A good pair of sidecutters is a modelers best friend. And there are a lot of different brands and models out there to choose from. For a long time I've been a proponent of purchasing Xuron side cutters because they're cheap, durable, and they hold a edge for a pretty long time. However recently I decided to give Tamiya's side cutters a shot. After using Tamiya's side cutters here are my thoughts...
All three side cutters feature comfortable padded grips that reduces the strain on your hands from prolonged cutting. I realize that talking about ergonomic handles sounds like garbage, but when I was in middle school I used to cut out parts using a small scissors built into my Swiss army knife. After an hour or two of modeling the pad of my thumb would be raw and red from pressing the scissors closed. Having a soft, secure and comfortable grip will greatly reduce hand fatigue.
All three side cutters are also spring loaded which make repeated cuts much easier than manually opening the cutters after each cut.
Xuron 170-II Micro-Shear
At $7.25 with free shipping through Amazon Prime the 170-II side cutters are the cheapest of the three side cutters I've used. The 170-II is rated at 54 to 56C hardness on the Rockwell scale; the hardness of the blades should correspond with the durability of the edge. Overtime the sharp edge of the blades will dull.
I have used two sets of 170-II side cutters. The first pair cut well for about 8 kits before I noticed it began crushing rather than cutting the plastic; the second pair lasted about 9 kits before it began behaving the same way.
The 170-II feels good in the hand (I have larger hands), and the small cutting head is great at getting into tight spaces.
Xuron 410 Micro-Shear
At $9.22 with free shipping through Amazon Prime the 410 is slightly more expensive than the 170-II. The 410 is very similar to the 170-II in terms of it's size and construction. The 410 uses a different metal composition (High carbon steel instead of alloy steel) and a different heat treating process which increases the hardness to 57-59C on the Rockwell hardness scale. Consequently the harder metal of the side cutter should improve the longevity of the side cutters.
I have only used one set of 410 side cutters; in fact I'm still using first pair. So far this set of 410 side cutters has lasted be 13 kits.
Because the 410 has the same design as the 170-II it also feels good in the hand and it features the same small cutting head.
Tamiya Modelers Side Cutter
At $17.90 with free shipping through Amazon Prime the Tamiya's offering is far and away the most expensive set of side cutters I have used. The Tamiya side cutters are very sharp, and cut through the plastic like a hot knife through butter. Although the hardness is not listed Tamiya's side cutters are made of high carbon steel similar to the 410.
One negative about this pair is that the cutting head is larger than the 170-II and 410, so it's more difficult to cut out small or awkward pieces.
The most important question is probably "Is the Tamiya brand side cutters worth almost twice as much as a pair of 410s?" My answer (which is kind of a cop-out) is that I don't know, but I don't think so. I have only used Tamiya's side cutters for a few models, and so far they've done a good job, but no better than a new pair of 410s. The Tamiya brand side cutters may last twice as long as a pair of 410 (I doubt it, but it's possible).
In my experience Xuron's 410 side cutters are the best bang for your buck. They last considerably longer than Xuron's cheaper offerings, but they won't break the bank like Tamiya's. They're the right combination of price and performance.