Working in sheet metal can be fun, and it can be frustrating, but if you like old cars eventually there will come a time when you will need to cut, and eventually even weld sheet metal. At first glance it seems as if it would be like working with paper or cardboard, just a little tougher, but paper products don’t stretch and deform like metal does when you try to bend, shape or cut it. Here are a few simple rules to make metal work easier.
When working with sheet metal, always wear long, thick, leather gloves because it only takes a small slip to be cut to the bone with the sharp edge of a metal piece you are working on. Long welding sleeves are not a bad idea either, because sheet metal can cut deep, and accidentally slashing your wrists can be a very serious injury. Eye and face protection is a good idea as well.
Tin snips or Aviation snips, are just like scissors for metal, and are great for smaller cuts or lighter gauge sheet metal.
Snips come in left, right and straight versions, color coded in a nautical fashion:
Left = Red
Right = Green
Straight = Yellow
Cutting with snips can be time consuming and physically taxing on your hands and arms, but great for cutting complicated, small shapes. Snips also leave an edge that is often a bit ragged and curved from the cutting.
For longer cuts, or just getting the job done faster and neater, there is the Electric Metal Shear. An electric motor moves a small block up and down, pinching the metal between it and a fixed block on the other side. The uniformity of the cut is much better with the electric shear, and the quality of the edge it leaves is better too. Plus it takes no effort and a lot less time to use.
The small cutting blocks, compared to the size of the jaws on the snips, make it easier to use the shear to cut out tighter curved lines in metal parts. Most electrical powered shears have no problem cutting though up to 16 gauge steel, which can be nearly impossible with a pair of manual snips.
Clamp your sheet metal securely to the table or bench so you have both hands free to maneuver the shears around. This will make things much easier. Straight lines and even fairly tight curves are much easier to make with the electric shears. To smooth out the slight curve the shears sometimes leave, if you have an English wheel, you can just use the flattest bottom anvil, and roll the edge through with minimal pressure.
Just like any cutting tool, electric shears will eventually become dull over time. We sell replacement jaw sets for our electric shear but don't worry, you wont need a new set for a long time.
So these are some basic tips that should help you to cut and shape metal pieces for your next project quicker and easier. With a little practice you’ll be able to cut metal as if you were a school kid making paper snowflakes.