There a number of ways to cut metal
There are a number of ways to cut metal in the shop. The most common metal encountered is steel. That is because it is abundant, cheap to produce, has has many properties desirable as a construction material. The methods of cutting metal mentioned here mostly can be applied to other metals like ,stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper with a few exceptions which will be noted.Some of the methods covered include cutting with, sheet metal snips, angle grinder, circular saw, cutting torch,chop saw and plasma cutter.
Cutting sheet metal with tin snips
If you want to cut sheet metal that is 20 gauge or thinner an are not in a hurry. Some hand held tin snips might be the tool for you. They will run you $24 for a really well made pair. This is a case where you cannot skimp on quality with the cheesy imports. Get the best and you will be glad you did.
One of the cheapest ways to cut metal is to buy an angle grinder. They range in price from as little as $30 to over a $100. A good name brand 4 or 4-1/2″ grinder can be had for $50 to $60. They use bonded abrasive cut off wheels so just about any metal, including stainless and titanium can be cut. And with good practice and reasonable care a decent straight line can be cut. For making long straight cuts in sheet and plate metal, it is best to hold the grinder with both hands and use a straight edge and score the line first. The score helps to guide the blade while cutting. The main limitation of the smaller angle grinders is the thickness of metal that it can cut. Typically, you only want to cut material 1/4″ thick or less.
A step up from the angle grinder is a circular saw. You need a all purpose circular saw that is fairly heavy duty. These run from $130 to $150. There are 7 inch abrasive cut off wheels avaiable in 1/8″ and 1/16″ thickness depending on how fine the cutt needs to be. The circular saw will cut through a little thicker material but be mindfull that they rotate at a slower speed and could bind.Another option are special blades for cutting ferrous metals. Some are even contoured to allow curves to be cut as shown in the picture here. the main benifit of a circular saw is the capabilty to cut wood also. This only increases the versatiliy of a tool.
One more saw that can suffice is the chop saw. Unlike the others, it is a stationary saw that had a 14 inch blade. The good ones run about $199 and they cutt thin mateial only due to the slow speed of the blade.
oxygen acetylene torch
An oxygen acetylene cutting torch is a good option for cutting very thick pieces of steel. They are expensive at around $700 for a decent sized model and gas refills can be costly if extensively used. It is only usefull for cutting mild steel and carbon steel since the cutting mechanism is based on combusting the metal. Read the manual for you torch as you need to use different cutting tips and different pressure settings. You can cut steel from 1/8″ to 4 feet thick.
A plasma cutter is a specialized cutting tool. It uses special electrodes to eject a super hot ionized plasma stream. Unlike oxygen acetylene, it can be used on non ferrous metals and stainless steels as well. It is mainly for thinner gauge metals and is quite capable of cutting out delicate details. The major drawback is that plasma cutter can cost up to or significantly over $1000 and they cannot be used for other things like welding or cutting non metallic materials.
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