manufactured in the USA. They are not cheap. They are worth it. Get them from PlumberSurplus, an online store that provides an extensive selection of hardware, general equipment, household products, and more. They have good customer service.
Here’s another American-made bolt cutter that will reliably get the job done: the 30-inch bolt cutter from H. K. Porter (sold by Cooper Tools, which is part of the Apex Tool Group). This is an industrial-grade bolt cutter (0290MC), with drop-forged, precision-ground, alloy steel jaws that cut in the center for all-purpose applications. The handles are tubular steel, with rubber grips. They will cut materials up to a hardness of Brinell 455/Rockwell C48 (extra hard). These bolt cutters last for years in commercial use (e.g., plant maintenance). For home applications, they should last a lifetime — and you’ll know you can rely on them in an extraordinary situation. Not quite as expensive as the cutters from Klein. Get them for a good price from Grainger — one of the best places to shop for hardware and hand tools online.
I’m not saying the following is a good idea. On the other hand…
Ever since it made its first heavy-duty Ridgid pipe wrench in 1923, the Ridge Tool Company has been the choice of professionals in the construction trades. Known internationally for producing some of the best plumbing tools in the world, the company brings this same dedication to quality and function in making its bolt cutters. You cannot go wrong with the Ridgid Heavy-Duty 30-inch Bolt Cutters (14228). And when they say “heavy-duty,” they mean it. These bolt cutters are made with the highest-quality materials and design features. The head is slim to permit cutting close to surfaces and the hardened steel alloy jaws are designed and manufactured to produce the longest possible blade life. An internal cam mechanism provides easy, one-step adjustment of blade alignment. Handles and grips are engineered to maximize mechanical advantage when cutting. Each set of Ridgid bolt cutters has a lifetime warranty against defects in materials or workmanship (excluding normal wear over the life of the tool). Get them for a discount from Buy.com.
Knipex bolt cutters are made in Germany. It might seem appropriate then to say that they’re the Mercedes of bolt cutters, but that might not do full justice to Knipex. Like some of the other companies on this page, Knipex began by making pliers — in this case, in 1882. They concentrated on making the best pliers possible, and their tools became a particular favorite of electricians. When you think about it, bolt cutters are just a variant of pliers. And nobody knows how to make a gripping/pinching/cutting tool better than Knipex (pronounced “K-nih’-pex”). These are the Knipex 30-inch (760 mm) premium-class Bolt Cutters. They have blades made of tempered, oil-hardened, chrome vanadium steel, and will cut materials up to HRC 48 (Rockwell C-scale), including pre-stressed steel and tempered steel wire. The jaws are induction-hardened to HRC 62, giving them not only high load-bearing capacity but long service life. The joints are forged tool-steel. The head and joint area are quite flat, allowing for good access in tight quarters. These may also be some of the best-looking bolt cutters you can buy (with the bright red and blue color scheme). The handles are made of powder-coated steel, ergonomically-angled for ease of use, and the grips are a non-slip composite material. The blades are adjustable to 12 different positions for precision cutting. And the heads are replaceable, meaning these bolt cutters are well-nigh immortal. Get the Knipex bolt cutters from Grainger, meaning you also get Grainger’s 30-day satisfaction guarantee. These bolt cutters are not cheap, but the likelihood is you won’t ever need to buy another set of bolt cutters for the rest of your life. They will not let you down.
The final product I’ll mention are the economical 30-inch Bolt Cutters from Black Rhino, which you can get at Sears (use the coupon code that appears in the banner below — SEARS2013 — if you order these bolt cutters plus something else to make your total order over $50).
If you want a good balance between quality and savings, go for these bolt cutters. The Black Rhino company was launched a dozen years ago in the United States with an emphasis on design — form as well as function — and now have a number of patents to their credit, as well as an international presence. They seek to compete with the big boys, such as Klein, in reputation and quality, while holding down cost. The fact that Sears carries these bolt cutters is an indication of their quality — and, at under $55, they won’t break the bank. The Black Rhino bolt cutters are an industrial grade tool, made from chromium molybdenum steel, suitable for professional use. The heat-treated blades have a hardness rating of HRC 60+5. The I-beam blade design is patented and they have fat “Rhino” grips designed to enhance leverage as well as comfort. The color scheme also sets them apart on the job site (and could come in handy for stealth situations, such as when you’re rescuing that damsel in distress). They have a limited lifetime warranty (as do all the bolt cutters on this page). They should handle most any cutting job you have. See the video testimonial below. You can find the Black Rhino bolt cutters at Overstock, too, for good savings.
Just remember, I didn’t tell you to cut that thing.