8 Types of Tin Snips (& Aviation Snips Color Coding)

Types of Tin Snips (& Aviation Snips Color Coding)

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Tin snips are a handy tool to have in projects that involve cutting metal, be it sheet, ducting, or gutters. What kinds of tin snips should you use, though? And when should you switch to aviation snips?

Take a look below to see what types of snips are available and a guide on which will be best for you.

8 Types of Tin Snips

Perfect for cutting soft metals, common types of tin snips you will find are straight cut and offset snips, along with specialty options like pelican, circular snips, and others mentioned below. They’re inexpensive and lightweight.

Because tin snips have a single pivot point (much like a pair of scissors), their strength is often determined by the length of the tool. Longer handles create more leverage on a single fulcrum, so it is common to find a wider variety of tin snip lengths, typically between 6 and 14 inches.

1. Straight Cut Snips

Sometimes called tinner’s shears, straight cut tin snips typically look like scissors with longer handles and shorter blades. Some handle variations omit the finger loops, taking the appearance of a simple pair of levers.

They have longer blades than offset snips (below) and are ideal for cutting straight lines through metal sheeting.

2. Offset Snips

Offset snips angle the cutting blade away from the hand for longer straight cuts. They are used for cutting curved metal or for making precision, angled, or rounded cuts.

There are two main types of offset snips:

  • Right/clockwise-cut snips which cut in a clockwise direction. The metal curves to the right when cutting
  • Left/Counterclockwise-cut nips which cut in a counterclockwise direction. The metal curves to the left when cutting.

If you’re not sure which snips you have, the best way to tell is to look at the orientation of the bottom blade. The curve of the metal will always follow the direction of the lower cutting blade. If the lower cutting blade is on the left, the metal will curve left, and vice versa.

3. Pelican Snips

Pelican snips are a specialty kind of offsets with a larger cutting depth than is usual. They are used for making long, straight cuts.

Pelican Snips

4. Circular or Curved Snips

Circular snips are another kind of specialty offset snip that have a curved, rather than straight blade. They are designed for making circular cuts.

5. Nibblers

Edge distortion is a common issue associated with the use of tin snips, and nibblers were designed as an effective solution. Nibblers are an offset design with a very small cutting head.

They remove a very thin kerf (sliver of metal) from the edge that helps to even out the cut.

6. Jeweler’s Snips

Fixed at 7 inches in length, jeweler’s snips are straight cut snips with long lever-like handles (no thumb holes). They have a short cutting depth with slightly more pointed tips that are helpful for cutting in small areas or making detailed shapes.

7. Duckbill Snips

Named after the shape of their blades, duckbill snips taper upwards in a curve like a duck’s beak. They are some of the lightest duty shears used mainly for thin metals and curved cuts.

They are not ideal for making straight cuts.

8. Bulldog Snips

Another aptly named design, bulldog snips have especially short blades with very long handles that give these snips extra leverage. They are the strongest of the tin snips designs, often used for notching or trimming.

The short, but very strong blades are akin to the strength of a bulldog’s jaws.

Bulldog Snips

6 Types of Aviation Snips

Sometimes additional strength is required with specific metals and gauges. Aviation snips, also called compound action snips, are appropriate for these situations. They have a pivot point at the blade and one extra pivot point on each of the handles, called linkage points, that compound the force applied, increasing leverage.

A good visual comparison is to imagine the blades of a pair of scissors attached to a pair of nutcrackers. To learn more about this tool, read my detailed comparison of tin snips and aviation snips.

Below I’ll cover the types of aviation snips available on the market.

1. Straight Cut Aviation Snips

Straight cut aviation snips are very similar to straight cut tin snips, aside from the extra pivot points. They are designed to make straight cuts in metal, often out of higher gauges or harder metals.

2. Offset Aviation Snips

Offset aviation snips are designed to cut curved metal, just like regular tin snips. The left and right offset options are the same, with the metal curving to the side on which the bottom blade is oriented.

3. Utility Cut Aviation Snips

With a more delicate cutting blade like the nose of a dolphin, these snips are made for general use. They’re often paired with lighter materials than normal. Not only designed for metal, they can be used for vinyl and thick-cut corrugated cardboard or any other household material.

4. Right Angle Aviation Snips

Also called upright snips, the blades of this design are perpendicular, or at a right angle, to the handle. They’re used for overhead cuts or in tight places where it would be awkward or impossible to fit a standard pair of offsets. Right angle snips don’t have as much leverage as other types of snips, so they may not be able to handle thicker gauges.

5. Bulldog Aviation Snips

Bulldog aviation snips have a very different appearance to bulldog tin snips. The blades are still short and pointed, but the compound design of aviation snips results in a shorter handle than regular tin snips. The comfort grip still allows you to comfortably apply high pressure for cutting through thicker gauges.

6. Long Cut Aviation Snips

With blades longer than standard straight cut aviation snips, long cut blades are designed for making long, straight cuts or large diameter curves. They are versatile in that they can curve left or right, and they are also often used for notch cutting edges.

Long Cut Aviation Snips

Aviation Snips Color Coding

A common curiosity about aviation snips revolves around the colors of the handles. It’s quite common to find aviation snips with yellow, red, or green handles. Do these colors hold meaning?

Yes, they absolutely do:

  • Yellow handles are used in straight cut snips and all variations of straight snips, like long cut snips and bulldog snips. The color specifies a straight cut or one with a wide curve.
  • Red handles signify straight or tightly curved cuts that move metal to the right. The bottom blade is offset to the right-hand side.
  • Green handles are for straight or tightly curved cuts that move the metal to the left. The bottom blade is oriented on the left-hand side of the snips.

These colors are an industry standard that allows users to quickly grab a pair of snips without stopping to check the orientation of the blade first.

Aviation Snips Color Coding

Cutting Gauges by Snip Type

Typically, one can expect tin snips to cut up to 20 gauge and aviation snips to cut up to 18 gauge. This depends entirely on the material that is being cut, as well as the strength of the tool itself. Different types of snips can handle different gauges of material.

Most snips are rated based on mild steel and stainless steel thicknesses. Here is a general guide for gauge capacity by tool type:

Tool Type

Mild Steel / Soft Metal (ga)

Stainless Steel (ga)

Straight Cut18 – 2420 – 28
Offset18 – 2022 – 24
Curved18 – 2222 – 24
UtilityNot rated for metal thicknessNot rated for metal thickness
Duckbill21 – 2423 – 28


Most likely, a pair of straight cut snips, a left offset, and a right offset are all you’ll need to bulk up your toolbox. The guide above has shown their applications, the difference between tin and aviation snips, an impressive variety of specialty options, and what gauges these tools are designed for to make the job easier for you.

Armed with this knowledge, your next trip to the hardware store should be over in a pinch.