Metal Cutting Options

DIY Metal Cutting Options

In addition to my gold leaf paint test, I put my IKEA VITTSJO nesting table hack scraps to use for some metal cutting tool experimentation.  Up until this project, my experience was limited to a manual hacksaw.

True story: when I was shopping for said hacksaw a few years ago I asked a young Home Depot employee if a particular blade would work well for metal.  He replied, “Yes… well, you have to move it back and forth.”  Sage advice, dear child.  Whenever an under-30 guy asks if I need help, I’d like to demand “Find the oldest man you have working the floor and bring him to me!”  There’s an old dude in the hardware department at the Elston Ave store who knows. his. shit.  It’s hit-or-miss with the young’uns.

Anyway: I bought a grinding blade for my miter saw without a second thought but it sent out such a shocking shower of sparks that I ended up trying a couple of other options.  As I did with the gold leaf products test, I just want to put my own process out there in case it’s helpful for anyone else.  But, as Manhattan Nest said recently, “I am not the authority, or even an authority on things like this.”  Read your own user manual, do your own searching, yada, yada.

First up: the hacksaw. 

Hack Saw

Pro: Nice, clean cuts. Cheap ($10ish). Easy to use and safe.

Con: SLOW. Difficult to get perfectly straight cuts, even when using a miter box.

Next: a Skil jigsaw.  I have a set of blades that includes a few metal cutting options.

Jig Saw Blades

Jig Saw Cut

Pro: Fast and relatively safe.  No sparks.  Pretty cheap ($30 for an entry-level saw; $5 or so for a metal cutting blade).

Con: In my experience, a jigsaw was less user-friendly for this job.  To ensure a straight cut, you need to clamp down both the item itself (so that it doesn’t bounce around) and a guide rail (to ensure that your saw stays on a straight path – see an example here).   I don’t have a lot of clamps or a fancy worktable, and it’s difficult to set a guide rail for such a small item.  The cut above isn’t as clean because the metal tube was vibrating.

Finally: a grinding wheel.

Dewalt Grinding Wheel

I used a DeWalt general purpose metal cutting blade ($6) on my Ryobi compound miter saw ($120).  It’s called a grinding wheel because it doesn’t have teeth – it’s more of a file.  It eats away quite a bit of the steel, as seen below in the foreground cut, in contrast to the hacksaw cut in the back.

Grinding Wheel Cut

As I said, I was alarmed at first by the sparks this thing threw off.  I learned online that some people don’t recommend using them because the flying sparks and hot metal can damage your miter saw.  Other people said that it’s fine as long as you don’t do it very often and the saw is within the RPM range of your blade.  I decided to proceed because:

  • I was unsatisfied with the other options.
  • My miter saw cuts very precisely, which was necessary for successfully reassembling the VITTSJO nesting table.
  • The blade states it can be used up to 6,100 RPM and my saw has a max speed of 5,000 RPM.
  • Most importantly, my saw’s manual includes no warnings against using grinding wheels, cutting ferrous metal or anything of the sort.

So, I suited up with unseasonably long sleeves, gloves and protective eye wear.  Jarrod stood by with the camera in one hand and the fire extinguisher in the other – he used the former and not the latter.  You can see some faint sparks coming out the back of the saw in this picture…

Miter Saw Grinding Blade

But trust me when I say it was really more like this:

Metal Saw Sparks

(There are four references in that photo – does anyone recognize the original sources? The white stars are the hardest.)

6 thoughts on “DIY Metal Cutting Options”

  1. New reader here, and going through ALL your posts because I roll like that. I haven’t figured out the white ones yet, but I have a good guess for the rainbow-trail stars. They’re from the NBC campaign “The More You Know,” correct? Thanks for your awesome posts. My significant other and I are moving this weekend and I’m chomping at the bit for decorating a new space.

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