A dike tool, also known as dikes or dykes, refers to diagonal cutting pliers. They are an essential tool used by electricians, mechanics, hobbyists and others for cutting various types of wire.
Diagonal cutting pliers are pliers designed specifically for cutting wire. The cutting edges of the jaws are ground at an angle so they intersect diagonally, rather than running parallel to each other like scissors. This allows them to wedge between wires and cut by indenting, rather than shearing.
The most common names for this tool include:
- Dikes or dykes – Derived from “diagonal cutters”. This is the most popular slang term, especially in the electrical and electronics industries.
- Diagonal cutters – The technically correct name that refers directly to the angled cutting action.
- Side cutters – Used in some regions, referring to the sideway cutting motion. Can cause confusion with linesman’s pliers.
- Wire cutters – A generic name for any tool that cuts wire. Doesn’t specify the diagonal style.
Dikes is by far the most common slang term, though some avoid it due to confusion with the offensive meaning referring to lesbians. Many claim the tool term originated first, though its exact origins are unclear.
History and Origins
The origins of the slang term “dikes” or “dykes” for diagonal cutters has been traced back to at least the 1950s among electricians, mechanics, model railroading enthusiasts and others who used the tool regularly.
It seems to clearly derive from “diagonal cutters” and is a textbook example of a portmanteau – a blend of two words. The pronunciation as “dikes” comes from simply dropping the “onal cutters” and leaving just “diagonal”.
There are several early documented uses:
- It was included in the 1959 dictionary of the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) at MIT, showing it was in widespread use by then.
- A 1955 advertisement from Colorado Hardware referred to “diags”, likely an early version of the term.
- By the 1970s, want ads in California newspapers directly used the terms “dyke” and “dike” to refer specifically to diagonal cutters.
So while the exact origin is uncertain, “dikes” has clearly been in use since at least the late 1950s among electricians, engineers, and other trades workers to refer informally to this essential cutting tool.
The slang term spread through the electrical and electronics industries during the 1960s and 70s and became firmly entrenched. It is still very commonly used today in these fields.
Meanwhile, “dyke” meaning lesbian is from an entirely separate etymology originating from a disparaging meaning of “masculine woman”. The tool term was established long before any offensive meaning.
Diagonal pliers get their name from the angled cutting edges that meet diagonally rather than straight on.
This means they cut by indenting and wedging the wire apart between the two jaws. Unlike scissors or other cutters that cut with a shearing action, dikes wedge into the wire and then the compound leverage of the jaws snaps it apart.
The cutting edges are precisely ground to form a symmetrical “V” shape. If you look closely at the end of the jaws, they form an “X” shape when closed.
This diagonal cutting action allows clean cuts in soft wire without pinching or squeezing. It also gives excellent leverage and cutting force, allowing small dikes to cut thick wire that would jam most other cutters.
Features and Variations
While all diagonal cutters have angled cutting edges, they come in many sizes and variations to suit different tasks:
- Standard – 4-6 inches long, all-purpose use
- Long nose – Narrow elongated jaws for tight spaces
- Heavy duty – Up to 8 inches, hardened jaws cut piano wire
- High leverage – Compound pivot for tough wire
- Flush cutting – One flat side to trim close
- Insulated – Plastic dipped handles for live wires
Flush cutting dikes have one flat cutting edge instead of both angled. This allows cutting flush against something, like clipping component leads. The other side is still beveled to provide the diagonal action.
Another variation are compound action diagonal cutters. These use a compound pivot and linkage like pliers to gain extra leverage, making it easier to cut very thick or hardened wire.
Most also have general purpose jaws for grasping and pulling in addition to the precision cutters. Some add other tools like wire strippers, screwdrivers or crimpers.
Diagonal cutters are specifically designed for cutting wire. The wedging diagonal action works well on softer wire while avoiding pinching and jamming. Common uses include:
- Electrical wiring – Cutting and trimming copper building wire
- Electronics – Snipping component leads and small gauge wire
- Auto electrical – Cutting wire during repair and mods
- Jewelry making – Precision cutting soft wire
- Crafts – Floral arranging, model building, scrapbooking
- Construction – Clipping tie wire and hardware like nails
Electricians, auto technicians, electronics assemblers, jewelers, crafters and many others rely on dikes for quickly and cleanly cutting wires to length.
They are especially popular for electronics work, due to the precision cut and ability to trim leads flush against circuit boards.
For tough jobs, dikes with hardened metal jaws can even cut piano wire, armored cable and small bolts. The compound leverage models excel at this.
Dike Tool Features
While they all wedge and cut diagonally, dike tools have various features and specs:
Jaw type – Standard, long nose, or heavy duty. Determines reach and cutting capacity.
Cutting edges – Precision ground and hardened. Varies from 50° to 60° angles.
Handles – Plastic, rubber or metal grips. Some are dipped or padded for comfort.
Spring – Internal spring returns the jaws open after cutting.
Insulation – Plastic dip coating for electrical insulation.
Cutting capacity – The max thickness of wire it can cut. Typically 16ga up to 250 MCM.
Handle style – Traditional plier shape or ergonomic/multi-grip options.
Extra tools – Some add wire strippers, crimpers, etc.
High quality dikes made for professional use have precisely ground and hardened cutting edges that will stay sharp much longer. Better springs and pivots also make cutting easier over time.
Insulated handles are essential for electrical work, along with getting a pair rated for the thickest gauge wire you need to cut.
How to Use Dike Tools
Using dikes correctly is important for both safety and best results:
- Wear eye protection – bits of wire can fly off.
- Ensure good grip and leverage – Hold close to the pivot for best leverage.
- Keep fingers clear while cutting – Jaws can snap shut.
- Let the tool do the work – Don’t force it. Apply steady pressure.
- Cut only soft wire – Avoid hardened wire or it will damage jaws.
- Keep the jaws clean – Wipe off debris routinely.
- Avoid cutting screws or nails – This will quickly dull the edges.
- Oil the joint periodically – Keep the action smooth.
- Sharpen or replace when cutting degrades – Don’t use dull dikes.
With practice, you’ll learn the feel of cutting wire cleanly. Routine care will keep quality dikes cutting smoothly for years.
Key Takeaway: Dike tools utilize diagonal cutting pliers designed specifically to cut wire by wedging and snapping it between precision ground jaws. This avoids pinching soft wire.
Dike Tools vs Other Cutters
It’s important to understand how dikes differ from some other common cutting tools:
True side cutters have cutting edges parallel to the handles, not diagonal. But linesman’s pliers are often mistakenly called side cutters.
Linesman’s pliers are plier-based gripping tools with a small side cutter for convenience. The cutters are a secondary function, not the main purpose.
Dikes have no gripping ability beyond their cutting jaws. The angled edges provide full, precision cutting ability not found on linesman’s pliers or other side cutters.
Wire strippers are designed to strip insulation, not cut wire itself. Most have special notches or holes for slicing through the insulation to the bare wire.
Some add a basic cutter, but this is a convenience feature. The main purpose is stripping insulation, not precision cutting.
End nippers are a similar style of cutter, but with the cutting edges perpendicular rather than diagonal. They cut straight on rather than wedging diagonally.
End nippers usually have a box joint for maximum leverage. They are designed for cutting small items or snipping the ends off wire.
Flush cutters have one flat cutting edge and one beveled edge. This allows cutting against a flat surface for a flush trim.
The diagonal edge provides the same wedging cut as dikes. Flush cutters are designed to trim cable ties, plastic parts and component leads.
Dike Tool Safety Tips
Dikes are generally safe tools, but following basic safety is important:
- Wear eye protection – Bits of cut wire can fly.
- Cut away from your hand – In case the wire bursts.
- Don’t cut hardened wire – It can damage the jaws and wreck the tool’s cutting ability. Stick to soft wire.
- Use dikes with insulated handles for any electrical work. Make sure they are rated for the voltage you are working on.
- Unplug wires before snipping during electrical work. Never cut live wires.
- Keep fingers clear of the jaws while cutting. They can snap shut unexpectedly.
- Make sure to grip the tool close to the pivot for maximum leverage. Don’t force the cut.
- Periodically oil the pivot to keep the action smooth and prevent hand strains.
Following basic safety practices will allow dikes to be used safely and prevent hand injuries or damaged tools. Respect this classic, yet extremely useful cutting instrument.
Common Dike Tool Brands
Many tool brands offer diagonal cutting pliers. Some of the most popular include:
- Klein – The classic American professional brand. Offers a full range of sizes and styles.
- Knipex – Premium German brand known for precision and durability.
- Channellock – Reliable US brand with iconic blue grips. Affordable pricing.
- Irwin – Known for Vise-Grip locking pliers, but also makes quality dikes.
- Milwaukee – Best for heavy duty cutting; part of the Sawzall reciprocating saw brand.
- Armstrong, Crescent, Hazet, Wilde – More professional brands with wide selections.
For occasional use, basic hardware store models are fine. But for regular professional work, investing in a brand like Klein or Knipex will pay off with better cutting, comfort and durability.
High end dikes like Knipex can even be rebuilt rather than tossed when they eventually wear out. This old school quality is hard to beat.
Diagonal Cutter Maintenance
With proper care, a quality set of dikes should last for years or even decades of regular use:
- Clean the jaws periodically – Debris wears the cutting edges.
- Wipe the joints and lubricate with light oil – Keep the action smooth.
- Resharpen when needed – Regrinding restores the original sharp edge. Any machine shop can do this inexpensively.
- Replace if unable to sharpen – New dikes are cheaper than hand repairs.
- Check for cracked or loose handles – Replace grips before they fail.
- Consider pro brands like Klein that can actually be rebuilt – Jaws and springs can be replaced and tool reassembled.
With proper care, cleaning and sharpening, dikes can literally cut like new for several lifetimes. Brands like Knipex are even handed down as family heirlooms.
Diagonal Cutter Safety FAQs
Key Takeaway: Dike tools are specially designed diagonal cutting pliers used for cleanly and precisely cutting wire. The term “dike” originated as slang referring to the diagonal cutters.
Here are some common questions about safely using dike tools:
Can you cut live electrical wires with dikes?
No, never cut live wires. The steel jaws pose a serious shock and electrocution hazard. Always make sure power is disconnected first. Use insulated models rated for your voltage.
Should you use dikes to cut hardened wire or steel?
No, only cut soft wire like copper. Hardened wires like piano wire or steel will damage the precisely ground cutting edges. Dikes are only for soft, malleable wire.
Is it safe to cut small screws or nails with diagonal cutters?
Not recommended. Though doable in a pinch, cutting anything but soft wire will quickly dull dikes. Use proper nail or bolt cutters to avoid ruining the delicate jaws.
Can you snip cable ties flush with diagonal cutters?
Flush cutting dikes are ideal for this job. Standard models leave a sharp edge. For plastic ties, flush cutters specifically made for them do the cleanest job.
Do you need eye protection when cutting wire with dikes?
Yes, always wear safety glasses. When wire breaks it can send sharp ends flying. Protect your eyes from debris, especially with thicker wire that can burst apart.
Why should you keep your fingers clear of the jaws when cutting?
Fingers near the jaws are at risk of crushing or pinching injuries if the handles slip while cutting. Always keep clear and maintain a firm, steady grip well behind the jaws.
A “dike tool” refers to diagonal cutting pliers, an essential wire cutter used by electricians, mechanics, hobbyists and crafters. The term dike or dyke comes from “diagonal cutters” and has been in use since at least the 1950s.
These pliers utilize a unique wedging cut made possible by the precisely angled jaws that meet diagonally. This allows clean cuts in soft wire without pinching or jamming. Dikes excel at detail work like snipping component leads.
Many variations exist like long nose, flush cutting, and high leverage styles. Brands like Klein and Knipex are popular for their durability and ability to be rebuilt instead of replaced.
Properly cared for dikes will last for years. Keeping the pivots oiled and edges cleaned and sharpened lets quality models function like new after decades of use. They are an iconic tool that no professional wants to be without.