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In plumbing systems, tubes and pipes can be formed of materials of different flexibility and density, such as PVC, PEX, cooper, galvanized steel and cast iron. When making plumbing repairs and improvements, use different pipe and tube cutters based on the type of material, although the methods tends to be very similar. Follow this guide to know which cutting tool and method is suitable for which type of pipe.
Tip: Check the local plumbing codes to find the required pipe type and size for homes in your area.
Before Cutting Pipe and Tubing
- No matter the material, measure the diameter of the pipe or tube to be cut to ensure that you use the right-size tube cutter for the job.
- When determining how to make a straight cut, use a tape measure and a pencil or other writing instrument to mark on the surface where you want to cut. If possible, mark around the circumference of a pipe, especially when cutting with a handsaw.
- Ensure that a cut is as straight as possible by securing the pipe with a vise, clamp, miter box or even duct tape to keep the length from shifting out of place while cutting.
How to Cut PVC Pipe
Rigid pipe can be cut with such PVC pipe and tube cutters as hacksaws, power miter saws and scissor-type cutters, but ratchet-style cutters tend to strike an effective balance of affordability, flexibility and ease of use.
- With a hacksaw, slowly draw the blade back and forth, making sure that the cut is straight. Reduce speed near completion to provide a clean cut at the end.
- With scissor-style cutters, begin by placing the pipe inside the jaws of the cutter, making sure that the blade lines up with the mark. Apply pressure to the handles and slowly rotate the cutter around the pipe. Making sure the cut is straight, continue to rotate until you cut through the pipe. Scissor-type tends to be best with pipe thickness of one inch or less.
- With ratchet-style cutters, arrange the blade over the mark, then squeeze and release the handle. Continue the ratcheting action until the pipe is severed into two pieces.
- When using a miter saw, secure the pipe at the mark under the saw blade at the workbench. Activate the saw and slowly bring it down until it severs the piece. Turn off the saw and wait for the blade to stop spinning before removing the pipe.
How to Cut Copper Pipe
Standard copper pipe and tubing cutters are sufficient to cut copper pipe, both rigid copper plumbing pipe and flexible copper tubing.
- Align the cutter around the mark and tighten so that the blade scores the pipe.
- Rotate the cutter around the pipe, following the score and slightly tightening every few rotations until the pipe walls have been cut through.
How to Cut Galvanized Steel Pipe
Galvanized pipe is made of steel with a zinc coating to reduce corrosion and rust inside the pipe. Heavy-duty steel pipe and tube cutters are usually the easiest to use, but for tight spaces, an angle grinder or reciprocating saw may be needed.
- When using a metal pipe cutter, align the tool around the marked place on the galvanized pipe and rotate so that the wheel cuts deeper into the pipe until severed.
- When using an angle grinder or reciprocating saw, start the tool before contacting the pipe, then slowly lower the cutting disc until it contacts the surface. Apply steady pressure until it severs the pipe.
- When using a hacksaw, slowly draw the blade back and forth, making sure that the cut is straight. Make sure you use a hacksaw with fine teeth for cutting metal, and not one with larger teeth for cutting wood. Be patient as this can take longer than using a hacksaw on PVC pipe.
Safety: Wear protective glasses, work gloves and long sleeves when using a power tool to cut through metal pipe.
How to Cut PEX Tubing
PEX (an abbreviation for crosslinked polyethlyne) is an increasingly popular form of plastic pipe that can substitute for copper or galvanized steel in some cases. Use a specialized scissor-style or ratchet-style PEX pipe and tubing cutter.
- Before cutting, straighten the PEX tubing as much as possible and mark the cut.
- Align the cutter, gently squeeze the handles and rotate the cutter until the PEX tubing is cut.
How to Cut Cast Iron Pipe
Cast-iron pipe, frequently used in older homes, will often be too thick and heavy-duty for a standard cutter or saw, requiring the use of a cast-iron cutter.
- When using a chain-style cutter, begin by placing the cutting chain around the pipe.
- Hook the chain into the jaw of the cutter.
- Ratchet the handle back and forth until the pipe is severed.
After Cutting Pipe and Tubing
Unless a cut is perfectly clean, you should expect to remove burrs from around the edge, especially after sawing.
- Use a deburring tool to clean the edge after tube cutting.
- You may opt to use a metal file on the cut of a metal pipe.
Learning how to use pipe and tubing cutter can mean simply matching the right tool to the right material and following the correct procedure.