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How to Cut Metal?

Published by Rapid Metals on

Cutting metal is an essential skill to have when working with the material in order to get the correct size and shape for your project. There is no set way to cut metal and the method you use will largely depend on your project, the tools available to you and the type of metal you are working with.

In this article, we will explore how to cut through metal using several different techniques but, first, it’s important to note that metal cutting tools and the process itself can be dangerous. Ensure you have adequate eye, hand and body protection in the form of goggles, gloves and overalls before you commence.

How to Cut Sheet Metal

Sheet metal is typically the largest piece of metal you will need to cut. It is commonly cut with:

  • Snips (similar to scissors)
  • Jigsaw
  • Band saw

The type of metal you are cutting will depend on the tool you choose to use, but regardless, you will need to securely clamp down the sheet metal and ensure clearance for the tools/blades you will be using.

Snips are most commonly used to cut sheet metal because they offer precision when cutting soft metals like brass, thin gauge steel, aluminium and tin. Once the metal has been clamped down on a workbench to ensure stability, you can use the snips in the same way you would use scissors and begin to cut in straight or curved lines, depending on the type of snips you have. The benefit of tin snips is that they’re cheap and therefore accessible to most metal hobbyists; however, they wear down quickly and the only option is to replace them when this happens. If you’re going to be cutting a lot of sheet metal, they may not be the best option.

A jigsaw can make quick work of cutting sheet metal whilst offering a similar level of precision as snips. Jigsaws are handheld power tools that vary in their ability to cut through metals, but some can cut through as much as 10mm of steel, making a jigsaw a viable option for most sheet metals. You can change the blade on a jigsaw to cut through other materials like wood, and you can even angle some jigsaws to create a bevelled cut. You can get cordless jigsaws for more flexibility, adding to the appeal of using them to cut large pieces of metal.

If you have a thicker piece of sheet metal, you may want to use a band saw. Unlike a jigsaw which has a single blade that goes up and down and is operated by hand, a band saw uses a blade on a loop and is not operated by hand. It is generally accepted that you should not use a band saw to cut metal that is thinner than the depth of three teeth on the band saw, but if your material is thicker than this, a band saw will cut the metal in very little time. A band saw is a more specialised piece of equipment and will require ample space to install. You will also need to remember to change the blade from a wood blade to a thicker, more abrasive metal blade.

How to Cut Metal Pipes

If you have a metal pipe that needs cutting, you can do so using:

  • Hacksaw
  • Pipe cutter

Pipe cutters are a popular choice, especially for those in the plumbing industry because they are extremely efficient and provide a neat, precise cut. There are different types of pipe cutters depending on the type of metal you need to cut. There are specialist copper, steel, aluminium and brass pipe cutters. You can purchase adjustable ones, or you can buy ones that are for a specific size pipe. They all work in a similar way: the cutter is clamped around the pipe and a rotating blade cuts through the metal.

A hacksaw can be used in place of a pipe cutter by clamping the tube, marking a line on which a cut is required and sawing through the pipe by hand. It will take longer to cut a pipe using a hacksaw than a pipe cutter, and you will need to be acutely aware of the burrs (rough edges) that a hacksaw will leave behind, although these can easily be filed down.

Other Tools to Cut Metal

There are a range of other tools you can use to cut metal, including a nibbler, an angle grinder, a mitre saw and a bench shear, although the most common tools remain to be snips, hacksaws, jigsaws and band saws.

The Finish

Once you have cut your metal, you will need to file down the edges. Freshly cut metal of any kind is sharp and dangerous and so you will need to use a fine file and sandpaper to ensure the edges are smooth and free of burrs. Some tools will leave neater, smoother cuts than others, but it is best practice to always file down the metal after it has been cut, regardless of the tools used.

What is the Hardest Metal to Cut?

No matter what tools you use, there will always be some metals which are extraordinarily hard to cut. Titanium, tungsten, carbon steel and chromium are considered exceptionally difficult to cut, but they’re rarely used by metal hobbyists and so the need to cut them doesn’t match that of aluminium, brass and copper.

Get in Touch

If you have any questions about cutting metal, or if you need to source metal for your project, get in touch with us and our team will advise accordingly.

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