How to Cut a Chain

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Chains are helpful tools that can keep your possessions safe from thieves and others and are some of the most reliable security items you can own. In fact, it is incredibly rare that a chain will ever break without someone breaking it. Chains are built to last and that is exactly what they do. When you buy a chain, you are making a smart investment that will last as long as you need it.

But there are also times when a chain is only getting in the way and you need to get rid of it. There are multiple reasons why you may need to cut a chain and break through its constraints. Whatever the reason, the process for doing so is rather straightforward and simple and isn’t nearly as time-consuming or challenging as people expect.

When You Need to Cut a Chain

While chains are always bought for the best of intentions, especially related to security reasons, there are times when you need to eliminate them and you have no option but to cut through them. Why would you need to cut through a chain?

You Lost Your Key

Perhaps you are using a lock and chain system to keep your possessions safe. There is a chance that you might lose your key. If that happens, you will have no way to get through the chain because the key is an essential part of the lock.

Bike chained in the sidewalk

Since you don’t want to just give up on the items you own, cutting through the chain is the only way to get back what is yours. This is especially common with people who ride bikes. Bicycle owners often lock their ride with a chain.

If they happen to lose the key somewhere, cutting through the chain is the only way to gain access to their bike.

Your Chain is Too Long

Chains are common place in most hardware stores and in multiple markets. However, they are not always sold in the exact size that you need. In fact, often times chains are too long.

If you need a chain, you should purchase one that is too long and just cut it down to the size you need. This is one of the prime reasons why people cut chains, because they need to customize it to fit their desired length.

What You Will Need

There are some basic supplies and tools you’ll need to cut through a chain:

  • Bolt Cutters: Bolt cutters are one of the more popular and important tool that most DIY fans use. Bolt cutters are often heavy duty and strong and able to cut through many thick and resilient materials. They are capable of putting up a fight and cutting through most chains too. However, bolt cutters are most reliable for chains that are up to ½ inch thick. When it gets longer than that, you may need to switch to something a bit more intense and strong.
  • Workbench with a vise: If you decide to use something other than bolt cutters, like a saw, you will need to have some sort of workbench to get the job done. You will also need the addition of a vise to keep a solid grip on the chain and to keep it in place when you begin to make your incision and cut through it. If you do not have access to a workbench and vise, you can customize an at-home one that should get the job done.
  • Work Gloves: This is a requirement for most if not all DIY projects, especially any time you will be doing any cutting. Heavy-duty work gloves are important because they keep your hands protected from any sorts of cuts or injury but also because they allow you to have a firm and reliable grip during the process. Work gloves ensure that you will not slip and that you will be able to hold firmly to the chain and the tools used to cut through it.
  • Safety Goggles: Here is another prerequisite for any construction project that requires you to cut through something or use any sort of heavy duty tool. Safety goggles might seem excessive at times but there is no substitute for safety. Put them on and leave them on and you will be happy you did.

Using a Bolt Cutter vs Angle Grinder

A bolt cutter is the simplest way to cut through a chain, and can handle most chains that are thinner. However, thicker chains will require something heftier, and using an angle grinder is the tool of choice. If the bolt cutter isn’t strong enough to get through chain, you will need to invest in an angle grinder.

A great angle grinder is much easier to use than other saws and can be picked up easily by even the most inexperienced home repairman. Plus, if you are trying to cut through a chain that is more than ½ inch thick, you will need this instead of a bolt cutter.

Once you have determined which tool you need to use, it is time to get started on cutting through the chain. If you follow the steps closely, you will be done in no time at all.

Angle grinder ready to cut chain

Cutting a Chain with a Bolt Cutter

If you are working on a chain that is ½ inch or thinner, a bolt cutter will be the tool you need to use. Thankfully, using it to cut through a chain is as easy as just slicing through anything else.

Firstly, you may need to adjust the bolt cutters so they can fit the entire width of the chain. Some chains are thicker than others, even when they are less than ½ inch.

  1. Start by opening the cutters to their full capacity and see how comfortably and snugly the chain fits.
  2. Make sure you have your gloves on as well as your goggles, in case there is any piece of metal that flings back at your face.
  3. Push the chain link as far into the bolt cutters are possible. You will also want to make sure you have found the part of the chain link where the metal was welded. You can tell because there will be a thin, light line where the metal was melded together. That is the weakest portion of the chain and the best place to use your cutters.
  4. Once the welded portion of the chain is fully inserted into the bolt cutters, it is time for you to cut into it. When you are ready to make your first cut, simply apply pressure to both of the handles of the cutters.
  5. Depending on how strong the metal is, the chain may simply snap open after the first attempt. However, some chains are much stronger than others. If that is the case, you may need to try again and again until it is ready to break.

If you have to use multiple attempts, be sure to give yourself a few breaks in between. You do not want to hurt or overexert yourself.

When taking a break, make sure to take note of the progress being made.

  • Is the cutting line remaining straight?
  • Are you still following the welding point?

Make any adjustments necessary during your brief breaks from cutting.

After multiple tries, the chain link should snap right off. When that happens, apply the bolt cutters to the other side of that particular chain link and attempt to cut through the welded point on the other side of the link.

Once you have followed the same steps again, you will have broken through both sides of the link and the chain will be successfully cut.

Cutting a Chain with an Angle Grinder

A bolt cutter is the easiest way to cut through a chain but sometimes it isn’t enough to get the job done. When this happens, you will need to rely on something stronger and more intensive, like an angle grinder.

When using the angle grinder to cut through metal, you will need to set up your workbench and vise first. The point of the vise is to keep the chain secure and snug as you spend your energy on sawing through it with the grinder. This is important to keep you safe, as an angle grinder can be a dangerous tool.

  1. Place the targeted chain link inside the vise so that it is facing you and sticking up from the vise. This will allow you to cut easily.
  2. Once you are ready to begin cutting, angle the grinder at 90 degrees and start cutting through.
  3. Start with minimal pressure and then gently apply more and more as you continue to push through the chain.
  4. Once you have finally cut through the chain, take the chain out and reverse it in the vise so you can get to the other side of the weakened link.

You will simply follow the same steps again after tightening the vise to keep the chain secure and you will soon have broken through both sides of the link and the chain will be successfully cut.

Summary

Cutting a chain is not something you want to do often but when you need it done it can be quite pressing. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone needs to cut a chain, like gaining access to their own property or shortening its length. When those alterations are needed, you don’t have to go through much work to cut the chain. Thankfully it is a relatively easy process that does not require much work or time.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.