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I'm happy with the job I did replacing the drivetrain on my road bike, and I'm ready to tackle replacing the brake cables. Unfortunately, I did a little research and it's been suggested that I need a few new tools. If I go by what's been recommended, I'll be spending well over $100 on tools.

I'm okay with buying used tools or brands other than Park Tool, but I don't want to cheap out on the brakes. Stopping is pretty important!

  • Fourth hand cable stretcher - I think this is one tool I'll need to get, or something similar. I see Pedro's makes a version of it, I'm not sure if it's made as solidly or not. What should I look for when buying one of these?

  • Cutter pliers I have a couple of similar cutting pliers, I don't think I need to get another one. Or is there something special about these?

  • Cable housing cutter - Looks to me like this is a fancy wire stripper. Is there anything about brake housing cables that I need to know that would make using a sharp wire stripper problematic?

Please keep in mind that I'm not a shop, and will be replacing cables maybe every year or two at most. I'm okay with the job being less convenient, but not less safe.

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    You need the housing cutter. Ordinary side cutters are not sharp enough or tough enough to do the job without mangling the housing. The housing cutter will do a decent job of cutting the inner cable as well, though the Park cable cutter is worth having because it's so smooth operating. I've rarely gotten a 4th hand to work. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 '18 at 22:31
  • Note that it's crucially important that the cutters you use cut CLEANLY. Ordinary electrician's pliers will mangle things. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 '18 at 22:32
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    Another tool you need is a thin awl, to round out the inside of the housing after cutting it. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 9 '18 at 22:33
  • It is not ideal, but could be done with modern household tools. As others have said crushing the outer cable housing is the biggest risk but i have done it with a box cutter before in a pinch, and reformed the inner sleeve with a punch. – Nate W Jul 9 '18 at 23:33
  • The cable/housing cutter is the only tool you more or less really need (as others have said, a dremel or other cutting tool might work as well). A few of them (e.g. the TacX one) have a built-in awl. Otherwise a small hex key or screw driver can do the job of an awl as well. – Michael Jul 10 '18 at 11:05
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Fourth hand cable stretcher - I think this is one tool I'll need to get, or something similar. I see Pedro's makes a version of it, I'm not sure if it's made as solidly or not. What should I look for when buying one of these?

Never found I needed one, typically I pull the inner brake cable as far as possible then close the brake calipers all the way (i.e., engage to the rim/disc), then attach the cable. Usually, I missed a bit of slack pulling by hand, which is taken up by the caliper return spring. You may need to repeat a couple times to get everything settled.

Cutter pliers I have a couple of similar cutting pliers, I don't think I need to get another one. Or is there something special about these?

If you have cutting pliers that could cleanly cut shifter inner cabling, then you are probably fine.

Cable housing cutter - Looks to me like this is a fancy wire stripper. Is there anything about brake housing cables that I need to know that would make using a sharp wire stripper problematic?

This is the only item on your list I found invaluable, bit it depends on the quality of brake cable housing you intend to. If you already have cutters that can cleanly cut shifter cable housing then this will likely work on regular brake cable housing that uses a coiled construction. If you are using "compressionless" brake housing, then only the best of the best cutters can make a clean cut.

Cable housing cutters are a special type of cutter that does a shear cut, I found most general cutters will leave large burs at the end of the cable housing (which you can file away or trim with a blunt cutter) or will not make a clean cut through higher end housing. .

  • You can't solder stainless steel cables. And since many newer cables are Teflon coated, applying the soldering iron causes an ugly mess that prevents solder from bonding properly. 1.5cm of heat-shrink is a better alternative. – Carel Jul 10 '18 at 11:24
  • I agree wit RiderX. The Cable Housing cutter i found very invaluable as well. We had a "generic" wire cutters before we got a ParkTool wire cutters and the Park Tool one is the one we use almost sclusively now. – Baratier ErebusDuHalm Jul 11 '18 at 19:36
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There is nothing special about Park Tool's side cutter pliers. I would guess that they re-brand reasonable quality generic ones rather than make their own. Any decent quality, sufficiently heavy duty ones will be fine.

Cable cutters are handy to cleanly cut brake and gear shift cable, but not strictly necessary. Any cable stout cutter than has the same sharp, curved cutter profile will work approximately as well. I personally use a Dremel tool with a thin grinding cut-off wheel, but I owned that before starting to do bike mechanics.

Cable stretcher definitely not needed. Those are for pro mechanics putting bikes together or doing repairs all day long who need to save time. Asking a friend to help is just as effective.

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    +1 for using a Dremel with a cut-off wheel to cut the outers. While I agree that the Park tool or similar are excellent for cutting the outer housing they are a one-trick pony in your tool-box. The Dremel has a multitude of accessories and uses such as cutting cables, rusted bolt removal, sanding, grinding, drilling, etc. – mikes Jul 9 '18 at 23:33
  • The Dremel is a reasonable option if you have one. It avoids crushing the housing but tends to leave a burr on the metal wire. It also melts the inner and outer covering. Also a bit awkward to get the cut straight. – Argenti Apparatus Jul 9 '18 at 23:54
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    I've replaced a few cables and never needed a stretcher working on my own – Chris H Jul 10 '18 at 7:22
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Well the first question is if they need replacing. You would be astounded that even an old rusted cable works fine after it has been oiled, freed and cleaned.New or old, they all need regular oiling to stay free.

Eventually the core strands break, usually at the cast lump, which is fatal. The core can also break a strand inside the sheath, which also means replacing the core. Replacing the core is easy.

Cracked/worn plastic on the sheath should be repaired since it is letting water in. Wrapping with stretched insulation tape works.

But no, you don't need special tools to replace or adjust.

Inner cable can be cut with heavy sidecutters, pliers, or cold chisel or grinding wheel on a drill/dremel. You cut it off AFTER it is installed and adjusted, and you wrap the strands or heatshrink before cutting.

Old square nose pliers have a shearing notch/grove in the hinge joint, separate from the wire cutter in the jaws, which is for exactly this.

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Outer can be cut on a grindstone/drill/dremel, but you can also take the old ones to your bikeshop with you, and they will cut some exactly the same length.

Cables are hardened steel. Only use big, blunt cutters - never fine sidecutters or tools.

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    I would never use the notch in regular pliers to cut bike cables -- almost certainly guaranteed to mangle the end. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 10 '18 at 0:02
  • I see your points and have done most of that. I've soldered inner cable right where the cut was needed and that works fine, but you need flux and a decently hot iron. I've used a hacksaw and flat file and a pointy screw to cut housing. I've even used pliers to crimp up cable ends and ferrules. But that's all a horrible kludge, and the proper recurved cable cutters make the job so much easier I'd buy them again.. wiggle.co.nz/lifeline-cable-cutters was about $12 so well worth it. – Criggie Jul 10 '18 at 7:56
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For cutting wires and bowdens I use cold chisel and anvil as a counterpart. And a knife to cut the protecting layer to find the place to cut.

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