At John Stortz & Son, we don’t just sell metal cutting tools – we offer the entire kit and kaboodle of carefully crafted, high quality tools for roofers, masons and many other craftsmen. Since 1853, tradesmen around the region and the country have turned to Stortz in order to fill their need for tools for the job, whatever it is.

We don’t just place a premium on lifelong quality that you can lean on to tackle the job. We also pride ourselves on providing you with useful information that you might need to make a well-educated purchasing decision.

In this article, we’re going to cover some background on some of the popular and oft-encountered metal cutting tools. Start here, learn a little more, and check out our product pages to learn more about each of these categories.

What Are Metal Cutting Tools?

Broadly speaking, metal cutting tools are tools, either handheld tools or power tools, that are designed to separate metal in a precise fashion. This makes them ideal for cutting metal, hence the name. Some of them are meant to cleave sheet metal along one line, and others are meant to reduce deformity. Others are designed to punch a hole through the metal.

These are not the only cutting tools that you might need, and in fact this is introductory at best. Still, these are some of the more common cutting tools that you’ll come across, and if you work with sheet metal, some of them are absolutely indispensable. Read up, and if you have any questions, make sure you get in touch with us.

Slitters – The basic function of a slitter, whether it is designed for cutting metal or some other material, is to reduce the diameter of a coiled round of stock. Whether it’s paper, plastic sheeting or sheet metal, the basic idea here is that a slitter reduces the width of the stock.

There are many different types of slitters, so we don’t want to over generalize, but if you have ever seen a machine with cutting wheels into which rolls of sheet metal can be fed lengthwise, it’s probably a slitter. The cutting wheels “slit” through the coil in order to reduce its diameter, which in effect will increase its fitness into a given environment.

Slitters do the same basic job of shears or snips, but they perform it on a wholesale level. They are much faster and more efficient than smaller tools and create clean cuts in sheet metal with minimal (or no) deformity or shearing. The main value of a slitter is in its efficiency and speed, because although the general utility of a slitter is somewhat curtailed, they can make working with large coils of sheet metal much more approachable and appropriate for a given environment.

Shears – Shears perform the same basic function as slitters, albeit it on a far less specialized level and on a smaller scale. In addition, there are many different types of shears for making precise cuts in sheet metal, including a variety of power shears and drill attachments.

The basic function of shears is to make cuts along a portion of sheet metal. Shears perform the same essential job as scissors do, except sheet metal shears are more specialized for cutting sheet metal.

Shears may not all look the same, but they all perform the same basic function and most of them utilize a jaw or a set of jaws to concentrate and separate the sheet metal by force along that line. Among the power shears we offer are drill attachments and seam shears.

For example, our Draco Seam Metal Shears provide fast, accurate cutting of sheet metal (up to 5 meters per minute) along a straight line, without the need to finish the edge or remove burrs. One of the best parts of these shears is that the jaws can be resharpened if they ever get worn down.

These, however, are very different in appearance from some of the drill attachment shears we provide here at Stortz. The drill attachments we provide give you the ease of use of a pair of shears with the addition of nothing more than a cordless power drill, provided it has adequate power.

For example, our Malco HD Turbo Shears easily attach to a cordless drill (of a minimum 14.4 V) and give you the ability to cut sheet metal anywhere. Although they don’t resemble a handheld pair of shears, they are capable of making smooth straight, curved and square cuts in sheet metal up to 18 gauge.

Snips – Snips are basically shears, although snips are handheld tools that typically do not require supplementary power to operate. There are several different types of snips, although generally they are all used to make cuts, both straight and curved, along sheet metal.

Broadly, there are simple snips and compound snips. Simple snips are joined at a single fulcrum and are not aided by the addition of compound arms to ‘compound’ the force concentrated at the jaws.

There are also right hand snips and left hand snips, as well as snips with smooth jaws and snips with serrated jaws. Right hand snips are capable of cutting curves to the right as well as straight cuts. Right handed snips tend to have red colored handles. Left handed snips will cut straight cuts as well as cuts that curve to the left; these typically have green colored handles.

In addition, there are snips that are designed to cut straight cuts only, and these tend to have yellow colored handles. If you aren’t confident in the color-coding, you can look at the lower jaw; the cut will trend in the direction of the lower jaw.

As far as smooth and serrated jaws are concerned, serrated jaws grip the metal better to provide better grip throughout the cut. This makes them useful for any situation in which you are cutting stacked or layered metals. Smooth jaws are not as common but some prefer them for cutting natural metals that are not alloyed.

Snips may also be straight or offset, and each has its virtues. Straight metal snips are those that have the handles or the grips directly behind the cutting jaws. These are useful for making small, precise cuts, but can be difficult to make longer cuts as the sheet metal will start to get in the way of the operator’s hands.

By contrast offset snips place the handles or grips above and behind the cutting jaws, which keeps the metal material away from a user’s hands. This makes them more practical for making longer cuts in sheet metal.

These are some of the high level points that are relevant to metal snips, but if you want to learn more, check out our articles, “A Cut Above – Snips Buying Guide” to learn more.

Nibblers – Nibblers perform a similar function to shears, but not in exactly the same fashion. Whereas shears apply and compound force along cutting jaws to cleave the sheet metal, nibblers operate by removing a small strip of metal rather than by cleaving it.

Some nibblers operate by punching a series of small holes through sheet metal, thereby leaving a small kerf in their wake. This does remove some of the metal from the sheet, so you might be wondering at this point what the benefit of this would be when shears do not produce a kerf.

The main benefit of nibblers is that they are capable of producing long cuts in sheet metal that are not distorted, and some of them also produce an edge that is burr free and does not need to be finished. Primarily their purpose is to produce a cut in metal that is without distortion.

Sometimes shears create wavy cuts and some stress-induced distortion along the edge of the cut. Nibblers, which operate by a different principle, can help to prevent this. Whenever you are working with extremely rigid tolerances and need not only precise cuts but cuts with no distortion along the edge, a nibbler may be the perfect tool.

Notchers – Notchers are fairly specialized metal cutting tools that, you guessed it, create a notch in a sheet of metal. Some notches use a punching action and others use jaws like shears to cut notches, but the purpose here is the same.

Notches may need to be created in sheet metal in order to provide a hole through which to join two or more sheets or to join a sheet to another surface. Sometimes notches must be created in order to account for expansion and contraction of the metal material.

For example, our Masc Sheet Metal Notcher is specifically designed to produce a notch in sheet metal to allow for expansion and contraction of the material. This type of functionality can be useful when you are working with more than one type of material, as different metals will expand and contract thermally at different rates. Having the extra play in the materials can prevent more costly alterations or repairs.

Punches – Punching is a process that can be performed to a variety of different materials including sheet metal, for an equal variety of different purposes. Punches can be used to make an indentation in a material, serve as a marking to make it easier to line up materials, or simply serve to give a nail, a screw, a bolt or a dowel an outlet.

Because they have so many uses, punches are some of the most versatile sheet metal cutting tools out there, and many of them can be simply operated by hand. For example, our Portable Punch Kit can be carried easily in a belt or toolbox and operated by hand. It also comes with a variety of punches and dies for making holes of different sizes in sheet metal.

Although versatile, easy to use and extremely durable, this is only one of the punches we offer in our collection of cutting tools.

Outlet Cutters – When you need a precise, replicable hole cut into the surface of sheet metal, larger than you could produce with a punch, you turn to a cutter like a gutter outlet saw. These types of tools produce larger openings in the surface of sheet metal that are ideal for passing other materials through, namely gutters and other ports for draining.

They’re not necessarily limited to that, but that is the main function of many outlet cutters, which is why they’re typically referred to as gutter saws. We offer a large range of outlet saws in our collection of gutter tools, and you can find many of them at the link above.

Anything Else You Could Need!

In addition to our collection of sheet metal cutting tools, we also offer a wide variety of other high quality tools here at John Stortz & Son. Whether you’re looking for a tool with a metal cutting blade like a pair of tin snips, other cutting tools for working with other types of metals, or even other hand tools like mason hammers, soldering tools, paint scrapers, gardening tools and more, you’ll find that and more in our collection. Just take a look through our online catalog of tools to see what you’re looking for, and if you can’t find it, we’re never more than a call away.

Call Us if You Have Questions!

If you need any help getting in touch with us, give us a call at 888-847-3456. We pride ourselves on our high level of customer service and we’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about our tools, their appropriate uses, or just what other services we can provide.

Oftentimes the use of specialty tools like many of those you can find on our website requires some specific experience, and we can furnish you with the information you need to be more effective at your job. Check out our blog for some quick background on our tools and how to use them, but don’t be shy about reaching out to us if you have additional questions.