Cutting Copper Pipe In Tight Spaces

Learn how to cut copper pipes

Figure 1: A copper pipe cutter. A copper pipe cutter is used for its precision and ease of use. Copper pipes are popular in plumbing, but also for aesthetic purposes. This article describes how to cut copper pipes, compares the copper pipe cutter to other tools, and discusses how to buy a pipe cutter depending on its application.

Content Overview

  • Copper Pipes
  • What is a copper pipe cutter?
  • How to use a copper pipe cutter
  • Cutting copper pipe without a copper pipe cutter
  • Buying a copper pipe cutter
  • FAQs

Copper pipes are not only useful in plumbing systems. As shown in Figure 2, their distinctive appearance makes them suitable for design projects. The list of uses for copper tubing in design projects is long, but there are a few notable reasons why these tubes fit well in plumbing systems.

  • Antimicrobial properties: Copper and its alloys, bronze, brass and copper-nickel, all have natural antimicrobial properties that help keep water free of harmful bacteria.
  • Pliability: With the right tools, bending copper tubing is a simple task. Every bend in a piping system eliminates the need for a bend to change the direction of the pipe. Fewer bends save money and reduce the total number of failure points in the system.
  • Softness: Compared to steel and cast iron, copper pipes are soft. This means that copper tubing is easy to cut to meet the requirements of a project.

Figure 2: A low-light environment project uses copper tubing and fittings to enhance the atmosphere of a space.

What is a copper pipe cutter?

A copper pipe cutter is a manual tool that cuts copper pipes precisely and squarely. Like all pipe cutters, the typical copper pipe cutter has a C-shaped head and handle. As shown in Figure 3, some copper pipe cutters do not have a handle, which allows for cutting copper pipe in smaller spaces. Figure 3: A copper tube cutter without a handle allows cutting tubes in tighter spaces. The components of a copper pipe cutter that are used to cut a copper pipe are:

  • Rollers: The rollers (Figure 4, label A) rotate as they move across the surface of the pipe. This prevents the pipe cutter from rotating the pipe during operation.
  • Cutting Blade: The hardened steel cutting blade (Figure 2, marking B) cuts into the pipe during operation.
  • Tighten knob: The locking knob (Figure 2 marked C) pushes the cutting blade forward. This initially clamps the copper pipe cutter onto the pipe and gradually deepens the cut during operation.

Figure 4: A copper pipe cutter with the following components: Rollers (A), cutting blade (B) and locking knob (C).

What is a copper pipe cutter?

A copper pipe cutter is the same tool as a copper tube cutter. Because of the differences between tubes and pipes, these tools have different names. The diameter of a tube is the outside diameter of the tube, while the diameter of a pipe is the inside diameter. Also, tubes come in different shapes, including round. The tubes are only round.

How to use a copper pipe cutter

Cutting copper pipes with a copper pipe cutter is easy. However, there are some points to consider before and after cutting.

Before using a copper pipe cutter

The plan for cutting a copper pipe depends on whether the pipe is in place (already installed) or if it is an unused piece of pipe.

  • On site:
    • Shut off the fluid supply to the pipe. Expect some leakage when cutting open the pipe.
    • Determine if there is enough room to use a copper pipe cutter with or without a handle. If there is not enough room, use a different tool (see the section below on cutting copper pipe without a pipe cutter).
  • Independent piece of copper pipe
    • Clamp the copper tube on a workbench to stabilize it during cutting.

Also, put on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) before cutting:

  • Gloves: Gloves protect hands from stray copper chips that can fly through the air.
  • Safety Goggles: Safety glasses protect the eyes from the same hazard.

Using a Copper Pipe Cutter

Follow these instructions to cut copper tubing with a copper cutter:

  1. Clamp the copper pipe cutter to the copper pipe by turning the locking knob until the cutting blade touches the pipe surface.
  2. Rotate the copper pipe cutter all the way around the pipe once or twice to create a groove in the pipe surface.
  3. Turn the locking knob to push the cutter blade forward and tighten the clamp.
  4. Repeat this process of turning and tightening until the cut is complete.

After using a copper pipe cutter

Although a copper pipe cutter will provide a cleaner cut than any other cutting tool, it is still possible for the cut edge of the pipe to have burrs. Use a deburring tool to remove the burrs and sandpaper to smooth the edge.

Cutting copper pipe without a copper pipe cutter

If a copper pipe cutting tool is not available, there are still several tools available for cutting copper pipe. Most of the tools are power saws, but there are also two notable manual tools: the hacksaw and the automatic cutting tool. Regardless of which tool cuts through the copper pipe, remember to deburr and smooth the end of the cut pipe after cutting.

  • Hacksaw: When using a hacksaw to cut copper tubing, choose a blade with 32 TPI (teeth per inch). Blades with a lower TPI have more space between the blade teeth, making it easier for the blade to stick to the pipe. Hacksaws cause a lot of vibration and movement, so they are unlikely to cut pipe well in place. For more information, see our articles on using a hacksaw and choosing a blade.
  • Automatic cutting tool: An autocut tool works similarly to a pipe cutting tool, meaning it rotates around the pipe to create the cut. However, the tool has a circular shape. Part of the tool can be opened so that the pipe can fit inside. This tool will fit in any space where there is about 1.3 inches of space behind the pipe. However, it is not adjustable, so you should make sure that the tool is the right size for the pipe you are cutting.

Among chainsaws, there are several types that are suitable for cutting copper pipes. Wearing gloves and safety glasses is required. A mask can protect the lungs from copper chips.

  • Dremel: Make sure the copper pipe is firmly seated in a vise or clamp. Select a metal cutting blade for the Dremel. When used to cut metal, blades for softer materials wear out quickly. Cut in a circular motion around the pipe.
  • Multitool: The blade of the multitool, which should be a metal cutting blade, oscillates quickly. Push the tool forward during operation as it cuts through the pipe. The biggest advantage of using a multitool to cut copper pipe is that this tool can cut very close to a wall.
  • Chop Saw: Make sure the saw blade is metal cutting and the pipe is firmly seated in a clamp. Then, make sure the blade is running at full speed before it hits the pipe. The advantage of a chop saw is that it can make perfect 90° cuts. One disadvantage is that the saw is so efficient that users sometimes get careless and make mistakes.
  • Sawzall: A Sawzall, also known as a reciprocating saw, can quickly cut through copper tubing with the right metal blade attachment. However, Sawzalls are not precise and are best used for demolition work.
  • Jigsaw: Like reciprocating saws, jigsaws are best for demolition work.

Battery operated copper pipe cutter

An electric solution for cutting copper pipe that is not a power tool is the battery-powered copper pipe cutter. This electric copper pipe cutter works similarly to a manual copper pipe cutter, except that the user pulls a trigger to rotate the cutting blade around the pipe instead of rotating the entire tool. The cutting blade automatically advances as the cut deepens. This process is much easier on the user’s wrists, which can get tired after cutting pipe manually for long periods of time. In addition to its higher price, an electric pipe cutter has the disadvantage of being much wider than its manual counterpart. Therefore, it won’t fit into as many gaps as a manual tool.

Buying a copper pipe cutter

When buying a copper pipe cutter, the most important thing to consider is how much space is available for cutting. If the copper pipe is out of place, buy the largest copper pipe cutter. The longer the handle of the cutter, the greater the leverage when cutting. However, make sure the pipe cutter is for copper and not steel. Steel pipe cutters have harder and thicker blades that are not suitable for cutting copper. To cut through copper pipe in place, first determine the orientation of the copper pipe cutter while cutting. Then determine how much space is required to move the tool completely around the pipe. If there is not enough room for a commercial copper pipe cutter with a handle, determine if there is enough room for a cutter without a handle.


What is the best way to cut copper tubing?

The best way to cut copper tubing is with a copper tube cutter. This tool will safely and accurately cut through copper tubing, leaving a nearly smooth surface.

Is it okay to cut copper tubing with a hacksaw?

Yes, it is okay to cut copper tubing with a hacksaw. However, it is not as easy to cut copper pipes that are already installed in a piping system. The simplest application is independent copper pipes clamped in a workstation for stability and safety.

How do you cut a copper pipe in a confined space?

First, determine if there is enough room for a handleless copper pipe cutter. If not, try an automatic cutting tool. If neither option works, an oscillating multitool could get the job done.

Everything you need to know about pipe cutters

Tips for choosing the right one to use Learn all about the different types of pipe cutters, how to use them and what material each type can cut in our great guide.

What are pipe cutters used for?

Pipe cutters deliver fast cuts and are also extremely easy to use. Unlike other cutting tools such as hacksaws, they primarily cut very cleanly, which ideally eliminates the need for subsequent deburring. This in turn saves a lot of time – especially for fitters and tradesmen who have to lay several pipes in a relatively short time. To achieve the best result, the pipe cutter should always be selected to match the material and circumference of the pipe. The differences here are great. Therefore, below we will discuss the most common types of pipe cutters are suitable for cutting copper and stainless steel or other materials such as plastic.

How does a pipe cutter work?

In general, pipe cutters consist of a support into which a pipe is clamped tightly, while it is still free to rotate. A sharp wheel inside cuts deeper into the material with each rotation until it finally cuts through the pipe. However, this is only the simplest version. Other designs exist that make the job even easier.

How to use a pipe cutter correctly

To safely use a pipe cutter, simply follow the steps below:


If the pipe they want to work on is still connected to a pipe, first turn off the water supply.

Adjusting the circumference

If using an adjustable pipe cutter, place it around the pipe and set the tool to the proper circumference.


Now comes the tricky part: for a clean result, you must turn the tool without moving it along the pipe axis – otherwise you could damage the pipe. The exact number of turns varies from tube to tube.

Fine work

Once the tube is cut through, you may need to deburr to remove any sharp edges and ensure that the cut edge of the tube is smooth and clean.

Tool Care

To ensure your pipe cutter is always reliable, clean it thoroughly after use and put it back in storage.

The right pipe cutter for every material

Pipe cutters are commonly used tools, especially in the plumbing industry. Typical examples of use are:

  • cutting pipes to the required length before installation,
  • Repair work on pipes,
  • Cutting out, removing and replacing damaged pipe sections prior to replacement.

See the table below for an overview.

Pipe cutter for plastic pipes Suitable for PE and PVC pipes, e.g. in garden irrigation.
Copper pipe cutter This is specially designed to cut tubes made of copper, as used primarily in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology.
Pipe cutter for stainless steel Plumbing tool that is ideal for water pipes or even exhaust pipes.
Aluminum pipe cutter Thanks to their light weight, aluminum pipes are often used for constructions in industry and construction.
Pipe cutter for brass pipes Due to the higher material hardness, this is more recommended for cutting brass pipes instead of a copper pipe cutter.

Pipe cutters with special features

Not only the material and circumference of the pipe can play a role in choosing a pipe cutter, but also the technical design. This can facilitate the work and significantly reduce the effort, for example, if you have to work in confined spaces. In the table below, you can learn more about some of the most common types of pipe cutters, as well as their purpose and advantages:

Automatic This design cuts highly efficiently and is easy to use, as the circumference is quickly set and you can get started right away.
Cable duct pipe cutter A tool designed for cutting cable ducts and ventilation hoses that provides clean cuts yet is easy to use.
Hose cutter Ideal for shortening tubing that is more difficult to grip due to its compliance.
Midi Tube Cutter The small size is especially ideal for cutting copper and brass tubing, such as that often installed in HVAC, which has a slimmer circumference.
Side cutter Cuts without crushing or deforming the pipe.
Ratchet Pipe Cutter Functions similar to a torque wrench or ratcheting screwdriver. It allows more precision cutting with uniform force.
With opening spring Thanks to its compact design, this cutter is good at reaching pipes and tubes that run in hard-to-reach places.

From the above examples of the many possible applications, you can easily see the factors that play a role in choosing the right pipe cutter. Therefore, when buying, you should make sure that the pipe cutter you are considering also has certain core features. Therefore, below are some additional tips to help you make the right buying decision:

  • If you need to work in tight spaces, you need a pipe cutter that you can use despite tight clearance. A ratchet pipe cutter performs well because of its short cutting path.
  • A pipe cutter with an adjustable circumference saves a lot of space in your toolbox thanks to its flexibility. If you have limited space in the latter, this design is probably the best choice.
  • Some pipe materials also require so-called heavy-duty pipe cutters. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure that the tool you are using is really suitable for the intended task.

Once you’ve done your research and found answers to all of these questions, you should be well informed and able to choose the best pipe cutter that meets your specific needs.

Popular brands

Last but not least, quality is also crucial when choosing a product. Our store carries a wide range of ratchet, midi, spring-loaded pipe cutters and other tools for cutting plastic, copper and brass pipes from reputable manufacturers. Some of them are listed below. Cutting Copper Pipe In Tight Spaces.

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