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How to Choose the Best Metal Cutoff Saw

Updated on October 21, 2013

Choosing a Metal Cutting Chop Saw

There are quite a few ways that you can cut metal. Most people use a good old fashioned hack saw to do it. This works fine as long as you don't have too many pieces to cut. If you do have a lot of metal that you need to cut you are going to want something that is a little bit faster.

Here again you will have a few options, you can consider a metal band saw which is useful for fine cuts but takes a long time. For rougher cuts, like those used during most metal fabrication jobs you are going to want a chop saw.

It is possible to put a metal cutting blade onto a standard miter saw and make the cuts if necessary although this is really tough on the miter saw so don't use your good woodworking saw for this. For best results however you are going to want a metal cutoff saw.

Abrasive Saw or Cold Saw?

The biggest decision that you are going to have to make when you are choosing a metal cutoff saw is whether to go with an abrasive saw or a cold saw. An abrasive saw works basically like a grinder while a cold saw cuts more like a wood saw. If you need to make precise cuts a dry saw is definitely the way to go, they are however by far the more expensive option. Most people find that rough cuts are perfectly acceptable as they can be cleaned up fairly easily when necessary so choose an abrasive saw to save money. In large part your decision is probably going to be based on how often you have to cut metal and how many pieces you have to cut.

Cold Saw
Cold Saw

Do You Need to Cut Angles?

A surprisingly large number of metal cutoff saws, even expensive ones, only allow you to make straight cuts obviously this is a problem if you need to cut angles or miters. If you are going to be doing a lot of work that requires angle cuts you are going to want to shop around to find a saw that allows you to cut them. In almost all cases this will mean that you have to go with a cold saw as virtually all abrasive saws are only able to make straight cuts.

Look at the Base

One area that you really want to pay attention to when you are choosing a metal cutting chop saw is the base. You obviously want to make sure that it is durable and well built but you also have to make sure that it is high enough off the ground. On a lot of saws the base is does not provide enough clearance for the blade to be fully depressed without hitting the ground. This is particularly true when using an abrasive blade. Abrasive blades tend to be fairly large as they get worn away during use. For the first few cuts if there is not enough clearance you are going to find yourself hitting the ground when you complete your cuts.

One other thing to look at on the base of the saw is the vice. This is important for holding the metal securely in place. Admittedly a lot of cuts are made using just your hand to hold the piece in place but if you are cutting large pieces of metal or need to make precise cuts you will need a good solid vice. Unfortunately a lot of metal saws come with fairly low quality vices that do not do a particularly good job. This is particularly true of quick locking vices, they may be convenient to use but they are rarely very secure. For best results you will want a vice that uses hex bolts.

Abrasive Saw
Abrasive Saw

Size and Weight

You are going to want to make sure that the saw that you choose is big enough to handle any job you are likely to come across. Most metal saws are 14 inches which is probably the best size for most people. You can get them bigger or smaller but unless you have a specialized need for a saw that is a different size stick to 14 inches, it will be much easier to find blades.

While you want your metal cutoff saw to be durable you do have to be careful to get one that is not too heavy, particularly if you are going to be using it at a job site. If you have to move your saw around a lot you will appreciate the light weight as the saw is already bulky to begin with.

Is an All Purpose Saw a Good Option?

There are a few manufacturers that sell chop saws that can be used on a variety of materials, metal, wood or plastic. Obviously you will have to change the blade for each different material but you can use the same saw each time. This can be a good option for people who don't use their saw all that often. The advantage of course is that it saves you money by requiring you to buy only one saw. The downside however is that it does only a mediocre job of cutting each material.

The main problem with a multipurpose saw is that a metal saw needs the blade to turn more slowly than a wood cutting saw does. This is why it is not generally recommended that you use your miter saw to cut metal although for occasional use it may be an option as long as you get the right blade. With a multipurpose saw they have to find a middle ground when it comes to how fast the blade spins and as a result it does not do a great job of cutting either metal or wood. If budget is an issue and you use your saw infrequently this is an option you may want to consider but for most users you are better off getting two separate saws.


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