Hand Cutting Tools for Sheet Metal Construction and Repair

Many types of hand cutting tools are available to cut light gauge sheet metal. Four cutting tools commonly found in the air frame repair shop are straight hand snips, aviation snips, files, and burring tools.

Straight Snips

Straight snips, or sheet metal shears, have straight blades with cutting edges sharpened to an 85° angle. [Figure 1]

Hand cutting tools for aircraft sheet metal construction and repair
Figure 1. Straight snips

Available in sizes ranging from 6 to 14 inches, they cut aluminum up to 1⁄16 of an inch. Straight snips can be used for straight cutting and large curves, but aviation snips are better for cutting circles or arcs.

Aviation Snips

Aviation snips are used to cut holes, curved parts, round patches, and doublers (a piece of metal placed under a part to make it stiffer) in sheet metal. Aviation snips have colored handles to identify the direction of the cuts: yellow aviation snips cut straight, green aviation snips curve right, and red aviation snips curve left. [Figure 2]

Hand cutting tools for aircraft sheet metal construction and repair
Figure 2. Aviation snips


The file is an important but often overlooked tool used to shape metal by cutting and abrasion. Files have five distinct properties: length, contour, the form in cross section, the kind of teeth, and the fineness of the teeth. Many different types of files are available and the sizes range from 3 to 18 inches. [Figure 3]

Hand cutting tools for aircraft sheet metal construction and repair
Figure 3. Files

The portion of the file on which the teeth are cut is called the face. The tapered end that fits into the handle is called the tang. The part of the file where the tang begins is the heel. The length of a file is the distance from the point or tip to the heel and does not include the tang. The teeth of the file do the cutting. These teeth are set at an angle across the face of the file. A file with a single row of parallel teeth is called a single-cut file. The teeth are cut at an angle of 65°–85° to the centerline, depending on the intended use of the file. Files that have one row of teeth crossing another row in a crisscross pattern are called double-cut files. The angle of the first set usually is 40°–50° and that of the crossing teeth 70°–80°. Crisscrossing produces a surface that has a very large number of little teeth that slant toward the tip of the file. Each little tooth looks like an end of a diamond point cold chisel.

Files are graded according to the tooth spacing; a coarse file has a small number of large teeth, and a smooth file has a large number of fine teeth. The coarser the teeth, the more metal is removed on each stroke of the file. The terms used to indicate the coarseness or fineness of a file are rough, coarse, bastard, second cut, smooth, and dead smooth, and the file may be either single cut or double cut. Files are further classified according to their shape. Some of the more common types are: flat, triangle, square, half round, and round.

There are several filing techniques. The most common is to remove rough edges and slivers from the finished part before it is installed. Crossfiling is a method used for filing the edges of metal parts that must fit tightly together. Crossfiling involves clamping the metal between two strips of wood and filing the edge of the metal down to a preset line. Draw filing is used when larger surfaces need to be smoothed and squared. It is done by drawing the file over the entire surface of the work.

To protect the teeth of a file, files should be stored separately in a plastic wrap or hung by their handles. Files kept in a toolbox should be wrapped in waxed paper to prevent rust from forming on the teeth. File teeth can be cleaned with a file card.

Die Grinder

A die grinder is a handheld tool that turns a mounted cutoff wheel, rotary file, or sanding disk at high speed. [Figure 4] Usually powered by compressed air, electric die grinders are also used. Pneumatic die grinders run at 12,000 to 20,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) with the rotational speed controlled by the operator who uses a handor foot-operated throttle to vary the volume of compressed air. Available in straight, 45°, and 90° models, the die grinder is excellent for weld breaking, smoothing sharp edges, deburring, porting, and general high-speed polishing, grinding, and cutting.

Hand cutting tools for aircraft sheet metal construction and repair
Figure 4. Die grinder

Burring Tool

This type of tool is used to remove a burr from an edge of a sheet or to deburr a hole. [Figure 5]

Hand cutting tools for aircraft sheet metal construction and repair
Figure 5. Burring tools