How To Cut Steel Of Different Thicknesses

Steel is one of the most common forms of material you often have to deal with. Nevertheless, it is not easy at all to learn how to cut steel. You need to determine the thickness of a piece of steel and decide on which tools you are going to use to cut it. You have a wide range to choose from to cut steel, ranging from compound snips, an angle grinder, a hacksaw and nibbler to power saw and torches.

Different tools will require different techniques and methods. Scroll down to read more about how to cut steel in the easiest and most effectively.

First, let’s get to know more about the thickness of steal

As you may already know, steal comes in different forms and thickness. Different thicknesses of steal will determine different tools that you are going to use to cut steel. Hence, knowing about this factor of the steal you are working with is very important.

The thickness of steal is also known as gauge. Each piece of steal comes with a gauge number. The lower the number is, the thicker the steel.

Some forms of thin steel include sheet metals while thicker steels are in form of pipes, plates as well as tubes.

  • To cut thick steel, you need to use power saw or torches.
  • You can also use power saw and torches to cut thin steel but it will be kind of unnecessary. Unless you have to deal with a huge amount of steel, power saw and torches will be efficient.
  • Alternatively, you can use a pair of compound snips or a nibbler to cut thin steel. Other choices of tools including an angle grinder or a hacksaw.
  • If you want to cut a thin but rough piece of steel, go for an angle grinder which is fitted with a metal cutoff wheel.
  • For cutting curves, you can use a pair of left cut snips, right cut snips and a bench shear.

Before you cut steel

There are a lot of things that you need to do before you proceed to cut steel with your choice of suitable tool.

  • First, make sure you wear all of the personal safety equipment including your goggles, ear protection and your gloves. In case you work with torches, this step is even more important. You need to wear gloves and goggles with the shades ranging from #7 to #9. Avoid wearing clothes which can be inflamed quickly.
  • In addition, choose a clean working station which is free of debris and far away from anything which is inflammable. Also it is ideal to work in a breathable or ventilated room.
  • When you have to work with powered tools such as the grinder and the torches, you need to read the instructions on the manual books carefully. These instructions will guide you on how to use the tools, which blades you should use to cut steel and how to work with them in the safest way.
  • If you use saw to cut steel, make sure that the blades are sharp. Sharp blade assists a more efficient and safer task.
  • Measure the steel and draw the line on the place that you want to cut for your project.

How to cut thin steel

​1. With A Pair of Compound Snips:

​This tool is suitable to cut a piece of steel with the gauge of 24 or more. The tool is also known as aviation snips or tin snips.

It is easy to work with this tool as it functions in the same way as an ordinary pair of scissors. All you need to do is to get hold of the scissors and follow the cut line cutting in a steady pace.

​Here are some benefits of using a pair of compound snips:

  • It is suitable if you want to have a small and short cuts on the piece of steel or sheet metal.
  • This tool is light and compact, which you can bring around easily.
  • It can be used to cut other things such as plastic.
  • Most importantly, there are 3 types of snips for you to choose from. The straight snips are for cutting straight lines. The right cut snips are for cutting clockwise curve while the left cut snips are for cutting counter clockwise curve.

2. With A Nibbler:

​A pair of compound snips might be suitable if you want to cut small cuts on thin steel and sheet metal. If you want to have longer cuts, use nibbler. There are several types of nibbler that you can use on the market including the hand operated one, the drill powered one as well as the electric and pneumatic.

With these types of nibbler, all you need to do is turn the tool on (if necessary) and guide the nibbler along the line you have drawn on the piece of the steel.

Here are some benefits of using a nibbler:

  • A nibbler is easy to handle. It helps to make clean and quick cuts without damaging the sheet metal and causing any noise.
  • There is no spark caused by the nibbler when you cut thin steel with it.
  • A nibbler can be used to cut steel with a wide range of gauge. It can cut medium thick steel of up to 14 of gauge.

​While cutting with a nibbler has so many benefits, it also leaves a very messy working station behind. Every time the nibbler makes a cut onto the steel, it takes out a small piece of steel. Remember to clean these pieces right away. These pieces are really sharp and could cause damages to you as well as other people.

​3. With A Hacksaw

​A hacksaw is also a very effective way if you want to cut shallow and small cuts on steel. It is very easy to handle this tool as well. Just throw in some sawing motions onto the line you want to cut the steel into and your job is done.

​4. With An Angler Grinder

​Another tool you can use to cut thin pieces of steel is an angle grinder. This handheld power tool comes with a wide range of attachments. However, for cutting steel, you should use the metal cutoff wheel with this tool.

Attach the suitable blade on the grinder. Turn the machine on and slowly guide it onto the steel and cut the drawn line in a steady and slow pace.

​Here are some benefits of using an angler grinder:

  • This tool is quick and capable of dealing with touch pieces of steel.
  • It is also very efficient, helping you to cut a huge amount of steel in a short amount of time.

​The downside of using this tool is that it doesn’t cut on steel as accurately as when you use other tools. Not to mention that it is quite noisy as well.

​5. With A Bench Shear

​You can use this tool to cut into steel like when you use an office paper cutter. Place the sheet of steel under the blade of the bench shear and line the blade so that it is on the drawn line. Then slowly pull the handle down and cut through the sheet of metal.

​Here are some benefits of using a bench shear:

  • This tool works well with sheet metal of all thicknesses.
  • There are 2 types of bench shear to choose from including straight shears and throatless shears. The former helps you to cut straight lines while the latter allows you to cut steel into curves.

​How to cut thick steel

​1. With A Chop Saw

​In order to cut thick steel, you would need a tool which is made for heavy duty tasks such as the chop saw.

Turn on the chop saw and move the blade toward the drawn line for it to cut. Follow a steady and smooth pace as well.

After the steel is cut, the cut pieces would be really hot. Therefore, you need to handle the freshly cut pieces with a lot of cautions.

Here are some benefits of using a chop saw:

  • It is one of the circular saws which are easiest for you to use.
  • This tool allows you to have accurate square cuts on steel.
  • In case you are a DIY hobbyist, you will see that using a shop saw is more efficient in term of economic sense in comparison with other types of saw such as horizontal saw and cold saw. Still, it will not be as accurate as these tools.

​2. With A Horizontal Band Saw

​Band saw is used to cut pieces of steel which are thicker than the steel you cut with a chop saw. Before cutting, you need to make sure that the blade you are going to use is the metal cutting blade. There are 3 options of blade tooth patterns for you to choose from including the raker, the wave and the straight. The raker tooth pattern is for cutting thick steel while the wave pattern is for small and light duty project.

When you choose the right blade with the right tooth pattern, turn the band saw on. Then put the piece of steel toward the blade and let it cut.

In the end, if there are some rough edges on the outer sides of the cut pieces of steel, you can grind them for much smoother cuts.

Here are some benefits of using a band saw:

  • You can work with a great amount of steel of different sizes with this tool.
  • It provides accurate cuts and is quite easy to use.

3. With A Cold Saw

​Here are some benefits of using a cold saw:

  • Among chop saw, horizontal band saw and cold saw, this type of saw allows you to have the most accurate cuts. Nevertheless, a cold saw’s capacity is less than of a band saw.

​Two main drawbacks of using a cold saw are that it is quite expensive and it is not really suitable and practical for a home setting.

4. With A Torch

​There are 2 types of torches that you can use to cut really thick pieces of steel. These torches are plasma torch and oxy-acetylene torch.

  • A plasma torch for thinner pieces of steel while the oxy-acetylene torch is for thicker pieces of steel. The former is used to cut a piece of less than 1 inch in width while the latter an even cut to a piece of around 48 inches in length.
  • Both of these torches use thermal power to cut through pieces of metal. They results in very clean and nice cuts in a short amount of time, with little effort that you have to put into the cutting process.
  • The plasma torch will not wrap thin metal but the oxy-acetylene torch will do so.
  • You can use plasma torch for many types of materials. On the other hand, oxy-acetylene torch is for cutting steel only.

​Here are the steps on cutting steel with a torch:

​Step 1: Locate the piece of steel on the working station and secure it.

Step 2: Connect the torch with the power tank using the torch’s line. Secure the vales on the torch so that it is shut tight. On the other hand, the valves on the tank should be loosening so that the torch’s line is pressurizes for the job.

Step 3: Then hold the striker of the torch with one hand and the wire handle with the other hand. If you squeeze on the handle firmly enough, it will ignite fire.

Step 4: Adjust the valves on the torch until you see a yellowish white flame.

Step 5: Then bring the flame to the piece of steel and follow the drawn line to cut the steel into the shape that you want. You need to work with the center part of the flame instead of the tip.

Step 6: After the cut is done, wait for the pieces of cut to cool down before you touch them.

In general, before cutting steal, you need to decide which tool you are going to use to cut it depending on the thickness of the steel. You can use a pair of compound snips or a nibbler as well as power saw and torches to cut thin steel. On the other hand, you can use power saw and torches for cutting thick steel. Measure the piece of steel and mark the line before cutting. And remember to clean your working station after you cut steel to prevent the small pieces of steel from hurting you and other people.

I hope that with all of the tips above, you would be able to pick up the right tools for your project and can cut steel effectively. After all, it is not so hard to deal with steel as long as you can choose the right tools and keep in mind all of the safety precautions.