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How to Cut Aluminum Sheet Metal

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Time to Read: 3 m 17s

Aluminum sheet is any aluminum 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.

Cutting Aluminum Sheet in a Larger Metal Shop

Those that work in large fabrication metal shops 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, high accuracy finish. These high-speed methods require a significant capital investment and lots of floor space.

Cutting Aluminum Metal Sheet in a Smaller Metal Shop

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 and 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 quickly and bind up the blade.
Additionally, within any aluminum sheet cutting applications, 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 essential to know how to cut aluminum sheet metal at home. Hand tools can be practical on thin aluminum sheets 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 and 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.” Nibbling is a prolonged process but leaves the sheet flat without distortion.

Tools for Properly Cutting Aluminum

There are several types of tools that are used to cut aluminum. These tools provide the collective strength to cut aluminum accurately and effectively to project specifications. The tools commonly used for aluminum sheet metal fabrication include:

Aluminum Cutting Tips

Even though aluminum is softer and cuts relatively quickly, several useful methods allow the cutting process to flow smoothly and efficiently. The following tips can be utilized to provide an effective aluminum cutting process:
  • Use lubricant
  • Clamping is key
  • Utilize the correct hand tools
  • Always wear protective equipment

Your Local Aluminum Sheet Supplier Serving Southern CA, Arizona, Nevada & Northern Mexico

Industrial Metal Supply is the Southlands largest supplier of all metal and metalworking accessories. Contact us to learn more about our high-quality aluminum sheet options for your next project.
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