How to Cut Wire Shelving
Lee has over two decades of hands-on experience remodeling, fixing, and improving homes, and has been providing home improvement advice for over 13 years.
Updated on 10/31/22
Deane Biermeier is an expert contractor with nearly 30 years of experience in all types of home repair, maintenance, and remodeling. He is a certified lead carpenter and also holds a certification from the EPA. Deane is a member of The Spruce’s Home Improvement Review Board.
- Total Time: 10 – 15 mins
- Yield: Cut one wire shelf
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Estimated Cost: $15 to $30
Installing wire shelving is a low-cost way to add strong, ventilated shelves to a bedroom, kitchen pantry, or hall closet, or as open shelving in laundry rooms and garages. The wire shelves can be cut to accommodate virtually any needed width for storage.
If you’re purchasing locally, some stores may have on-site pneumatic shelf-cutting machines. But if you’re buying online or just want to cut the shelving at home, you’ll need to do it by yourself. If you have the right tools, you can cut wire shelving quickly and safely.
3 Ways to Cut Wire Shelving
Each wire shelf has between three and six longitudinal wire splines that help hold the shelf together. These splines are often made of a thicker gauge metal than the perpendicular cross wires, rendering them difficult to cut except with special cutting tools: a bolt cutter, a hacksaw, or an electric rotary cutting tool.
A bolt cutter should be your first option for cutting wire shelving if you already own or have access to a bolt cutter. Best for cutting lots of wire shelving, a bolt cutter can snap each spline in just a second or two.
If used improperly, a bolt cutter can deform the end of the wire. But most problems can be fixed by filing the metal.
Only a true bolt cutter with 14-inch minimum length handles will cut the wire splines. Tin snips, aviation snips, wire cutters, or lineman’s pliers will not work.
A hacksaw is a convenient, reliable way to cut wire. Many homeowners already have a hacksaw on hand, and the bi-metal blade is sufficient to cut wire shelves’ splines.
Cutting with a hacksaw can be slow and tedious, especially if you’re cutting many shelves or if those shelves have many splines or the splines are thick.
Rotary Cutting Tool
A small, electric rotary Dremel-style tool with a metal cut-off wheel can be used to cut wire shelving. Cuts are not fast—each cut takes 30 seconds to a minute. But if you’re looking for a method that doesn’t rely on physical strength, this is the one.
Due to the shape of the tool, it cuts the metal at an angle. But the angled ends can be covered with plastic shelf end caps.
Larger electric tools like angle grinders or circular saws can be used as well, but they are difficult to control on the wobbly metal.
Wear eye and ear protection when cutting metal, especially with electric tools. Be careful of sharp ends during and after the cut. If an assistant is helping to place the bolt cutters on the cut point, make sure that they have removed their hands before making the cut.
What You’ll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Bolt cutter
- Rotary cutting tool
- Metal file
- Tape measure
- Spring clamps
- Eye protection
- Ear protection
- Ventilated wire shelving
- Shelf end caps
Use the tape measure to measure the width of the area where you will install the wire shelving. Measure at the top, middle, and bottom to see if there are minimal (up to 1/2-inch) width differences due to bowed walls. If so, choose the smallest measurement and use that. Finally, subtract 1 inch from the measurement to give yourself ample working room.
A closet measures 82 inches wide at top, 81-1/2 inches at middle, and 82 inches at bottom. Choose 81-1/2 inches as the measurement since it is the smallest. Subtract 1 inch to arrive at a total of 80-1/2 inches.
Mark the Wire Shelving
Apply the measurement to the wire shelving and mark lightly with an indelible marker. Mark each spline individually. All cut points on the splines must be centered between the thin perpendicular wires. If you cut too closely to a thin wire, you will have no room to install the shelf end caps on the splines. If the cut point happens to fall on top of a thin wire, always cut the shelf shorter rather than longer.
Cut Wire Shelving With a Bolt Cutter (Option A)
- Place the wire shelf on the ground facing upward.
- Holding the bolt cutter, straddle the wire shelf and hold the shelf between your shoes.
- Open the blades of the bolt cutter. Place the bolt cutter blades over the cut mark on the wire spline.
- Close the bolt cutter handles in one motion.
- Move to the adjoining wire spline until the entire wire shelf has been cut.
It helps to have an assistant on ground level place the bolt cutter jaws on the cut point as the tool can be difficult to control from above.
Cut Wire Shelving With a Hacksaw (Option B)
- Place the wire shelving upside-down on a table.
- Slide the wire shelving to the side so that the cut point is 2 to 3 inches from the edge of the table.
- Clamp the shelving to the table.
- Stand on one side of the shelving. Cut the spline farthest away from you.
- Place the hacksaw blade on the mark at about the mid-point on the hacksaw blade. Slowly draw the hacksaw blade back with light pressure to create a slight groove in the metal. You can repeat this backward motion several times until a groove is cut.
- Once you have established a groove, start cutting by pushing and pulling the hacksaw.
- Progressively cut all the splines. Hold the loose end of the spline level with your free hand or have an assistant hold it.
Cut Wire Shelving With a Rotary Cutting Tool (Option C)
- Place several layers of cardboard or scrap wood on the table.
- Place the wire shelving right side up on a table covering.
- Clamp both sides of the shelving to the table with spring clamps.
- Hold the rotary tool with the cutting wheel as vertical as possible.
- Cut the unsupported splines first.
- Finish by cutting the splines that directly contact the work surface using the sacrificial cardboard as a buffer between the wheel and the tabletop.
File Cut Ends of Wire Shelving
The cut spline ends may have metal burrs or tags that need to be removed before the shelf end caps can be added. Use a metal file to lightly file ragged or twisted cut ends. Do not over-file.
Repair Nicked Coating
Vinyl-coated or epoxy/polyester powder-coated wire shelving may become scratched or nicked during the cutting. Use white appliance touch-up paint to fix these blemishes.
Add Shelf End Caps
Fit the shelf end caps onto every cut spline wire end.
Tips for Cutting and Installing Wire Shelving
- For any partial-length cut shelves, place the cut ends against the wall and leave the factory-finished end exposed.
- Always let the cutting tool fully complete the cut. Do not twist off the metal toward the end of the cut, as this creates tags and burrs that will need to be filed down.
- Use a fresh hacksaw blade or cutting wheel before cutting wire shelving. If you are cutting numerous shelves, have fresh blades or wheels on hand for replacement.
- Bolt cutters usually produce clean cuts. But holding the cutter to the side can twist the meal. Keep the tool straight to avoid distorting the metal.
- If you’re having trouble cutting wire shelving with a bolt cutter, the bolt cutter blades may be dull or the handles may be too short. As needed, sharpen the bolt cutter blades or use a bolt cutter with longer handles for improved leverage.
What’s the best way to cut wire shelving?
Generally, the best way to cut wire shelving is with a bolt cutter, as long as you own one, can borrow one, or would like to purchase one for other reasons. It’s usually not worth the cost to purchase a bolt cutter just to cut a few wire shelves. Instead, it’s more economical to use a hacksaw. Plus, unlike the bolt cutter, you’ll be able to use the hacksaw for other projects around the home.
Can you cut the splines flush with the thin cross piece wires?
No. You must leave 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch of spline protruding. Cutting too close may weaken the weld between the spline and the cross piece. Not only that but flush-cut ends cannot be covered with the shelf end caps.
How do you fix spline end caps that won’t stay on?
Over-filing the end can reduce the wire’s diameter, causing the end cap to fall off. File the end gently a couple of times with the file held at a 90-degree angle to the spline. This creates small burrs that grab onto the inside of the end cap and help it stay on. Or use a tiny ball of white removable poster putty at the end of the spline.
Will Home Depot, Lowe’s, or The Container Store cut wire shelving?
Home Depot, Lowe’s, and The Container Store will cut wire shelving for customers free of charge, as long as an associate and the cutting tool are available.
Can you extend wire shelving that’s been cut too short?
Wire shelving that has been cut too short cannot be extended. But extra wire shelving, along with new wall brackets, can be added to extend wire shelving.