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The Best Metal Cutting Tools

Read this guide to learn about the best metal cutting tools to have on hand, and the best methods to cut common items, such as sheet metal, studs, and pipes.

Man wearing protective clothing while using a table saw to cut metal. iStock

The best metal cutting tool depends largely on the type of metal being cut, the quantity, and also on your experience level. A few cuts here and there require a much different tool from, say, the bulk cutting of corrugated sheet metal for a new roof.

Take Safety Precautions

Cutting metal is a dangerous job. Once the cutting tool touches the metal, hot, sharp fragments will get thrown into the air and could cut or burn you. In addition to following each tool’s safety instructions, it is imperative to wear protective gear, including safety glasses, a face shield, and ear protection (cutting metal can be loud enough to cause hearing loss if ears are unprotected).

Wear the Right Gear

Cover your arms with a long-sleeved shirt and wear pants made from fire-resistant materials. Don steel-toe work boots to protect your feet, and puncture-resistant gloves to protect your hands from getting cut by sharp edges or burned by hot metal. Metal-on-metal friction promotes heat, so don’t touch any metal pieces until they’ve cooled down thoroughly. And don’t let anyone else in the area unless they are wearing the proper attire as well.

Lastly, keep flammable liquids away from the area so when sparks are thrown, you don’t accidentally set your workshop or house on fire.

Ensure Your Metal Gauge is Compatible

Before you get started, make sure the metal gauge (the thickness of the metal) and the tool you’re about to cut it with are compatible. Otherwise, you’ll end up destroying your blade or tool and possibly ruining the piece of metal you were cutting in the process.

Metal Cutting Tools and Methods

Hacksaw

The original metal-cutting tool, the manual hacksaw, is an easy, inexpensive option for cutting through metal (and a slew of other materials). Ideal for small projects and home improvement needs, the hacksaw is typically one of the first tools a homeowner purchases, thanks to its low cost and versatility.

Tin Snips

Like a pair of scissors, tin snips are an inexpensive handheld tool that cuts straight, or if the blade is curved, can cut curves and circles. Tin snips are ideal for cutting soft metals like aluminum and copper, and are especially useful for cutting sheet metal, gutters, metal roofing, and studs. Thanks to their sharp blades, tin snips typically leave a smooth edge.

How To Cut Corrugated Metal with Tin Snips

  1. Don safety gear and follow all safety precautions.
  2. Hold the tin snips as you would a pair of scissors.
  3. Open the blades as wide as possible, and then make long, smooth cuts.
  4. If one side of the metal rides up, roll it back to keep it from getting in your way, and keep cutting through the piece until you are finished.

Metal Air Shears

An upgrade from the manual tin snips, this power tool comes in handy when your project calls for cutting bulk or long metal sheets. Not only can it make a lot of clean cuts quickly, but it can also handle a thicker-gauge metal.

Angle Grinder with Cutoff Wheel

The angle grinder is a useful power tool that’s as versatile as they come. In addition to cutting stone, tile, concrete, and mortar, this tool can cut a variety of metals, from aluminum to steel, by simply changing the cutting wheel to a metal cutoff wheel. Particularly helpful when you don’t need a super-smooth edge, the cutoff wheel can cut through rebar, fencing, rusted bolts, and particularly hard metals, such as steel, fairly quickly.

Cold Saw

Unlike a chop saw (which is like an angle grinder but much bigger), a cold saw uses a coolant feature to keep the metal that’s being cut friction-free and not too hot, while offering clean, precise cuts. A cold saw’s an expensive tool, but if you’re fabricating and cutting metal regularly, it’s worth the investment; the blade won’t wear out as quickly as it typically does in other metal-cutting tools, and you won’t have to replace it as often.

Circular Saw with Metal Cutting Blade or Metal Circular Saw

Roofing, sheet metal, and corrugated metal—basically any metal that generally requires just a simple, straight cut—can be cut by a circular saw with the right blade. And, depending on the blade you choose, you may be able to stack up a couple of pieces and cut them all at once, reducing your cutting time.

How To Cut Metal Roofing With a Circular Saw

  1. Don safety gear and follow all safety precautions.
  2. Install a metal cutting blade into the circular saw.
  3. If there is a front and a back to the metal roofing, cut so the back side is facing up.
  4. Mark the line where you’ll be cutting the metal and proceed to cut down the line.

Band Saws

Not only great for bulk cutting of tubes and flat stock, but band saws are also precise—optimal for cutting out custom shapes or tricky angles. The type of metal, its gauge, and your blade choice will influence the cutting speed.

How To Cut Metal Pipe With a Band Saw

  1. Don safety gear and follow all safety precautions.
  2. Insert the pipe into the vise grip on the machine, perpendicular to the blade.
  3. Turn the saw on and lower the blade slowly, adding slight pressure to the pipe.
  4. Keep adding slow, consistent pressure until the pipe is cut.
  5. File away any burrs.

Oxy-Acetylene Torch

This tool mixes oxygen with acetylene (a hydrocarbon gas) from tanks, and once you light the nozzle, a high-temperature flame will allow you to cut thick pieces of metal that are otherwise impossible via other methods. The torch is also faster and much quieter than a saw, but does require some practice to use it properly.

Most of these methods won’t leave burrs or sharp edges when used correctly. If they do, you may be cutting too fast, or your blade may have become too dull. To remove a burr, enlist the help of a deburring tool, metal file, or attach a flap disk to your angled grinder to smooth your metal pieces.