Metal Cutting Saw. Which is Best for You?

Have you ever seen a grinder or an abrasive saw that cuts metal with lot of sparks? Well, that’s not the only option to cut metal. Whether you’re a professional metal worker, or just need to cut some metal for DIY projects, knowing what types of saws that cut metal are available can make the job go much quicker. The saw you chose should depend on the application and the metal you are cutting. In this article, we explore various metal cutting saws and their corresponding applications.
Metal Cutting Saws

1. Horizontal Band Saw

The horizontal band saw is most often used in high-volume applications in metal workshops. Here, they are used to cut through large pieces of metal quickly and with ease, using long, toothed blades. This saw requires a vice to hold the metal in place while cutting it in a downwards movement. Horizontal band saws provide excellent squareness on cuts, which is ideal for precision applications. Their blades have a high wear resistance and thus a longer lifespan than other commonly used saws.

Horizontal Band Saw Parts

While the blade used is an essential factor in the types of metal you can cut, the saw chosen also plays an important role. Horizontal band saws can cut through hard metals, such as stainless steel, that other saws generally can’t handle.

Since horizontal band saws are primarily used in industrial applications, they can be automated. Here, the operator would set up the machine and metal, program the cuts, and step away from the machine to perform other tasks. This improves efficiency and safety since the operator isn’t near the blade while cutting is in progress.

Industrial grade band saws tend to be expensive. However, they are highly efficient, working through a vast quantity of cuts in a short time, and they tend to be cost-efficient. Their long blade life is another positive factor. In short, if your volume of work justifies the capital outlay of a horizontal band saw, it is well worth the investment.

Column Band Saw

Other machines closely related to the horizontal band saw are the column band saw, and the portable band saw.
Column Band Saw cutting metal
The column band saw is a heavy-duty industrial machine, often carrying an even heavier workload than its horizontal counterpart. In contrast, the vertical band saw is a more flexible version, far more maneuverable, but unable to carry the immense workload of the larger models.

A handheld version of this tool is the portable band saw that cuts metal pipes, electrical conduits, channels, etc.

2. Vertical Band Saw

The vertical band saw is often toted as the horizontal band saw’s brother. It works on the same principle, but its orientation is vertical instead of horizontal. While it can also handle high volumes of work, it has a lower cutting speed. It is generally used in smaller applications and small workshops.
Here, the metal is held in a vice or by hand and pushed towards the blade that circulates at a fixed position to complete the cut. With the help a fence and wide blade, you can achieve good straight cut edges.

Vertical Bandsaw

Vertical bands saws are ideal for cutting curves and angles. Since they’re more maneuverable than their horizontal counterpart, they’re well-suited to cutting structural parts, intricate pieces, fixtures, and even curvy shapes.

Unfortunately, the operator feeds the metal into the saw, and this machine can thus not be automated. Comparing this to the horizontal band saw, the vertical option is less efficient and slightly more dangerous. This is because the operator is close to the blade while cutting, increasing the risk of injury. Make sure that the blade is running in the correct direction. With the right techniques, a band saw is not a dangerous tool like table saw.

While these saws are highly versatile, they are not well-suited to cutting stainless steel. Instead, they are often used to cut the softer structural steel.

3. Cold Saw

A cold saw is an expensive option offering precise cuts while keeping the metal cool. For this, the saw uses a large circular saw blade and coolant to cool down the cutting edge. This reduces friction on the cut and prevents the metal and cutting blade from getting hot. As a result, you get clean, precise cuts suitable for high-precision applications.
Cold saw cutting metal

The cold saw is expensive but offers long blade life since the blade isn’t operating under hot conditions. The savings on blade replacement offsets the capital outlay in the long run, provided that you use it often enough to justify the cost.

4. Hack Saw

The hacksaw is a handheld, manually operated saw, most commonly used in DIY applications. This inexpensive tool offers the average homeowner or DIY enthusiast the ability to cut small pieces of metal, such as pipes and fittings, with minimal hassle. Since it’s manually operated, the accuracy varies wildly, depending on the operator’s skill and experience. That said, even a highly skilled person will be hard-pressed to achieve the accuracy of the vertical band saw, or cold saw.
Metal Cutting Hacksaw
This inexpensive tool is best for cutting small sections, cutting the length of bar stock, tubes, angle irons, household applications, done ad-hock and on-site.

5. Metal Chop Saw

The metal cutting chop saw is a small, portable device that you can use in the workshop or on-site. This tool uses a circular blade to cut through metal quickly and neatly, with the minimum amount of burs and no sparks – on the wet cutting chop saw, at least.

There are two variations of chop saws:

  1. Dry cut chop saw
  2. Abrasive chop saw

Dry Cut Chop Saw

Dry cut saws use carbide-tipped circular blades which can cut through most metals including, aluminum, copper, brass, mild steel, etc. They produce almost no sparks and cuts relatively fast.

14 Inch Metal Cutting Saw

The steel blade with carbide cutting tips is relatively wear-resistant and can be re-sharpened to extend its lifespan.

However, this tool is really loud and the blade often struggles to cut through stainless steel and tough tool steels. While the tool itself is not very expensive, the blades are not cheap. You don’t want to burn the cutting edges and damage the blade by attempting to cut thick tool steels.

Abrasive Chop Saw

These are the most common type of metal cutting chop saws. As you can guess, the abrasive chop saw is equipped with an abrasive disc that spins at a very high speed. The saw produces a lot of sparks, but it can cut through even the toughest steel.
Cutting Rebar with Chop Saw
It generates very little noise and the abrasive discs are comparatively cheaper. An abrasive metal cutting chop saw is a common tool in most construction sites, workshops, and metal fabrication shops.

How Does a Metal Cutting Chop Saw Work?

This saw has a clamp that holds the metal in place while cutting, ensuring safe working conditions. The angle of this clamp is adjustable, offering flexibility in cutting. Once the metal is clamped, the saw is switched on, and the spinning blade is lowered onto the metal, cutting through it in one smooth movement. With a dry-cut chop saw, the blade produces less friction and thus not much heat. After cutting, the metal is usually cool enough to handle with your hands.

Metal cutting chop saws are more expensive than the hack saw but far less expensive than the vertical band saw. While they can’t handle curvy shapes, they are versatile enough for most on-site applications. They’re also more accurate and efficient than any handheld saw, making this a staple in the contractor’s tool kit.

6. Reciprocating Saw

Reciprocating saws are handheld cutting tools that are either chorded or battery-operated. It has a straight, toothed blade that moves forward and backward in a quick reciprocal movement – hence the name. This blade can be loaded into the chuck facing down, although you can mount the blade with the blade facing up depending on the task at hand.

Cutting Metal Pipes

The saw is trigger-operated, allowing the operator to control the blade speed. This ensures that the operator works at a safe pace, suitable to their skill level and task. Since this saw is handheld, it is versatile but not as accurate as the chop saw. It is relatively inexpensive and thus commonly used in DIY applications and on-site work.

The reciprocating saw is basically the mechanized version of the manual hack saw. It is used in many of the same applications. Here, it speeds up the efficiency since it works much faster than the hack saw. You could use a variety of blades on this one, cutting through various types of metal, wood, and PVC.

7. Handheld Circular Saw

When fitted with the correct blade, a circular saw can handle any straight cut on metal. This type of saw is well-suited to cutting metal roofing, corrugated metal, rebar, and sheet metal. In some cases, you could even stack multiple sheets together, cutting them simultaneously. Note that this handheld tool is only suited to simple, straight cuts. It cannot be used for complex, high-precision applications. It probably also won’t work well for thick pieces of metal, due to their limitation in depth of cut.
Cutting rebar with circular saw
Handheld circular saws are relatively inexpensive and another staple in the handyman and construction technician’s toolkit. They work far quicker than a manual hacksaw. Thus, the increased efficiency justifies the initial capital outlay.

While the blades don’t last exceptionally long, they are relatively inexpensive, making the investment well worth it. Make sure that you are using the right type of blade when working with hard metals, such as stainless steel.

8. Miter Saw

The miter saw allows you to cut crosscut and angle cuts to create perfect mitering joints. Here, you can adjust the angle of the cut and the bevel, making for seamless joints that are neat and easily made. A normal miter is designed to cut wood, plywood, crown molding, etc. The metal miter saw is a regular miter saw fitted with a metal cutting blade and is best used with soft metals, such as aluminum.
Metal Cutting Miter Saw
Note that a wood cutting saw operates at a higher RPM (revolutions per minute) than a metal cutting saw. Running a metal cutting blade at excessively high RPMs could damage the blade, saw, and metal and poses a significant safety risk. Before fitting a metal cutting blade on your miter saw, ensure that its RPMs are adjustable – this is usually the case with high-end saws.

9. Jigsaw with Metal Cutting Blade

Jigsaws are usually associated with woodwork, but there are many metal-cutting jigsaws available on the market. Compared to their woodworking counterparts, metal-cutting jigsaws have a shorter stroke (amount of movement that the blade makes). They don’t allow for pendulum action. The pendulum action on a woodworking jigsaw allows for faster blade movement when cutting through thicker material. This isn’t necessary for a metal-cutting jigsaw since the blade speed is optimized for cutting metal – this is slower than when cutting wood.

Metal Cutting Jig Saw

You can use a metal-cutting blade in a traditional woodworking jigsaw. Here, it’s best to turn off the pendulum option or use it at the lowest setting available and work slowly. It will be slower than when using a jigsaw optimized for metal cutting. This minimizes the safety risk and the potential damage caused to both metal and equipment.

Metal-cutting jigsaws allow you to cut intricate patterns in metal sheets. These hand tools can be battery operated or corded, depending on the model. Although the metal-cutting ones tend to be slightly pricier than their woodworking counterparts, they’re relatively inexpensive.

10. Scroll Saw

Scroll saws are small electrical saws capable of cutting intricate patterns in the wood. With a metal cutting blade, you can cut sheet metals on a scroll saw. It cuts far more delicately than a band saw or jigsaw since it has a very fine blade.

Man cutting on a scroll saw

You can also create curves with beveled edges with a scroll saw by pivoting the cast table attached to the saw. This benchtop tool used a reciprocating blade with both ends clamped and moves up and down at variable speed. Here, the operator can adjust the blade speed to suit the material being cut and their skill level.

The scroll saw is ideal for DIY enthusiasts and high-end craft workers. You can use it to cut puzzles, letters, and shapes on sheet metals. This is not a heavy industrial tool and tends to be quite pricey for the application at hand.