Instead of trying to pull them apart, firmly slide and/or twist them away from each other and far enough apart so that they don’t jump back together.
Neodymium magnets are exceptionally strong. If you’ve never handled them before, you will probably be surprised by how powerful these magnets can be.
This is because neodymium magnets are the strongest type of permanent magnet commercially available. In fact, they are far stronger than all other ceramic or alnico magnets of equal size – with a magnetic energy value as much as 18 times greater than these other magnets by volume and 12 times greater by mass.
The fundamental concept in a nutshell: Neodymium magnets pull towards each other with a strong force, more than double the pull force rating of each magnet.
As a result, if you attempt to pull one magnet off a stack or two magnets directly apart you will need at least double the pull force to separate them as well as a greater amount of leverage than the magnet’s actual size allows. This challenge becomes even more pronounced with medium and large magnets.
So the most efficient way to separate magnets is to devise a method to get more leverage or a better way to grip the magnets and to provide enough force to move the magnets laterally or sideways, which requires far less strength or force than trying to pull them directly apart.
How to Separate Small Magnets (0 - 5 pounds of pull force)
Small magnets can normally be separated by hand, usually without much effort or mechanical help. Magnets with listed pull force ratings of up to five pounds can be slid apart without much resistance. The key is to slide one or more magnets off the stack with a lateral motion, as shown in the diagram above.
How to Separate Medium Magnets (6 - 11 pounds of pull force)
While many medium-sized magnets can be separated by hand, it can be helpful to use some kind of leverage such as a vise or the edge of a workbench or table with the stronger ones.
Also, many medium-sized magnets come with small plastic washers or spacers between them. This is because it's far easier to separate two magnets when a spacer is kept between them. Once the spacer is removed, it is much more difficult to separate the magnets by hand.
Be extremely careful with magnets in this size and strength range. While they may appear small and relatively harmless, they can easily snap back together forcefully and pinch your skin and even draw blood.
You may also want to consider wearing work gloves and safety glasses when handling magnets of this size. If not handled properly, they can slam together with such force that small chips of the nickel coating can fly into the air.
How to Separate Large Magnets (12 – 25+ pounds of pull force)
Some larger magnets with spacers can be separated by highly-experienced and strong hands. In most cases however, added leverage is needed – such as using the edge of a workbench or table, a vise or a magnet splitter.
You will also want to be extremely careful with magnets in this size and strength range. While they may still appear small and relatively harmless, they will jump back together more quickly and forcefully than small or medium-sized magnets.
Be sure to get them far apart once you have separated them.
You may also want to consider wearing work gloves and safety glasses and working with another experienced person when handling magnets of this size.