Metalworking Tools, Part 7
To cut parts out, I use a variety of tools:
Sheet Metal Snips
I initially got some replaceable-jaw sheet metal snips from Home Depot, for about $25. They're handy sometimes, but I could live without them. They couldn't cut some of the heavier material I use, but they're fine for thinner material -- up to 22 gauge:
Bandsaw . . .
The heavier material requires a saw; my preference is a bandsaw. A few years ago, I bought a used combination bandsaw for $100. It was pretty tired, and the stand was so wobbly I had to reinforce it, but it worked okay to learn on. I gave it to a friend when I moved to Atlanta, and bought a used replacement from Craigslist. It's the Northern Industrial Horizontal/Vertical Metal Cutting Band Saw with 4 1/2-inch (114mm) throat and 3/4hp motor. It lists at $239.99, and I got it (used) for $140. It's like new, and it came with an extra blade.
One note here about bandsaws: there are metalworking bandsaws, and there are woodworking bandsaws. Some can do both, but they're different animals, so don't let somebody sell you a woodworking bandsaw by saying, "Oh, sure, you can cut metal with this -- you just need to get a metal blade for it." Save yourself some frustration and get a bandsaw made for metalworking.
. . . or Maybe Just a Saber Saw
But if a bandsaw is too much for your budget, a saber saw with a metal-cutting blade would work very well, and it would get the job done for a whole lot less money. It takes a little more attention to cut nice, straight lines, but it really is a good low-buck approach. Northern Tool has a variable speed model for $34.99 with free shipping, and Harbor Freight has a variable speed model for $24.99.
I buy the blades locally -- at my local hardware store, or at Lowes or Home Depot. I use 24-tooth-per-inch metal-cutting blades for all the metal I cut.
To use a saber saw for cutting sheet metal, you can put a couple of boards on end -- I've used pieces of a 2x4*. I leave about 1/4 inch (6mm) between the boards, and they hold the sheet metal far enough off the work surface to let the blade move without hitting it.
* In the U.S., a 2x4 is a standard board whose "nominal" size is 2 inches by 4 inches (51mm by 102mm), but whose actual size is 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches (38mm by 89mm). These boards were originally cut from the freshly-felled tree at 2 inches by 4 inches, but after drying and planing, the finished dimensions are somewhat smaller.
Power Shears and Nibbler
Later, I got Air-Powered Shears on sale for $14.99 (regularly $19.99) at Harbor Freight, and added an Air-Powered Nibbler for $18.99 (regularly $24.99). The shears have been handy, but I've only used the nibbler a couple of times.
For the price, they were a good value, but neither is really necessary.