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To install an outlet in a metal box cover plate like this one: enter image description here

I have to break off the tabs of the outlet. The ones I've shown in red are trivial - just grab the ear with some pliers and rock back and forth and they snap right off. However, the one I've shown in green is always a bear to get off. I usually try to grab the part I've shown in purple with some needle nose pliers, then using another pair of pliers I try to rock the tab back and forth. However 8 times out of 10 the whole yoke ends up bending, or worse, it bends so much that the screw hole that I need to use breaks. I feel like this shouldn't be so hard... is there some trick I'm missing?

enter image description here

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    how about cutting
    – Traveler
    Commented Apr 4 at 17:57
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    @Traveler Yea, I've used a Dremel (even just to score it more, not necessarily cutting all the way through) and it works great. It just seems like it's designed to be snapped off, so I figured it was doing it wrong. Commented Apr 4 at 20:40
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    The ears you want to cut off are usually used to hold the screws for the Decora-style outlet covers. If you take those ears off, how will your cover plates be attached?
    – Milwrdfan
    Commented Apr 5 at 0:11
  • I have found no problem with bending the support tabs when breaking off the ears if I bend the ear back and forth through a small angle first ~10 deg down then back up to the opposite 10 deg position, then down, etc. (Supposedly the "ears" are there to be used if necessary as conducting shims in case the box is set too far back into the wall.) Commented Apr 5 at 2:52
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    @Milwrdfan the box cover shown is the cover plate in this case. The other easy solution is to use 4-11/16" boxes and covers instead of 4" boxes and covers, and then the tabs just fit in the exposed work cover without removal.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 5 at 12:55

3 Answers 3

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It's a matter of how you apply force, which is something that becomes second nature when you've worked with hand tools for a million years or so. Imagine that you're dealing with a floppy lasagna noodle instead of a rigid metal panel and you have to direct the bending force to a specific point.

Try grabbing it with a lineman's pliers so the end of the jaws are just above the score mark, then pulling up and a bit forward as you bend backward. This concentrates the force at the tip of the pliers and counteracts the force you might otherwise put on the base of the panel, where leverage is normally greatest. Do essentially the opposite to straighten it back up, and repeat. That should get it to snap fairly quickly.

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You don't actually need to break it.

Just bend it once at 90 degrees (into the box) so you can install the outlet.

Bend far enough to clear the cover but not so far as to interfere with the screw.

If you really want to cut them off without bending, stick it on your anvil (you have one, of course?) and cut with a cold chisel. Lacking an anvil, a sledgehammer head can serve as a small anvil.

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  • Interesting - I hadn't thought about leaving it connected. I guess I'm still concerned that in trying to do that it'll bend from the wrong "hinge" (like @isherwood described below). Commented Apr 4 at 20:42
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Use a Dremel with a cutting disc - it will fly through it in seconds:

You'll probably want to wear safety goggles.

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