As a DIYer, whether you are looking to decorate or remodel your home, one metal that could particularly come in handy, is aluminum. However, for your particular needs, you are likely to cut the aluminum workpiece, at hand, into two or more pieces, and learning how to cut aluminum could speed up that process.
Whether you are dealing with aluminum sheets, aluminum gutters, or some other form of metal under consideration, you can use a range of tools to cut it. These include electric power tools, such as a miter saw, a cold chisel, or tin snips.
Whichever tool you end up using, you will require to follow a few basic steps for each. These steps include setting up the tool as well as the aluminum workpiece, securing the workpiece, and finally, making the cut.
In our guide below, we will dive deep into everything that you need to know about cutting aluminum with a number of different tools.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Method # 1 – Cutting Aluminum with Tin Snips
- Curve-cutting tin snips
- Straight-cutting tin snips
- Straight-blade screwdriver
If you need to cut circles in your aluminum workpiece, you can use curve-cutting tin snips.
First off, use a permanent marker to draw a circle in the workpiece. Then, use hammer the back of a straight-blade screwdriver into the metal to create a starter hole.
Place your tin snips into this hole. If you want to cut anticlockwise, make sure to use red-handed offset compound snips whereas for clockwise cutting, use green-handled snips.
However, don’t use straight-cutting snips as they will result in a spikey edge.
Making Straight Cuts
To make straight cuts, you need large tin snips.
Before you begin cutting, open up your snips as wide as possible. As you cut through the workpiece, keep in mind that the longer the cut that you want to make, the longer should each stroke be.
Also, to ensure smooth motion of the cutting process, always pull the cut strip upwards and then, sideways. As a result, it won’t block the handle of the snips or stick to it.
If you are trying to make straight cuts into a thicker sheet of aluminum metal, you need to use straight-cutting compound snips.
Be sure that the aluminum workpiece is straight and well secured by the clamp before you make the cut.
Method # 2 – Cutting Aluminum with a Cold Chisel
- A bevel chisel
- Ball-peen hammer
- Dry, clean cloth
Step 1: Choose an Appropriate Cold Chisel
Before you choose a cold chisel to work with, you need to measure the width of your aluminum workpiece using a measuring tape.
Whatever the width turns out to be, choose a cold chisel that is 1 size wider than your aluminum piece.
Cold chisels normally come in the following sizes: ¼ inch, ½ inch, ¾ inch, and 1 inch. So, if your aluminum workpiece is ½ inch wide, choose a cold chisel of ¾ inches width.
Step 2: Sharpen Your Chisel
Next, fit your chisel into a honing guide and secure it by tightening the screws from both ends. Now, set the guide to a 60-70o angle and place the metal edge of the chisel (bevel) against a second-cut, medium-coarse file.
While you are holding the guide with both hands, move the chisel, to and fro, in a figure-eight pattern.
When you begin to notice scratches on the chisel’s bevel, wipe the bevel with a dry cloth, and switch to medium grit. After you notice new scratches, again, wipe the bevel with a dry cloth, and switch to fine grit.
Step 3: Secure the Chisel in Vise
Place the aluminum workpiece at the center of the vise’s jaws and tighten the screws so that it is firmly in place.
Step 4: Make the Cut
While holding the tip of the chisel perpendicularly, against the metal, with your weaker hand, strike the chisel’s handle with a ball-peen hammer.
However, before you do that, lubricate the tip of the chisel with a drop of 30-weight machine oil so that it penetrates easily into the hardened surface of the aluminum.
Anyhow, strike repeatedly until a notch appears on your aluminum workpiece. Now, you should easily be able to break it into two pieces.
If you are unable to get the job done within 30 seconds, then you are probably using a chisel of the wrong size.
Furthermore, if you are working to cut a line in an aluminum sheet, you can skip step 3, and simply place the sheet on a flat surface and cut your way down.
Be sure, however, to use a backing piece, in the form of wood, for assistance in pushing through the metal and keeping the tip of the chisel from wearing down.
Method # 3 – Cutting Aluminum with Electric Power Tools
- A powered saw or router
- Appropriate safety gear (gloves, goggles, etc.)
Step 1: Choose the Right Blade
A power saw, equipped with a carbide-tipped blade will allow you to cut through just about any thickness of aluminum.
Make sure that the blade you choose is fine-toothed so that the thickness of the cuts, that you are going to make, is no more than ¼ inches.
Furthermore, if you are using a wood-cutting power saw, the chances are its cutting speed is too fast for aluminum.
You can reduce the cutting speed of your power saw by using a blade of a shorter diameter. If that is not possible, you can opt for a more expensive alternative of a blade with a variable speed router and use the slowest speed.
Step 2: Apply Lubricants
When cutting aluminum, you will basically be rubbing metal against metal. So, to avoid any resultant slippage and sparks, use a lubricant, such as WD-40, on your blade.
Apply around 5 to 6 drops of the lubricant on both the upper and lower portions of the blade.
Step 3: Secure the Aluminum Workpiece
Now, you need to secure your aluminum workpiece with a C-clamp.
Accordingly, loosen the clamp by turning it anticlockwise. Adjust it such that the open end of the jaw faces your work surface while the bottom of the jaw is fixed underneath the table.
Now, place your aluminum workpiece under the open end of the jaw and tighten the clamp by turning it clockwise.
Step 4: Make the Cut
With the aluminum workpiece in place, hold the power saw firmly with your stronger hand and apply downward pressure as you move it along aluminum.
Be sure to go much slower as compared to cutting wood and keep the pressure steady.
During the cutting process, don’t go directly behind the power saw as it is the region where the kickbacks are most likely to be directed. Also, keep your fingers as far from the saw blade as possible.
Now, power off the tool. Retract the blade guard on your power saw’s blade and loosen the depth adjustment knob so that the blade is, at most, 0.25 inches below the workpiece. Having done that, tighten the knob.
Note that if you are looking to make circular cuts, you need to use a jigsaw. Keep in mind to position it such that it is closer to that end of the workpiece where you want to begin cutting. Also, the depth of the blade past the metal should be around 0.39 inches.
Important Safety Considerations
Now that you are aware of the different ways that you can cut aluminum, here are some mandatory safety considerations, that you need to make, especially in the case of electric power tools, for smooth proceedings of your cutting project:
- Don’t just wear any type of glasses during the cutting process, like your prescription glasses. Only put on the full safety goggles as they will keep your eyes out of harm’s way.
- Aluminum dust can also result in respiratory issues. So, apart from goggles, equip a respirator or a full-face shield. Also, don’t forget to wear gloves.
- Apart from the dust, produced during the cutting process, a lot of hot and sharp metal shards are also created. So, wear a full-sleeve shirt as well as long pants.
- Follow the tips given above for choosing the right blade for the tool you are using. If you happen to use the wrong blade, you could cause irreversible damage to your aluminum workpiece.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind of Saw will Cut Aluminum?
Can I Cut Aluminum with a Grinder?
Yes, you can. Amongst the various applications of an angle grinder, cutting aluminum is included.
Can Aluminum be Cut with an Abrasive Blade Cutoff Saw?
Yes, it can be. However, aluminum will clog the abrasive blade. Hence, you shouldn’t use this blade for any other metal.
And there you have it – a complete guide on how to cut aluminum.
To reiterate, you first have to make your pick for the type of tool that you are going to use for the process – an electric power tool, a cold chisel, or tin snips. This decision will depend on your budget, the concerned tool’s ease of access, and your preference.
Once you have reached a decision, you then have to implement a few basic steps, detailed above, above setting up the tool you are using, setting up your aluminum workpiece, and finally, making the right type of cut.