Sheet Metal Tools Guide: For Beginners and Pros

Sheet Metal Tools Guide: For Beginners and Pros

Sheet Metal Tools Guide: For Beginners and Pros

What tools do you need to get started with your sheet metal projects?

Sheet metal tools include hand or power tools such as snips, punches, pliers, and advanced cutting and forming tools. These tools are used to shape the workpiece through various operations like cutting, punching, folding, bending, drawing, straightening, flattening, etc.

This article provides detailed information about various tools used in the sheet metal process and their applications.

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Sheet Metal Tools for Beginners

Sheet metal is used to produce a wide range of products that are utilized on a daily basis, including household appliances, building roofing, automotive bodies, cabinets, lockers, storage boxes, and many more.

For HVAC systems, these tools are mostly utilized for the fabrication of sheet elements such as rectangular and spiral ductwork, fittings, roof curbs, adapters, etc.

In order to get started with sheet metal projects, you should be familiar with the different tools used for performing different operations on sheet metals.

ToolsEstimated cost (USD)
Pliers/Hand Seamers20$ - 30$
Folding Tool15$ - 20$
Circle Cutter 50$ - 70$
Crimper20$ - 25$
V Notcher30$ - 50$
Hole Punch20$ - 40$
Snip15$ - 40$
Angle Grinder20$ - 40$
Manual Bending Machine/ Bending Brake80$ - 150$
Basic sheet metal tools and their estimated cost

Pliers/Hand Seamers

Hand seamer from Billitools
Hand seamer from Billitools

Pliers/hand seamers are one of the most commonly used tools for sheet metal operations like folding, bending, flattening, straightening, and simple forming of sheet metal edges.

These are also useful for safety gripping and moving sheet metal during HVAC installation, roofing, and siding applications.

Generally, good quality hand seamers, like Billitools hand seamers have jaws made of heat-treated drop stainless steel and double-layered rubberized handles for a comfortable non-slip grip, making them durable and sturdy. 

Folding Tool

Sheet metal Folding tool
Sheet metal Folding tool

Folding tools are primarily used for channel bending and forming.

This tool is similar to a ruler but with channels along the length of the tool to bend the sheet metal easily.

The ability to make accurate folds makes this tool ideal for making folding seams to join two sheet metal pieces permanently.

Apart from that, you can also make lengthy uniform bends in sheet metal for joist panning, register boots, trunk line end caps, plenums, and other applications.

Generally, a good folding tool, such as Hurricane folding tool has perfectly aligned square holes to ensure straight creasing of the workpiece.

Circle Cutter/Hole cutter 

Circle Cutter
Circle Cutter

A circle cutter is a tool that is used to make holes in sheet metals.

It consists of an adjustable cutting head, which can be moved along a measuring scale to adjust the radius of the hole to be cut.

The tool is powered by an electric or air drill. Therefore, you need to have a drill to operate this tool.

Circle cutter tool, such as Klein Tools 89552 Hole Cutter can cut holes with 2" to 12" radius.

Sheet Metal Crimper

Sheet metal crimper
Sheet metal crimper

Sheet metal crimpers are similar to snippers with multiple dull blades at its head.

These dull blades make double crimps in the workpiece for joining and making self-supporting connections of metal ducts, gutters, and stovepipes in HVAC, roofing, and appliance installations.

Sheet metal crimpers like Jounjip metal crimper can consist of 2, 3, 4, or 5 blades.

V Notcher

V notcher sheet metal tool
V notcher sheet metal tool

V notchers are specially designed for quickly and accurately making V cuts in sheet metal.

Forged alloy steel jaw with good throat depth allows easy notching of HVAC duct corners and take-off tabs without slippage.  

Foot-operated notchers are also available in the market for heavy box building.

However, for small scale applications where small notches are to be made in thin sheet metal, a handheld V-notcher like American Mutt Tools V notcher is recommended.

Hole Punch

Hole punch kit
Hole punch kit

Hole punch is used for creating quick and precise holes in sheet metal.

It mainly consists of hardened die and high-quality steel punch.

Different sizes of punches and dies can be used for a variety of applications. 

For example, Capri Tools CP21050 hole punch kit includes 7 different punch dies to make holes ranging from 3/32" to 9/32".


Aviation Snips
Aviation Snips

Snip is a sheet metal shearing tool, designed to make precise cuts in the workpeice.

Straight snips have straight blades, whereas aviation snips have curved blades, making them suitable for cutting curved contours.

There are various types of snip sets available on the market, and you can also get a kit like Amazon basics aviation snips, that include straight, left, and right snips.

Angle Grinder

Angle Grinder
Angle Grinder

An angle grinder is a power tool that is generally used for cutting and grinding metal workpieces.

It consists of a powerful motor that rotates the cutting blade to make the desired cut.

Apart from that, it is also used for surface preparation, sharpening, and removing rust from the workpiece surface. 

You can also use laser rust remover or sandblasting to remove rust, but an angle grinder is much cheaper and suitable for small-scale applications.

A 10,000 RPM angle grinder, such as Black & Decker BDEG400 is recommended for sheet metal applications.

Manual Bending Machine/ Bending Brake

Sheet metal brake
Sheet metal brake

A manual bending machine, also known as a brake, is used to bend heavy foils and light gauge metals in factories and workshops.

In the case of HVAC applications, these are specifically useful for air duct construction areas or repair shops.

Manual bending machines, like the VEVOR Sheet Metal Brake, can bend the workpiece to achieve any angle between 0-90° for 20 Gauge Mild Steel or 14 Gauge Aluminum sheets.  

Sheet Metal Tools for Professionals

CNC-controlled sheet metal tools can produce complex workpieces with close tolerances at large scales. These tools have the ability to produce a variety of parts and assemblies and even custom precision parts. 

These CNC-controlled machines can fabricate a wide range of complex parts such as electrical control boxes and cabinets, panels for computer chassis, vending machines, lockers, shelves, tool drawers, material handling system components, etc.  

Due to their complex construction, these machines are comparatively expensive, making them suitable for large-scale industries.

However, you can outsource your project to get the required accuracy in your sheet metal part without having to buy expensive machines.

The cost of outsourcing the job depends upon the type of machine used, the size of the part, and the quantity of the parts.

Advanced sheet metal ProcessCost of services
CNC bending and forming machine1$ per part for bulk
Minimum charges ~ 9$
Automatic Punching Machines0.5$ - 1.5$ per hole/part (standard parts)
CNC plasma cutter13$ - 15$ per hour
CNC laser cutter18$ - 22$ per hour
Estimated cost of outsourcing your CNC sheet metal operations

CNC Bending and Forming machine 

CNC bending a sheet metal workpeice
CNC bending a sheet metal workpeice

CNC bending and forming machines offer numerous advantages such as high precision and accuracy, low workpiece damage, higher production efficiency, and low production cost. 

These machines can be used to fabricate a wide range of standard as well as custom products. 

Automatic Punching Machines

Punched copper parts
Punched copper parts

CNC-controlled die punches can produce complex parts with high accuracy for a variety of applications including aerospace, automotive, medical, and construction.

These machines are capable of producing parts with quick cycle time while lowering wastage and increasing productivity.

Customized products generally cost more than standard parts as they require customized molds, which are expensive.

CNC Plasma Cutter

Using a plasma cutter on a sheet metal
Using a plasma cutter on a sheet metal

CNC plasma cutter has several benefits, such as cost-effectiveness, high precision, high surface finish, versatility, repeatability, and the ability to cut a wide range of metals.

Plasma cutters can cut a variety of materials with variable thicknesses ranging from thin gauge to 3 inches thick sheets. 

CNC Plasma is preferred over laser cutters because it is faster, produces better cut quality even in thicker sheets, and is less expensive.

CNC Laser Cutter

Using a fiber laser to cut sheet metal
Using a fiber laser to cut sheet metal

Laser cutting sheet metal has become an essential and standard manufacturing technique in the metal fabrication industry.

The combination of laser optics and CNC technology results in faster, more accurate cuts with smoother edges and a higher-quality surface finish.

CNC laser cutting can only cut thin sheets of aluminum up to 1" thick and steel up to 1/2" thick, and its cutting precision decreases significantly as the thickness of the sheet metal increases.

CNC Waterjet Cutting

A gear shape cut out on WAZER waterjet machine
A gear shape cut out on WAZER waterjet machine (Source: WAZER)

CNC Waterjet cuts the material with a high-pressure jet of water and abrasives with over 50,000 psi pressure.

Waterjet produces little waste, no slag, and no hazardous emissions, making it environmentally friendly.

Waterjet cutting can be used for a wide range of soft to very thick materials and provides more accurate and precise cutting when compared to plasma and laser cutting, as no heat is involved.  

A desktop waterjet machine, such as WAZER waterjet can perform clean cuts in sheet metal workpieces.

How to Prevent Sheet Metal from Rusting?

Rusting happens when metal comes into contact with water, acids, or other harsh substances.

To avoid rusting, the best technique is to keep moisture away from metals, which is practically impossible. 

However, there are several methods to limit or slow down the rusting of the workpiece.

Alloy Selection 

A common method for resisting rest formation is to use an appropriate alloy containing alloying metals such as chromium, manganese, nickel, and others. 

For example, stainless steel with at least 11% chromium forms a chromium oxide protective layer on the steel surface, which resists rust.

Galvanize the Workpiece

Galvanizing applies a thin coating of zinc over iron or steel workpieces.

This keeps oxygen and moisture from coming in contact with the base metal.

This is an inexpensive and effective approach to avoid rust. It is carried out via electroplating or hot-dip galvanization.

However, zinc also corrodes but at a significantly slower rate than iron, and its coating layer won't withstand extreme environmental forces such as acid rain or salt.

Paint the Metal

Applying paint to a metal workpeice
Applying paint to a metal workpeice

Painting metal is a simple and easy way to prevent rust formation. This is a highly recommended method for your DIY projects, and you can paint with different colors. 

You must select the right paint for your sheet metal components so that it adheres to the metal.

It is recommended to use oil-based paint over water-soluble paint, as oil provides better resistance to corrosion.

Apply Oil to The Workpiece

In addition to lubricating the sheet metal components, oil coating prevents moisture from reaching the iron, minimizing the risk of rusting.

Oiling is a simple and easy solution for your DIY project. 

However, the oil layer is slippery and makes it difficult to hold the components.

Apart from that, oil has a sticky nature and attracts dust, making the surface of the workpiece look unpleasant.

Powder Coating

Powder coating
Powder coating

A dry powder of acrylic, nylon, vinyl, polyester, polyurethane, or epoxy is applied to metal surfaces and heated to form a coating layer.

This layer prevents moisture from reaching the metal, avoiding rust and improving the product's surface finish.

Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) Packaging 

Vapor corrosion inhibitor (VCI) packaging consists of chemical compounds incorporated into various packaging materials, such as plastic, paper, and others.

VCI slowly releases a corrosion-preventative substance into an enclosed space, providing a rust-preventive shield on the metal surface without any oil, paint, or other protective layers.


Final Thoughts

There are different types of sheet metal tools available on the market, and you can get started with your DIY projects by using basic sheet metal tools like hand seamers, snips, folding tools, hole punches, and V notchers.

CNC-based sheet metal tools are best suited for industrial applications where high quality and accuracy are of utmost importance.

Sheet metal components are prone to rusting, making it important to use appropriate rust prevention techniques to increase the life of the workpiece.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I join sheet metals to make new components?

Yes, you can join sheet metals using various methods, including welding, riveting, crimping, and threaded fasteners.

What safety precautions should I take when working with sheet metal tools?

The safety precautions you should take when working with sheet metal tools include wearing protective gloves, safety goggles, and safety work shoes, handling tools properly, and adhering to the manufacturer's instructions. 

Should I paint over the metals that have already rusted?

No, clean up any loose rust and paint flakes from the workpiece before you apply paint on the rusted parts. Scrub the rusted portion of the metal with a soft wire brush or sandpaper and apply a coat of primer before painting to ensure that the results last a year.

About John

Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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