Something that has really bothered me in The Walking Dead was the part in the first season when Merle Dixon, after being handcuffed to some ducting on top of the building, uses a hacksaw to cut off his hand.

He had a hacksaw! Why didn't he cut through the handcuff chain? Or the metal rod the other cuff was attached to?

Has there ever been a reason given as to why he had to cut off his hand instead of the handcuff? Maybe in the comics or commentary or something?

  • 2
    Too dull to cut the metal? I can't find a quote, but people online say that is the reason. Nov 2, 2016 at 20:28
  • 1
    or cut whatever he was attached to?
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:52
  • 1
    OP - Merle isn't in the comics, so they can't answer the question.
    – Wad Cheber
    Nov 2, 2016 at 21:04
  • 18
    for future reference, if anyone needs to, cutting off your little finger all the way to the wrist, same/less pain, gets you out of the cuffs and you keep 80% of your hand. Nov 3, 2016 at 0:21
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    @AdamDavis Ever been in handcuffs? It's not a matter of just jamming something in the lock. Very few people can escape handcuffs in real-life, the only way that some close to reliable is to snap the little bone at the base of your thumb.
    – Kevin
    Nov 3, 2016 at 7:51

2 Answers 2


From the script of season one, episode four, Vatos, in the scene where Daryl, T-Dog, and Rick find the severed hand:

Daryl [to T-Dog]: "You got a do-rag or something?"

T-Dog hands him one.

Daryl: (sighs) "I guess the saw blade was too dull for the handcuffs."

Daryl gingerly picks Merle’s hand up by a finger and examines the cut.

Daryl: "Ain’t that a bitch."

The hacksaw blade was too dull to cut through metal, so Merle cut through flesh and bone, which are much softer. Better to cut off a hand than die of thirst, exposed on a scorching rooftop in Atlanta, during the summer.

In real life, handcuffs are (unsurprisingly) designed to be difficult to remove without the key, so it is entirely plausible that a dull hacksaw would be unable to cut off a pair of police cuffs.

It would be extremely difficult even for a person using both hands and a sharp hacksaw; Merle is limited to using one hand to operate the saw. If we assume he's a righty, he is even worse off, because it is his right hand that is chained to the roof - he can only use his weak hand to try to cut through hardened steel with a dull saw.

  • 1
    Also if memory serves the dead were making their way out onto the roof, greatly limiting his time. May 2, 2018 at 8:08

You've never used a hacksaw on hardened steel have you? I cut soft steel once as a tween, cutting a 2" steel pipe so I could make a periscope. It took me the better part of an hour. The steel on handcuffs is much stronger than that, and deliberately polished to make it even harder to get the blade set. He'd be long eaten by the time he got through it.

  • Except he wasn't under time pressure because of zombies, because they were barred from the building. Perhaps he was under time pressure because of starvation. Nov 2, 2016 at 21:05
  • @JackBNimble - Summer in Georgia is hot. Rooftops are even hotter. He'd die of dehydration within a few days.
    – Wad Cheber
    Nov 2, 2016 at 21:14
  • I have not had the need to cut hardened steel, but I have cut soft 1/2 inch bolts and 3/4 inch rebar. Both done with a really dull and cheap hacksaw blade, took me less than a minute both times. That was partly why I asked this question.
    – Majaii
    Nov 3, 2016 at 12:42
  • Bolts and rebar are both very soft compared to hardened steel. Rebar deliberately so, so they can bend it at the tips so it doesn't pull through the concrete (ever wonder why the top of a stack of installed rebars looks like a flower?). Just find any reasonable lock and try it yourself - not a $2 padlock, even a $10 combo lock will take you some time and that's not even close to what a good set of Smith & Wesson handcuffs uses. Nov 3, 2016 at 13:29
  • @MauryMarkowitz Is that also true for the chain though? I can totally believe that of the handcuff metal, but what about the links in the chain? Seems like those would be doable, and what I was thinking of when I thought of cutting.
    – Majaii
    Nov 9, 2016 at 20:01

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