An investigation was made to estimate the variance, measurement errors and sampling error in currently accepted practices for manual snow density measurement carried out as part of snow profile observations using the available variety of density cutters. A field experiment in dry snow conditions was conducted using a randomized block design to account for layer spatial variability. Cutter types included a 500 cm3 aluminium tube, 200 and 100 cm3 stainless-steel box types, 200 cm3 stainless-steel wedge types and a 100 cm3 stainless-steel tube. Without accounting for variation due to weighing devices, the range of values for ‘accepted practice’ determined in this study included variation within individual cutters of 0.8–6.2%, variation between cutters of 3–12%, variation between cutter means and layer means of 2–7%, and under-sampling errors of 0–2%. The results of a statistical analysis suggest that snow density measurements taken using various density cutters are significantly different from each other. Without adjustment for under-sampling, and given that the mean of all measurements is the accepted true value of the layer density, variation exclusively between cutter types provides ‘accepted practice’ measurements that are within 11% of the true density.