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The best tool to cut sheet metal is an electric nibbler tool it cuts corrugated iron, sheet metal, and even metal car panels easily.
A tool like a nibbler is fast and easy to maneuver around, to cut circles, corners and angles in sheet metal work with-out jamming like electric shears or tin-snips would. For this reason, they are the tool of choice for many good roofers.
What is the gauge rating? The smaller the rated “gauge”, the thicker metal a tool can cut, the higher the rated gauge the less cutting power the tool has, refer for more information on this below:
For other tools used to cut metal roofing, read my guide – How to cut metal roofing.
Best electric nibbler tool
#3 Most powerful metal cutting nibbler
Makita JN3201 10-gauge nibbler 6.2 amps
#4 Best sheet metal nibbler
Hitachi CN16SA 16-gauge sheet metal nibbler 3.5 amps
#5 Best Hitachi nibbler tool
Hitachi Koki nibbler CN16SA 4.2 amps
Best air nibbler tool
#3 Best Neiko metal cutter
Neiko 30067A air nibbler
Best cordless nibbler
Best nibbler drill attachment
Best hand nibbler cutter
What are nibblers? DIY’ers might not be familiar with this metal cutting tool, but electric nibblers are the most useful and capable tool for cutting sheet metal roofing and, even car panel work can be achieved with this tool.
Nibblers are surprisingly useful and capable. You may not have heard of nibblers before, even if you’ve done a fair bit of metal roofing work–something that nibblers can do exceptionally well.
Once you have seen how easily you can make clean and intricate cuts, you will wonder how you ever managed to work without a nibbler tool in your toolbox.
Nibblers are most commonly used for cutting corrugated metal. They are often used for metal roofing, as you may have guessed, but they are also useful for automotive bodywork, which usually requires making clean cuts.
Nibblers easily make fast intricate cuts that are beyond the capabilities of even the best shears and tin snips. Nibblers are the tool choice for professional roofers for these reasons.
You can even get manual nibblers for small metal artwork jobs, but you should look into a powered model if you are planning on doing any building work like cutting roofing materials as a manual nibbler will be far to slow.
Battery-powered models are a good choice if portability is a top priority, but corded electric models provide more cutting power and speed.
There are also multipurpose nibblers that are powered by compressed air, which are fairly inexpensive options if you already have a compressor.
Types of nibblers
Why nibblers are the best tool for cutting sheet metal
Whats tools can cut metal roofing the best? One of the main advantages that nibblers have over electric shears and tin snips is that they are less prone to jamming, this is because they cut a sizable amount of material off the workpiece.
Most nibblers punch fairly wide holes as they cut. This gives the mobility and ability to cut around corners easily–which is where jamming usually takes place–nibblers are not likely to get caught in the material as compared to other tools like electric shears and tin-snips.
Nibblers can even cut over corrugated metal sheets efficiently, even when cutting at an angle. Try that with shears or tin snips, and your work will probably be messy and take much longer to complete. Also, nibblers make much smoother and more consistent cuts than even your best pair of shears or snips ever could.
Nibblers vs. Electric shears vs. Tin-snips
What are the best metal cutting tools? Nibblers, shears, and tin snips are all tools that perform similar jobs, but there are major differences, benefits, and drawbacks to each of them.
There is, you could say more than one way to cut roofing. If you are looking for a cheaper option for cutting roofs and faster in some cases.
Impact driver electric-shares
Electric metal shears are generally cheaper than nibblers and can be powered by just your Makita or Dewalt drill. Find out more here.
They come as either dedicated power tools or as attachments for impact drivers. The great thing about electric shears is the price, and having a portable tool that isn’t tethered to a compressor hose or a lead.
Electric shears can cut through metal sheets fairly easily with a straight cut, but they aren’t very good at cutting around corners, angles, or cutting along the corrugated iron, rather than cross-cutting.
Although cross-cutting is the majority if not all the cutting that needs to be done as you can just give corrugated iron sheets extra lapping to suit.
A nibbler again can cut all these cuts effectively, with-out jamming.
You can also get a portable nibbler with-out a lead, the best cordless nibbler is made by Makita it would give you the movement and flexibility to move without a compressor hose or power lead getting in your way when walking back and forwards on a roof fix or build.
|Makita XNJ01Z||Hitachi CN18DSLP4|
|Cut Depth:||16 Gauge||16 Gauge|
Aviation snips are the cheapest options by far. You can get a nice controlled cut with a good pair of snips, and you can cut across big sheets fairly easily, but only if you are directly cross-cutting the iron sheet.
The of-cut needs to also be big enough to bend out the way to prevent jamming the tin-snip blades.
However, tin snips are less effective at cutting big cuts on metal sheets, as they can be pretty slow to work with. Tin-snips are best for cutting flashing’s and tidy up edges that you haven’t got perfect with an electric tool.
Electric nibblers can cut through metal the quickest and are arguably the easiest metal cutting tool to use in general, they make very clean cuts and do an excellent job at cutting metal roofing.
Nibblers have no problem cutting sheet metal around corners, angles, and even intricate shapes.
I would say the only drawback is the price for DIY, as there are cheaper tools for cutting only straight lines like electric shears.
For building and construction however electric nibblers made by Makita, Hitachi and Fein perform better than other metal cutting tools, utilizing good cutting design and power making them the best tool for cutting sheet metal for roofing and building work.
Makita nibblers have more grunt and can cut thicker gauges than the air nibblers and other electric nibblers with both a 16 and 18 gauge model with a 5 or 6.2amp motor.
The Makita JN3201 nibbler has 6.2 Amps of power making it the most powerful nibbler being able to cut up-to 10-Gauge roofing.
The Makita JN1601 16 Gauge 5 Amp nibbler is a better-sized tool for general use and is easier to handle while being a bit cheaper than the 10 gauge version
Air Nibblers are easier to use because they are smaller and have a smaller handle to hold onto. They are also much cheaper than an electric nibbler given that you already have a portable air compressor, even still you don’t need a big compressor just look for one with a low DB rating.
Air nibblers cut fast and very smoothly, and are recommended for car panel work or more detailed roofing jobs as they are easier to hold move and control with a smaller handle.
The Ingersoll Rand 325 Air nibbler is built to last a long time (Heavy-Duty) (18 Gauge)
The Ingersoll Rand EC300 Air nibbler is slightly cheaper and can still cut efficiently (18 Gauge)
|Ingersoll Rand 325||Ingersoll Rand EC300||Neiko 30067A|
|Thickness Of metal:||18 Gauge||18 Gauge||18 Gauge|
|Weight:||1.95 lbs||2.1 lbs||2.2 lbs|
|Power Source:||Air Compressor||Air Compressor||Air Compressor|
Hand nibblers vs. Electric nibbler
There have been a few variations on this basic manual hand nibbler design over the years. Adel is one company that continues to manufacture hand nibblers based on standard styles, which are commonly called “punch and die” nibblers.
Companies such as Bessey took a different approach, designing nibblers that departed significantly from conventional designs. The company’s Super Nibbler is widely considered to be a significant step forward in a manual nibbler design.
Super Nibblers differ from conventional nibblers in that the tool is held parallel to the work-piece. Although these types of nibblers still have only a single blade, they cut the material in pretty much the same way as shears, which is why they are often called nibbler shears.
With Super Nibblers, most of the cutting action comes from below the work-piece. Although they don’t eject shards in the same way as conventional nibblers, they still have shields for protection against the bits of metal that break off from the work-piece.
These Super Nibblers are usually longer than most other types of hand nibblers and require much less pressure, so the blades tend to last longer.
How nibbler tools cut metal
Manual nibblers have been around in various forms for decades, but the basic design has remained pretty much the same. Using manual and electric nibblers requires positioning the tool perpendicular to the sheet metal you are cutting.
You then apply pressure from the top, allowing the cutting edge to cut to “nibble” into the metal, cutting a little piece with an electric nibbler this cuts yes in a very fast manner punching its way through at up to 2,200 strokes per minute (SMP). Try doing that by hand. This action is what gives nibblers their name.
When nibblers cut they eject a piston-like cutting blade that punches and cuts small pieces of material 1 punch at a time, but this cutting motion is happening fast so that the tool glides through metal like butter with a fast (SMP).
The of-cuts are usually pretty sharp, so most nibblers have plastic shields that protect you and your eyes from the flying debris.
There are also conventional manual nibbler designs, the pressure is usually applied in a single motion. There is often a considerable amount of force required, which places a great deal of stress on the blade, these, however, are only usable for the smallest of metal-cutting jobs, comparable to a pair of tin-snips, however, they can sometimes cut around corners more easily.
What metals and thickness can nibblers cut?
Hand-operated nibblers are usually used for cutting sheet metal. Most commercially-available models can cut metal at thicknesses of up to 18 gauge. Most nibblers can also be used to cut aluminum, copper, corrugated iron, PVC, and zinc.
Hand nibblers are especially useful for making inside cuts in sheet metal, even with tiny starting holes. The cutting point of a nibbler is small enough to fit into holes that are only 0.334 inchs, so they are ideally suited for jobs that shears or snips can’t handle.
Electric nibblers are the best choice for making fast intricate cuts for sheet metal. These types of tools can cut into corners quite easily, and can even make small cuts in different directions with a great deal of precision.
If you need to make long straight cuts, electric shears is a cheaper tool for the job. For cutting work when you need to start on a corner, you could use a conventional hand nibbler to make the first cut, and then continue cutting the rest of the work-piece with electric shears.
Or better use an electric nibbler for the whole cut, corner, and straight cutting.
Keep in mind that nibblers can take as much as 6 mm of material off the piece you are cutting. They are therefore less suitable for work-pieces that you need a tight cut, for example, a flashing.
One of the best things about nibblers is that they can create cuts without warping or distorting. This quality makes them excellent choices for situations where you want to preserve the appearance of the material.
Nibbler tool features
Makita and Hitachi make the best nibblers. The models from these brands are generally very durable and can cut through a wide variety of materials.
They also tend to hold their edge well, which is essential when you need to do a lot of cutting. For compressor models, check out the nibblers from Ingersoll.
Cutting gauge depth
GAUGE INCHS MM 10 9/64 3.57 16 1/16 1.58 18 1/20 1.27
In general, it would be best to get a nibbler that has a high cutting gauge rating. Most models can cut 16 to 18 gauge steel fairly easily, although the best models can cut 16 to 10 gauge metal.
Keep in mind also that the thickness that a nibbler can cut varies on the material. Its also confusing that the smaller a gauge rating the thicker the cutting ability.
Cutter head durability
You need a nibbler that can cut through a wide variety of metals. Although you will probably be using your tool mainly for cutting sheet metal, it should be able to handle corrugated iron and other harder metals as well without losing its cutting edge too quickly.
You should also look at buying a replacement cutter head or 2 so you have them ready for when you need to replace it. Or choose a tool that includes extra punches for when they do wear out.
Cordless battery-powered nibblers always have the edge over corded models in terms of portability. This could be an important factor if you have to work in tight spaces or places where there is no power outlet nearby. Compressed air nibblers are usually pretty powerful, but the hose makes it a less portable option.
Nibblers are fairly simple tools, but the best models aren’t cheap. I generally recommend getting a pro-level tool for even DIY work.
But for small cutting jobs and occasional DIY cutting, you can get the job done with similar results with an appropriate drill attachment–or even tin snips with-out having to purchase a nibbler. If you are a professional an electric nibbler can be your top metal cutting tool.
How to use an electric nibbler
Nibblers are pretty easy to use, but you do need to get accustomed to how they work. If you have never used a nibbler before, it would be a good idea to practice first on some throwaway of-cuts first before cutting the real work.
When working on visible roofing edges, make your cut is about half an inch longer than where you want the finished edge.
You can then create a second finer cut with tin snips easily without the tin-snips jamming. As you get better at using a nibbler, you can try making your cuts to the precise size.
When making cuts into the middle of a work-piece, it is always a good idea to create a starter hole with a drill.
Most nibblers can start cuts with holes as small as 0.334 inch’s in diameter. But check the stats of your nibbler for the minimum starter hole size it can work with just to be sure.
Pay attention to where the metal bits are ejected as you cut. These pieces can sometimes be very sharp and can cause injury or mar the surface of your work-piece. You can attach a strong magnet to the end of a stick to help you pick up the metal shavings at the end of a job.
Comparing top electric nibblers
|Makita JN1601||Fein BLK 1.3CSE/N12||Makita JN3201||Hitachi Koki Nibbler||Hitachi CN16SA|
|Cut Depth:||16 Gauge||18 Gauge||10 Gauge||16 Gauge||16 Gauge|
|Power:||5 Amps||3.7 Amps||6.2 Amps||4.2 Amps||3.5 Amps|
|Weight:||3.6 lbs||5.95 lbs||7.4 lbs||3.53 lbs||3.5 lbs|
A good electric nibbler can be the best tool for roofers, car work, and anyone doing sheet metal cutting jobs. They are pretty much unbeatable tools when you need to make clean cuts, and they are especially useful for cutting sheet metal corners and angles.
Nibbler tools cut across corrugated iron easily, and on angles which is beyond the capabilities of most shears and tin snips. If you foresee the need to do a lot of metal cutting, a good model from Makita, Hitachi, or Ingersoll would be well worth the cost.
For small DIY jobs try your luck with a drill attachment alternative as this is the closest DIY priced alternative, and with a bench mount and a circle cutting guide, it kinda sets the tool apart from dedicated nibbles as a different tool.