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Metal cutting tools: what's really the best option?

Irun

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I've been considering a plasma cutter for quite some time. However, I've never been able to justify the expense for my own needs. Now, I've got a few more projects, like cutting axle brackets, body mounts, etc., lined up that are making me consider one again. The issue I have with a plasma cutter though is the singular purpose it performs. Since I'm not going to be cutting anything thick, or doing complicated shapes, I'm getting the sense that my want is way stronger than my need here.

That said, what are your go-to tools for cutting metal? Please be specific on brands as well. For example, I've relied on cheaper cutting discs from HF, mated to either a Dewalt corded or Ryobi cordless grinder, but the discs either seem to not last or break fairly easily. I also have a small oxygen acetylene set, which is useful for cutting and brazing. The tool I use the least would be air powered cutters. These are my least favorite, largely due to the small compressor I have.
 
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mrblaine

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I've been considering a plasma cutter for quite some time. However, I've never been able to justify the expense for my own needs. Now, I've got a few more projects, like cutting axle brackets, body mounts, etc., lined up that are making me consider one again. The issue I have with a plasma cutter though is the singular purpose it performs. Since I'm not going to be cutting anything thick, or doing complicated shapes, I'm getting the sense that my want is way stronger than my need here.

That said, what are your go-to tools for cutting metal? Please be specific on brands as well. For example, I've relied on cheaper cutting discs from HF, mated to either a Dewalt corded or Ryobi cordless grinder, but the discs either seem to not last or break fairly easily. I also have a small oxygen acetylene set, which is useful for cutting and brazing. The tool I use the least would be air powered cutters. These are my least favorite, largely due to the small compressor I have.
If you can use a cutting torch, a scarfing tip will negate the vast majority of place a plasma cutter would come in handy. I despise plasma cutters with a passion due to their very limited range of usefulness.

I would throw away a truck load of Harbor Freight cut off discs in favor of buying and using one good .045 from Sait, or Pearl.
 

Trevlaw

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I've had good luck with the cutoff wheels from black hawk abrasives, pretty decent quality and a nice price on them. Don't put really any force on the wheel, just hold the grinder parallel to your work piece and get a nice straight line started, then back and forth until it's cut through.

It's probably worth it to invest in a nice quality grinder, at least one then some cheaper ones for flap discs and fiber resin discs. Most 5" model grinders are the larger 7" motors in a smaller frame. I've gotten decent deals on Milwaukee, metabo and makita on eBay, but you have to search for them by model number. A 5" variable speed grinder is really handy if you like to do sketchy stuff like running 7" wire wheels/cutoff discs on a small grinder. Some surface prep discs also last a lot longer at lower rpm and still work just as fast as well.

If you're doing a lot of straight cuts in heavier plate something like this might be worth trying out. I haven't pulled the trigger on one yet, but when I built my welding table it sure would've beat cutting 5/8" plate with an angle grinder


A quality band saw is also very nice to have, vertical is more suited to thinner plate and aluminum. Something like an older 14" two speed Delta would be a good start, make sure it has a low speed setting for metal, not wood, but if you can swing something bigger or more purpose specific for metal, bigger is usually better.
 
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sab

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I may be an odd duck, but the last thing I'll grab is a cut-off disc, mainly due to safety. I've just had too many explode on me. I do use them, but they're not my first choice. I'm a saw guy. I like pneumatic body saws for light gauge sheet metal (just ditched my 20-year-old Harbor Freight for a Flexzilla, but only used it twice so far), and then I'll use either a jigsaw or a sawzall (both Milwaukee M18) for heavier steel (up to 1/4", or may be 3/8", but that's pushing it). I do have a plasma cutter on the list, as I borrowed one when erecting the steel for my current man cave, and it was pretty handy, and not having to fill oxy and acetylene bottles is convenient because it's 25 miles to the gas dealer, and they aren't open when I'm in my shop nights and weekends, which is always when I run out of gas.

Note: this is just my opinion, and I'm expressing it. I really don't care what anyone else's PERSONAL decision is, since it is, well, a PERSONAL choice what you use. All the options work, but preferences vary, and that's perfectly acceptable, as far as I'm concerned. Use what works best for YOU!
 

someguysjeep

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x2, for a torch set over a plasma. plasma is cool and plenty useful if you doing a lot of cutting but you could find more uses for an O&A torch set.

torches cut great and more............ plasma just cut. when cutting it's a magic marker vs a pencil kinda thing.
 
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JMT

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x2, for a torch set over a plasma. plasma is cool and plenty useful if you doing a lot of cutting but you could find more uses for an O&A torch set.

torches cut great and more............ plasma just cut. when cutting it's a magic marker vs a sharp pencil kinda thing.
Would something like one of these be decent?


 

XCRN

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I have had luck with cheaper end tools like Harbor Frieght angle grinders and sawzalls with high quality name brand consumables like blades and cut off discs.
 
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Blackjack

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If you can use a cutting torch, a scarfing tip will negate the vast majority of place a plasma cutter would come in handy. I despise plasma cutters with a passion due to their very limited range of usefulness.

I would throw away a truck load of Harbor Freight cut off discs in favor of buying and using one good .045 from Sait, or Pearl.

Blaine is correct a Plasma cutter is a unitasker where an oxy torch is not. You can buy a lot of accessories for a torch set for way less than a decent Plasma. And please spend the money on quality abrasives for you grinders. They are last longer (saves money in the long run) and less likely to fail compared to the cheap stuff.

I may be an odd duck, but the last thing I'll grab is a cut-off disc, mainly due to safety. I've just had too many explode on me. I do use them, but they're not my first choice. I'm a saw guy. I like pneumatic body saws for light gauge sheet metal (just ditched my 20-year-old Harbor Freight for a Flexzilla, but only used it twice so far), and then I'll use either a jigsaw or a sawzall (both Milwaukee M18) for heavier steel (up to 1/4", or may be 3/8", but that's pushing it). I do have a plasma cutter on the list, as I borrowed one when erecting the steel for my current man cave, and it was pretty handy, and not having to fill oxy and acetylene bottles is convenient because it's 25 miles to the gas dealer, and they aren't open when I'm in my shop nights and weekends, which is always when I run out of gas.

Note: this is just my opinion, and I'm expressing it. I really don't care what anyone else's PERSONAL decision is, since it is, well, a PERSONAL choice what you use. All the options work, but preferences vary, and that's perfectly acceptable, as far as I'm concerned. Use what works best for YOU!

That M18 reciprocating saw is an absolute beast with good blades. I would start with it and a Sawzall (mine is corded but I purchased it years ago) and buy good blades. You can do a lot of work (not just on Jeeps) with just those two before investing in more specialized tools.
 
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mrblaine

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I've had good luck with the cutoff wheels from black hawk abrasives, pretty decent quality and a nice price on them. Don't put really any force on the wheel, just hold the grinder parallel to your work piece and get a nice straight line started, then back and forth until it's cut through.
Buy some real cut-off discs then. If you can't lean on one when needed without it turning to dust, get some better ones.
If you're doing a lot of straight cuts in heavier plate something like this might be worth trying out. I haven't pulled the trigger on one yet, but when I built my welding table it sure would've beat cutting 5/8" plate with an angle grinder

I have the smaller one, it rocks.
A quality band saw is also very nice to have, vertical is more suited to thinner plate and aluminum. Something like an older 14" two speed Delta would be a good start, make sure it has a low speed setting for metal, not wood, but if you can swing something bigger or more purpose specific for metal, bigger is usually better.
 

mrblaine

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I may be an odd duck, but the last thing I'll grab is a cut-off disc, mainly due to safety. I've just had too many explode on me. I do use them, but they're not my first choice. I'm a saw guy. I like pneumatic body saws for light gauge sheet metal (just ditched my 20-year-old Harbor Freight for a Flexzilla, but only used it twice so far), and then I'll use either a jigsaw or a sawzall (both Milwaukee M18) for heavier steel (up to 1/4", or may be 3/8", but that's pushing it). I do have a plasma cutter on the list, as I borrowed one when erecting the steel for my current man cave, and it was pretty handy, and not having to fill oxy and acetylene bottles is convenient because it's 25 miles to the gas dealer, and they aren't open when I'm in my shop nights and weekends, which is always when I run out of gas.

Note: this is just my opinion, and I'm expressing it. I really don't care what anyone else's PERSONAL decision is, since it is, well, a PERSONAL choice what you use. All the options work, but preferences vary, and that's perfectly acceptable, as far as I'm concerned. Use what works best for YOU!
I buy Pearl and Sait cut off discs 50 and 100 at a time. Cutting heavier steel with the jig saws beats the foot off of them and I have several.

I have a 150 dollar consumable long reach tip set up for my plasma cutter. I'm not sure I am as smart as I should be at times.
 
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mrblaine

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That M18 reciprocating saw is an absolute beast with good blades. I would start with it and a Sawzall (mine is corded but I purchased it years ago) and buy good blades. You can do a lot of work (not just on Jeeps) with just those two before investing in more specialized tools.
Member on here need a reciprocating saw. I told him to get the M18 Fuel. He related they have a new super version but it is a lot more money. I told him to just get the regular Fuel version with some Diablo blades and after he uses it, let me know if there is any reason to need more saw than that. He believes me now.

How Milwaukee managed to make a battery saw outperform every "piece of shit I hate this fucking corded crap saw" is beyond me but they did.
 

mrblaine

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They are last longer (saves money in the long run) and less likely to fail compared to the cheap stuff.
Forgot to answer this. We have had folks ignore the sound advice to not cut against the rotation and do push cut. Of course, they jam it up and slam the disc into the cut hard enough that we've had to use large wrenches to get the lock nut back off to change the disc. Even with that abuse the quality discs don't explode.
 

Trevlaw

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Buy some real cut-off discs then. If you can't lean on one when needed without it turning to dust, get some better ones.

I have the smaller one, it rocks.
If I can find a lot of saits/pearls on eBay I'll give them a shot, a 25 pack usually lasts me 6-12 months.

You ever try any of the spendy flap discs, orange Norton ones or the like? Curious how well they work vs some of the cheaper ones. I hate the thicker grinding wheels and just used to use flaps for hogging material off, but after trying even cheaper ceramic fiber resin discs their MRR blows the flaps out of the water.
 

mrblaine

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If I can find a lot of saits/pearls on eBay I'll give them a shot, a 25 pack usually lasts me 6-12 months.

You ever try any of the spendy flap discs, orange Norton ones or the like? Curious how well they work vs some of the cheaper ones. I hate the thicker grinding wheels and just used to use flaps for hogging material off, but after trying even cheaper ceramic fiber resin discs their MRR blows the flaps out of the water.
I have lots of spendy flap discs. Orange Norton at not that great. Pearl Greenback in 40 grit are great. Sait are good. The 3M Cubitron is on par but too spendy. 3M Cubitron resin fiber 6" on a nice sanding backing pad absolutely kick ass in 36 grit if you can hold it flat and don't wear down the edges because it is faster.
 
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PCO6

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@Irun - I have a plasma cutter and it's turned out to be the metal cutting method I use the least! I thought I needed one ... oh well. I have a lot of ways to cut metal but I find myself using my Bosch 4.5" grinders with 0.045" cutting discs (usually Bosch, Pro-Point or Maximum) almost as much as the rest of my tools put together.

I get a lot of use out of my O/A sets for what you mentioned and also for welding steel with or without rod. I also use my air chisel for cutting things ... fast, clean and unfortunately noisy.
 
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PCO6

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I've had good luck with the cutoff wheels from black hawk abrasives, pretty decent quality and a nice price on them. Don't put really any force on the wheel, just hold the grinder parallel to your work piece and get a nice straight line started, then back and forth until it's cut through.

It's probably worth it to invest in a nice quality grinder, at least one then some cheaper ones for flap discs and fiber resin discs. Most 5" model grinders are the larger 7" motors in a smaller frame. I've gotten decent deals on Milwaukee, metabo and makita on eBay, but you have to search for them by model number. A 5" variable speed grinder is really handy if you like to do sketchy stuff like running 7" wire wheels/cutoff discs on a small grinder. Some surface prep discs also last a lot longer at lower rpm and still work just as fast as well.

If you're doing a lot of straight cuts in heavier plate something like this might be worth trying out. I haven't pulled the trigger on one yet, but when I built my welding table it sure would've beat cutting 5/8" plate with an angle grinder


A quality band saw is also very nice to have, vertical is more suited to thinner plate and aluminum. Something like an older 14" two speed Delta would be a good start, make sure it has a low speed setting for metal, not wood, but if you can swing something bigger or more purpose specific for metal, bigger is usually better.

I have a similar one. Loud and messy but it works great.

Saw - Metal 2 (800x531).jpg
 

J.Pierce

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Some of my most used:
femi hem bandsaw
Milwaukee 8" metal circular saw
A pile of hole saws
A victor and detroit oxy acetylene torches
Cubitron flap discs
Milwaukee Sawz-all
Every time I buy 4" cut off or grinding is a different brand and I haven't liked any of them all that much yet.
I have a small metal lathe and mill, so sometimes I get to cheat too.

I think plasma is great, if you have a specific need and volume to justify it, but I don't have the need or volume.

I don't cut much with a grinder if I can help it. It's noisy and messy. But the reality is it works pretty damn good, and there has been a ton of cool stuff fabed with a 4" grinder as the primary tool. Maybe I need to break down and order some decent disks and quit buying junk locally, I might like it more then.

I really like my band saw, but I think now I would go for a dry cut chop saw instead.
 
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PCO6

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Some of my most used:
femi hem bandsaw
Milwaukee 8" metal circular saw
A pile of hole saws
A victor and detroit oxy acetylene torches
Cubitron flap discs
Milwaukee Sawz-all
Every time I buy 4" cut off or grinding is a different brand and I haven't liked any of them all that much yet.
I have a small metal lathe and mill, so sometimes I get to cheat too.

I think plasma is great, if you have a specific need and volume to justify it, but I don't have the need or volume.

I don't cut much with a grinder if I can help it. It's noisy and messy. But the reality is it works pretty damn good, and there has been a ton of cool stuff fabed with a 4" grinder as the primary tool. Maybe I need to break down and order some decent disks and quit buying junk locally, I might like it more then.

I really like my band saw, but I think now I would go for a dry cut chop saw instead.

I had an abrasive chop saw and found it to be noisy, messy and slow. I think metal blade chop saw would be the way to go.

Re band saws, I bought horizontal/vertical 4"x6" saw about 35 yrs ago and still have it. I couldn't get along without it. I bought a second one about 20 years go but got the swivel head model. If you're tight on space it's a good way to go. With the first saw I had to swing the metal for angle cuts. With the swivel head the metal stays put and saw head changes angle. I converted the first one into a permanent vertical band saw.