Take a hacksaw to a thick-walled cast iron drain pipe and you're in for an excruciating experience; take a chain cutter to the same pipe and you can create a clean cut, no problem. The right cutting tools allow plumbers and pipe fitters to quickly and easily cut through both soft metal pipe, such as copper, and hard metal pipe, such as steel and iron. Whether you're cutting a water-supply pipe or drain line, familiarity with the types of metal pipe cutting tools allows you to choose the right tool for the job.
Although many power and specialised tools exist for pipe cutting applications, the hack saw can be used to cut through soft metals and thin-walled pipes. The hack saw's three-sided metal frame connects to a pistol-grip handle. The frame looks like an upside-down "U" and a sharpened, multi-toothed blade attaches to its open side.
The chain cutter cuts cast iron pipe, and is frequently used during drain line construction. The chain cutter tool scores and snaps cast iron pipe by means of a flexible chain attached to hinged handles. The chain wraps around a pipe and is tightened by ratcheting from the handles. Each link contains a small cutting disc that eventually scores and snaps the pipe.
The tubing cutter is a hand tool that cuts soft metal pipe, such as copper, by running a sharpened carbide disc around the pipe's exterior. This tool features an adjustable mouth that opens to surround a piece of pipe and closes to press the cutting disc against the pipe's surface. Once tightened, you turn the cutter around the pipe's exterior until the disc shears through the pipe's wall.
This power tool uses an electric motor to rapidly push sharpened blades back and forth in a sawing motion. Outfitted with metal cutting blades, the reciprocal saw cuts through all types of metal pipe, including cast-iron, copper and steel. The reciprocal saw performs rough cutting of installed pipe for demolition or repair, rather than cutting pipe to size for installation.
The angle grinder's electric motor spins abrasive, circular blades to cut through metal pipe. The angle grinder's blade spins on an axis parallel to the tool's body, allowing you to cut with a forward pushing or side-to-side motion. The angle grinder, like the reciprocal saw, is usually used to remove pipe for repair or demolition; its unique design allows it to reach difficult spots and cut in awkward directions.
The chop saw, sometimes called "cut-off saw," cleanly cuts lengths of pipe to size. The chop saw's electric motor spins an abrasive, circular cutting disc that ranges from 8 to 12 inches or more in diameter. A retractable arm suspends the cutting blade above the saw's stationary base and lowers the blade through pipe placed on the base.