Like with anything there are countless ways to achieve the same result. It all depends how much work you want to spend and the final result. We decided to put together our top five metal cutting tools and when they’re best to use.
1. Plasma Cutters– If you want to cut metal quickly and with basically ZERO physical effort, a plasma cutter is for you. Plasmas Cutters can cut anything from thin gauge sheet metal all the way up to heavy or solid metal. They also will cut ANY metal that conducts electricity. If you have your machine settings dialed in and new consumables you can easily cut intricate shapes, but it does require a steady hand. Plasma cutting does leave some residual “slag” metal left over from cutting so some clean up is required. We like to use these to rough cut a larger piece of metal and then use a more fine method to make the final cuts. These are also great for cutting on a vehicle where access is tight and another cutting tool couldn’t fit.
2. Aviation Snips/ Tin Snips– Snips were one of those tools you probably have been using incorrectly. These are NOT for cutting wire, rusty old plate, etc. Keep a clean, sharp set of aviation snips in your tool box for making fine, accurate cuts in sheet metal. We exclusively use these to cut out a patch panel where we need to cut exactly on a fine, scribed line. If you’re on a budget we suggest at the least getting the Right and Left cut snips.
3. Throatless Shear- Want a tool that easily cuts shapes and straight lines in sheet metal? The throatless shear is a bench mounted tool that has curved jaws that allow you to cut curves and straight lines in sheet metal. If you’re blades are adjusted correctly they can be very accurate when cutting. With the long handle these also make cutting effortless and much quicker than using hand snips. Save the hand snips for ultra-fine detail work and the throatless shear for jobs a little less fine.
4. Straight Cut Bench Shear- Cutting metal over 16 gauge gets to be difficult with the throatless shear or hand snips or requires industrial versions. Don’t even think of cutting 1/8″ or thicker with either of those methods! The straight cut bench shear has incredible cutting power and can cut plate steel such as 3/16″ and thicker depending on your shear. These shears are also set up to cut perfectly straight lines, so you could potentially cut a full 4’X8′ sheet of metal with a helper! We keep one of these mounted on a bench to cut bar stock to size when making brackets and tabs. Just like the throatless shear, the more tuned up and adjusted you keep your shear, the more accurate it will be!
5. Band Saw- – – Slow and steady wins the race right? A band saw is one of the slower methods of cutting metal, but it is really great for making accurate cuts in thicker plate metal as well as box and round tubing. The benchtop version we offer and most horizontal band saws allow gravity to do the work and you can set up a cut and the weight of the machine pushes the blade through the metal; allowing you to multi-task. We also like to use the adjustable miter feature to make accurate cuts at an angle when building things.