What is a Chemical Cutter? and How It Works?

Chemical pipe cutting is a wireline operation that utilizes an electric tool and a halogen fluoride chemical reactant to perforate and weaken pipe, enabling its subsequent removal (pipe recovery). Originally introduced in the 1950s as a patented process exclusive to a single wireline company, chemical cutting has now become widely adopted across the industry. Today, most electric-wireline service providers offer this technique, making it the predominant method for cutting pipes due to its efficiency and effectiveness.

Courtesy of Versa-line – https://versa-line.com/

The process involves the following components and mechanisms:

Tool Design

The chemical cutting tool comprises a body with a series of flow jets around its lower section. It contains:

  • An ignition system to initiate a propellant charge
  • A reservoir for the chemical reactant (halogen fluoride or bromine trifluoride)
  • Pressure-actuated slips to prevent vertical movement during operation

Operating Principle

  1. The propellant charge is electrically ignited, generating high pressure and temperature.
  2. The reactive chemical is forced through the jets by the propellant gases.
  3. The jets impinge the chemical on the pipe wall at high velocity.
  4. The halogen fluoride chemically reacts with the pipe metal, eroding and perforating it circumferentially.
  5. The reaction products are harmless iron salts that dissipate in the well fluid.


  • Efficiency: Minimizes rig time compared to other methods.
  • Clean Cut: No flaring, burrs, or swelling occur on the cut pipe, eliminating the need for dressing before retrieval. The image  below shows the result of cut pipe from using a chemical cutter.
Pipe was cut using a chemical cutter.Ref - https://versa-line.com/

Pipe was cut using a chemical cutter. courtesy of Versa-line – https://versa-line.com/

  • Safe: The chemical reaction produces harmless salts that don’t damage nearby casing and dissipate quickly in well fluids.

Operational Parameters

  • Requires a minimum of 100 ft of fluid above the tool for successful operation.
  • Well fluid must be clean and free of lost circulation materials.
  • Rated for up to 18,500 psi hydrostatic pressure and 450°F temperature.
  • Compatible with most tubing, drill pipe, and casing sizes.

Chemical cutting tools revolutionized wireline pipe recovery operations, offering a safe, efficient, and cost-effective solution compared to traditional mechanical cutting methods.


The Guide to Oilwell Fishing Operations: Tools, Techniques, and Rules of Thumb (Gulf Drilling Guides) by Joe P. DeGeare, David Haughton, Mark McGurk

Versaline Services wireline solution – https://versa-line.com/pipe-recovery/

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