Cutting pliers are an essential modeling tool, and have many uses in model railroading. The most common are for cutting rail, brass stock, and plastic, depending upon the hardness of the steel that was used to make the plier’s cutting surfaces. Hobby cutting pliers are typically labeled for the types of materials they will cut.
There are two basic types: side-cutting pliers and flush-cutting pliers. While they look similar, the two have different cutting edges.
Side cutters are the most durable type of cutting plier and can be found in hardware stores. These have v-shaped cutting edges that partially crush the material on both sides as the cut is made. This type of cutting plier is good for making rough cuts on metal and plastic materials. However, if your work requires a smooth end surface, the crushed edges will need to be finished through cutting or by filing.
Flush-cutting pliers have specially ground edges so metal is crushed only on one side of the cut. This type of cutter leaves the opposite side smooth and flat. Flush-cutting pliers are most often used for cutting rail or clipping plastic parts from sprues. Material cut with this type of plier usually needs only minor clean up with a file or sanding stick.
There are two things to keep in mind when using cutting pliers. First, the thin cutting edges are very fragile and easy to damage. Don’t use them to cut anything harder than plastic, brass, or nickel silver rail. Using flush-cutting pliers to cut harder materials, such as copper wire or steel piano wire or nails will destroy the cutting surface.
Second, always wear safety glasses when using any cutting plier. Smaller pieces of material will often fly away with unpredictable force from the piece being cut and can cause injury, even if they bounce off of a wall or work surface.
Cutting pliers are a fast and easy way to cut a variety of materials when building model railroads.