Welcome to the 4 Cladding Services complete guide to panel cutting! We have gotten all of the best tips and advice from our expert team to put together a handy and helpful guide to panel cutting that covers all of the most frequently asked questions and advice you could need.
From methods and tips on the best tools to use to the health and safety precautions you need to consider, you can find it all here in one place. You can also find a breakdown of the different panel materials and the best advice for metal, wood and plastic panel cutting.
Metal Panel Cutting
You have come to the right place if you’re researching how to cut metal sheets for roofing.
As you may be aware, you can order metal roofing sheets already cut to length. But you might already have a store of metal sheeting ready to be cut down to the correct size. You might also need to cut sheets on the rake for gables and window or door openings on side cladding.
Whatever reason you have for cutting metal panels, find advice on the best tools for the job and cutting techniques here.
The Best Tools for Cutting Metal Panels
Before you dive into cutting your metal panels, it is important to ensure you’re using the right tools for the job. Otherwise, you can be at risk of damaging the metal or tools you’re using and causing injury to yourself.
Here we have broken down what we think are the best tools for cutting metal panels you might want to consider using!
The best tool to cut metal sheets is a circular saw because they are non-abrasive and produce minimal heat. This means they won’t melt plastic or painted coatings, but they will make a lot of noise and vibration, so be aware.
They are also big and cumbersome tools, so we do not recommend using them at height as they can present many challenges and risks.
Steel Sheet Nibblers
Best used on radiuses, corners, flashings and details, steel sheet nibblers create a long punch cut and allow you to make lots of punches in a straight line.
Although many professionals prefer a circular saw to cut metal panels, steel sheet nibblers are suitable for trimming sheets down at the gable length.
What Tools NOT to Use for Cutting Metal Sheets
While there are tools you should use for cutting metal sheets, there are also some that you should absolutely avoid using.
Under no circumstances should you be using an angle grinder to cut metal panels for various reasons. Angle grinders are abrasive and generate a lot of heat due to the speed of the cut. This can lead to the blade eating through any zinc galvanised layers and outer coatings.
The longevity of the sheet will also be compromised due to these effects, as a hot cut will melt coatings and leave paint finishes scorched. So, to summarise, using an angle grinder to cut metal panels will weaken the metal and leave it with an unsightly finish, both of which you need to avoid.
Jigsaw tools can be used to cut metal sheets if you have a steel cutting blade. However, we do not recommend them for cutting metal panels as they are not the easiest tool to control.
Steel has also been known to pinch the cutting blade when not supported, and this can cause the blade to snap. Jigsaw tools are also notorious for straying whilst cutting, so it is hard to get a good cut with them.
While they might technically be suitable for cutting metal panels, this does not mean they are appropriate, as we guarantee you won’t be happy with the finish and quality of your cuts if using this tool.
How to Cut Metal Roof Panels in 4 Steps
So, you have the tools selected and ready. Next, you need to know how to approach cutting your metal roof panels. To help you, we have divided the process into four simple steps that you can put into practice.
Let’s dive in!
1. Lay the panels on a flat surface
First, lay the sheet panel you plan to cut on a flat surface with the underside. The surface must also be stable to ensure the sheets don’t move; for this reason, a workbench is best used as you can hold the sheet in place using adjustable clamps.
Make sure that the ridges are facing upside down so that they will be easier to cut across.
2. Mark the lines to be cut
Using a tape measure, mark out where you minted to begin and end the cut. Ensure that you have measured the sheet out multiple times to ensure the cutting is precise. Otherwise, you may be open to leaks in the roof.
We recommend using a combination square with the adjustable part of the square held flush against the edge of the sheet to draw out any lines.
3. Cutting with a circular saw
If you’re looking for a quicker way to size multiple metal sheets, use a circular saw to slice through numerous roofing sheets in one go. Just make sure you have fitted the saw with a metal cutting blade; we like to use carbide-tooth blades as although they are pricier, they last longer.
Line the blade up with the line you have marked up and cut along the guideline slowly and steadily. Do not rush the process and hold the tool with a gentle amount of pressure, just enough to control and follow the line.
4. Achieving rounded edges
To cut curved lines or more intricate shapes, use a metal sheet nibbler to make speciality cuts.
They are especially helpful for tasks like cutting holes for vent types and other necessary divergences to your straight lines.
How to Treat the Cut Ends of Steel Sheets
Once you have cut your metal sheets to size, you need to ensure that no cut ends are left exposed. Cut elements need to be protected from the weather, but luckily there is a way to cover these.
You can cover exposed cut ends by simply painting or priming the edges.
Any burrs on cut edges should also be removed using effective shearing practice. If possible, ensure that the down burr edges are positioned on the downslope edge of the roof pitch.
How to Cut Wood Panels
Many people assume that cutting wood panels is an easy process, but it can be more complicated than you first think, especially if you are trying to avoid wood splintering.
So, if you’re looking for methods to cut wood panels without splintering, there are three solutions you should try.
Using the Right Tools
It might sound obvious, but making sure you use the right tools to cut your wood panels makes the whole process much more efficient.
There are various tools suitable for cutting wood panels, but using the wrong tool can leave you with significant damage to the wood. We recommend using precision tools for easy and accurate cutting, and a circular saw might be your best choice. But you can also consider using table saws, jigsaws, Sabre saws, and utility knives.
Remember that while most precision tools are suitable for the job, they won’t all achieve the same finish in the result.
To avoid splintering, you should consider weight, which is why we prefer light circular saws to cut wooden panels. This is because the tool is easier to handle and control.
You also need to be aware of the tool’s sharpness, as the sharper the tool, the neater the cut will be, and the less likely splintering will occur.
Using the Right Cutting Techniques
Now you have the right tools ready for wood panel cutting; it’s time to consider the cutting techniques you are using. Here are a few tips to help you with your cutting techniques;
- Make sure the face of the panel is pointing downwards to ensure it stays neat and cleanly cut
- Cut along the grain where possible to avoid splintering
- Use masking tape along the length that you’re about to cut; when used with other cutting techniques, this works great
- Score your marked cutting line to reduce the chance of splintering
- Start with a shallow cut through the top layer of the fibre to ensure a clean final cut
Working on a Smooth Surface
To achieve a smooth and clean cut, you need to ensure you’re also working on a smooth, flat surface. If your work surface is uneven, this can cause minor ‘tremors’ during the cutting process.
Before you begin any cutting work, clear the space and take the time to polish the surface. This will remove any minor fissures on the workbench to ensure you achieve clean and neat cuts.
If you don’t have access to a smooth surface, you should consider using floor surfaces. While these may not permit all power tools, it is still a better option than cutting on irregular surfaces.
How to Cut Plastic PVC Panels
Cutting plastic panel sheets is not as risky as cutting metal or wood panels, as you do not have to worry about splintering, breaks and sharp offcuts.
There are several ways in which you can cut PVC panels, and you do not need power tools to be able to do so.
The most universally preferred tool to use when cutting PVC panels is a hand saw. It’s a fairly low-skill tool. However, it does require a lot of concentration and effort.
Score and Break Method
A quick and hassle-free way to cut your plastic panels, scoring and breaking your plastic sheets to size achieves clean cuts. However, this method can only be used on plastic sheets under 5mm thickness.
A jigsaw does provide more efficiency in cutting your plastic panels, as it is quicker and does not require as much concentration. It also allows you to create more intricate cuts as you can more easily manipulate your tool.
Health & Safety in Panel Cutting
With any metalworking project, you need to take health and safety precautions seriously, and it should be a priority.
Although all cutting methods and materials will result in a cut being made, choosing the most appropriate process for your specified task is vital. So, when it comes time to cut your panels, follow our health and safety tips and advice.
Personal Protection Equipment
Wearing appropriate PPE is a must for any cutting task. So, even if you think you can get the job done in the time it would take you to find and put on all of your protective equipment, you still need to ensure you’re wearing it all and correctly.
Wearing appropriate PPE can protect you from cuts, burns, and sharp chips becoming embedded in your eyes and skin.
PPE for metal cutting should include;
- Ear defenders that protect you from loud noise from machinery, which can lead to damaged hearing
- Full face welding masks and protective eyewear
- Sturdy footwear and reinforced toe boots to avoid offcuts and hot sparks
- Protective gloves that fit properly
- Full-length trousers and long sleeves to protect from hot sparks and sharp offcuts
Ever heard a poor workman blame his tools? In the instance of health and safety, it can be true!
Keeping on top of tool safety, in general, is an essential part of health and safety. So, you should ensure you’re keeping on top of tool maintenance, which includes checking switches, cables, and consumables for signs of wear or damage.
Ensuring your blades are still appropriately sharp is also an important part of tool maintenance, as a dull blade is more likely to slip and jump on the surface. This can lead to damage to the metal and injury to the user.
You should replace blades and consumables following your maintenance and routine checks as soon as signs of heavy use appear. You should also ensure tools are disconnected from the power source before attempting to replace blades or adjusting any settings.
Whether working in a workshop or on-site, you should always ensure that your workspace remains clear and tidy for safe working conditions.
You should wipe up any spills immediately as they appear in your workspace to ensure no liquids come into contact with electrical equipment. Similarly, take extra care when handling flammable materials and do not rush in any area or task inside your workshop or space.
Finally, don’t let children into the workspace unsupervised and remember that they should also be fitted with appropriate PPE.
Hand Vibration Syndrome
No matter what power tool you are using, ensure that you’re working to its’ individual guidelines, as all power tools can lead to hand vibration syndrome. Caused by over-exposure to vibration, damage affects the nerves, blood vessels and joints of the hand, wrist and arm when regularly working with hand-operated or guided power tools.
Luckily, hand vibration syndrome is preventable as long as you limit your use of the power tools to only a few hours a day. Once hand vibration syndrome damage is done, it is irreversible.
Some tools can be used for more extended periods, such as circular saws and nibblers, which is very fortunate in the case of panel cutting. They don’t give off as much vibration as other handheld power tools, but you still need to ensure you’re following each machine’s guidelines correctly.
We hope that our extensive guide has given you all the tips and advice you need to cut your panels.
If you’re looking for the next steps to complete the job and get your panels where they need to be, find out more about our expert services.
We are proud to offer both the hire and sale of vacuum powerlifters and extensive training for your team. Explore our full range of products on offer and don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more.