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How to Cut Aluminum Sheet Metal

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Aluminum sheet is any aluminum sheet metal thicker than foil but thinner than plate (sheet is under .249” thick, while plate metal is .250” and above.) Many do-it-yourself projects, such as metal fabrication, siding, or roofing, use aluminum sheet because it is a relatively soft metal and thinner gauges can easily be cut.
If you work in large fabrication metal shop, you will have access to industrial cutting tools such as a punch press or plasma, water jet, or laser machines, all of which cut aluminum sheet quickly and easily and provide an excellent finish with high accuracy. These high-speed methods require a large capital investment and lots of floor space.
Smaller sheet metal shops may use plasma or oxy-hydrogen torches to cut aluminum sheet. These tools are easy to maneuver in tight spaces and cut relatively fast. They are powerful enough to cut through thicker gauge sheet, but their accuracy is limited and they cost hundreds of dollars – which may put them out of reach for the DIYer.

Bench and Power Tools for Cutting Aluminum Sheet Metal

Bench-mounted tools, such as shears or band saws, cut aluminum sheet relatively slowly and with varying amounts of accuracy.
An air-powered sheet metal nibbler or a nibbler head attached to a power drill can cut through galvanized, corrugated aluminum sheet, as well as flat sheet up to 16 gauge. These tools move much faster than the hand-powered version (more about that later).
Other power tools that can cut aluminum sheet metal include angle grinders, power shears, and electric jigsaws. Be careful not to allow too much heat to build up when using an angle grinder – aluminum can melt easily and bind up the blade.
In all these cases, the sheet must be filed after cutting, to smooth out any ridges or sharp edges.

Hand Tools for Cutting Aluminum Sheet

For a small shop or an individual DIYer, it’s important to know how to cut aluminum sheet metal at home. Hand tools can be effective on thin sheets of aluminum where accuracy is not an issue. These low-cost options include hammer and chisel, compound snips, or hacksaws.
Green or red metal snips, or hand shears, can cut sheet along curves as well as straight lines, but they will distort both edges when making internal cuts on a piece of aluminum sheet. For those cases, try a set of metal shears, which create a small slot in the metal, removing a thin center piece while leaving the metal sheet flat.
You could also use pair of hand nibblers, which cut through sheet by taking small chunks of aluminum out with each “nibble.” This will be a very slow process, but leaves the sheet flat, without any distortion.
Industrial Metal Supply carries a wide inventory of aluminum sheet and plate productsContact us today for your aluminum sheet & plate needs, or request a quote today.
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