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In plumbing systems, tubes and pipes can be formed from materials of different flexibility and density, such as PVC, PEX, copper, 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 tend 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
Every kind of pipe or tubing requires some prep work before cutting.
- Measure the diameter of the pipe or tube. This will ensure you use the right-sized tube cutter for the job.
- Use a tape measure and a pencil or pen to measure and mark the correct length.
- If possible, make the mark around the circumference of a pipe when using a saw.
- Secure the pipe or tube with a vise, clamp or miter box. This helps you get as straight a cut as possible and keeps the pipe from moving while you work.
Tip: Check local plumbing code to find the correct pipe or tuning for your area.
How to Cut PVC Pipe
PVC pipes can be cut with PVC/ABS saws, hacksaws, wire saws, power miter saws, scissor-type hand cutters, ratcheting hand cutters and battery-powered cutters.
- A saw made specifically for cutting plastic pipe will make for straighter cuts than a hacksaw. The stiffer blade and taller profile allow the user to keep the saw straight in the cut.
- When cutting large diameter pipe, wrap a piece of painter’s tape around the pipe, with one edge at the place to be cut. Get the cut started, then turn the pipe away from you a little so that the blade is only cutting through one pipe wall. Rotate the pipe as you follow the line. If you’d rather not use tape, a piece of paper can be wrapped around the pipe. Then, trace the edge with a felt-tipped marker and remove the paper.
- With a hacksaw, slowly draw the blade back and forth. Make sure the cut is straight as you go. It’s more difficult to cut straight with a hacksaw, but it can work in a pinch.
- For a power miter saw, secure the pipe under the saw blade at the workbench. Line up the cut mark with the saw blade. Start the saw and allow the blade to spin up to full speed. Slowly bring it down until it cuts through the piece. Release the switch and wait for the saw blade to stop spinning before removing the pipe.
- With scissor-style cutters, begin by placing the pipe inside the jaws of the scissor cutter. Line the blade up with the cut mark. Apply pressure to the handles. If needed, you can apply a bit of twisting motion to the pipe as it’s cut. Scissor cutters tend to be best with pipes with a diameter of 1 inch or less.
- If you’re using ratchet-style cutters, align the blade over the cut mark. Squeeze and release the handle. Continue the ratcheting action until the pipe is severed in two pieces.
- Battery-powered cutters work like scissor and ratcheting cutters, but are battery powered.
- If the pipe is installed in a tight area and needs to be cut out for a repair, it may be necessary to use a wire saw. Slip one end of the saw behind the pipe, align to the cut line, then begin sawing with a back-and-forth motion. Be careful not to pull too hard on the pipe, let the saw do the work.
- Plastic pipe can be cut from the inside with a drill attachment. This is often used in the case of installing drains.
How to Cut Copper Pipe
Standard copper pipe and tubing cutters are designed to cut rigid and flexible copper tubing. Rigid copper is a popular choice for water lines. Flexible copper tubing is soft enough to make turns without cuts. For both types of copper piping, follow these steps:
- Align the cutter with the cut mark on the tubing. Tighten the copper pipe cutter so the blade scores the pipe.
- Rotate the cutter around the pipe. Follow the score and slightly tighten the copper tube cutter every few rotations until you cut through the pipe walls.
- Remove the copper pipe cutter from the tubing by loosening the knob.
- Use a reamer to clean the inside of the cut and remove the burr.
How to Cut Steel Pipe
Steel pipe can be black or galvanized. Black pipe is used for gas and oil applications. Galvanized pipe has a zinc coating to reduce corrosion and rust for use with water. 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 Tip: Use protective glasses, hearing protection, work gloves and long sleeves when using a power tool to cut through metal pipe.
How to Cut PEX Tubing
PEX tubing is an increasingly popular material that can be substituted for copper or galvanized steel, in some cases. PEX is an abbreviation for crosslinked polyethylene. The tubing is wallet-friendly, flexible, durable and easy to install. It works for hot and cold water distribution, radiant heating systems and snow and ice melting systems. Use a specialized scissor-style or ratchet-style PEX pipe and tubing cutter to cut PEX tubes to length. Follow these simple steps:
- PEX tubing often comes in a long roll. Before cutting, straighten the PEX tubing as much as possible and mark the cut
- Align a scissor-type cutter's blade to the mark. Squeeze the handles and rotate the cutter until the PEX tubing is cut through.
- Ratcheting cutters may also be used. Align the blade with the mark and squeeze the handles until the cut is complete.
How to Cut Cast Iron Pipe
Cast iron pipes are usually found in older homes. It’s often too thick and heavy-duty for a standard cutter or saw, although special cast iron blades are available for reciprocating saws. Most cast-iron piping will require a specialized cast-iron chain-style cutter. This tool can be rented from many Home Depot locations. Follow these steps when using the cutting tool:
- When using a chain-style cutter, place the cutting tool's chain around the pipe.
- Hook the chain into the haw of the chain-style cutter.
- Use the ratchet wrench to tighten the screw until the cast-iron pipe snaps.
- When the pipe snaps, it happens suddenly and is more likely a break than a cut.
- Chain cutters will also cut cement and clay pipe.
- There are reciprocating saw blades specifically for cutting cast iron. They will either have carbide grit or teeth.
After Cutting Pipe and Tubing
Some cutting methods leave a very smooth cut, however, most cut ends will require some attention. Once you cut your pipe or tubing to the desired length, prepare it for installation. In most cases, there will be a burr around the outer and inner edges.
Learning how to cut pipe and tubing makes DIY plumbing projects a breeze. Match the right tool to the right material and follow the correct procedure for a professional-level job you can rely on.
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