How To… Sheet Metal Cutting Part 1

Pocket Guide to Sheet Metal Cutting…

Obviously this hasn’t been written in gospel! More as a quick guide and overview of some sheet metal cutting tools available on the market.

In this section (part 1) we will be looking at hand cutting options, in part 2 we will discuss mechanised sheet metal cutting using cutting tables and beds.
Feel free to add any comments of your own experiences!

Each has it’s own place and may be good for one thing but not another…

Hand held cutting:

Air Nibbler – Amazing tool for cutting sheet metal – must be fairly flat and works best for cutting tight curves (although with a straight edge, it can be kept in a fairly straight line). Great tool, yet limited usefullness and leaves a lot of crescent shaped filings everywhere.

Air Shears – Very good for cutting straight lines with, so smooth it feels like you are cutting paper, and they remove a 1/4″ or so of material where the jaws intersect. They can handle slight curves, but don’t handle ridges very well. Sometimes preferred to aviation snips as the two outer jaws keep the material from bending, the middle jaw just pulls out the cut material. Does leave a smooth finish upon completion.

Air Body Saw – Another amazing tool, cuts through body metal like a hot knife in butter, but is very hard on your hands with the vibrations! Recommended for smooth freehand curves, yet you can get other tools that are smoother and doing the same job. Also works fairly well on surfaces that aren’t smooth.

Air Angle Grinder – Very good for cutting with freehand, but edges of metal had to be smoothed more than other tools (i.e. burrs filed down later). Great for ridges and metal than wasn’t very smooth. Using ultra thin cutting discs, this is a very versatile tool and can be used on both sheet and plate.

Aviation Snips – Great for fine tuning things, quick to trim things up that just don’t fit right, and besides the cramping in the hands when used for too long… they are a tried and true tool that can be used for almost anything on thin steel up to around 1mm.

Chop Saw – Will cut solid and hollow sections, however only really good for rough cutting.

Metal Bandsaw – Good for cutting out components on sheet metal prior to assembly.

Plasma Cutter – Best tool available if you have a healthy budget, very good cut quality on thin and thicker metal plate, and is available with different torch angles for ease of use. Easy on the eye and on the body as breezes through with little effort compared with some cutting equipment.

You can pick up some great advice from a variety of internet forums and groups, such as,, and The Metal Cut Blog

The below video I found on YouTube shows a few different ways of cutting steel too (also from the Metal School Blog) that may be useful! Click the picture to go through…

How to Cut Steel

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