How to Cut Chain: Through Thick and Thin

When you think of a chain, you think of something that’s rock solid and virtually impenetrable. So, if you find yourself in a position where you need to know how to cut chain, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Fortunately, cutting chain is much easier than you may think, and you’ll be able to make quick work of the job in just a few minutes, using tools that you probably already have in your workshop.

What You’ll Need

There are a few different ways to approach cutting a chain. Chances are, you have all the tools you need for the job already. If not, all these tools are readily available at your favorite local hardware store, and they’re worth having handy for future projects.

  • Bolt cutters (ideal for cutting any chain up to ½” thick)
  • Angle grinder (makes quick work of chains upwards of ½” thick)
  • Workbench with vise
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves

Step I: Determining the Best Tool For the Job

The first step in determining how to cut chain is identifying which tool will work best for the job.

Depending on the thickness of the chain, you may be able to tackle this job with a simple pair of bolt cutters. If the chain is ½” thick or less, you’ll be able to tackle the job in a matter of seconds with a pair of bolt cutters.

If the chain is too thick for bolt cutters, don’t try and force it. You’ll end up breaking your bolt cutters, and the chain won’t be any closer to being cut than it was before you started. For thicker chains, you’ll need to break out the heavy artillery, and we’ll cover that in just a moment.

Step II: Cutting the Chain (Bolt Cutter Method)

Assuming the chain is thin enough for bolt cutters, it’s time to prepare your bolt cutters. If your cutters don't open wide enough to accommodate the chain, adjust the set screw to allow for the bolt cutters to open wider.

Once you’ve adjusted your cutters, grab your chain and identify where the link has been welded. This is the weakest part of the chain, and the easiest to cut through. Place the welded portion of the chain link into the bolt cutters. Be sure the chain is seated as far into the bolt cutters as possible.

Now, apply uniform pressure to both handles as you cut through the chain. Depending on the metal the chain is made from, it may cut easily with little effort. If the material is stronger, it may take you several passes to cut through the link.

If the chain doesn’t cut on the first try, relax for a second and then attempt to cut through the chain again, being sure to stay within the same groove you’ve already started cutting.

Once you’ve cut through the chain completely, repeat the process on the other side of the link to completely separate the chain.

Step III: Cutting the Chain (Angle Grinder Method)

If your chain is too thick or too strong to cut with bolt cutters, or if you simply don’t have a pair available to you, an angle grinder can make quick work of this job.

Beyond an angle grinder, an O/A torch, or a plasma cutter will make very quick work of cutting chain. However, unless you’re a welder by trade, you probably don’t have these tools at your disposal.

First, you’ll want to secure the chain in a vise. Place the link you want to cut inside the vise so that the link sticks up from the vise, allowing you to get to it with the angle grinder.

Make sure that you’re using a cut-off wheel designed for cutting metal. Before you start cutting, be sure to put on protective eyewear and work gloves. You may also want to wear hearing protection, as well. Whenever I’m working with metal, I like to wear long sleeves and pants to avoid any metal splinters.

Once you’re ready to cut, turn your angle grinder on and begin cutting through the chain, so the angle grinder is at a 90° angle to the chain link you’re cutting. Apply minimal pressure, and let the grinder slowly work its way through the chain link.

Once you’ve cut through the link entirely, take the chain out of the vise and reverse it, so you can cut through the other side of the link. Now, repeat the cutting process for that side until you’ve completely separated the chain into two sections.

Wrapping it Up

When it comes to how to cut chain, it can seem intimidating at first. Fortunately, cutting through chain links is much easier than it looks, and you’ll be able to cut through chain quickly and easily using tools you probably already have in your garage.

Whenever you’re working with metal, be sure to work with caution, and always wear proper safety attire. Speaking from experience, nothing ruins your day quite like metal shavings in your eye. Work safe, work smart, and have fun!

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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