In the last half of this series we discussed how to cut steel for welding and fabrication using a variety of tools. Some of these were as simple as a bench shear and pair of scissors, whilst others required a bit more know-how, such as an angle grinder.
Well, today we are going to be discussing some of the more intensive, and potentially dangerous, equipment you can personally use to cut and shape your steel. Of course, if the job is going to be too complicated or the material too unmanageable, then you should definitely consider hiring the steel cutting services of your local steel production company.
Before we get straight into the article, let us make clear that a lot of these techniques are only applicable to cutting thinner gauged steel. The gauge of a steel is an indication of it’s thickness. Too thick and even a power saw won’t cut it!
Many companies offer steel cutting services to their clients. Especially if you manufacture goods in bulk, it would be a wise decision to get a quote before deciding to embark on the mission of acquiring cutting tools and training people up to do the cutting.
However, if it is only a small job, or a one-time thing (at least for now), then please read on while we go into more depth as to some of the exciting ways to cut steel! In the article below we will discuss the proper measures for using power saws and oxygen torches.
Option 2: Cut Thick Gauge Steel with Power Saws
- Get out an abrasive chop saw to make any perpendicular square cuts. Abrasive chop saws are heavy duty pieces of machinery. They are essentially circular saws designed specifically for the cutting of thicker grades of steel. The bottom is a metal base with a pivoting arm for ease of use. These saws are affordable and fairly accurate in their cuts. As good an option as they are, horizontal saws and cold saws are more expensive yet more accurate tools for cutting steel. Below are a few points to acknowledge before beginning cutting with an abrasive chop saw.
- Chop saws are heavy duty, high powered tools. They can get extremely hot, especially when cutting through thicker grades of steel. Proper precautions and protective wear are important.
- Don’t get behind any power saw without some heavy duty protection. Gloves, eyewear and ear protection, due to the sound, are very important.
- Using a horizontal band saw is a very cost-effective way to cut straight lines through thicker steel. It also requires less effort to cut using band saw as all you are required to do is place the metal in the saw and the blade will do everything else. When cutting using a horizontal band saw it is crucial to use carbon steel or some other tough blade material. You can also find horizontal blade saws in a variety of shapes. They can either be raked, way or straight. Wave patten blades are good for thin gauge steel, whilst a raker pattern is more suitable for thicker steel. We recommend that you do the following to keep your horizontal band saw in good condition.
- Blades get dull very quickly and can impact the quality of the cut, the accuracy and even the safety of the user.
- It will take a while to cut using a horizontal band saw which is why you should take time to slowly cut through and grind minor rough parts off as you go.
- Horizontal band saws have a high capacity but do not cut as accurately as a cold saw, for example.
- Cold saws are god damn expensive! Seriously, don’t bother with this option, you are better off just getting your steel cut commercially. That being said, it is the most accurate power saw available. Despite it not a be a reasonable choice for most people, cold saws offer a higher degree of accuracy but with a smaller capacity. If you do decide to go along with this option, weigh it up against how accurate you need the cut to be. Below are some considerations to make before choosing this power saw to cut your steel.
- Cold saws have a significant number of teeth on the blade. As a result they ten to cut quick, although the actual blade may be spinning relatively slowly.
- Coolant is what makes the cold saw avoid heating up. Do not allow the coolant to remain on the blade or you will risk damaging the cold saw.
Option 3: If All Else Fails, Get Out the Torch
- Torches aren’t toys… now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s learn how to play with oxy-torches! They are incredibly hot, so seriously, be careful. The intense heat and light gives off sparks which are a significant fire hazard. We know that we’ve been on your case about safety with some of the equipment, but in this scenario, torches can be lethal. Make sure to wear eye protection within a shade range of 8 or 10. Do not wear pants made of natural fibres or with cuffs. Protective jackets worn by welders are highly recommended. Some more considerations are listed below.
- When you are using a torch, make sure that you in a well-ventilated area and are wearing some form of respirator. The fumes can be toxic, and the heat produced is also dangerous in a small contained area.
- Do not, and we repeat, do not allow anything flammable while you are cutting steel with a torch. This is a bit of truism, but extremely hot torches and flammable objects do not go together. The sparks let loose by the torch could potentially ignite something in the vicinity, so be very careful!
- For those looking to cut thinner sheets of steel, you may wish to consider using a plasma torch. These torches are able to penetrate steel 0.25 inches and thinner. Compare to their oxyacetylene brethren, plasma torches are fairly inexpensive tools for thermal cutting. You would not want to cut a thin piece of steel with an oxyacetylene torch anyway, the extreme heat would cause it to bend or warp. Some of the advantages of using a plasma torch are listed below.
- Plasma torches are excellent for making accurate, clean cuts through thin sheets of steel;
- Plasma torches are able to cut through many types of conductive materials other than steel. You will find that an oxyacetylene fuel torch is only able to get through steel.
- We’re not hear to spread the gospel of oxyacetylene torches, but we will admit that they are pretty darn handy to have around if you are looking to make cuts to very thick pieces of steel. If the steel is more than an inch thick, then you are best getting a oxyacetylene fuel torch involved. Oxyacetylene fuel torches have ben known to cut through up to 48 inches or more. Given that steel plates are often between 12-15 inches think, oxyacetylene fuel torches are perfect for getting accurate cutting results. Our tips for using one of these tools are listed below.
- Grease and oil reacts violently when exposed to high pressure oxygen tanks and oxyacetylene fuel torches. Probably best to keep these two things separated from each other.
- Do not allow the acetylene to go over 15 psi, in fact keep it below 10 psi to be safe. And, always keep your tanks stored upright. Don’t ask us what happens if you don’t. Just don’t. It’s not pretty.
Don’t underestimate the power of steel, especially the power it takes to cut steel. Whether you end up using a bench shear, an oxyacetylene fuel torch or a circular saw, always make sure you take the proper safety precautions. Some considerations to take on board when cutting steel are as follows.
- Always have your protective clothing on when operating dangerous machinery or equipment.
- Safety eyewear could save your eyes from splinters or sparks.
- Wear your safety gloves for protection from any stray metal shards.
- Supervise any untrained personnel, or if you are untrained personnel, don’t get behind any equipment without guidance; as most accidents happen when untrained personnel are given equipment they are unfamiliar with.
- Any machinery that is not working properly should be turned off immediately. Do not persist to keep cutting if you are having any difficulties.
If you don’t feel that any of these options are within your capacity to perform, then we recommend that you source a local steel manufacturer that provides cutting services. Steel manufacturers may also be able to provide you with detailed information about your steel and the type of cutting options that would best suit you.
For more information on the cutting of steel, please refer to part one of this article on Cutting Steel for Welding and Fabrication.