How to Cut Sheet Metal with Tin Snips

How to Cut Sheet Metal with Tin Snips

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If you need to cut some sheet metal for a roof, a shed wall, or anything else of the sort, then you need to have the right tool for the task.

One of the most commonly used tools for cutting sheet metal is tin snips, otherwise known as metal snips or metal shears.

How to cut sheet metal with tin snips is exactly what we are going to teach you right now. First, however, we do need to discuss how to choose the right kind of tin snips for the specific task at hand.

Are Tin Snips the Best Tool for Cutting Sheet Metal?

Tin Snips For the most part, yes, tin snips are by far the best tool to use for cutting sheet metal. Although they might be totally manually powered, they tend to provide you with the highest degree of control and the cleanest cuts. On that note, one big benefit you get with tin snips over any kind of power tool is that tin snips don’t produce hot sparks.

What is however important to note is that there are many different types of tin snips out there, so choosing the right one for the specific task is essential.

First, we have the straight-pattern blade or normal blade, which are regular tin snips that are best used for making long and straight cuts. We then have the duckbill-bladed tin snip, which has a slight taper and is therefore ideal for cutting tight curves and shapes.

There are also aviation snips, which have a double-pivot, are spring-loaded, and have a safety lock. Here, you have yellow aviation snips ideal for cutting straight lines, green aviation snips that are ideal for clockwise cuts, and red aviation snips that are ideal for making counterclockwise cuts, particularly for left-handed people. Whatever the case, the fact that they are spring-loaded does make them much easier to use if you have a lot of sheet metal that needs to be cut.

You then also have compound tin snips, which are built with added leverage. In other words, they help you make the cut, and are therefore ideal for slightly thicker gauges of sheet metal. Finally, you need to consider the difference between smooth blades and serrated blades. If you are working on natural metals such as aluminum and copper, you generally want to use smooth blades, and for non-natural types of metal, serrated blades are best.

At this point, you should know exactly what type of tin snips you need for this task. However, do keep in mind that there are also other tools that can make quick work out of sheet metal, such as a circular saw, a rotary tool, an angle grinder, and realistically any other tool that you can affix a metal-cutting blade to. What is also beneficial about using tin snips for this task is that because they aren’t dangerous power tools, you really don’t need to take many safety precautions.

How to Cut Sheet Metal With Tin Snips

Now that you know exactly what type of tin snips to choose for the task at hand, let’s take a closer look at exactly how to cut sheet metal with tin snips.

Step 1: Select the Right Tin Snips

According to the tips listed above, now is the time for you to choose the right kind of tin snips for the job. Today, we will assume that you are cutting a straight line through thin sheet metal, so we recommend getting some normal straight-blade tin snips.

Step 2: Dawn Your Safety Gear

Seeing as tin snips won’t create any sparks, you don’t need to wear a face mask or eye protection. However, cutting sheet metal with tin snips can still be slightly dangerous, so wearing hand protection is recommended. Some thick leather gloves will help prevent you from pinching your fingers in the tin snips and from cutting yourself on the sharp edge of the metal once it has been cut.

Step 3: Measure and Mark the Cut

You now want to use a measuring tape to make measurements as needed, then use a ruler along with an appropriate marking utensil, such as chalk or a pencil, to mark the straight line that you are going to cut. Make sure to measure accurately before you start this process.

Step 4: Support the Sheet Metal

Seeing as sheet metal can be large, heavy, and cumbersome, rather than holding it in your hands, you do want to support it on something like a large table. This will make the whole process much easier.

Step 5: Make the Cut

Now it is time to actually make the cut. Here, you want to hold the tin snips in your dominant hand while holding the sheet metal in place with your other hand. Just like with a regular pair of scissors, you are going to cut along the line that you made in step three. Just keep cutting until the cut has been completed.

Step 6: Polish the Edges

If you didn’t do the best job, you might end up with some burrs or rough spots. If this is the case, use something like an angle grinder with a polishing disc to remove the burrs or rough edges.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

To make this process as easy, fast, and successful as possible, let’s quickly go over some tips and tricks for you to follow.

  • If you feel the need, you can always use both hands on the tin snips to add some more force to the equation. If this is the case, to hold the sheet metal in place while you cut, clamp it down to the surface it is being supported on.
  • If it is taking way too much force to cut through the sheet metal, consider using heavier-duty tin snips designed for thicker gauges of metal.
  • Always cut in short strokes. In other words, don’t use the full blade at once. Tin snips are ideal for cutting about ¼” of metal at a time. Short cuts always work better.


As you can see, cutting sheet metal with tin snips is quite easy and fairly safe too. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that you need to be using the right kind of tin snips for the type of sheet metal and the type of cut being made.