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I have a clothesline that is made of 5-6 braided tiny steel wires that is coated with flexible plastic. I need to cut it to smaller segments, I tried using a cable cutter made of carbon steel but it barely worked and the wires kept fraying or wrapping around the blades but not getting cut.

The cutter itself is losing its edges despite being new and of decent quality, I believe it is made for electrical wires made of softer materials like copper and aluminum, not steel. I would like to avoid fraying because that can be painful if hands come in contact with them by mistake.

Here is a picture of the clothesline:

clothesline coated steel wire

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  • 4
    Get a cable cutter that's rated for cutting steel.
    – Hearth
    Aug 12 at 4:09
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    (If you're going to need something to fasten it with, search for "stainless steel wire rope clamp". Much tidier than trying to tie it.) Aug 12 at 12:01
  • The correct answer is " borrow your neighbor's" Aug 13 at 15:05

10 Answers 10

23

I use what are generically called "tin snips". True tin snips are designed for thin, relatively soft material (like sheet tin or similar metal). But the good ones can cut through almost anything. I had a recent problem (very long story...short version here) where I ended up with a screw stuck inside an oven hinge and after trying all kinds of things, I pulled out my trusty tin snips and chopped off the screw.

Alternatively, go for bolt cutters. They are designed to cut through solid bolts, but can also cut through cables and other things. They just aren't designed to chip away at a long run like tin snips.

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    Yeah, I'd suggest (relatively small) bolt cutters.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 10 at 16:53
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    I wouldn't suggest attacking screws with a good set of tin snips that you want to use for their intended purpose of making clean, straight cuts in sheet materials. They can cut through a lot of things, but at some point you're also doing damage to the blades.
    – J...
    Aug 11 at 1:31
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact Absolutely - it was just a caveat for anyone who might consider trying it also, not that those particular considerations would necessarily apply to everyone.
    – J...
    Aug 11 at 1:52
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    Not all bolt cutters work well with steel ropes of the same diameter. Problem as OP already have - wires can get tangled up, instead of snapped.
    – Mołot
    Aug 11 at 8:38
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact Unfortunately, I couldn't find any decent tin snips with a tight gap where I live. The bolt cutters that I found are too large as well. I ended up using the cable cutter that I bought earlier while applying enough tension to the rope. It is a bit more manageable now. Aug 26 at 13:22
18

An abrasive cutting disk works well. That might take the form of an angle grinder or a rotary tool (often generically called by the Dremel brand name).

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    Would be cautious using a rotating cutter disk on something like a clothesline. They don't like to stay in place well.
    – crip659
    Aug 10 at 16:08
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    I'm not sure anyone is suggesting that cuts be made while mounted as a clothesline.
    – isherwood
    Aug 10 at 16:09
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    This is what I do. A very thin abrasive wheel will cut through the vinyl and the wire quickly and cleanly, leaving virtually no fray. It helps to lay the rope on a block of wood or clamp it in a vice.
    – isherwood
    Aug 10 at 16:10
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    A secured bench vise would hold the wire for cutting nicely. I would not recommend holding the wire as you cut it.
    – Criggie
    Aug 11 at 0:39
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    I would submit, @DMoore, that if you're ruining your cable cutters by cutting cable with them, that you're not buying a quality tool (or, perhaps, you're buying another tool cross-labeled as a "cable cutter", or one not designed for steel wire). Of course, there's nothing wrong with an el cheapo tool for a one-off task, but if you're doing it regularly... ;)
    – FreeMan
    Aug 12 at 11:36
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Cable cutters are the tool designed for cutting cable. If you're doing this a lot, the correct tool helps. For a one-off task, it may not be worth the cost, although then you have the tool for life.

Cable Cutters are basically scissors/tin snips but with curved blades, so the wire being cut is trapped and cannot squish out the mouth. I use something like this for trimming the braided wires on a bicycle's brakes.

enter image description here

There are also fancy ones that use a ratchetting mechanism to cut beefier copper cables and wires. These would be for heavy duty mains wiring or automotive starter cable, and are far too big for this task. This one clearly says "not for steel" on the blade. You want the top one.

enter image description here

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    That's for copper, not steel.
    – user263983
    Aug 11 at 1:49
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    both of them. from upper image blades sharpened for copper. steel need another angle and harder material. I own like this.
    – user263983
    Aug 11 at 9:05
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    Klein tools makes some cutters like these. They say: "Cable cutter cuts 4/0 aluminum, 2/0 soft copper, 100-pair 24 AWG communications cable". Not steel.
    – Phil Frost
    Aug 13 at 13:07
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    In fact I just noticed Klein's tool has "NOT FOR STEEL" etched right on it. The cutters in your picture probably have no such disclaimer because any marking step would not be economical at their cheap price.
    – Phil Frost
    Aug 13 at 13:35
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    @Criggie while I agree with others about the cable cutters not being good for cutting steel wires, even tiny diameter ones like the ones I have, adding enough tension to the wire and using the cable cutter did a good enough job given the limited availability of tools, especially quality ones, where I live. Aug 26 at 13:34
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I would use a hammer and chisel on steel plate. Not a wood chisel but a cold chisel for steel. Lay line over a solid piece of steel, place chisel at cut point, and hit chisel with heavy type of hammer.

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As I have them for bike cables, I prefer to use my Draper Wire Rope cutters, but I have also used cheap cable cutters, sometimes called fencing snips. Tin snips tend to push the wire out after cutting the housing, and my aviation shears aren't great on anything other that sheet material.

I have a selection of electrical wire cutters and combination pliers; none of those are as suitable, but I wouldn't want to blunt my good ones on steel anyway.

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I would use a hacksaw. Wrapping the cut point in a bit of strong tape will help to keep the cut clean.

Ideally hold the cable in a vice or a pair of pliers at the least. All of the other answers have their points, but I would have thought that a hacksaw is more universal, and even if you have nothing then a "junior hacksaw" costs only a few pennies, almost certainly far cheaper than any of the other alternatives.

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  • Not a good call. You will never, ever get a clean cut without snags and burrs. Sure it'll cut the wire (eventually) but it won't meet the OP's requirements.
    – Graham
    Aug 11 at 20:56
  • You'll get a clean cut if you do it carefully, certainly clean enough in my opinion for a clothes line - can always tape or shrink-wrap the free end if necessary. I see no indication that the OP is looking for a perfect solution - a bad pair of snips will make far more of a mess. Aug 12 at 10:38
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Cutting steel wire requires a hardened tool with a relatively blunt, durable edge. Diagonal cutters are the proper tool:

enter image description here

The manufacturer of the pictured tool describes their intended use:

Diagonal Cutters cut ACSR [aluminum conductor steel reinforced], screws, nails and most hardened wire

Many pliers have a cutting section near the hinge for this purpose, for example these long nose pliers:

enter image description here

Look around your toolbox, it's likely you already have such a tool.

Bypass cutters, those that have two blades that pass by each other like scissors, are not designed to cut steel, though with a high quality tool and thin wire you might abuse them for that purpose. For example, Klein Tools makes these cutters which are not reccomended:

enter image description here

Notice the manufacturer says these cut copper and aluminum, which are substantially softer than steel:

Cable cutter cuts 4/0 aluminum, 2/0 soft copper, 100-pair 24 AWG communications cable

And if you look carefully at the tool, it says "NOT FOR STEEL" near the hinge.

The problem is the sharp blade is relatively thin compared to diagonal cutters, and so it will become nicked or bent with use until the blades no longer slide smoothly against each other. A quality tool will be hardened enough to tolerate this abuse for a little while. Cheap bypass cutters will be damaged on first use, if they manage to cut your wire at all.

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If you're going to be doing a lot of this, I'd recommend a Felco "C7" cable cutter, which looks like:

Felco C7

It's made specifically for cutting this kind of steel cable. It's not cheap, but it will be a lot easier to use than a regular pair of diagonal cutters.

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This stuff should be cuttable readily with a wire snip. Even a good pliers would shear it on the jaw's outer notch.

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Years ago, I was making memory wire bracelets and bought a heavy metal snip because everything I read advised against using my good metal snips that I use for other types of jewelry wire. Memory wire is steel wire that comes in coils in 3 sizes for bracelets, necklaces or rings. It is steel wire that maintains its shape in the coil even after beads are added. I keep the heavy snips with my household tools instead of my jewelry tools and take them out when I have any heavy wire to cut. They were less expensive than buying good metal snips from jewelry supply companies and came from the hardware store. Get the heaviest ones you can find and use them for cutting steel wire. I hope they work on your clothesline. I think the advice to put the line in a vice is good; also wear eye protection.

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  • Again, welcome, and please consider adding some formatting to make this a bit more readable. Otherwise, it's a great answer!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 12 at 12:01

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