Metal Cutting Made Easier: 6 Tools to Use Beyond A Hacksaw
May 06, 2023
Cutting metal on a farm often used to involve either an oxy-acetylene torch, a hacksaw or tin snips. If a shop was "high-tech," it might have a metal cutting bandsaw or abrasive-disk chop saw. In recent decades plasma cutters appeared in some farm shops to take slicing metal to a higher level. A new generation of metal cutting tools span the divide between hacksaw simplicity/economy to plasma cutter precision/price.
Metal-cutting, "cold-cut" miter saw. Conventional benchtop chop saws that cut metal with an abrasive disk work fine for coarse work, but are dirty, imprecise and leave hot, scorched edges. Chop-style saws that use special metal-cutting carbide-tipped blades not only slice steel tubing, angle iron and flat stock with precision, but leave the cut edges cool and nearly burr-free. Evolution Power Tools, DeWALT and others offer metal-cutting chop saws that make precise miter cuts that are unavailable with abrasive-disk saws. They’re double the cost of a conventional chop saw, in the $700-plus range, but it's nice not to have a cloud of smoke and dust every time you cut metal in the shop.
Portable "Cold-Cut" Metal Saw. There are now options for cold-cutting metal outside a shop. Battery-powered metal-cutting circular saws like Milwaukee Tools’ cordless M18 Fuel® Metal-Cutting Circular Saw makes cutting re-bar, pipe, angle iron and steel plate easy in the field. It's important to note the motors and drives in metal cutting saws run at slightly slower speed, with more torque, than conventional wood cutting circular saws. Try to cheat by putting a carbide-tooth metal cutting blade in a regular circular saw and you’ll end up buying two new saws: a replacement saw to cut wood, and a new metal-cutting saw after you (briefly) discover how nice a cold-cut saw works. A Milwaukee M18 Fuel® portable metal-cutting saw without battery retails for around $170.
A throatless shear. "For $125 you can bolt it to a work bench, cut flat sheet steel up to 3/16-inch, and pretty much retire your tin snips," says Phil Heck, owner of Woodward Fab, which offers an amazing variety of metal-working tools perfect for farm shops. "If you’ve never seen one, look them up on the internet. You can make curved, very precise cuts with it. You’ll be amazed the uses you find for it."
Sheet metal nibbler. Hand-powered nibblers sell for around $70 and excel at cutting tight curves in tin and thin sheet metal, in the shop or in the field. Air- or battery-powered nibblers cost $200 to $300 but prevent hand cramps on big jobs.
Reciprocating saw. Reciprocating saws are portable hacksaws on steroids. They aren't precise. Their precision when cutting metal is akin to the precision of a chain saw cutting wood. Plan to pay $125 to $175 for a corded model. If you already have battery-powered tools you can buy for $100 to $150 a recip saw that uses the same batteries as your other cordless tools. Unlike metal cutting circular saws, recip saw motors and drives don't care what they’re cutting. Switch to a wood-cutting blade and you’ve got a multi-purpose tool.
Plasma Cutter. Plasma cutter prices have fallen in the past decade, and so has the weight and size of portable units. Hypertherm offers a portable unit for around $1,800 that's powered by either 120 or 240 volts.
"Be aware, you lose about 50% of your cutting capacity when you switch a 240-volt unit to 120-volts," says Jim Ballard, representative for Razorweld plasma cutters. "If you’re set to cut ¼" steel at 240 volts, you’ll probably only be able to cut 1/8" steel if you switch to 120 volts." Metal-cutting, "cold-cut" miter saw. Portable "Cold-Cut" Metal Saw. A throatless shear. Sheet metal nibbler. Reciprocating saw. Plasma Cutter.