Sheet Metal Cutting Tips and Tricks

Posted: October 19, 2015 By: JamesR

Working in sheet metal can be fun, and it can be frustrating, but if you like old cars eventually there will come a time when you will need to cut, and eventually even weld sheet metal. At first glance it seems as if it would be like working with paper or cardboard, just a little tougher, but paper products don’t stretch and deform like metal does when you try to bend, shape or cut it. Here are a few simple rules to make metal work easier.

When working with sheet metal, always wear long, thick, leather gloves because it only takes a small slip to be cut to the bone with the sharp edge of a metal piece you are working on. Long welding sleeves are not a bad idea either, because sheet metal can cut deep, and accidentally slashing your wrists can be a very serious injury. Eye and face protection is a good idea as well.

 

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Tin snips or Aviation snips, are just like scissors for metal, and are great for smaller cuts or lighter gauge sheet metal.

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Snips come in left, right and straight versions, color coded in a nautical fashion:

Left = Red

Right = Green

Straight = Yellow

Cutting with snips can be time consuming and physically taxing on your hands and arms, but great for cutting complicated, small shapes. Snips also leave an edge that is often a bit ragged and curved from the cutting.

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For longer cuts, or just getting the job done faster and neater, there is the Electric Metal Shear. An electric motor moves a small block up and down, pinching the metal between it and a fixed block on the other side.  The uniformity of the cut is much better with the electric shear, and the quality of the edge it leaves is better too. Plus it takes no effort and a lot less time to use.

 

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The small cutting blocks, compared to the size of the jaws on the snips, make it easier to use the shear to cut out tighter curved lines in metal parts. Most electrical powered shears have no problem cutting though up to 16 gauge steel, which can be nearly impossible with a pair of manual snips.

 

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Clamp your sheet metal securely to the table or bench so you have both hands free to maneuver the shears around. This will make things much easier.  Straight lines and even fairly tight curves are much easier to make with the electric shears.  To smooth out the slight curve the shears sometimes leave, if you have an English wheel, you can just use the flattest bottom anvil, and roll the edge through with minimal pressure.

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Just like any cutting tool, electric shears will eventually become dull over time.  We sell replacement jaw sets for our electric shear but don’t worry, you wont need a new set for a long time.

So these are some basic tips that should help you to cut and shape metal pieces for your next project quicker and easier. With a little practice you’ll be able to cut metal as if you were a school kid making paper snowflakes.

 

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17 thoughts on Sheet Metal Cutting Tips and Tricks

  • Very good. I always wondered what the different colors meant and good to know the convention for assigning the colors. Maybe I will not ever forget now!

  • Do you have shears that will cut 16 gauge metal? All I have seen is shears cutting up to 18 gauge metal.

  • Many thanks for the refresher! I don’t often do body work and am planning to in the Spring.

    The “Color coding” tip for the Aviation Snips was very helpful. I will probably purchase the electric shear mentioned in the tutorial.

  • I truly appreciate the effort you all put into your training, information and videos. I recently got into serious restoration and your team simply excels in the confidence you display. I’ve purchased a fair amount in the last year setting up my shop. PS: you’ve got me brainwashed as when it is Tuesday………i look forward to Tech Tuesday! Happy prosperous New Years to you all.

  • Your tips are great. I always enjoy them. Today you didn’t mention the nibbler. What do you think ? Good or bad for sheet metal? On your welding tips you skipped polarity. When tig welding, aluminum or stainless, do they take same polarity and gas ? What you cover is great you just skipped some questions I had

  • I Just read your blog it was interesting. I would like to learn more about working with sheet metal

    Lester
    Dykeman

  • I really enjoy these articles. today, after fifty years of experience, I actually learned what was meant by left, straight and right cutting shears. I knew of the terms, but I never bothered to actually learn that the “handness” refers to a cutting direction. no wonder I have fought trying to cut because I always grabbed the pair that were on top of the drawer. I think I thought the “handness” referred to the dominant hand of the person using them! duh, amazing how ignorant someone can be about something.

    thanks again, now, I will know which ones to use for each need.

  • Hi I would like to say that the old way of cutting sheet metal cause a lot of other cuts as well, but I would like one of those electric sheers

  • I Have one of your electric metal shears, the jaws have broken, Is there a replacement part available??

  • I love the aviation shears, I even use them on my toe nails, LOL…really! But I see no use for the yellow, “straight cut” shears as the red or green get the job done just fine…..RooDog

  • Our throatless shear will cut 16 gauge (even though it’s rated to 18) but it will just dull the jaws more quickly.

  • An electric metal shear sounds like it would come in handy. Does it make cutting sheet metal a lot easier? I’ve always been fascinated with metal and iron work. It would be a really convenient talent to have, in my opinion. I took a welding class several years ago in high school but since then I haven’t really been able to learn more. I enjoyed reading your article; it was really informational! Thanks for sharing.

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