Choosing the Right Sheet Metal Cutting Tool

Sheet Metal Cutting Tools

When it comes to cutting metal there is no shortage of tools to choose from. This can be confusing when you’re trying to decide what tool is right for you. This guide explores the best metal cutting solutions on the market and investigates their capabilities to help you make an informed decision on what tool is best suited to your metal cutting needs.


Tin Snips

By far one of the oldest and most popular cutting solutions, tinner snips or ‘tin-snips’ are a hand-actuated tool for cutting sheet metal. Typically made from drop forged carbon steel, Tin-snips come in two main types; Straight and a Duckbilled Patterns. As the name suggests, straight patterned tin snips are designed to cut straight lines and mild curves, whereas Duckbilled patterns (also known as trojan-patterns) are better suited for curves and circular shapes.

Straight Pattern snips can typically cut material between 24-16 gauge (0.5mm-1.4mm), whereas duckbilled patterns may struggle on material over 25 gauge (0.508mm).

Tin Snips are an inexpensive solution, primarily because of their simple and robust design requiring the user to exert force to cut the material. At the same time, this is the tools Achilles heel, it’s seriously hard work if you’re cutting anything other than light material. Alternatively the more expensive Compound-Action Snips allow you to exert a higher amount of force, making it easier to cut. These typically handle material like Aluminium up to 18 Gauge (1.1mm), Mild Steel up to 24 Gauge (0.5mm) and Stainless Steel up to 26 Gauge (0.457mm). 


  • Inexpensive
  • Works well on flat surfaces

  • Good for small jobs

  • Offers adequate Manoeuvrability

  • Cutting produces no additional waste

  • No sparks


  • Limited cutting capacity
  •  Hard work to use

  •  Slow

  • Potential for injury (hands by material)

  • Leaves sharp and jagged edges

  • Often distorts the material (warp or bend)

  • Difficult to get straight cuts on larger jobs

  • Difficult to cut complex profiles like corrugated roofing

  • Difficult to master


  • We would recommend tin snips for light, occasional metalworking. However we’d recommend a more capable tool if you plan on doing a larger jobs, or cutting metal regularly.


Power Shears

Power Shears are a lot like Tin-Snips on steroids. A sharpened blade cuts rapidly against a fixed blade and cleanly slices through the material as it’s advanced through. Power Shears typically come in both a single and double cutting variant, the latter using two separate cutting blades which leaves a wider kerf and cutting waste.

One of the primary advantages of power shears is their cutting capacity, which lends the tool to heavy-duty jobs with a typical cutting capacity of 10 SWG (3.2mm) depending on the model. Power Shears typically struggle with curves, and if pushed beyond their limits may leave jagged or sharp edges. Power Shears are also known to distort (warp or bend) the material being cut, making it a poor choice if the job needs to be kept flat or its shape maintained. While double cutting shears are known to produce less distortion, they similarly struggle with curves and are not as heavy-duty as single cutting shears.


  • Ideal for heavy-duty work (Single Cutting models)

  • Easy to use

  • No sparks

  • Cutting produces no additional waste (Single cutting models only)

  • Fast

  • Easy to master


  •  Struggles with curves (Limited manoeuvrability)

  • Can distort the material

  • Can be expensive

  • Produce cutting waste (Double cutting models only)

  • Cutting blade may have ingress for fingers (Dangerous if misused)

  •  Leaves sharp edges

  • May struggle with complex profiles


  • We’d recommend power shears for large heavy-duty cutting like spiral and oval air-conditioning ducting. While all of the other tools on this list can achieve similar results, power shears are a fast and easy tool for the job. We would recommend a more manoeuvrable tool like a nibbler or plasma cutter for more detailed work.


Angle Grinder

Angle grinders, also known as a side or disk grinder is a handheld power tool for grinding and polishing. If we’re being honest, we know you already knew that. But with the addition of a cut-off wheel, an angle grinder can be turned into a powerful metal cutting tool.

Generally, there are two types of cutting wheels, the Type 1 Flat Wheel and the Type 27 Depressed Centre Wheel. The Type 1 wheel offers greater versatility especially when cutting profiles. The Type 27 is better suited to tight corners and overhangs, the depressed centre providing an extra degree of clearance. 

The rule of thumb when choosing a cut-off wheels is the thicker the material, the thicker the disk you should get, however, keep in mind that the thicker the wheel the slower it will cut, as well as generating more friction, heat and often discolouring the material. When cutting Aluminium it is recommended to apply cutting lubricant to prevent the blade from chipping.

One primary advantage of the angle grinders is its suitability for cutting straight lines. Unlike other cutting tools, the large cutting surface of angle grinders makes it ideal for cutting in straight lines. The flip side of this is that it makes it significantly more difficult and time consuming to cut curves. Typically angle grinders are not known to distort the sheet material (unless it is very thin), however, it produces sparks and waste in the form of a fine dust, as well as creating sharp edges that have to be tidied.


  • Perfect for cutting straight lines

  • Cost-Effective (Cutting wheels are inexpensive)

  • Fast

  •  Large cutting capacity (Gauge dependant on the thickness of the cutting wheel)

  • Can handle complex profiles like corrugated roofing


  • Produces sparks

  • Produces waste (Fine dust)

  • Dangerous to use (Particularly without a guard)

  • Leaves sharp edges

  • Difficult to cut curves

  •  Difficult to master


  • We’d recommend using an angle grinder for metal cutting that requires straight edges such as custom mounts for automotive applications. While other cutting solutions can achieve similar results, an angle grinder is a good choice if you have time to clean up sharp edges and already own an angle grinder. We’d suggest a more capable tool if you plan on creating curves, complex shapes or have safety concerns.



A nibbler is a sheet metal cutting tool that as the name suggests, ‘nibbles’ through sheet material by turning a rotational drive into a linear ‘up-down’ motion. Nibblers typically come as a standalone tool or a drill-attachable unit, using the drive from a power, battery or pneumatic drill to run the tool. Drill attachment nibblers have been around since the 1980s and typically have cutting capacities of 16 gauge (1.6mm) on tougher material like corrugated Iron and Mild Steel, and a cutting capacity of 14 SWG (2mm) on softer materials like Aluminium or Copper. Typically standalone nibblers offer greater cutting capacities than their drill-attachable counterparts, however, they tend to command a significant price premium.

Nibblers (like our Professional Nibbler) are a versatile and manoeuvrable cutting tool ideally suited to creating curves, complex shapes and circles. Nibblers can also cut straight lines, but benefit from the addition of a straight cutting attachment.

Nibblers are suited to both flat and complex profiles, such as corrugated roofing, piping, gutters or automotive body panels.

One of the main benefits of nibblers over other tools is the fact they do not distort the material as they cut or leave sharp edges thanks to the chamfered edge on the cutting die. This makes nibblers ideal for fast and repeatable work as it saves time you would otherwise spend cleaning up sharp edges and making the cut consistent. While nibblers don’t produce sparks, they produce cutting waste in the form of small ‘chips’ and have a cutting kerf to consider when making a cut.


  • Fast

  • Versatile and Manoeuvrable

  • Doesn’t leave sharp edges

  • Doesn’t distort the material

  • Cost-effective (Drill attachable variants)

  • Large cutting capacity (Especially standalone units)

  • Easy to use

  • Great for complex shapes

  • Great for complex profiles

  • Safe to use (No ingress for fingers to touch the cutting blade or sharp edges)


  • Can be expensive (Standalone units)

  • Produces waste

  •  Kerf is a consideration when cutting

  • Benefits from a cutting attachment for making perfectly straight and circular cuts.

  • Benefits from bench mounting clamps.


  • We would recommend a nibbler for most DIY work, particularly when working with complex profiles and shapes such as corrugated roofing or guttering. We would suggest a standalone unit for heavier-duty applications.


Plasma Cutter

A plasma cutter is a tool that cuts through electrically conductive materials by accelerating a jet of hot plasma onto the material. Plasma cutters typically come as a portable unit, however, plasma cutting CNC machines are also available. Plasma cutting is an effective way of cutting curved, angular and complex shapes and is perfect for thicker materials such as 1.5” Inch (38mm) Steel. Plasma cutting is not known for leaving clean or burr-free edges and requires significant tidying once the cut is complete.

 While a powerful and versatile cutting tool, plasma cutters are typically an expensive and dangerous cutting solution operating at significant temperatures and requiring adequate safety equipment and precautions.


  • Perfect for cutting very thick material

  • Good for cutting complex shapes and curves


  • Very expensive 

  • Dangerous and requiring adequate safety equipment

  • Leaves messy and potentially sharp edges

  • Difficult to master

  • Produces waste in the form of slag (or dross)

  • Produces sparks

  • Potential distortion on thinner material


  • We would only recommend plasma cutting for heavy-duty applications, or jobs that cannot be achieved within the cutting capacity of alternative cutting solutions. We would also not recommend plasma cutting to people new to metal cutting.


So, like all things the best tool for you really depends on factors like the type of cutting you plan on doing and your budget. We believe that nibblers like our Professional Nibbler (click ‘here’ to find out more) strike a good balance between cost, versatility and cutting capacity. However if you plan on cutting very thick material or don’t plan on doing a lot of metal cutting, we’d recommend one of the other cutting solutions listed above. We’d also recommend doing some additional research into the capabilities of any tool you buy before purchasing to make sure it is the right solution for you.