How-To: Cut header pins


Ladyada shows us how to cut header pins (both male and female) with a set of diagonal flush clippers.

46 thoughts on “How-To: Cut header pins

  1. selfSilent says:

    I don’t see why this was made, surely common sense would have dictated this information. Looking forward to the “how to put batteries in something” coming tomorrow.

    1. Sean says:

      Why is this here ? because it’s a marketing exercise for Adafruit industries plain and simple. It’s called market exposure, it’s called free advertising – it could just as easily be a video in how to cook a burger. They probably felt they needed to maintain their visibility but don’t have a project ready. It’s the sort of thing that the marketing dept of every company does all the time.

      However that said if I saw any of my assemblers using their Excelites to cut female headers I would be calling in their supervisor to issue them a disciplinary warning. They are designed to cut using their sharpness not pressure and don’t have the tensile strength for this sort of task. We have a drawerful of pairs with one jaw missing and in most cases the jaw flies away at speed.

      Use the right tool for the job.

  2. Phillip Torrone says:

    hi @selfSilent, i help answer the support questions for limor (ladyada) and adafruit and questions here on MAKE. we’ve been asked “how to cut headers” hundreds, maybe thousands, of times.

    just because something is “common sense” to you, it doesn’t mean everyone else is an expert.

    we all start somewhere.

    if you look on twitter you’ll see lots of people really liked the video(s) and also were wondering how to cut headers (specifically the female headers.

    that said, please post your expert video somewhere so we can check out your awesome project or work.

    1. wilson! says:

      Sorry, PT, but once you played the, “where’s your expert video?” card, you lost me.

      One can have, and express, a valid opinion about someone else’s work without having done the same activity. Not having a more-awesome video doesn’t nullify someone’s criticism. I can’t believe you went down that road – you had a perfectly good argument/explanation up to that point.

      Besides, you can’t really criticize someone for not having a more-awesome video about something, unless you have offered up criticism without having a more-awesomer similar project yourself! So, c’mon, let’s see your unfounded criticism, before you criticize someone else’s unfounded criticism!!! :-)

      1. Phillip Torrone says:

        @wilson! – that’s an interesting point of view, maybe don’t read the last part of my comment :)

        i think asking for someone to show what they’d like to see as a “tip” or “video” isn’t a criticism at all, i fully expect the people who snark on a “common sense” video to totally show us how awesome they are with their video. in the past when i’ve issued that challenge, some have, well, maybe 1 person did – most just go troll and snark elsewhere it seems.

        it really (always) comes down to what type of tone do we (MAKE) and the *you* the readers want in the comments. encouraging people or crapping on something they’ve made or shown. i don’t really have a lot of tolerance for people coming here and not providing any valuable / constructive criticism and then snarkin’ on someone. usually i delete comments and inform the poster, you’d think they’d get upset but most realize they’re being jerks.

        you’ve given me an idea though, i’m totally going to make a deck of cards with a card called “where’s your expert video?”…

        next time i will be ready!


        1. wilson^2 says:

          I’m right there with Wilson! I was with you up until the last comment, really unnecessary and seems a bit unprofessional. I expect trolls to be petty, but those in the driver’s seat, not so much.

          “it really (always) comes down to what type of tone do we (MAKE) and the *you* the readers want in the comments.”

          Always? I seem to remember a few times where the comments/posts coming from the staff (or apparent staff) was less than what the readers expected (something about the “make it/own it” comment when a reader ended his subscription. There were others, but not necessary to bring up.

          I didn’t mind the video, seems like if it was obvious it was also easy to ignore, there are plenty of posts that are not relevant to me, but so what? Again, I was right there with you, then the low road.

          1. Phillip Torrone says:

            @wilson^2 – i think asking a snarky commenter to post the type of video they’d like to see is not “low” or unreasonable. but both you and i know that “selfSilent” will likely not do nothing valuable for the MAKE community, i would love to be surprised though.

            as far as my statement…

            “it really (always) comes down to what type of tone do we (MAKE) and the *you* the readers want in the comments.”

            yes, for me, i really don’t tolerate drive-by-snarks that do not offer any valuable criticism or *at least* something “better” when someone says something is “obvious”.

            look at it from my point of view, i talk to tens of thousands of “makers” a year. they tell me why they don’t post and share things. this is exactly why. i’ll like use “selfSilent”‘s comment in a presentation about things like this, it’s unfortunately common.

            this is also why it’s hard for beginners to get involved. i’d rather you think that this was a “low road” and have more people not fear comments like that here than everyone worried someone will poop in their project.

            MAKE is (can be) a safe place for folks to post and share their work, if you want to get abused by the unmoded masses post a project on hack-a-day or slashdot (or a dozen other sites).

            all that said, i can’t speak for everyone one else on the team, we don’t “always” agree on 100% of everything but that’s one of the things that makes MAKE unique and interesting. i say “we” but i could have calibrated that wording better, saying “i” might be better, but i know for the most part most folks at MAKE would agree with me on this specific topic :)

  3. Chris says:

    Next up – How to cut a piece of paper using scissors.

  4. , television says:

    this is really necessary ot know how to cut the headers.

  5. ladyada says:

    It actually isnt. Breakaway header is pretty easy to understand but I’ve got a lot of customers that don’t realize that you can turn a 6-pin female header into a 4-pin. So I made a quick tool tip.

    Kinda like cutting bundled wire sheathing with a razor, its a fantastic technique if you KNOW it but sometimes tough for beginners to make the leap

    You -do- know about perfectly cutting sheathing with a razor right? Its one of the niftiest tricks I know ;)

    1. Nate says:

      I don’t know about perfectly cutting sheathing with a razor!

      I think I *might* have a clue, but a video would be great!

      Thanks for the unending awesomeness, Limor!

    2. Simon says:

      Explaining something that seems obvious once doesn’t do any harm. It might not be obvious to everyone. The technique might be obvious but perhaps not the fact that yes, it is OK to cut those things up into smaller ones.

      With the female part I usually pull out the metal socket before cutting through that part rather than chopping down on metal and plastic with my cutters (once you find a good set of cutters ALWAYS look after them – same goes for any cutting edged tools I guess). I then usually clean up the cut header with a scalpel or Xacto knife afterwards.

      What is this wire sheathing? I’ll know it when I see it I imagine but I think this is one of those US vs. UK terminology things

      1. Rob says:

        Wire sheathing is simply the plastic insulation on a cable which you cut away to expose the wires inside. Using a razor is quite useful, especially on things like coaxial cable where is is very easy to destroy the braided conductor using wire cutters.

        1. Simon says:

          Ah, I always just call that the insulation. One of those language things I guess. Like how Americans pronounce ‘Solder’ as ‘Sodder’ (never understood that one) :)

          Is the trick where you bend the cable then carefully cut it with the blade but not all the way through so the sheathing splits around the cut?

  6. Garrett says:

    A Dremel with diamond cutoff wheel works a LOT better on the female headers. Those inner walls are pretty thin and using cutters on them will often stress the corners, and later on a pin will break out of the side. The cutoff wheel will glide through the plastic and metal without much side or twisting force, and leaves a smooth finish.

    However, I prefer to get my female headers in the correct length. That way you don’t have to sacrifice a pin every time you cut one down.

  7. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Thanks for this vid, Limor and PT! As Simon says above, what harm does it do and it’ll likely be helpful to some.

    The greatest disservice we geeks/tech-types do to beginners is to assume that because we know something everybody else already does too. And beginners are frequently afraid to ask what might be perceived as a dumb question.

    FWIW: I use the Dremel and cutoff wheel technique.

  8. Wilson! says:

    Good points, all.

    Where’s the PDF for that card, btw? :-)

  9. Volkemon says:


    “how to put batteries in something”

    So easy eh?

    I work in a 780 house retirement community. One of our techs replaced the ‘coin’ style lithium batteries in all three of the garage door remotes for one of the residents…and they all failed. Good batteries, not a fault there. I merely rotated the batteries a few times in their holders and *presto* they all worked.

    Whether it was a protective coating on the batteries, or contact corrosion… I knew from past experience that wiggling/rotating/scrubbing the batteries might help. BTW- the contacts looked fine. Checked that first. Such a simple thing, but “common sense” for me.

    Tell ya what, though… My general manager and another tech were very attentive and thanked me for the tip. Not to mention the 80+ year old lady who no longer had to go through the side entrance to press the button to get her car in the garage. Saved the company the cost of new batteries/remotes because I didn’t assume who doesn’t know “how to put batteries in something”…..

    Live,learn,love,laugh. :)

    (Good grief…on submission…-
    “Comment Submission Error
    Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

    Text entered was wrong. Try again.
    Return to the original entry.”

    do I need a new keyboard?!? Glasses? WHAT TEXT?!?!?!?)

    Take two….

  10. Jim says:

    Please “Lady Ada”, first u present a video of such triviality. Well. But then the information is even not the optimal. Bad. Cutting the male connector is better done not “cutting” at all. They are breakaway, if for 1 pin. Cutting always bears the risk of breaking the adjacent pin. Best way to do it is, to hold as many as one wants to break away in pliers and just break the rest off. That way u also dont ruin expensive diagonal cutters.

    1. Sean says:

      Contrary to your assertion that there are “many ways” every health and safety authority considers that there is only one safe way to conduct any particular operation and that using a tool in a manner for which it was not designed is an infringement of it’s rules so are you saying that they are all wrong as well as Jim and that you are right ?

      You ask Jim what he thinks the cutters are for. Well the ones that you are using are designed for cutting the leads on components without leaving the sharp edge that traditional diagonal cutters produce – nothing more.

      If you were seen using them in this way in a commercial production environment ( or using a razor to cut sheathing or any of the other dubious techniques you talk about ) you would be rapidly looking for another job!

      As I mentioned in a previous post we have a box full of broken hand tools ( humorously labelled excelites by one of our supervisors ) as testimony to what happens when you use the wrong tool for the job. Just because you have got away with it so far does not make it right.

      By the way if you had shown a fellow employee how to do this and they subsequently injured themselves you would also find yourself facing personal legal proceedings.

      But this is for hobbyists so why am I even mentioning it ? because the rules and regulations in industry are there generally as a result of vast experience that has led to the development of safe ways to do things and the risk of accident or injury doesn’t suddenly turn off because you are a hobbyist.

      If you must cut headers instead of buying the correct size get a proper guillotine, small ones can be had reasonably cheaply and they can safely be used for many things.

      Oh and by the way you should be wearing safety glasses when cutting/cropping and no the prescription ones you have on aren’t acceptable.

  11. ladyada says:

    Jim. First off, there are MULTIPLE ways to cut header. But saying this way is WRONG and BAD is incorrect and shortsighted.

    If you watch the video, the diagonal cutters just make a slight nip in the center, and the cut is perfect. Likewise with female header the cutters do not need to cut the metal pin, just the plastic. If you watch the video you can see the pin fall out.

    Secondly, you will not damage expensive diagonal cutters by cutting breakaway header. What do you think these cutters were designed for? The whole point of diagonal cutters is to cut leads and abs plastic like header. That’s their purpose. That’s what you bought them for. If they end up ruined when cutting header then you bought the wrong thing.

    Commenters’ rude attitude is part of the reason more people dont do tutorials and videos. Everyone has an opinion, but nobody is willing to do the work.

  12. ladyada says:

    Sean, that has to be the longest, silliest complaint I have read. It is pretty obvious that I am not in a commercial production environment. I am not teaching employees at a large litigious company. I am not writing copy for the manual of Cooper tools. I don’t even have a ‘Marketing Department’ that tells me what to do. I’m at my home workbench, showing how to cope when you order the wrong size header. Why? Because a lot of people asked and some people don’t have $500 guillotines or even $50 dremels. This works great when you’re in a pinch. Thats why its a tool tip.

    In fact, I’m surprised you can even stand to look at the posts on Make. No projects ever have all the proper safety equipment, Nobody ever has anti-static precautions, Nobody uses the tools in the Precise Only Ever Proper Or We’ll Sue You way. In fact, nearly every project is traumatizingly dangerous and improper. Seriously, think about it. This is cutting hollow ABS plastic with a pair of 170M’s, not trimming stainless steel cabling or prying with a Wiha screwdriver.

    Lets see your projects and tutorial videos, do you have even one to share?

  13. Spikenzie says:

    I often get asked basic question about my kits, which is fine.

    In fact I’ve even covered cutting headers (about half way down the page);

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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