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I need to change the wax ring on my toilet. The closet bolts that hold it in place are rusted so I need to cut them in order to remove the nuts.

I thought of trying bolt cutters. The bolt cutters I have are, I believe, 24 inches, but they are too big to fit into the space I need to fit them in order to cut the bolts.

What is the smallest size of bolt cutters that can reliably cut those closet bolts holding down the toilet to the floor? Or is there another tool I can use?

enter image description here

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    Maybe a Dremel tool instead of bolt cutters? Or a nut splitter if it will fit? As far as bolt cutters, it isn't so much the size of the cutter as your strength. – fixer1234 Dec 4 '17 at 5:01
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    Use the Dremel as suggested by many others - works like a charm and is very inexpensive - wear EYE protection when you do this - I have done exactly this kind of thing before many many times. Forget the bolt cutters - dremel is more useful and every bit as fast on these. – Ken Dec 4 '17 at 8:08
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    @Mowzer start cutting the nut on an angle not perpendicular but say on a 45 degree. You will need to cut it in two places (preferably where you can access it with a flat tip screw driver 180 out from each other). After you cut into both sides (you only need most of the way about 80-85% or so)- cut one side a bit wider (or use a wider cutting wheel) so you can - insert your screw driver into the cut out . Then TWIST the blade and the nut will split in half. Works like a charm. – Ken Dec 4 '17 at 8:56
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    I made your question focus on the problem (cutting rusted closet bolts) instead of your suggested solution (bolt cutters), which avoids the XY Problem without invalidating the answers – Machavity Dec 4 '17 at 13:29
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    Have you tried WD40? taproot.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/… – yo' Dec 5 '17 at 17:55
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I would caution against using any bolt cutters on the toilet hold down bolts. The reason being that they typically will apply a significant pressure against the porcelain base of the stool and crack or break it.

Another thing to consider is that bolt cutters typically have a jaw profile as shown below. With this type of arrangement it is just not possible to get a grip in the small size of the bolt at or below the nut.

enter image description here

You will be far better off using a mini hand hacksaw as shown in another answer or a Dremel tool with a grinding wheel cutoff blade.

enter image description here

An alternative if you do not have a Dremel tool but do have an oscillating tool is to use a metal cutting blade in that. Note that it is my experience that the typical metal cutting blades for these saws do not last as long as you would hope and they are much more expensive than a few cutoff wheels for a Dremel tool.

enter image description here

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    great answer with the dremel pictures included. I use the dremel all the time in this situation even though I have a minihacksaw and the oscillating tool - the dremel is it. – Ken Dec 4 '17 at 8:10
  • Unfortunately, I have not been able to find decent metal cutting blades for an oscillating tool. The ones they sell will cut nails, but not hardened screws. – Hot Licks Dec 4 '17 at 13:25
  • @HotLicks - I agree with you on metal cutting blades for an oscillating tool. That is the reason I made specific comment in the answer above. There may be technical or safety reasons why an oscillating tool blade cannot be made as hard and sharp as a typical high quality hack saw blade. I could envision a type of blade made with a short length of hack saw blade spot welded to the end. I wonder if one could take a worn out oscillating tool blade and adapt it some how to clamp on a section broken from a hack saw blade to the end. On the other hand ... (continued below) – Michael Karas Dec 4 '17 at 14:29
  • (continued from above) On the other hand the standard hack saw blades are really designed to cut with force applied in one direction only. If you bear pressure on a hand operated hack saw as the blade moves in both directions you will wear out the blade faster than otherwise. Also hack saw blades are generally designed for slow operation. Neither of these points is going to be met regarding the oscillating tool which is both very fast and trying to cut in both directions. – Michael Karas Dec 4 '17 at 14:34
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    @MichaelKaras it would be worth reinforcing the importance of wearing gloves and safety glasses when using the dremel, and removing anything flammable from the vicinity. Source: I have cut many bolts and other metal items using a dremel. Get ready to see sparks fly, literally. – user4302 Dec 4 '17 at 17:16
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Bolt cutters are not really the best tool for cutting off rusted closet bolts. I usually use a "mini-hack" saw:

enter image description here

  • Thanks for your answer. I've actually heard that before. But did not understand why. What advantage/s does a mini-hacksaw have over bolt cutters for this job? – Mowzer Dec 4 '17 at 5:51
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    @Mowzer - It will get into tight places. But it will take forever and a day to make the cut, especially if you use the wrong blade. – Hot Licks Dec 4 '17 at 13:23
  • Oh yeah, I've totally done this with my toilet before! Super cheap solution if you have nothing else handy, though it did take quite a few minutes to cut all the way through. – Ogre Psalm33 Dec 4 '17 at 13:54
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    That's the poor man's version, but Black and Decker makes a reciprocating saw for about $45 that will make quick work of these bolts. The bolt cutters will likely as not break the toilet in the process of cutting the bolts. – jmarkmurphy Dec 4 '17 at 15:23
  • Even cheaper is to just buy a single hack saw blade and wear gloves. – axsvl77 Dec 5 '17 at 1:13
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Cutting the bolts might not be the best solution. Closet bolts are typically made of brass which does not rust. However, there can certainly be other types of corrosion present, as well as dirt, grime, and mineral deposits if water got in there (you do need to replace the wax ring, after all). This means that the nuts are likely not fused to the bolts, but just need some encouragement to break loose.

Before attempting to remove the bolts, I recommend spraying them with a product such as Penetrating Blaster.

Can of PB

Let it soak into the area around the nut for a minute or two. Next, get a socket wrench and pick the smallest socket that will fit over the nut and torque it free. If you cannot get the nut to move, try using a breaker bar which provides more leverage. If you do not have access to a breaker bar (you really should have one and they do not cost a lot), you can improvise with a box wrench and a narrow metal pipe slipped over the handle (cheater bar).

Cutting those bolts would be further down on my list of options. In order to keep the toilet firm on the floor without rocking back and forth the bolts should be moderately tight. Cutting through one of them may cause a sudden shift of weight which may cause damage such as cracking the porcelain near one of the bolt holes, or the saw blade may nick the enamel coating on the toilet. If you must use a saw, I would prefer a rotary tool such as a Dremel with the proper metal-cutting blade. Be sure to wear both gloves and safety glasses, move anything flammable away from the work area, and cover trim, drywall, anything nailed down that you do not want damaged. This will create a lot of hot sparks.

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    I second this. In my case the entire bolt was spinning so a ratchet was useless. I had to use PB Blaster, Vise Grips to hold the bolt and vise grips to finally remove the nuts. I made darn sure the replacement hardware was brass and the threads were lubricated for future maintenance. – gwally Dec 4 '17 at 23:16
  • You are confusing a cheater bar with a breaker bar. A cheater bar extends your tool to provide more leverage. a breaker bar is a non-ratcheting socket driver designed to take more abuse than a ratchet. I recommend not using a cheater bar with a ratchet (particularly cheap ones) as that may break the ratchet. Using a cheater bar with a box wrench is fine. – hildred Dec 5 '17 at 16:13
  • @hildred thanks, I guess I grew up being taught the wrong terminology. I always thought my breaker bar was just a wrench with a long handle. Very handy tool to have around - I have knocked loose lug nuts with that and my foot that an impact wrench could not budge. TIL... – user4302 Dec 6 '17 at 1:25
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Typically closet bolts are brass so I'm a little surprised to read that they are rusted. One option that I don't think has been mentioned is that if you can just use a socket wrench to snap the nuts/bolts off.

Take a socket wrench with an extension so that the handle is a few inches above the base sticking forward from the toilet. Take a length of pipe a foot-and-a-half or so and place if over the handle. This extra leverage should allow you to 'persuade' the nut to move, or if it's really on there, the bolt will snap. Either way it should come off. It might be tricky in a really tight bathroom but something to consider.

  • Some bolts are brass plated or coated to look like brass. If they're not brass, they definitely rust. – gwally Dec 4 '17 at 23:17
  • Just keep turning until it gives or it breaks. +1 – Mazura Dec 5 '17 at 16:17
  • You could also easily break the flange with all that torque. Cutting them is slow without a power tool but worth it if it spares the flange. – Kris Dec 6 '17 at 1:59
  • @Kris I doubt it. I've snapped quite a few bolts without any extra leverage. The flange should be much stronger than the bolt. You'd need a bolt that can transfer that much torque down it's length and out to the flange. I guess I am assuming the flange is cast iron though. I suppose if it's PVC, that could be a concern. – JimmyJames Dec 6 '17 at 16:14
  • As luck would have it a lot of homes here in South Carolina USA have pvc flanges – Kris Dec 6 '17 at 16:39
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Toilets are fragile. This is a recipe for cracking the toilet (then finding out the tank and base are unusual and effectively a matched set, and now you need a whole new toilet and how do you dispose of an old toilet in this city?)

You want low-violence, low-impact methods.

  • Hand hacksaw.
  • Dremel moto-tool, a steady hand, goggles, and plenty of cutoff discs.

Both of them apply little enough force that they are unlikely to crack the toilet when they slip. However they will take awhile.

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My usual course of action involves using a Dremel with a cutoff wheel as @ Michael Karas has suggested. My technique involves cutting off and bolt that extends through the nut. Then cut vertically through the nut. By moving slightly from left you will cut the nut and not hit the porcelain. A thin piece of cardboard with a small hole placed over the nut may provide a little extra protection if the tool slips.

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When I added new bolts to the toilets I replaced, the bolts came longer than they needed to be (helps with installation) but there's a bare spot for cutting to proper length. I used my angle grinder with a 1mm cutting disc to cut them off.

I would caution against using any kind of motorized movement tool as well (the aforementioned oscillating blade or a reciprocating saw) because the same dangers of cracking the toilet apply. A grinder or Dremel will apply steady directional pressure. Anything that moved the blade back and forth (especially on metal) may have unpredictable movements if the blade binds up.

  • A reciprocating saw works great for this if you have room around the toilet to get to it, just make sure the blade is sharp. – jmarkmurphy Dec 4 '17 at 15:28
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    @jmarkmurphy Reciprocating saw will cut through almost anything, but is not delicate enough for this task. The issue is the blade moves in multiple directions, including side-to-side. When you need to make a precise cut in one narrow location, it would be one of my last options. The other issue is given the large and clumsy size it could damage the porcelain. I have one toilet with (thankfully) cosmetic damage from where I tried to cut a bolt using a reciprocating saw. – user4302 Dec 4 '17 at 17:21
  • I second using a grinder; I've used one many times for exactly this application. – canadianer Dec 4 '17 at 21:11
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Instead of attacking the problem from below the toilet bowl, you could work from the top. The bolt will have a flat top that you can see on the bottom of the flush tank. You can use a dremel to cut it off, but a simpler option would be to drill in the center of the bolt head with a drill bit larger than the bolt diameter. Once you drill through, the head will split from the bolt. I've done that before in the same situation. It works quite well.

Next time make sure the bolt is stainless...

-- A bit of clarification... our toilet tanks here (France) are mounted with this kind of stuff:

enter image description here

The bolt head and rubber cone go into the tank, and the rest pokes out of the bottom, which results in something like that:

enter image description here

So the method I used was to drill the head of the bolt off. It works pretty well.

  • He's not removing a toilet seat. – Hot Licks Dec 4 '17 at 13:26
  • @HotLicks misunderstanding... fixed ;) – peufeu Dec 4 '17 at 13:35
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    Hmm... got a picture? Do US toilet bolts install the other way around from ours?... – peufeu Dec 4 '17 at 14:19
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    OP is referring to a wax ring and closet bolts holding the toilet to the floor, not the gasket and wing nut/bolt combo that holds the tank to the toilet. Though this could still be a useful answer for others in that second situation. – CactusCake Dec 4 '17 at 17:51
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    Cool, I had never heard of a wax ring before, that explains the misunderstanding. The way to do it here is completely different and I have no idea how this is called in English... OP will have to slip a hacksaw blade under the toilet then, been there done that too! – peufeu Dec 4 '17 at 18:27
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Um, the real problem is stuck bolts. Perhaps you should try heating the bolts up with a blow torch. This works beautifully for anything where you can apply an open flame without damaging the surrounding area. If you are worried about damage you can surround the work area with a welding blanket or even a sopping wet towel that you don't care about destroying. Heat those suckers up and then immediately put a wrench on them and start turning. If you can get the nut to move a little bit, spray some PB Blaster or Liquid wrench on there, tap it lightly with a hammer (repeat a few times) and then remove the nut with a wrench.

My primary socket set is a fantastic Craftsman set with hollow centers. No matter how long the bolt the socket wrench slides right on. Something like that would work perfectly for this situation. I'd recommend that tool set, but you can probably get a deep socket on there as well which would be a big help.

Also, it would probably behoove you to take a wire brush and clean up the exposed threads as best you can before removal.

My Dad swears by Liquid Wrench and he is an absolute master at removing stuck/rusted bolts. He would say spray the crap out of it with Liquid Wrench, tap it and repeat. The tapping is to vibrate the bolt/nut so the Liquid Wrench can work into the rusted nut. Let it soak in Liquid Wrench for as long as you can. (Whenever I'm planning on disassembling a rusted part I try to Liquid Wrench/PB Blaster it for DAYS leading up to the actual "work")

When you go to put everything back together, obviously use stainless steel or brass hardware if it's new, but also definitely coat the bolt threads with some Anti-seize

  • Thanks +1. What is your opinion about using WD-40 as a substitute for Anti-seize? – Mowzer Dec 9 '17 at 6:12

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