What Will Cut Through Nails or Screws?

Sometimes the only way out of a tough situation is to cut through a fastener. Such situations happen when the head of a screw gets stripped, a nail gets bent or you manage to pull off its head with the claw of your hammer. The three cutting modalities that work are snipping, sawing and grinding, and you can rely on power tools or your own muscle power.

Snipping

When you want to get rid of the point of a screw or nail that's protruding or remove the damaged head to get it out of the way, snipping is the most efficient approach. Choose your tool based on the diameter of the fastener and the hardness of the metal.

  • Wire cutters have a pair of beveled blades that either strike against each other or bypass each other for a shear cut. The first type -- sometimes called anvil cutters -- are best for cutting nails and screws. Longer handles give you more cutting power but may make the tool difficult to carry in your tool belt.
  • Bolt cutters are the heavy-duty cousins of anvil-type wire cutters. A bolt cutter has long handles and a geared cutting mechanism that magnifies the force you apply to the handles. it's designed to cut large diameter fasteners, but because it's a large tool that needs clearance, it isn't always the best tool for the job.

Using Wire and Bolt Cutters

The cutting blades must fit completely around the shank of the fastener you're cutting, and if the fastener is embedded in wood, you may have to chisel around the head to make room. To get the maximum cutting force, work the tool around the fastener until the shank is as close to the pivot point as possible.

Sawing

If you want to cut through the shank of a screw or nail to separate the two pieces of wood, metal or plastic that it's holding, you best bet is a saw with a metal-cutting blade. You can get metal-cutting blades for virtually any saw you own -- including circular saws -- but the most useful saws for cutting fasteners are those that operate by reciprocating action. Metal cutting blades for these saws usually have a tooth count in excess of 10 teeth per inch.

  • Reciprocating saws -- sometimes called a Sawzalls in honor of the original, which is marketed by Milwaukee -- are the tools of choice for cutting nails during rough construction and demolition. Because of the design, you can poke the blade into a tight space, anchor the base against a solid surface to reduce vibration, and cut through the shank of virtually any size of fastener.
  • Jigsaws operate with the same cutting action but must rest on a surface with the blade hanging over the edge to do their job. The design of a jigsaw makes it a more accurate cutting tool than a reciprocating saw, but when it comes to cutting fasteners, it isn't as versatile.
  • Hacksaws are the manual versions of jigsaws or reciprocating saws. A hacksaw has a straight blade and a large frame that keeps the blade tight and makes sawing easier.
  • Keyhole saws, with a blade that tapers to a point on one end and has a handle on the other, are also manual saws. A keyhole saw is the cutting tool you need when you don't have clearance for any other.

Grinding

Diamond grinding wheels effortlessly cut through nails, bolts and screws, and can be affixed to large or small rotary cutters.

  • Angle grinders are the most powerful of all metal-cutting tools. The cutting blade is usually 4 1/2 inches in diameter and extends about 2 inches from the front of the cylindrical body. Metal workers reach for this tool to cut through heavy bolts.
  • Rotary tools have many uses, and one of them, when fitted with a grinding wheel, is to cut through metal. Its small size and maneuverability makes it a convenient tool for craftspeople and woodworkers.