Unlike wood, plastic, or other weaker materials – to cut metal you normally need to have access to expensive and quality power tools. That’s why metalworkers from various industries use a myriad of powerful machines on daily basis to shape and cut metal with one main purpose – to manufacture parts, objects, structures, and other goods.
However, not everyone is into metalworking to have access to these tools. If you are a DIY hobbyist who has a small metal cutting project – then buying a high-cost tool for a day or two of work that won’t be touched in years afterward, might not be the smartest idea.
Before you start Metal Cutting
When it comes to metal cutting or any cutting in general, some questions must be answered before beginning the task.
First of all, how tough and thick is the material you want to cut? Because even though it’s possible to cut metal without power tools, there’s a limit to the type of material these tools can cut. Therefore, make certain that your tools can indeed cut the metal piece in front of you.
Second, are the accuracy and speed of metal cutting important to you? Because when using hand tools, everything depends on the user’s strength and skills. There isn’t much mechanical assistance to control the aim and give you unlimited power just so you can plow through the workpiece and finish the job in seconds.
No, for accuracy and clean cuts you’ll need to take your time. But if you don’t care about accuracy, you can speed up the process and end up with rougher cuts.
Safety Measures for Metal Cutting
Whether you are cutting metal with power or hand tools, never forget about the dangers that lurk in the shadows during the operation. Dealing with metal isn’t child’s play, so make certain you are following the safety protocols. Because one tiny mistake can lead to a lifelong moment of regret.
The edges of sheet metal are very sharp, and grabbing them can easily lead to hand cuts. So make sure you have a nice pair of gloves on your hands if you want to hold the sheet metal tightly without getting cut.
Next, you’d want to equip yourself with quality tools. And, try to brighten your workplace as much as possible to improve visibility.
However, the safety measures that need to be taken when cutting metal with power tools are even more drastic. Why? Because you will be dealing with a powerful machine that produces sparks, loud noise and has fast-spinning sharp blades.
That’s why to protect yourself from the sparks, you need to wear hard boots, long sleeve clothing and eye goggles, while for the loud noise you’ll need earplugs.
Additionally, taking safety measures only for your body is not enough. Need to ensure that your power tools and workplace are also safe for work.
Meaning, keep the blades sharp and fresh because a dull old blade is not only useless but dangerous as well since it can jump or slip on the workpiece being cut. Ensure that other parts are functional and don’t forget to unplug the tools after finishing the task.
The workplace shouldn’t have any flammable objects or substances that can ignite from the sparks, and be aware of water or other liquids coming in contact with electricity.
Best 4 Hand Tools for Cutting Metal
When it comes to cutting metal without power tools, there are only a few tools that can help you to truly ace the job task. And those tools are the:
- Tin Snips
- Cold Chisel
- Bench Shear
However, even though they are most suited for smaller DIY projects where the user, in general, won’t cut anything bigger than medium-sized sheet metal.
In some more delicate situations, power tools can be overwhelming and they destroy the material, so metalworkers use hand tools to save the day.
Using Tin Snips to Cut Metal
As our first solution for cutting metal without power tools, we have the tin snips.
Tin snips are the most popular type of snips which are also known as shears. These tools are mostly used to cut sheet metal and similar tough but thin, long and flexible materials.
The design of the tin snips makes them easy to use just like scissors, only with bigger cutting ability due to their carbon steel jaws and strong blades.
When it comes to cutting sheet metal with tin snips, we can differentiate four main types: curved, left, right and straight cutting tin snips. All of these types, serve different purposes.
- Use straight tin snips to easily make cuts in straight lines
- Use curved tin snips to make radius cuts in anti-clockwise and clockwise direction thanks to their curved blades
- Use right-hand tin snips to cut sheet metal in an anti-clockwise or straight line
- Use left-hand tin snips to cut sheet metal in a clockwise or straight line
Cutting and safety tips:
- Wear gloves and eye protection
- Don’t make short cuts along the cutting line since it will only leave rough edges
- Make certain that you have the cutter deep into the cut
Using a Cold Chisel to Cut Metal
Next in line for cutting metal without power tools we have the chisel.
This simple but magnificent tool has been used by humanity since ancient times for various reasons. For example, in our guide on How to Cut Wood Without a Saw, we talk about using the chisel to cut wood.
However, in this guide, we are talking about metal, not wood. That’s why instead of a regular chisel, we have a cold chisel which is used in metalworking.
Unlike the regular chisel, this one is made of tempered steel that gives it toughness and sharpness to cut cold metals. Anything the tin snip, hacksaw or bench shear can’t cut or remove, the cold chisel can.
To cut metal with a cold chisel you need to:
- Wear heavy gloves and safety goggles to protect yourself from flying metal debris
- Use a chisel that’s slightly wider than the metal piece being cut
- Sharpen the chisel and place the metal workpiece in a tight position on the vise jaws
- Hold the chisel firmly at a 90-degree angle and start giving it blows with a hammer
- Repeat the process until you finish the cut
Using a Hacksaw to Cut Metal
If you want to cut metal without power tools, then the hacksaw can be your biggest ally in this situation.
Similar to its saw compatriots, the hacksaw is also a simple and very useful tool. This inexpensive tool that can be found in most DIYer’s toolboxes, was essentially made for one purpose – to cut metal.
Cutting metal with a hacksaw is no different than cutting any other material with a normal saw where you go back and forth through the workpiece with the saw blade.
The secret behind the hacksaw’s ability to effortlessly cut metal lies in the blade. Without a quality sharp blade, your hacksaw is more or less useless.
A hacksaw blade is normally between 10 to 12-inches long, but it’s not unusual to see one with an 8 or 6-inch blade. However, what matters the most is the TPI (teeth per inch) because it determines what type of cutting is the blade best suited for.
For example, an 18 tpi blade is best used for making general cuts while a 24 tpi blade is best used for cutting steel plates not thicker than 6mm.
To cut metal using a hacksaw you need to:
- First and foremost, wear goggles and gloves
- Confirm that you have a properly aligned, tight blade with the correct length & tpi for the metal cutting task
- Put the workpiece in a vice if possible, otherwise ensure it’s in a firm position
- Slowly start cutting in a back and forth motion
- Continue cutting while increasing your speed but take your time to not overheat the blade
- Repeat until you make the cut
Using a Bench Shear to Cut Metal
As a DIY enthusiast, investing in a bench shear to effortlessly complete your small-time metal cutting projects is always a good idea.
Unlike the previous tools we mentioned which are pretty basic in their design and usage – the bench shear comes with a mechanism. And by using that mechanism you can easily cut through gauges of metal.
The mechanism makes it sound like a power tool, but everything is done manually without the help of any power source. On top of that, you have a great cutting blades that allows you to make quick, accurate and clean cuts.
To cut gauges of metal using a bench shear you need to:
- Be extremely cautious with where you place your fingers and might want to use gloves
- Mark a straight cutting line on the workpiece
- Carefully place the workpiece so the marked cutting point can be in-line with the blade
- Hold the sheet metal firmly with one hand and slowly begin to pull down the handle with the other hand
Continue pulling down until the blade finishes cutting the sheet metal
Power Tools You Can Use to Cut Metal
Power tools have significantly greater power than the hand ones due to their usually electric or internal combustion engines which allow them to cut materials much thicker than medium-sized sheet metal. Not to mention built-in mechanisms that provide for many features such as improved accuracy or controlling the speed of the cut.
In the future, if you stumble upon bigger metal cutting projects, then using just hand tools surely won’t be enough. And because we never know what lies ahead of us, in this guide we’ll also mention few power tools that you can use to cut metal in bigger DIY projects. More information won’t hurt anyone.
As a DIY enthusiast who might try taking on bigger projects, these power tools are great to begin with:
- Miter Saw or Chop Saw
- Band Saw
- Circular Saw
- Angle Grinder
Obviously, they are a bit pricey and it will take time to learn how to use them properly. But once you get a hold of them, you won’t be able to stop doing DIY projects.
Using a Miter Saw or Chop Saw to Cut Metal
At first look, a person who’s unfamiliar with power tools might guess that these two saws are the same. But in reality, they have many different qualities.
Both saws are used for doing delicate cuts on various materials with the help of their pivoting arm that has a fast-spinning circular blade attached to it. However, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
Miter saws are more versatile due to their ability to make miter, bevel and compound cuts thanks to the rotating arm. Chop saws on the other “hand”, can only make 90-degree cuts.
The other main difference between a miter saw and a chop saw is in their blade. Miter saws for example, usually use blades from 6 to 12-inches in size, while chop saws use blades from 14-inches and above. Additionally, the chop saw mostly uses an abrasive spinning disc with no teeth.
Check our guide on Best Miter Saw Blades so you can choose the best carbide tipped or steel blade depending on the cutting task.
Using a Band Saw to Cut Metal
Another great power tool to use for cutting metal is the band saw (or bandsaw).
This power saw is mostly used for metalworking and woodworking among the variety of materials you can cut with it.
The band saw is powered by an electric motor with a long, sharp metal toothed blade that’s taut between two looping wheels.
It’s best suited for cutting thicker materials since cutting thin sheet metal with it is overkill. It would be best to stick with the hand tools we named above for that type of job.
Also, similar to miter and other power saws, the band saw’s cutting ability depends on its blade cutting speed, teeth count and size. For example, it’s best to use blades with a higher tooth count if you want to achieve a clean cut. While a lower tooth count one for a rougher but quicker cut in a thicker metal workpiece.
Using a Circular Saw to Cut Metal
If you ask a random person on the street to name a power tool that is used to cut metal, their answer will most likely be the circular saw.
This is a highly versatile handheld power tool that can be used to cut various materials like wood, plastic, metal, etc. And because it comes at a reasonable price, it’s the perfect solution for DIYers.
Circular saws use either a toothed blade or abrasive disc to cut through workpieces. So normally, choosing the right blade or abrasive disc before a cutting operating is of the highest importance.
The cutting operation is very similar to one of the miter and chop saws since both use a fast spinning blade or abrasive disc. However, the circular saw has a much bigger freedom of movement.
Using a Nibbler to Cut Metal
One of the most popular tools for cutting sheet metal is the nibbler. To be more specific, the power tool version of the nibbler which in most cases is powered by compressed air.
And yes, a hand tool version of the nibbler exists as well. However, because it operates very similarly to the tin snips, we chose to go with its more powerful compatriot.
Depending on the type of power nibbler, it can cut up to 20-gauge sheet metal and it does so by “chewing” through the material.
This pistol-like tool works based on making fast punches on the metal piece being cut without distorting it in the process.
Using an Angle Grinder to Cut Metal
Similar to the circular saw, the angle grinder is also one of the most popular handheld power tools used for cutting metal among DIY enthusiasts and professionals.
Normally, as with most power tools on our list, the purpose of the angle grinder can also change by replacing its abrasive disc with a blade.
By equipping it with a nice carbide-tipped blade, you can seamlessly cut through thick metal workpieces. Otherwise, keep the abrasive disc and use it for grinding or polishing tasks.
And when it comes to safety, you also need to be aware that it can produce nasty kickbacks. That’s why if your angle grinder has an option for a support handle, use it. It will improve the stability and give you better control over the tool.
To cut metal without power tools isn’t something unheard of. The tools we mentioned above can be a perfectly fine solution for your one-off DIY project.
Sure, you will be limited to the size of the material you can cut due to the tool’s lack of power and mechanism. But in this scenario, we are talking about cutting thin materials like sheet metal, and these hand tools are ideal for that type of job.
Depending on the tool in your hands and the material in front of you, you’ll need to use different techniques to accomplish the task. Every tool has its methods and different ways to cut metal. So make sure you follow the instructions clearly and don’t rush.
And as always, remember that safety is the number one priority.
Before starting to cut metal, make sure you have the proper safety equipment so you can prevent any unwanted outcomes. Especially if you switched to bigger DIY projects and started using some of the power tools we suggested.
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