I need to cut a cable, cleanly enough that it can be inserted in its housing.

What kind of cutting tool do I need for this?

I probably won't be using it more than once every few years, so cheaper options are preferred.

Also, tips to make sure the cable does not get disorganized when cutting would be appreciated.


Note: This question is not about cutting the housing.

  • 2
    New cable comes with a sealed end. Insert first. Cut second. Cheap is just go buy a $4 new sealed cable. And as a benefit you have new cable.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:21
  • 1
    See other answers with this search like this one
    – Móż
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:53
  • 1
    Keep in mind that stainless steel is tough as hell. Cheap cable cutters (of the sort you buy in a hardware store) won't handle it very well - they're usually intended for copper, which is much softer. Get a tool that's actually designed for bike cables. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 5:47
  • 1
    My practical answer is - DON'T cut the inner until you've threadded it through the housing, AND fastened the loose end into the brake or gear mech. That way the factory cut will be holding any loose sprues together while installing.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 0:53
  • 2
    Many cables come with a fitting for a drop bar lever on one end, and a fitting for a flat bar lever on the other. You have to cut the end you don't want off before you insert them. wigglestatic.com/product-media/5360053663/…
    – armb
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 15:42

6 Answers 6


You need a cable cutter. All of the companies that make tools for bikes make them. Here are a few options:

http://www.parktool.com/product/professional-cable-and-housing-cutter-cn-10 http://pedros.com/products/tools/brakes-and-shifting/cable-cutter/ http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_1030380_-1___400625

As some of the other answers/comments have pointed out, it's a good idea to stick an awl (I use a fine-point nail set for finishing nails) in to the cut end of the housing after the fact to clean it up.

For the inner cable, the cable cutters will cut it cleanly with no prep or clean-up needed. If you're going to use a pair of regular wire cutters, then you'll want to use the solder trick mentioned in other answers.

That being said, you really should replace the housing when you replace the inner cable. It's rare for the cable to be worn to the point of needing replacement without the housing also needing to be replaced.

Alternately, you can use a Dremel tool with the cut-off wheel. Some people swear by this approach:

  • 1
    If you use a housing cutter on housing, note that you want to keep an awl and file to clean up the cut for the outer housing (make the cut smooth and open up the inner liner). I own a Nashbar brand cabe/housing cutter and it works well enough (sister brand of Performance, sometimes a bit cheaper).
    – Batman
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 19:10
  • When I cut a housing (of the standard spiral variety), after cutting with a standard bypass housing/cable cutter I stick an awl (with a fairly narrow taper) in the end of the housing and wiggle the awl around to expand the opening slightly and bend away any remaining slivers that might otherwise obstruct the opening. This seems to work pretty reliably. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 1:40
  • And when I cut an inner cable (with a standard bypass cable cutter) I then gently give the end a twist to cause any disturbed strands to "settle" back into their places. Doing this makes a significant difference. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 1:43
  • I added a few sentences to the answer to talk about using an awl to clean up the housing cut.
    – KevinC
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 19:25

I'm naughty - I use a normal set of 6" side cutters on the inners and outers.

On the inners, I use a soldering iron and flux to heat and lightly tin the area where I will cut, then I simply cut it. The solder holds all the strands together, and also makes threading easier.

For the outers, I use a super-screw (self-tapping wood screw with a very sharp point) as an awl to poke in the end and enlarge the inner hole. Then I use a file to flatten off the end, turned so I'm filing metal on the far side, to reduce dust going down inside the inner. Finally I pop on a ferrule and its ready to fit to the bike.

Better tools would make this faster and cleaner, but for the once-a-year job its workable.


KevinC has the right answer - use either a dedicated set of cable cutting pliers from a bike manufacturer (don't use regular pliers or regular cable cutters, they will crush the housing) or use a dremel tool.

If using a cable cutting tool, make sure to either use a deburring tool to remove the sharp edges. Most tools have a deburrer built-in. With brake cables, you want to make sure you try to cut as cleanly against the helix at a single point (try practicing different small angles). With derailleur cables, the strands run perpendicular, so you want to cut at a perpendicular angle.

The OP has clarified that s/he isn't talking about the housing but the inner cable:

If you're using a dremel tool, it's helpful to wrap some electrical or other tape around the cable before you cut. This helps prevent the strands from untangling. Work in small cuts so you don't overheat the metal and start melting the teflon coating too much. Melted teflon gas is harmful so give yourself good ventilation.


My improvised techniques for when nothing else is around: using end cutters / carpenter's pincers :-) It can work pretty ok for some types of cables, but needs a bit of practice.

Boot pinch pliers image from Wikimedia

Cutting inner cables. For the simple (not teflon coated) inner cables, I never had issues cutting them with sharp pincers or regular cable cutters (though some of these are damaged by steel wires over time …). The individual steel wires will spread out along the cutting edge a bit when cutting, but I would twist them back into shape and there would be no permanent damage.

Cutting housings. If you have the type made with spiral-wound rectangular-cross-section wire, this can also be cut with sharp pincers. You bend the housing a bit so that, when going down, one cutting edge slides in between two spiral windings and cuts the spiral-wound wire instead of crushing the whole thing.

  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. I've brought your image link in-house, so that if the other site goes away (unlikely but not impossible) then its still available. Thank you for your answer, and I look forward to more from you in the future.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 2:02
  • Those are also known as boot-pinch pliers. They're intended for removing nails where a hammer claw may not have anything to grab. They cut because of the leverage afforded by the hinge and handle length, but they're not sharp so they squash the wire apart rather than cutting it.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 2:04
  • 1
    @Criggie, you're right re. carpenter's pinchers. Then the tool I mean is probably named different in English … "end-cutters", then? It's like carpenter's pliers, but with a sharp cutting edge (like with cable cutters but perpendicular to the tool, and having a higher leverage ratio than cable cutters so that it works better for steel).
    – tanius
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 12:09

Hi I used a Dremel and it cut through the cable housing very nice but unfortunately the housing was lined with a plastic a tube and it melted it shut. After poking at for an hour or I went out and bought a cable cutter designed to cut cable housing. The moral of the story is check your cable housing before cutting.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site, don’t forget to take the tour. You’ve mentioned a good thing to be careful of, but note that this question is specifically about cutting the metal inner cable. Did you cut the inner cable with the Dremel?
    – Swifty
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 20:08
  • Cutting the inner cable with a Dremel worked fine. Also I bought Jag Wire cables and they have connectors on both ends which means one end needs to be cut. Commented May 9, 2019 at 19:21
  • That’s cool you should edit it into your answer and add any tips you learned if you like, to help future readers. As you had to cut the one end off you could share your experience of threading the cut cable through the outer as well
    – Swifty
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 19:54

Personally, I don't cut the cables, ever. Most cables are soldered at the end to keep them from fraying and even if they aren't, a drop of super glue can perform the same function. After threading the cable through the housing, just coil up the remaining bit, looping the cable around the coil at the same time to keep its shape, similar to the picture below, but in a much smaller diameter circle, and much tidier.

Why do it this way? No tools required, of course. But it also has the added benefits of always having full cables as backup in case one breaks. For example, if your rear derailleur cable snaps during a long ride, it would be better to replace it with the front derailleur cable (it's full length, remember) and adjust the stops on the front so that the chain stays on the chain ring you prefer. Then you'll at least have a range of gears rather than just a few chain rings to get you back.

enter image description here

  • !?! Sorry had to -1 you. So you're saying the excess cable you'd simply roll it into a tight circle and then what? Cable-tie it to the frame? Very ugly IMHO.
    – Fandango68
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 23:22
  • 1
    Your ideas are sound, but given the weight and cost its easier to simply pack a spare gear cable. I'd also worry about the fly end coming loose and tangling into something like between the chain and chainrings or cassette. Even just riding over the loose end could be nasty.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 0:56
  • @Criggie - so why did you +1 this "answer"?
    – Fandango68
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 1:49
  • 3
    @Fandango68 because "your ideas are sound" but the flaws I then pointed out. A new user who knows what they're talking about is worth encouraging.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 1:55

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