During DIY projects, you often need to cut various types of metal. You don’t always have the right tools on hand, though, and you don’t necessarily want to purchase new equipment for a once-off task. Luckily, there are alternative ways to cut metal at home.
- For most DIY enthusiasts, the easiest way to cut metal at home is to use a Dremel rotary tool which is multi-purpose tool that has several uses.
- The simplest method of metal cutting without power tools is to use a hand tool such as a hacksaw.
- If you absolutely don’t want to use any hand tool or power tool, then an oxy-acetylene torch can get the job done.
But, you are probably looking for a safe way to cut the metal at your home or apartment without making too much noise.
Here’s how you do it:
7 Ways to Cut Metals Without Power Tools
There are many ways to cut metal without using power tools, depending on the application. Here are the most common ones.
1. Use Scissors for Thin Sheets
You can use scissors when cutting thin metal, such as aluminum foil, stainless steel foils, shims, or other thin metal sheeting up to 1/64 inch thick. This approach is used in craft applications, and large, sturdy scissors work best.
Note that if you do this often, your scissors will eventually become blunt since they’re not meant to cut anything that hard. Office scissors are typically meant to cut paper, not much else. Even tin foil causes your scissors’ cutting edge to blunt on a microscopic level.
Good quality kitchen scissors with hardened steel blades work fine for cutting very thin metal sheets. You can use a Dremel to sharpen your scissors at home.
2. Tin Snips or Aviation Snips for Metal Cutting
Tin snips are the traditional scissors’ bigger cousin. These sturdy tools can cut thicker metal sheets and corrugated metals sheets up to 1/6 inches thick.
Aviation snips are similar to tin snips but with a pivot that compounds the force. The image below shows an aviation snip in action.
Cutting sheet metal using tin snips can be tricky since the edges are sharp and unyielding. Then, there’s the type of tin snip you use. Some do right-hand curves best, while others are best for left-hand curves. Curve-cutting tends to be easier than cutting straight lines, though.
Large tin snips are better for making straight cuts on sheet metal. For this, make long, straight cuts along the cut line. One side of the metal will rise up along the snip’s blade during the cutting process. Roll this portion back as you go along to keep it out of the way.
When cutting double metal layers, as when cutting ducts, open the snips as wide as possible, and place the duct as far into the blade as you can. Then, press down on the handles to cut through the metal.
If you need to exert excessive force on your tin snips’ handles to complete the cut, the metal is probably too thick or hard. Instead, use a hacksaw for this job since you could damage the tin snip’s blades when cutting things it’s not meant for.
Note that tin snips are very powerful, and minors should always be supervised when using them.
3. Sheet Metal Bench Shear
Bench shear is a version of the guillotine meant for cutting metal sheeting and thin bars. This bench-mounted tool can cut thicker metal than tin snips, up to 1/8 inches thick. It can also cut through rebar, and round bar stock provided it falls within the stated diameter.
Bench shear works on a similar working principle as a regular scissor. It has a long handle that maximizes leverage on the cutting edge, enabling it to easily cut through thicker metal. The blade is sturdy and sharp, making it ideal for cutting hard metals that a tin snip can’t deal with.
While it is a heavy tool, if needed, the metal shears can be moved around as you work, making it a versatile portable tool for most DYI and construction-related projects.
4. Cut Thick Metal with Hacksaw
The humble hacksaw is your best hand tool when cutting thicker metal, such as angle iron, plumbing pipes, and bar stock. This versatile tool comes in various sizes and can easily cut through most types of metal and plastic.
The hacksaw’s reach is limited by the throat depth and the blade length – if your workpiece is thicker than the blade is long, you’ll need a bench-mounted band saw or a similar powered cutting tool.
Using a hacksaw is the easiest way to cut metal at home. It can cut soft metals like aluminum and brass to tough metals such as cast iron and steel. You just need the right type of hacksaw blade for different materials.
A standard hacksaw would be most useful for homeowners and DIY enthusiasts, although the mini version can be helpful for home improvement works such as plumbing.
For more information, see our article on the different types of hacksaws.
5. Wheeled Pipe Cutter (Tubing Cutter)
Wheeled pipe cutters are C-shaped devices meant for cutting various types of metal pipes. Here, a set of rollers are positioned around the edge of the device, making clean, uniform cuts into the pipes.
Here is how it works:
- Position the tubing cutter such that the pipe sits between the rollers and the cutting wheel.
- Rotate the handle of the pipe cuter such that the pipe is secured and the wheel is touching the pipe.
- Next, you would rotate the tubing cutter around the pipe (or swing the pipe cutter back and forth if working in a tight space) in smooth movements. This lets the cutting wheel penetrates into the pipe’s surface.
- As you turn the cutter, slowly rotate the handle to let the wheel penetrate more. Continue to turn the cutter around the pipe completing the cut.
The pipe cutter is a portable hand tool and works well on site. It can even be used in confined spaces, provided that you have sufficient space to turn the cutter. This tool is often used in construction-related applications, specifically repairing and adjusting or trimming copper plumbing pipes.
6. Cold Chisels & Hammer
Before machine tools were invented, cold chisels and hammers were the cutting tools of choice. Made of hardened and tempered carbon tool steel, the cold chisel is exceptionally hard-wearing. Usually, it has a flat blade and an octagonal cross-section to increase its strength.
You can cold cut sheet metal using a hammer and chisel, but you may need to utilize hot cut for thicker plates and bar stock. The process is slower than sawing or shearing, but it works.
Hammers and chisels are still used when working in cramped spaces and completing a cut that can’t be done using a saw or shears. Typically, you would use this to sever rusted nuts or cut off rivet heads. This approach is generally used for heavy repair work.
The best approach is to place the chisel on the desired cut line. Using the hammer, gently tap the back of the chisel to mark the line. Once the line is established, increase the force of the hammer blows to speed up the cutting process until the cut is completed.
7. Use Utility Knife
You could use a utility knife when you need to cut sheet metal or any other thin metal, but you don’t have the right tools around. The technique is known as score and snap.
Here, you would score the metal along the line where you want to make the cut. Apply a lot of pressure when scoring – the deeper the score, the easier the next step. Take care not to snap off the blade while doing this.
Once you’re done scoring the metal, fold it along the line you created. Work carefully so as not to cut your hands. Next, fold it back on the same line. This should snap off the metal along the cut line. If it doesn’t work on the first try, fold it again until it snaps off.
The above 7 techniques should help you with most of your DIY and home repair work. Some of the tools and techniques mentioned are not for the absolute beginners.
If you have no experience in using these tools, I recommend getting a tin snip for working with sheet metal and a hacksaw for cutting thicker metals at home instead of power tools.