Other than hammers and screw drivers a cutting tool is probably the one you will want to have the largest collection of in your tool box. We often get asked the difference between types of sheet metal cutting tools and while there isn’t a clear “best cutting tool”; we do think there are strengths and weaknesses of each.
A sheet metal nibbler is an extremely compact cutting tool that will surprise most that use it. Nibblers cut extremely fast and can cut tight curves. A nibbler cuts in a unique fashion where a shaft will move in a linear motion through a fixed die and a ridge or “blade” on the shaft will shear off tiny pieces of metal each time the blade passes over the metal inside of the die. As you push the metal in the shaft will cut the metal.
The nice thing about a nibbler is that it won’t distort the metal and can cut tight radii in metal that most other cutting tools can’t accomplish. Also because the head of this tool is small in diameter you can cut in the center of a panel simply by drilling a pilot hole to fit the head into the sheet metal.
Now a nibbler does have some small downsides. The first is the mess; a nibbler cuts metal quick and tends to throw the waste metal all over the place. This can be an issue if you’re working in a clean shop or a delicate area on a project where metal waste can’t get near the project. When cutting with a nibbler we suggest trying to contain the cutting area to limit the travel of the waste. The other downside is that the “kerf” or area removed when cutting is much larger than a shear. This means you need to plan the cut accordingly and you need to make sure you have enough material there to cover the kerf. We suggest use a nibbler to make a quick, first cut and use a more accurate tool with little to no kerf for the final trim/cut.
Sheet metal shears come in many different sizes and types but we’ll be focusing on the closest competitor to the sheet metal nibbler. Metal shears cut by inserting a piece of metal in between a fixed and movable set of jaws with sharp edges. A standard straight cut shear will have a flat surface you lay the metal on and the top blade will come down and cut the metal. There is usually a very small gap or clearance between the blades. This blade gap is set depending on the gauge of metal you are cutting. Handheld Sheet Metal Shears work in a similar fashion except the jaws are more like a pair of scissors and one blade goes up and down quickly. Throatless Sheet Metal Shears will allow you to make tighter curves and have little to no kerf. Standard Sheet Metal Shears will have a larger kerf where there are two fixed supporting jaws that are spaced apart enough for the rotating jaw to come between them and shear the metal. This method is very quick, but does have a kerf the width of the gap between the jaws. Both styles of sheet metal shears can cut curves and are very accurate. These come in both air and electric versions and different thickness ratings. Handheld sheet metal shears do have a limit in the radii they can cut, but in a pinch you can make a few cuts to achieve the radius you need.
Sheet Metal Shears are one of our most common tools, but we have a diverse line of metal cutting tools. See our entire line HERE.