How To Cut Sheet Metal

At some point, when performing automotive work, you will need to know how to cut sheet metal. Sheet metal can be made from many different metals like aluminum, brass, copper, steel, tin, nickel and titanium, and it is commonly used for a variety of auto repair jobs like body patching and extensions. Below, we explain how to cut sheet metal and which tools you will need to cut it properly.

Step #1: Acquire the Tools

There are a number of tools that you can get to cut sheet metal, and they are largely dependent on how thick the metal is. It’s important to note that any flat metal that is 11/64 inch and lower is considered sheet metal. Any flat metal that is 3/16 inch and above is considered plate metal. The thickness of sheet metal used on most recreational vehicles typically ranges from 18 gauge to 25 gauge thickness, or about between 1/20 and 1/50 inches. To check the gauge of sheet metal, all you need is a sheet metal gauge disc. As for cutting tools, here are some options:

  • Straight sheet metal shears – Hand shears used for cutting lines in sheet metal
  • Aviation snips – For cutting different patterns like curves and circles
  • Compound leverage shears – For cutting heavier types of sheet metal
  • Bench top shear – Attached to a work bench, allowing for more leverage to cut thicker gauge sheet metals
  • Throatless shear – Used primarily for cutting out irregular shapes from sheet metal
  • Power swivel head shear – Electric shear used to cut thin strips of higher gauge sheet metal

Depending on what project you are working on and how much sheet metal you need to cut, any one of these tools may be helpful to you. Below, you will learn how to cut sheet metal using straight hand sheet metal shears.

Step #2: Cutting the Metal

To cut sheet metal for this exercise, all you need is a pair of straight sheet metal shears, a tape measure, a grease pen, and some heavy duty work gloves. Measure the size of the sheet metal piece you need and mark the edges on the metal with your grease pen. Put on your gloves to protect your hands, as sheet metal edges can be razor sharp. Now, use your straight sheet metal shears to start cutting the metal along the edges, defined by your pen markings. This is very simple, and it works just like using a pair of scissors. Be sure to go slowly and carefully to maintain a steady edge. If you do not wish to use a pair of aviation snips, there are right angle and left angle shears if you want to curve off in either direction. Right angle shears will bear right and left angle shears will bear left. Switch shears whenever you want to change direction, and the possibilities for cutting sheet metal shapes are boundless.

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