The Best Way to Cut Sheet Metal – Which Tool to Use? – Top Picks & Reviews
Working with sheet metal is not likely to be an everyday task for DIYers and small contractors unless you happen to be an HVAC contractor or specialist. Even so, there will be times where cutting sheet metal is a requirement for the successful completion of a project.
These reviews take a look at the tools you can use to make short work of any sheet metal chore. We will walk you through both hand-powered and powered options. We think every well-stocked toolbox should have the basic tool or tools for cutting thin steel and aluminum. We’ll point those out.
When we start looking at the powered options, we’ll review the tools that are best for residential and small contractor needs. We won’t spend time on commercially capable tools because they are not necessary for the smaller, occasional job.
With the tools we recommend, you can bend sheet metal to your will! Oh, wait, we meant cut sheet metal to your will!
Comparison of our Favorite Methods (last updated: 2020)
|Crescent Wiss M3R MetalMaster||
|Stanley Hand Tools 15-809||
|Finder 12-Inch Heavy Duty Flat Chisel||
|WEN 3650 4.0-Amp Corded||
|Makita 4350FCT Top Handle Jigsaw||
|DEWALT DCS367B 20V Max XR||
The 6 Best Tools for Cutting Sheet Metal
Let’s get started with hand tools, shall we? There are tools for bending and crimping sheet metal, but because they are outside the scope of this set of reviews, we will leave them for another time.
Hand Power Picks
1. Snips – Our Top Hand-Powered Choice
Think of cutting sheet metal in the same way you think about cutting paper; you need scissors. In the case of sheet metal, you need great, hulking; powerful scissors called snips. The three basic types of snips are straight, right, and left cutting. These designations are not based on the snips being suitable for lefties or righties. Nope, these names reflect how the snip cuts and peels back the metal.
The right cutting snip is designed for cutting curves and circles moving in a clockwise direction. They peel the sheet metal on the waste side, so it curls up out of the tool’s way. Left cut snips work the opposite way. That leaves the straight cut. Yes, they act like scissors.
To help users keep the tools straight, they have universally color-coded handles; yellow for straight, green for right, and red for left. Some snips come with offset handles that keep your hand away from the curls of sheet metal.
- Cuts straight and slight curves with yellow handles for quick identification
- Precision cast molybdenum blades with conk ground edges and serrations for cutting low carbon, cold...
- Blade serrations spread cutting force across jaws improving cut quality and tool life
2. Hack Saw – Our Second Choice for Cutting by Hand
The venerable hack saw can cut sheet metal if it is the only tool you have on hand. It suffers from the flexibility of the sheet in that the metal flexes up and down while you try to cut it. The method is also slower than using snips.
Even so, the hack saw works for straight puts that do not have to go very far. For example, if you only need to make a straight cut about 4 – 5” long, the hack saw can hack it (yes, another intentional pun). It the cuts are longer than this, the body of the saw hits the sheet metal. At that point, you stop. Trying to move the sheet metal out of the way is not a practical solution.
There is a tool that holds the hack saw blade like how a utility knife holds its blades. We have had mixed results with this option, especially when getting started. The reason is the hack saw blade is now flexible like the sheet metal, can be a pain until you get your cut started. Believe it or not, this is the tool we recommend, the Stanley Hand Tools 15-809 Aluminum Mini-Hack Utility Saw.
- Genuine, OEM Stanley Replacement Part
- Stanley replacement , part number 15-809
3. Hammer and Chisel – Our Third Choice for Cutting by Hand
To cut with a hammer and chisel, secure the sheet to your bench with a piece of scrap lumber underneath it. Mark your cut (magic markers work beautifully) and drive the chisel through the metal. With the chisel at an angle (not flat on the metal), strike it to make another cut. Continue this process until you have cut away the piece you don’t need.
This is not the best method because it deforms the metal more than other approaches. It also leaves more jagged and sharp edges. If the cut will be hidden, and aesthetics are not important, this method works well. This is also a problematic technique when sheet metal is already in place. Sheet metal is quite flexible and trying to cut it while in place can become an exercise in frustration.
Any hammer 16 oz and heavier will work. For the chisel, we recommend the Finder 12-Inch Heavy Duty Flat Chisel with Hand Protection, Flat Head Chisel.
- ★Contains 1 flat head chisel
- ★High hardness and anti-rust chrome-vanadium steel CVS steel
- ★Shock-absorb soft cover handle
1. Power Shears – Our #1 Pick for Powered Cutters
If you think you might be doing a lot of sheet metal work, you need to pick up powered shears. These tools come in the familiar hand drill form factor making them easy to use and control. They take the tedium and the time out of cutting sheet metal by hand.
Power shears also damage and deform the sheet metal less than hand tools. What this means to you is additional time savings since you don’t have to go back and flatten edges and clean up jags and snags. When you add in a swiveling cutting head like the one on our recommendation, you expand your ability to make intricate cuts.
- Pressure sensitive trigger cuts anywhere from 0 to 2500 strokes per minute
- Attack up to 20 gauge stainless steel and 18 gauge sheet metal
- Lightweight design limits fatigue during operation
2. Jigsaw – Our Second Choice for Powered Cutters
If you already have a handheld jigsaw in your shop, we recommend you try it for cutting sheet metal before buying the Wen. Sure, new tools are fun, but if the current jigsaw does the job to your satisfaction, the money for the Wen can go to another tool on your wish list.
The jigsaw has stiffer blades than the hack saw and as a result, doesn’t suffer from the flexing issues that can plague the hack saw. Metal cutting blades are inexpensive and last a long time if you buy quality. Where the jigsaw can suffer is with the effects of its reciprocating action. Expect a lot of vibration when using the jigsaw. We recommend the Makita 4350FCT Top Handle Jigsaw with LED Light.
- Power tools and accessories
- Country of manufacture: Romania
- Manufacturer: Makita
3. Reciprocating Saw – Our Third Choice for Powered Cutters
Eventually, most DIYers and contractors add a reciprocating saw to their tool collection. It is powerful, rugged, and makes short work of demolition-grade cutting chores. One word that doesn’t come to mind with a recip is finesse. When cutting sheet metal, a little finesse is necessary. A beautiful finished appearance is not the objective typically, but neither is a mayhem and destruction look. Okay, for post-apocalyptic décor, maybe that is the look.
You can cut sheet metal with a reciprocating saw, in place, and before installation. The size of the typical saw makes it awkward in tight quarters. And the vibration created is magnified many times; more power, more vibration, more flexing, more of everything. In the same spirit of recommending you use a jigsaw if you already have one, we say the same for the reciprocating saw. We recommend the DEWALT DCS367B 20V Max XR Brushless Compact Reciprocating Saw with DCB230C 20V Battery Pack.
- Compact and lightweight design
- Variable speed trigger with 0-2900 SPM
- Same runtime and power in a lighter, shorter Package compared to DCB200
When looking for tools to cut sheet metal, you want to focus on durability and capability. Regarding hand-powered tools, good quality steel is the first step. Then look at the fit and finish of the tool. Does it operate smoothly? Are parts loosely assembled? Is there apparent attention to detail in the finish? This speaks volumes about the tool’s quality.
There are a considerable number of choices for the hacksaw blade holder. These tools are not expensive in the first place so spend a little extra on a model that provides enough support to minimize blade flex while still providing reasonable cutting length.
When looking at the power shears, the swivel head was the deal maker. That adds so much flexibility and capability to the tool. If you don’t like the WEN we recommend, look for a quality manufacturer with a tool that provides the same features.
The same advice holds for the jig and reciprocating saws. Working with a poor-quality power tool is worse than doing it manually in many cases. Get something that will do the job and a bit more. Who knows, you might become a sheet metal wizard.
A couple more things to consider when purchasing any power tool. Look for a good warranty. Read reviews to see what experience others report from using the tool. Especially important is how well it does its intended job and what kind of after-sale service does the company provide.
When developing these reviews for cutting sheet metal, we operated under the thought that most DIYers and small contractors only occasionally face this task. Being frugal is a good characteristic. Isn’t that why DIYers are DIYers in the first place? Therefore, we make the following summary recommendations.
- Buy a good set of snips the first time you need to cut sheet metal. Wiss M3R MetalMaster Straight, Left, and Right Cut Compound Action Snip Set
- If sheet metal is going to be a common challenge and you do not own either a jig or reciprocating saw, buy the power shears. WEN 3650 4.0-Amp Corded Variable Speed Swivel Head Electric Metal Cutter Shear
- If you do not have a jigsaw and want a more versatile power tool that can also cut sheet metal, spring for the jig over the power shears. Makita 4350FCT Top Handle Jigsaw with LED Light.
That’s it for our recommendations for cutting and snipping sheet metal.
- Comparison of our Favorite Methods (last updated: 2020)
- The 6 Best Tools for Cutting Sheet Metal
- Hand Power Picks
- 1. Snips – Our Top Hand-Powered Choice
- 2. Hack Saw – Our Second Choice for Cutting by Hand
- 3. Hammer and Chisel – Our Third Choice for Cutting by Hand
- Powered Picks
- 1. Power Shears – Our #1 Pick for Powered Cutters
- 2. Jigsaw – Our Second Choice for Powered Cutters
- 3. Reciprocating Saw – Our Third Choice for Powered Cutters
- Buyer’s Guide