When it comes to the best way to cut metal, most people grab the tin snips or a hacksaw. But after 10 minutes of struggling, you will quickly realize that there are easier ways.
We show you how to cut through metal using many different techniques and tools for the best results.
- Choose the right tool: Pick the best tool for your specific metal cutting project, such as tin snips for sheet metal or an angle grinder for thicker metal.
- Prepare for safety: Wear protective gear like goggles, gloves, and long sleeves, and keep a clean work area to reduce the risk of accidents.
- Consider your budget and time: Pre-cut metal pieces might save time and money if you don’t have the right tools or expertise for cutting metal yourself.
- Practice and skill: Some metal cutting methods, like using an oxy-acetylene torch or plasma cutter, require training and experience to use safely and effectively.
How To Prepare for Cutting Metal
Before we get stuck into how to cut steel, we need to talk about how you prepare to cut the metal. Preparation is the key to a successful outcome, both in the finished result and your safety.
Take Safety Precautions and Wear the Right Gear
It’s all about keeping safe, so what precautions do you need to take? First, you should wear long-sleeved tops to protect your arms from flying sparks and debris.
Keep your eyes protected from flying shards of metal with goggles, and because cutting metal releases bad odors, don a facemask. It’s also a noisy process, so you will need earplugs too.
Protect your feet with steel toe-capped boots, and wear puncture and fire-resistant gloves. Fire-resistant pants are also a good idea. Metal on metal friction creates heat, so avoid any contact with the metal using your bare hands.
It might be a good idea to keep a bucket of water close by in case something ignites. With that in mind, don’t cut metal on a debris-strewn floor. Sawdust and wood chippings are sure to increase the risk of fire. And make sure that anyone who enters the workspace is wearing appropriate attire. Finally, don’t store any flammable liquids near the cutting area.
Budget and Time Considerations
Setting out a budget for the project in advance is sensible because if you have money constraints, rather than purchase specialist metal cutting tools, you might find that pre-cut pipes and metal sheets are cheaper.
It also might help save you time by using pre-cut metal pieces, and if they have all been cut correctly, whatever you are making should fit together like a dream, again reducing the time taken to complete the task.
Choose the Right Tool for the Job
Nothing spells disaster more than trying to cut metal with the wrong tools. You risk completing the project to a low standard and possible injury. You could also damage the metalwork, costing you more money in the long run.
Hand vs. Power Tools
If you value your time, power tools will conclude your project faster, while hand tools are easier to use and probably safer.
Hacksaws and tube cutting tools are perfectly safe if used correctly, but they require a degree of skill to master. Angle grinders are a little more aggressive and more difficult to control, but they are one of the most efficient tools for cutting metal.
You should also remember that using an angle grinder will produce more sparks, increasing your fire risks. So, hand tools are slow but accurate and provide a neat finish, while power tools are efficient and fast, but you might get a slightly less neat result.
12 Methods To Cut Metal Safely
Let’s run through the safest ways to cut metal, starting with the most obvious technique.
This is the original and easiest way to cut metal. Hacksaws are versatile and can cut several other types of material, so it’s no wonder that most homeowners keep a hacksaw in the toolbox.
2. Miter Saw
Miter saws are another effective way to cut through metal, but it all depends on the type of cutting disc you have. You need a specific metal cutting blade to preserve the saws motor and your material. Miter saws are great for cutting 90 and 45-degree angles, making them versatile tools.
3. Tin Snips
If you are working with softer metals like aluminum and copper, tin snips are the perfect tool to use. They are essentially giant scissors used to cut straight lines in sheet metal. They also cut irregular shapes and lines if you get one with a curved blade.
When you work with guttering, metal roofing, and studs, tin snips are an essential bit of kit because they leave a smooth edge.
4. Rotary Tool
Rotary tools are small cutting implements that make precision cuts and are ideal for small tasks and art projects thanks to their versatility. Dremel is the most common type of rotary tool used in thousands of workshops across the country.
They have interchangeable heads to make them versatile, so you can turn your attention to a host of other materials when you have finished cutting metal.
5. Angle Grinder
An angle grinder is a tool for all situations. It cuts stone, concrete, masonry, wood, and many different metals like aluminum and steel. Then simply change the cutting wheel, and you are good to go on other materials.
Angle grinders are not the most refined tool, but they get the job done effectively, especially if you aren’t worried about the quality of the finish.
6. Circular Saw
Much like the angle grinder, you need a specialist metal cutting disc for the circular saw to cut metal. Circular saws are great when working with sheet metal, pipework, roofing, or corrugated metal, and you want to make straight cuts.
The beauty of using a circular saw is that the cut edge is very neat and precise, and it cuts like a hot knife through butter.
And thanks to the power of the saw, you can stack several sheets together and still get the same level of precision.
If you fit a bi-metal or tungsten blade and make sure the TPI (teeth per inch) is greater than 21, then using a jigsaw to cut metal should be a breeze. You should ensure that you use tapping oil to cool the blade and reduce heat build-up.
Jigsaws are better for slicing through sheet and corrugated metal as well as pipework.
8. Reciprocating Saws
Using the correct blade is crucial to getting a successful outcome when cutting metal with a reciprocating saw. Like the jigsaw, you should use a blade with a tooth count of around 21 TPI, and the metal needs to be tungsten.
9. Band Saw
Band saws are great tools for bulk cutting as well as cutting sheet and corrugated metal and pipework. Thanks to their high precision, you can cut tricky angles and shapes and still achieve a neat cutting edge.
You still need to choose the correct blade and match the metal gauge to the tool’s capabilities.
10. Oscillating Tool
Oscillating tools are often called multi-tools because they come with various blades to cater to many materials and surfaces. The critical skill of using an oscillating tool is to start slowly and gradually build the speed.
Because they are compact and lightweight, they are the go-to tool for cutting rusted bolts and rounded screws, but they also cut pipes at any angle.
11. Oxy-Acetylene Torch
This is a serious tool for the most demanding metal cutting tasks. It is the type of cutter you find on industrial and commercial sites. It uses oxygen and acetylene, a hydrocarbon gas, typically stored in tanks to burn super hot.
Once you light the nozzle, the flame burns through thick pieces of metal that no other cutting tool can handle. This is an efficient, quiet, and speedy way to cut through metal. However, unlike saws and tin snips, using an oxy-acetylene torch takes practice and skill, and you need to take safety seriously. Wear the correct non-flammable clothing (leather and denim are good choices), and you need a face shield and heat-proof gloves.
The fire risk increases dramatically when you use an oxy-acetylene torch, so have a fire extinguisher handy and never cut the metal when debris is on the floor.
12. Plasma Cutter
Plasma cutters are more accurate than oxy-acetylene torches, but you are limited to a cutting thickness of between 1 to 2 mm and 1 to 2 inches for conductive sheet metal.
Their accuracy comes from a projected thin beam of ionized gas that burns at temperatures topping 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It works by melting the metal as it slices through.
Like the oxy-acetylene torch, using a plasma cutter takes training and skill, so beginners beware. Also, you need the same protective equipment as before, and you should take the same precautions for your personal safety.
How To Cut a Metal Pipe
It all depends on the tools of choice. For this purpose, let’s assume you are using a band saw.
- Put on your safety gear, including gloves and goggles, to protect against flying metal particles.
- Insert the pipe into the clamp on the machine and tighten. Don’t overdo it or you risk squashing the tube. Make sure it is perpendicular to the cutting blade.
- Turn on the saw and lower the blade slowly until it meets the pipe. Add light downward pressure, and it will begin to cut.
- Repeat this light pressure until the pipe is cut.
- Grab a file and deburr the edges until smooth.
How To Cut Sheet Metal
Metal sheeting comes in all styles and sizes. Metal roofing consists of several sheets of corrugated metal that slot together. Sometimes, you need to cut them to size to get them to fit. One of the simplest methods is to use tin snips.
- Put on your safety gear before you start.
- Grab the tin snips like you would a pair of scissors.
- Open the blade fully and start by making long smooth cuts.
- As you cut, sometimes the metal rides up. If this happens, roll it back to keep it out of your way.
- Continue with the task until you reach the end.
How To Cut Metal Wire
The tools you use to cut metal wire will vary depending on the thickness of the wire. For thinner material, tin snips or a rotary cutting tool will work just fine, but for thicker wires, you might need something with a bit more clout.
For this guide, we are going to use an angle grinder.
- Don the safety gear. Angle grinders cause many sparks to fly, so goggles and safety gloves should be high on your priority list.
- Secure the wire between two clamps, making sure they don’t move while you are cutting.
- Startup the angle grinder and wait until the blade reaches maximum speed.
- Lower the grinder so that the blade makes contact with the steel wire. Keep a firm grip because it might kick a little.
- Work the grinder blade in small rocking and back and forward motions, applying gentle pressure as you do.
- When the wire is cut, grab a file and deburr the rough edges.
Whichever method you use to cut metal, always put your safety at the fore of any project. Safety equipment saves lives and prevents serious accidents, so don’t take any risks or cut corners.
Also, keep a tidy work area and always plan how you are going to cut. If you do that and follow the steps in this article, you should have a successful outcome.