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Posted on May 6, 2021
Aluminum is one of the most prevalent engineering materials used in a wide range of industrial applications. Since it’s a relatively soft metal, it is not hard to cut as long as you are using the right metal slitting machine.
Don’t you wish that cutting metal is just as easy as cutting other softer materials like meat? Well, if this were the case, people wouldn’t be struggling to cut aluminum sheets. Aluminum is one of the most prevalent engineering materials used in a wide range of industrial applications. Since it’s a relatively soft metal, it is not hard to cut as long as you are using the right metal slitting machine.
Generally speaking, anything that can cut wood will most likely be able to cut aluminum sheets. But of course, there are exceptions. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the tools you can use to undertake aluminum sheet cutting and how to go about cutting it.
The band saw is often at the top of the list when it comes to cutting wood and metal. But to cut aluminum sheets, it is not always the ideal tool. Band saws are more suitable for thick aluminum plates – about half an inch or thicker. This is actually the best thing about a band saw because it excels at working really thick metal plates. You wouldn’t have trouble cutting an aluminum plate that is as thick as 8 inches.
When cutting an aluminum sheet or plate with a band saw, you want the blade speed to be at up to 250 feet per minute at least. If your model has variable speeds, you can refer to the speed chart. Typically, it comes down to moving a belt to a different-sized pulley. With respect to the blades, you’ll want to ensure that there is a lot of space between the teeth. This teeth spacing is typically indicated as TPI, teeth per inch. The ideal TPI for cutting a thick aluminum plate is 10 to 14. This is only an optimal figure for the best performance as anything will eventually cut through the plate.
If the tool pitch is too fine, there is a high chance that the aluminum residues will clog the blade. And if the pitch is too coarse, the cutting will become slower because fewer teeth are engaged for removing material. The bottom line is that you want to avoid clogging the blade. You can use coolant or light oil to lubricate the cutting so that aluminum chips won’t clog the blade.
Cutting aluminum using a circular saw is actually preferred by many. It makes cutting ridiculously fast if you hold it steadily, and it leaves a nice, clean-cut as well. However, good performance is sometimes at the expense of safety concerns. When using a circular saw, you want to make sure you are always wearing safety goggles or a face shield for better protection. You should also wear an approved respirator to protect yourself from harmful dust. If your work area tends to be noisy, consider using hearing protection equipment as well. And always check the retracting lower blade guard to ascertain that it works freely. For starters, you want to make sure you are at the very least keeping the plate clamped down nicely. The C-clamps that hold the aluminum plate on a table are a good way to keep your cutting stable. It is also a good idea to place a couple of wood blocks on the side of your cutting table and the plate so you don’t end up slicing up your table.
If you are doing straight cuts, a circular saw will always be the better option. But if you are working with curve cuts, either a jigsaw or a reciprocating saw will get the job done. Both types of saws have ups and downs, the reciprocating saws are able to cut faster because of the longer stroke and more power; the jigsaws on the other hand are able to deal with tighter curves. If you really want to compare, a jigsaw is typically more capable of making straighter cuts on a thin aluminum plate. It is also somewhat less aggressive and more ergonomic. Keep in mind that, unlike band saws, these types of saws are not ideal for cutting thick aluminum plates. It can start to get a little difficult if you try to cut something a quarter inches of thickness.
Something you might have trouble with at the start of cutting is pushing the saw into the straight edge. That’s why some people like to clamp flat bars to the plate beforehand to keep the blade straight for cleaner cuts. The bars also prevent the blade from bucking.
It is also a good idea to use a proper metal cutting wax to lubricate the blade for longer life. For a more convenient option, consider oil spraying as well. As a circular saw user, you should already have a stash of assorted wax options for your blade. And no, we are not talking about candle wax.
Another thing you should do is to upgrade your saw when you have to. A good quality saw will ensure that you can get a fast, clean cut on the aluminum despite the more vibration it generates compared with woods. Your saw is more susceptible to tear and wear when you are cutting metals. So if it’s not robust and tight, your saw might not last too long. If you are planning to use it for the long-term, it is advised not to get a unit less than $20.
Moreover, you’ll likely have chips flying around when you cut aluminum sheets, so consider using masking tape to keep the surface of aluminum protected, or it might end up looking very unsightly.
Last but not least, we’d like to stress again how important it is to clamp the aluminum sheet steadily on the work table so it doesn’t move around during cutting. As mentioned earlier, cutting aluminum will generate a lot more vibration compared to wood, so it is definitely worth the trouble of carefully setting up your cutting operation beforehand.
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