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lapilofu's avatar

Best tool for cutting through thin metal?

Asked by lapilofu (4305 points ) August 21st, 2010

I’ve got an old tea tin with metal sides about as thick as a tin can. I want to artistically cut a hole in the side and repurpose it as a candle holder or nightlight. How would I go about cutting into a metal tin? X-Acto blades aren’t strong enough…

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17 Answers

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Tin snips was my first thought, but I doubt they’re nimble enough to do anything artistic. Could you just carefully use a sturdy pocketknife? I would imagine most pocketknifes could easily cut through that material, and would offer you plenty of control over your cuts.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

If all you want is a circular hole, maybe you could get hold of a metal-grade hole saw and attach it to your regular home drill.

Mephistopheles's avatar

I imagine that cutting a tin can with a penknife would be pretty dangerous – you’d probably end up slipping and injuring yourself.

I mention the dangers of tin cans because my cousin just severed a tendon in her hand by messing around with one.

augustlan's avatar

If you just want a little hole, like something to run a wire through to hang it from, use a hammer and nail. You can even make pretty patterns with this method. Just be sure you put a wood block or something inside the container so you don’t just dent it.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

^ That sounds like a much better suggestion than mine.

rooeytoo's avatar

I use a “nibbler” on the end of my drill. You can get them in different sizes for different applications. They work well but for a one off project are a bit expensive, small tin snips or a nail as Auggie said or even just a metal bit on a drill. Guess it depends on the size of the hole you are making.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Drill holes in a row so you have enough space to slide in a hacksaw blade. That should do it.

GeorgeGee's avatar

This type of nibbling tool works best.
http://www.eclipsetools.com/ProductPics/Latest%20.jpegs/900-215.JPG
They’re available at Radio Shack and hardware stores.

jerv's avatar

This is why I like Dremel tools. You don’t need to force them either; in fact you shouldn’t. Just let the high RPMs do the work.Leaves a nice, smooth hole if you use the right bit, and the thing is so versatile that you may use it for many other things.

john65pennington's avatar

I would suggest tin snipes. i did not know what they were, until my dad passed away and left me all his tools. he has two pair and they really work on thin sheet metal. one point everyone has missed. be careful when handling sheet metal. wear gloves. sheet metal is very sharp and will cut you in a heartbeat.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

We do a lot of sheet metal work on the farm. A nibbler is the tool to use for cutting without distortion. This has two stationary blades with a movable blade in between. Ours is made by Klein, but Bessey also make good ones. We also use a cutter bit on a Dremel power head to make small precise cuts.

lapilofu's avatar

Thanks everyone! Lots of good tips here. Think I’m gonna start by checking if my school has a nibbler in our woodshop.

jerv's avatar

Somehow, I doubt they will. A nibbler is more likely to be found in a welding shop or an auto shop; some place that actually cuts metal. A machine shop might have a set, but is more likely to be dealing with metal too thick for anything short of a power tools, so maybe not. Especially since nibblers tend to leave a very ragged edge, at least compared to the tolerances a machine shop normally works to.
Our machine shop uses dentist drills (basically an air-powered Dremel) for the fine detail work that our CNC machines can’t handle, like deburring.

rooeytoo's avatar

@jerv – you ought to replace the dremel with a foredom! That is a real serious rotary tool. I burned up several dremels before I switched.

jerv's avatar

@rooeytoo I’ll bear that in mind if I ever burn up a Dremel in home usage. Maybe I’ve been lucky…
As for work, I use company-supplied air tools; not a Dremel-brand in sight.

Jabe73's avatar

Take it from someone who works with metal alot, use a hole saw. Most people have some type of cordless drill (if you don’t you should buy one). Attach the correct diameter saw bit to the drill and you will be done in 2 seconds. Do not use tin snips. Like @FireMadeFlesh said, make sure it is a metal grade saw bit.

austinclarke13's avatar

I think hack saw blade is enough for the cutting of thin metal sheet .If you have it then its wonderful otherwise you can easily buy it from any nearby tool store.

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