Is it possible to use cut and have unprintable characters be the delimiter? For example I'd like to have the "^A" characters (also represented as \001) be the delimiter.
If you're using Bash,
cut -d $'\001' ...
works (see Bash Reference Manual # 188.8.131.52 ANSI-C Quoting).
Other (more portable) options,
cut -d `echo -e '\001'` ... FS=`echo -e '\001'` cut -d $FS ...
or inserting the control character directly using ^V as mentioned by Alnitak and etlerant -- on the shell command line, and in editors such as vi, this means "don't treat the next thing I type specially".