Compact Cable Cutter Showdown
Today we have the compact cable cutter showdown. For the purposes of this review, I am arbitrarily defining a compact cable cutter as one that is less than 7 inches or 175mm in length.
Cable Cutters vs Side Cutters
A cable cutter differs from a side cutter in that it uses a shearing action rather than a pinching action to cut the material. This is useful for cutting cables with semiconductor material or multiple conductors that can be damaged by a regular side cutter.
First let’s take a look at the German-brand candidates.
Knipex 95 11 165 – Made in Germany
This particular model has the plastic-coated handles. Knipex offers several variations of this model that include the two-component handles, chrome-plated, insulated and ones with a spring return.
Gedore 8090-170 TL – Made in Germany
I suspect this is a rebranded product from Knipex or one of its subsidiaries. One thing to note is that Gedore only offers this size with the spring return feature.
I’ll take this into account later in the review with doing some testing of the cutters. I do want to note that this Gedore model is significantly less in cost than the equivalent version of the Knipex pliers with the spring return, which would be part number 95 21 165.
Felo 54 016 40 – Made in Germany
The Felo unit is actually a rebranded version of the NWS 043-49-VDE-160 model.
It looks like at this time Felo only offers the insulated version. The equivalent part number for the NWS non-insulated version would be 043-69-160. The list price for both the Felo and NWS units is exactly the same for this this particular unit so there is no real savings in buying the NWS version over this one.
Wiha 32600 – Made in Vietnam
The Wiha unit also has a serrated blade, but only on one half with the other being a standard edge.
Cable Cutters from Other Brands
To add some controls to the comparison, I have also brought in some other brands to compare these against.
Southwire CCP6D – Made in China
When I originally ordered these from Amazon, I was mistakenly under the impression that Southwire tools were made in USA. This is why I didn’t think much of the price with it being almost as much as the Knipex and more than the Wiha unit. I was surprised to see this was made in China. I paid just over $25 for these from Amazon.
Bahco 2233D-160 – Made in China
I also was surprised when I got this to find it was made in China considering Snap-On’s website, who currently owns Bahco, has the COO listed as Spain.
This particular unit was exceptionally cheap, picking it up from Amazon for about $12 shipped.
Tsunoda CA-22 – Made in Japan
This is a brand that I have never used before but are supposed to be very high quality and known for the quality of their steel. I was surprised by how cheap I was able to get these at around $15 from Amazon.
Other Candidates Excluded
I was really looking to get the a Klein unit for this test, but the cable cutters they marketed as “compact” are actually over 8 inches in length and therefore would not be inclusive in this comparison.
Showdown Grading Criteria
Now let’s talk a little bit about how I’m going to score each of these units. I’ve decided to keep the subjective categories to a minimum and are only going to score each on three main sections. First price at 5%, with lower being better. Next the overall design, workmanship, and impressions of the unit at 15%. Finally, the cutting performance at 80% which is what we really want to know and the entire reason we are using the tool.
Normally when scoring price I take the MSRP of each unit, but I had some difficulty finding the list price for a couple of the non-German brands and the prices from distributors were all over the place. So what I did is actually list the price I actually paid for each item and then normalized it to give a score between 1 and 10 with 10 being the lowest priced unit. The cheapest unit was actually the Bahco, followed closely by the Tnusoda and Wiha. I ended up paying around the same amount for the Knipex, Gedore and Felo units, which was around three times the cost of the Bahco. The Southwire was about double the cost of the Bahco unit.
Design / Workmanship / Quality Scoring
First thing I’m going to do before taking any inspections of the units is to clean them all with Ballistol that will remove any residual shipping grease or protective oils that were added by the factory. This will also allow all of the joints to be oiled in a fair manner for the upcoming cutting test.
Knipex / Gedore
First looking at the Knipex and Gedore units together. The reason I am grouping these together is because after close examination I am convinced that they have come from the manufacturer with my guess being Knipex or its subsidiary Rennsteig.
The only real difference I see in the forging dies is the ridge near the edge of the pliers is more pronounced on the Gedore units. Even the adjustment screws and joint design is exactly the same in both units.
I tried my best to find any defects or things I didn’t like about these. I even put the edges and ground surface under magnification to see if there are any manufacturing defects and everything looks good. You can definitely tell these were ground with the same surface grinder from the distinct pattern and width of each pass, which will be always be slight different between manufacturers.
Therefore both the Gedore and Knipex units receive a 10 in this category.
The Felo unit is interesting because it has serrated cutting edges which extend far into the forging die. I think someone at NWS was a fishing fan because the particular pattern certainly reminds me of the lower fins of a brackish fish.
One major issue I see in this unit is the overbite allows for some very sharp edges to protrude from the end. This could be a bit problem if you stick this somewhere you can damage a tool pocket or damage to other adjacent tools.
I’m also not a real big fan of the nut used to tension the unit, with only a very small portion of it protruding. I would be concerned about stripping this when doing adjustments since only about 1/3 of it is accessible.
For these two issues I gave the Felo unit an 8.
The Wiha unit was definitely a unique design with one jaw being serrated and the othering being normal or straight.
This style of cable cutter also has a smaller portion at the end that is intended to be used a makeshift wire stripper. Looking closely at the ground surfaces there appears to be some sort of strange material or lacquer applied that did not come off with the Ballistol. I’m guessing it is some sort of clear-coat Polyurethane.
The only issue I saw on the Wiha units is that there was a very sharp edge on the inner part of the head that should have been deburred like the rest of the edges are.
Not likely you would put your hand here often but it could definitely be an issue. For this issue I have given the Wiha unit a 9.
The Tnusoda has a similar design to both the Wiha and Bahco units. The one thing I’m not particularly found of this design is that there is no stop when opening it.
This I believe is to provide a secondary drag cutting function that I know I will probably never use.
The ground surfaces and edges look quite good on this model.
Just because of personal preference against this design I gave this unit a 9, but saw no other issues.
Even though the Tnusoda and Bahco look very similar, you can really tell which one was manufactured to higher standards when you really look close at a couple of things.
First thing I noticed is that the lapping on the joint rivet was done so poorly that when you open it there are ridges formed around the rivet. This indicates that the surface is not flat and has a bit of a bow to it, most likely due to poor manufacturing practices.
The second most prevalent issue is the terrible job that was done of grounding the cutting surface.
It is almost like they weren’t sure which direction to grind the surface in so they did it in all directions. The edge on the blades also looks pretty bad here.
For these issues I have the Bahco a 7.
The first thing you will notice about the Southwire unit is how stiff the joints were even after oiling the unit.
I may have been able to loosen this using the screw, but this is not something I needed to do with the other units so I kept it as factory configured.
It felt like the screw end protruding on the back should have been ground down much more than it was as it created quite a sharp surface around the ring of it.
The ground surfaces were also not very impressive, but the edge seemed adequate.
For the aforementioned reasons I have this unit a 6.
Cutting Performance Test
In order to test the cutting performance of each unit, I wanted to see how much force it would take to get through a couple of sample cables. To do this fairly, I measured 100mm from the fulcrum point and marked it with a piece of tape and marker.
To see how much force it takes to get through the wire I am using one of these push-pull gauges that measures the force applied in Newtons. Setting it to the peak function I can see how much force it took to get through each sample.
Before I did that, there was one measurement I needed to make in order to correct the readings for the spring installed in the Gedore unit. Taking three readings I got a spring tension of around 10.8 Newtons or about 2 ½ pounds of force. I subtracted this value from all of the Gedore readings in order to correct for the addition force needed to overcome the spring tension.
I picked a total of four different cable and wire samples to try with each unit that should be a pretty good representation of the types of wire that each can handle. The first cable is this three-conductor, shielded cable with a Teflon jacket. For each unit, I took a total of three readings and then averaged them to get a final value. I then weighted these values to give the best performing unit a 10 and each other unit a score proportional to how it did against the best unit. I did change out the tip on the force gauge after a couple of samples to one more flat because it was leaving marks on some of the handles.
Cable Sample #1
For the first cable sample, the readings were relatively consistent at about 38 to 41 Newtons for all units except for the Felo and Southwire. The readings I was getting from the Felo were quite surprising as it performed over 20% better than the other units. The Southwire on the other hand, performed around 20% worse than the other units.
Cable Sample #2
The 2nd cable sample is some stranded 4 AWG copper with a Teflon jacket. This is really on the upper end of the capacities of some of these units. The results here were interesting as the Felo, Wiha and Tsunoda scored almost the same. The Bahco was a little bit behind those followed by the Knipex, Gedore and Southwire units.
Cable Sample #3
The 3rd cable sample is this Flexguard Control Cable that contains three 12 AWG conductors and a thick PVC jacket. With the large outer jacket diameter, we saw some differences again in the results. The best unit again was the Felo, with the Knipex and Gedore close behind. The Tsunoda and Bahco were next and the worst performing units were the Wiha and Southwire.
Cable Sample #4
The final sample is some Twinaxial cable with a PVC jacket that is 8.3mm in diameter. Again the Felo was far and away the better performer here with the Knipex, Gedore and Wiha units together a marginally close second. The Tsunoda and Bahco were then next and bringing up the rear was the Southwire again.
Cutting Performance Final Scoring
If you take the normalized score from each of the four samples and weigh them each with 25%, you get an overall score that determines which unit cuts cables with the least amount of force. The Felo unit really did blow the others out of the water here with these particular cable samples. I’m sure I could find some cable that would perform better on other units, but from these tests done here have concluded that the Felo is actually cutting the best overall. The Felo came out with a weighted score of 9.97. Second through fifth place was very close with only about a half a point separating them. In second place was the Gedore with 8.54, in 3rd the Knipex with 8.52. Fourth place is Wiha 8.44, fifth is the Tsunoda with 8.29 and last was the Southwire with 7.01.
Serrated vs. Non-Serrated Edges
What I learned through these four samples is that some designs appear to cut better than others. It was surprising to me that the cables with serrated blade edges seemed to be a much better job at cutting than those that just had a curved edge.
It got me to wondering why not all brands aren’t using a serrated edge for this type of tool. Looking at the edges of the cable jacket after using the Felo unit, you can see there are definite teeth marks around the perimeter.
There must be some application where this would be undesirable otherwise all companies would use the serrated edges. Examining the same cable cutting with the Knipex, you see a much smoother jacket perimeter.
If we total the scores using the previously mentioned criteria we can now rank the candidates using two significant digits. There was a clear winner, and that was the Felo due to it destroying the competition on the cutting test. This unit did have one of the highest costs and there were a couple of design issues that I mentioned, but it’s hard not to recommend the Felo unit from the way it performed on a variety of cable samples.
In 2nd place, with what I would consider quite an upset was the Wiha unit. While it wasn’t as good in cutting performance as some other units, it made up ground being one of the cheapest units and therefore ends up being a great value. I just had a few small things to nitpick about the finishing, but really it surprised me how well it did.
In 3rd place was literally a tie between the Gedore and Knipex units. While the Gedore scored slightly better in cutting performance than the Knipex, it was a little bit more expensive, which made them end up in a dead heat. It would make sense for them to score similarly if they really are from the same manufacturer. In terms of a buying guide, if you really wanted a unit with a return spring then I would definitely go with the Gedore unit over the equivalent Knipex because it would end up being cheaper. If you absolutely need a unit without the return spring, then go with the Knipex because Gedore does not offer a model without the return spring at this time.
In 5th place, just barely behind the Gedore and Knipex was the Tsunoda. It had some difficulty with some of the larger diameter cable that dragged its cutting performance score down, otherwise it may have even come in third. I didn’t mention before that this is the lightest and most compact of all the candidates, so that may be something to consider when picking a unit out.
In 6th place was the Bahco. I think it could have done much better if they had spent a little more time on grounding the edges and getting that blade edge sharp from the factory. I’m sure the sloppy lap joint didn’t help things either.
In last place was the Southwire unit, which frankly was quite an embarrassment compared to the other units. It performed more like a $5 tool as opposed to a $25 tool.
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