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How To Cut Metal Without Power Tools

You won’t always have the power tools you need lying around, either because they’re at a different location or you never had access to them in the first place. 

What happens when you need to cut metal without having access to these powerful tools?

Fortunately, while they may be convenient and easy to use, power tools are far from the only way to cut metal.

Today we’re focusing on alternative metal cutting methods that don’t require power tools.

As it happens, there are several you have to choose from depending on your equipment and expertise level, but first, we should clarify some things.

How To Cut Metal Without Power Tools

Metal can mean one of a hundred different materials that we can identify, all having different textures and tensile strengths.

So for the purpose of this guide you should assume that we’re working with the common construction metals and the alloys made from them.

This would be steel, iron, copper, and aluminum.

That said, by introducing you to the variety of cutting methods out there, all of which don’t require power tools, this guide can help you find the best method for the metal that you are working with.

You should also ask yourself what kind of job you’re working.

By knowing the accuracy of your desired cut, how fast you want to cut it, and which material you’re working with, you can identify the best method for you that won’t waste your time or risk injury.

Below you’ll find metal cutting methods using the following:

  • A hacksaw
  • A utility knife
  • Bench shears
  • Tin snips

Using A Hacksaw

If you haven’t got power tools but you’re into DIY work, it should be a guarantee that you have a hacksaw lying around.

The good news is that you can use your trusty hacksaw to cut metal too, as long as the cut is basic enough.

Of course, if your joints ache after using your hacksaw on wood or other softer materials, you’re going to have a fun time cutting metal with one.

It’s going to involve a lot more effort and take a lot more time, especially since hacksaws only cut in one direction without risking damage, but this is the payoff for an easy, non-specialized method of cutting metal with one of the most accessible work tools in the world.

The job can be made easier by having the best hacksaw blade equipped.

You can get interchangeable blades specifically designed for cutting metal that will help, and we’d say they’re mandatory if you’re working with sheet metal.

Also remember the general rule, small teeth for thicker materials and more, larger ones for thin sheets.

If you don’t have the right blade, you’ll not only have a hard time working but you’ll also wear down or break your hacksaw blade, leaving you in a worse position than when you started.

When we think about hacksaws, we don’t think of precision scalpel-like cuts. This is the case when your saw is chewing through metal too, so you’ll likely want to smooth the edges down after making the cut.

Using A Utility Knife

If you don’t have access to power tools or a hacksaw, there’s a neat trick that construction professionals have relied on for when they’ve been caught without their toolbox.

That trick is to use a sturdy utility knife. You’re not going to be cutting the entire thing with the knife, that would take forever, but it’s instrumental to this fast method of separating metal.

Using a guide and the knife, you need to cut at the metal in as straight a line as you can manage.

This will only make a score where the blade was dragged along the metal but, if you’ve done it right, the strongest person around can snap the metal now that it’s been weakened along that score line.

This only works with softer, lighter-gauge metals, naturally. Aluminum is the main metal that jumps to mind for this.

If you have an aluminum sheet that needs cutting and you know how to do this, then using this scoring method can be faster even if you do have a hacksaw or other tools lying around.

You should be wearing gloves and eye protection if you’re doing this, along with other precautions that your working space demands.

The blade can easily slip and utility blades in particular take no prisoners when you lose control of them.

Using Bench Shears

Where are you? If you’re at a construction site or a workshop but you’ve been left without power tools, there are heavy-hitting, stationary tools you can use to cut metal.

The most likely of these to cut metal with is the bench shears.

These bench-mounted tools can also be the best option if you’re cutting larger metal stock so, if the job can wait and you know a place, it may be worth it to take your metal to the nearest shear.

If your metal is ten-gauge or below, we’d say that bench shears are the way to go.

Just remember to observe the safety precautions that the working space requires and then you can get to work. 

If you have no experience with these, their distinct appearance should give you a hint at how they work.

By grabbing and pulling the obscenely large handle that juts out of the shears, you close the unit’s blades on whatever happens to be trapped between them. They work exactly like guillotine paper cutters.

The lever action of the handle produces a lot of force that gets focused on those blades, which is why they can chew through metal with relative ease. 

If you want a neater cut, have your other hand, or a work partner, hold the metal you’re working with to guarantee it stays still during the cutting process.

We shouldn’t need to add this but, to be sure – do not put your fingers anywhere near the blades. Even if you’re wearing protective gloves, most bench shears pack enough force to rip right through them.

Using Tin Snips

So, we’ve covered a saw, a knife, and even some shears, but there’s another piece of equipment that many of you will have in your DIY belts that can do the job.

Tin snips, true to their name, are made to shape and pierce metal, so it may not be a surprise that you can use them to cut right through metal too.

They’re also called hand shears by some retailers, and they’re also very affordable if you haven’t got any yet, so you can get an entire set of them without burning a hole in your wallet.

Think of them as scissors that close onto metal and have the force and sharpness required to make a dent, if not more.

They’re very versatile and hand all of the control into your hands, though we do recommend having a set that includes left-handed and right-handed snips, along with straight-cutting alternatives.

The downside here is that tin snips will get dull fast if you rely on them for metal cutting.

Once they’re dull, they’re useless and need to be replaced. Sure, tin snips are affordable, but this isn’t ideal for someone who DIYs often.

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