Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters

Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters
by Dan Day, Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Jewelry makers who treasure showing off refined and high-quality techniques in their designs understand and value the importance of having and using a variety of specialized tools. Designed for fine work in beading and jewelry, as opposed to heavy-duty automotive and home improvement, these tools perform a well-defined task or set of tasks and yield professional, and in some cases, award-winning results. Jewelry-making cutters, or specifically for this discussion, pliers, are most typically used to cut wire, metal and glass. It's important to be able distinguish one type of cutting plier from another. One website sells Side Cutter Diagonal Wire Cutting Pliers Nippers. Confusing. The basic distinction is what type of cutting action: side (which can include flush), or end (which includes nippers). We'll take a close look at what each type of tool is designed for and the various features that enable that function.

Summary of cutter features--each type of cutter will be described with these features:
  • What they can cut: plier-style cuts to size and shape materials (mostly metals) including hard wire; soft wire such as copper; soft metals; precious metals such as silver and gold; as well as brass, tin and others metals in the form of wire, sheet, beading wire and more
  • Jaw direction: side (parallel to the handles) or end (jaws are at a right angle or perpendicular to handles)
  • Jaw shape: oval, tapered, angled, flat, relieved (some can be for more than one of these)
  • Cut quality: normal, flush
Most cutting pliers feature a rubber-coated grip and spring tension for comfort and ease of use to enable long or repetitive cutting sessions.

Pliers, Flush-Cutters Flush-cutters - provide an unbroken, even cut to the material for a clean design look. Quite versatile, there are a variety of flush-cutters to choose from for cutting different size wire.
  • What they can cut: headpins; eyepins; cable-style beading wire; soft wire-wrapping wire (copper, dead soft and half-hard precious metal); hard wire-wrapping wire (e.g. stainless steel or half-hard to full-hard precious metal)
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: angled (also called diagonal)
  • Cut quality: Semi-flush, flush, full flush, super-flush (some companies have their own terms/trademark phrases). Because the jaws are angled, both ends of the wire cannot be cut flush, only the wire on the side that is flat will be flush, the wire remnant on the angle side will have an angle or "V" cut.

Here is a jewelry-making project that starts off using flush-cutters.

Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters

Side-cutters - Some, e.g. those in electronics and some popular e-commerce websites, use the terms side cutter and flush cutter somewhat interchangeably. Flush-cutters are a very large subset of side cutters, which means not all side cutters are flush-cutters.
  • What they can cut: soft wire-wrapping wire, precious metals
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: regular (non-flush)
  • Cut quality: normal
Pliers, Side-Cutters

This jewelry-making project uses side-cutters in Step 2 to cut lengths of chain.

Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters

Pliers, End-Cutting Nippers End-cutting nippers - sometimes just called end cutters, sometimes just nippers. They work best at conquering problems such as cutting the post off an earstud or trimming the peg on a flat pad. The highest quality nippers are constructed with lap joints and polished heads to prevent marring the surface of soft metals.
  • What they can cut: cable-style beading wire, soft wire-wrapping wire, hard wire-wrapping wire - ideal for cutting thicker posts, pegs or wires
  • Jaw direction: end
  • Jaw shape: flat
  • Cut quality: normal

Stringing wire nippers
  • What they can cut: Accu-Flex®, Acculon® or other steel reinforced thread wire, soft wire such as copper
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: angled
  • Cut quality: flush
Item Number 1545TL Stringing Wire Nippers

To make this bracelet, you'll need to start off using wire nippers to cut Accu-Flex wire.

Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters

Item Number 4742TL Shears Shears
  • What they can cut: dead-soft wire, hard wire such as memory wire and headpins, sheet, precious metals
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: rounded
  • Cut quality: straight

You can see in Step 3 of this ring project how shears are used to cut 8.5mm wide dead-soft sterling silver wire with a floral pattern.

Everything You Need to Know About Jewelry-Making Cutters

Memory wire shears
  • What they can cut: hard wire such as stainless steel memory wire
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: rounded
  • Cut quality: straight
Item Number 2092TL Tube-Cutters

Item Number 4847TL Tube-Cutters Tube-cutters - these pliers don't actually cut the tubing, they hold it so you can cut it with a saw.
  • What they can cut: rods and cylinders
  • Jaw direction: side
  • Jaw shape: slots along the jaw for securely holding various size of tubing
  • Cut quality: normal

Glass cutters
  • What they can cut: glass, ceramic
  • Jaw direction: (see below)
  • Jaw shape: wheels contain the cutting edges that roll over the glass
  • Cut quality: straight, angles, circles, edges
Item Number 4017TL Glass Cutters

Here is a chart showing cutters organized by the types of materials they are designed to cut as well as what gauges of wire, beading cable and sheet metal they will cut. You will notice that many of the cutters, especially flush cutters, will appear under multiple headers to show how versatile they are.

For a survey of the most commonly used tools for jewelry-making in addition to cutters, consult A Guide to Jewelry-Making Hand Tools.

As you become a more accomplished jewelry maker, you may see your designs becoming more challenging and elaborate. You will need to "level up" your tool set to more efficiently produce a clean, professional-looking creation.

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