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You can use many types of tools to trim the small wires and component leads in your electronics projects. Scissors, side cutters, combination wire strippers, and even your favorite pocket knife can get the job done. Whether they produce clean and quick results is a different story.

Back in late-2008, I had searching for new cutters that better suited small circuitry components. All I had in my toolbox at the time were large, bulky, and imprecise cutters primarily designed for household wiring tasks. I came across Xuron’s 170-II Micro-Shear flush cutter, and although I was unfamiliar with the brand, less than $10 for a USA-made cutter seemed like an acceptable risk.


Simple spring-action mechanism.

I mainly use these cutters for flush-cutting tasks, such as when trimming wires and component leads close to circuit boards after soldering them in place, but will often use them for other cutting tasks as well, such as trimming small nylon cable ties that are freshly installed inside a tight enclosure.

The difference between this cutter and larger ones, such as the one built into the Klein wire stripper I previously reviewed, is night and day when working with small components. Since this micro-cutter, and others like it, is so small and precise, it can place a cut right where you want it. The cutter’s small size can also reach into confined spaces with greater ease and its angled blades trim components neatly against PCBs.

With soft blue handles and a simple but effective spring mechanism, they are quite comfortable to hold and use. The blades trim thin wires and leads with ease, and even after many uses they feel as sharp as day-one.

When I first received the cutters, I actually thought they were defective since the blades did not line up perfectly. But apparently this “bypass blade effect” is by design and is intended to reduce cutting effort and extend tool life. I mention this not because I agree or disagree with Xuron’s marketing claims, but because uninformed readers may erroneously mistake the feature for a defect as I did.

This model can handle soft wires up to about 18-gauge, and don’t even think of using it to cut wire rope, piano wire, or other hardened or ferrous materials, as this will definitely damage the blades.

Bottom line, Xuron’s 170-II miniature wire cutter are comfortable to use, well suited for electronics work, and produce clean results at a great value. Are there better cutters on the market? Of course, but not at the <$10 price point. If you shop carefully you can find these for about $5.50-$8.00 online.

Xuron also makes a wide range of other mini pliers, cutters, and specialty tools. Some have ESD-safe grips, but the ones shown here do not.

Stuart Deutsch is a tool enthusiast, critic, and collector, and writes more about tools at ToolGuyd.

Stuart Deutsch

When I am not testing and reviewing new tools, I am working on robotics, electronics, woodworking, and other types of projects.

I am also interested in microscopy, the physical sciences, and new technologies.

I write more about tools and workshop topics over at ToolGuyd.com.


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Comments

  1. Dan says:

    Looks to me like the cutting edges don’t line up with each other very well. I’m looking at the picture showing the end-on view of the business end of the cutters, and I can see where it looks like the edges may be misaligned. I usually find this condition makes it more difficult to cut fine wires (like coax braid). Still, for the cost, probably not a bad deal.

    1. davidcdean says:

      I have a virtually identical Panduit set of these. Same colors, same stamping, etc. The edges do overlap ever-so-slightly. Google “panduit snipping”.

      1. davidcdean says:

        I should add, if you had to buy the panduit ones (I didn’t), they look to be about $40… so that might make the difference. ;)

    2. As mentioned in one of the last paragraphs, this is by design. The offset is actually grossly exaggerated in the image. If it helps keep the cutting surfaces stay sharper for longer, I’m all for it.

      The finest wires I’ve cut with these were 24-gauge copper, with the cutter giving no reason for me to complain.

  2. Distar97 says:

    They do look weird at first. I looked at mine under an inspection microscope. If you were to see it this way you’d realize Xuron put some real thought and effort into this design. The ground surfaces are incredibly precise. I’d like to see them make it with compound leverage so the edges come together progressively slower. Then you’d have no flying leads even at the tip. I’d pay double or more for this. German hand tool maker NWS does this but in a much heavier cutter, they’re model Fantastico.

    1. That sounds like an interesting concept – to use a compound mechanism such as NWS’s Fantastico cutters. Most manufacturers use compound mechanisms to improve leverage, but in theory I suppose such a mechanism could potentially improve control and avoid the issue of cutoffs flying through the air. There is a risk this would make mini pliers and cutters heavier and bulkier, which could be problematic for users working in small enclosures.

      1. distar97 says:

        Yes size & weight would be a design challenge, especially when Xuron has a large customer base accustomed to their small light stamped cutters. I was playing with some ideas on how to design a cutter where the leverage ratio increases at some preferred rate. I happened to see my vise grips which take leverage to the extreme in a hand tool. There are four main parts. I think you can make a smaller cutter like this, without the adjustment screw, but it would be costly to make. And you have to join all those parts somehow.

        I’m thinking of a central cam design which would eliminate the rivets as employed in Vice Grips. The cam would look like a larger version of the nice center rivet on the current Xuron cutters. You still can’t do it with two arms but with some careful thought, one can come up with a two part arm joined in a way so there is a hinge joint on one side, the other side being controlled by the cam. How about some modern material like tiny (read inexpensive) strips of Kevlar bonded in a way to form a robust hinge, maybe like a toy Jacob’s ladder. Xuron has some very smart people that can come up with a practical and profitable product. Also bear in mind this is a low pressure tool. We’re not cutting bolts, just electronic part leads and maybe piano wire at best.

        One thing I’d do is reduce full open angle of the jaws. There is too much wasted motion for a leveraged tool. I’d also have a stop so the jaws can’t damage each other.

        I actually did an experiment. I used my vise grips ( old USA WC10) to cut the leads on some 1/2W resistors. It was great even though only one side is beveled. I think if there were two precision ground jaws, it would have cut like butter and there would be no snap at the end of motion. It would clearly be a premium cutter and not be as disposable as some of Xuron’s cutter are.

        1. Your ideas are interesting, but ultimately I can’t see Xuron implementing them into a new style of plier or cutter. Xuron, as much as I like their tools, is not a premium precision pliers maker. They are able to keep costs down by keeping their designs somewhat simple and basic.

          I’m not sure about other brands, but I know Erem has a style of mini pliers with stopped opening width. This helps keep necessary hand motions to open and close the pliers to a minimum, but also limits the size of object that can be held in the jaws. I picked up the pliers at a great bargain but don’t really use them a lot.

          Other brands (Lindstrom comes to mind) have short-distance spring-action, where the jaw is only sprung open a short distance. If you want opening greater range, you can manually spread the handles. The cutters also have more directly lined-up jaws, which reduces the chance of flying leads.

          Compound cutters are a potential solution to flying leads issue, but there are also cutters on the market from other brands where the pivot point is a lot closer to the cutting edges. This produces a similar effect as with implementing a compound leverage mechanism.

          There is a style of full-size pliers by Knipex (TwinForce) where the compound leverage is achieved by creating a dynamic pivot point. This, combined with a knife-and-anvil cutter design could help keep flying leads to a minimum, but would be too bulky to implement in mini cutters.

          For easier cutting, you could also look at super flush cutters. They require less pressure to cut through leads, which should minimizing jumping.

          Swanstrom’s diagonal cutters can be purchased with lead catchers, although they might be special-order items. Knipex and some import brands have a few SKUs of cutters with built-in lead catchers. It appears that these devices hold the leads against the cutter jaws so that the loose ends are retained after being cut.

          Description of different cutter profiles: http://www.swanstromtools.com/choose.htm

          Knipex 78 13 125: http://www.knipex.com/fileadmin/site/knipex/scripts/mediando/images/KNIPEX/Produktfotos/web/zoom/78131254k.jpg

          Xytronic: http://www.vetco.net/catalog/images/XY-AX106.jpg

          1. distar97 says:

            I like thinking of new ideas, but as with any product they need to be more than technically interesting. Ideas need to pass marketing muster.

            I’ll tell you something. It’s nice to see so many quality hand tools are available these days at very reasonable prices. I still have my first small wire cutters from the late sixties. I had reground them into flush cutters for circuit board work.

            your comments are very informative, I’ll check the items you mentioned.

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