Cutting Metal Panels Properly On Site

Posted on October 17, 2019 by kbuchinger

Cutting metal panels on site is an often-necessary part of installing metal roofing and wall panels. However, using the right tools and methods to ensure the panels remain damage-free is vital. Using the wrong tools can result in rust, rust stains, the voiding of warranties and diminished building service life. In this blog post, we’ll share several common field-cutting techniques and best practices that help ensure good results.

 

Maintaining Longevity When Cutting Metal Panels On Site

When metal panels are made in a manufacturing facility, the tools and methods used to cut the coated metal coil help protect the cut edge from deterioration like corrosion. When cutting metal panels on a jobsite or in the field, protecting any cut edges is just as important. To understand how to field-cut metal panels without sacrificing the quality and protection delivered from the manufacturing facility, you must first understand the what protects the panels. Most often, metal roof and wall panels are fabricated from Galvalume®-coated steel coil because of its proven longevity. Not only does the Galvalume coating protect the surface area of the metal panels, it has also been shown to be effective along the thin edges of the metal too, as long as those edges are cut properly.

During fabrication, the Galvalume metal panels are cut to length either by shearing while flat before entering the roll former, or by means of a profile shear as the panels exit the roll former. Either method tends to “wipe” the Galvalume coating across the cut edge of the metal panels. This provides superior cut-edge protection from corrosion.

Likewise, when panels arrive on site, any needed field cutting should address the same concerns of protecting the edge of the steel from corrosion. Of course, there are ways of doing the field cutting correctly. However, there are also poor strategies that can lead to real problems. The following are examples of common field cutting tools and the best practices for good results.

 

Common Tools and Methods for Cutting Metal Panels On Site:

Aviation Snips

Red and green aviation snips are a good choice for small cuts on metal panels, such as around pipe penetrations. These snips will wipe the Galvalume® coating in the same way as factory shears, making them a good choice.

Electric Shears

Electric shears are optimal when making lengthier cuts along the steel, such as cutting a wall panel at a corner or at a door opening. These shears take a ¼” strip of metal out of the panel during the cutting process, which tends to leave both sides of the panel smooth and flat along the cut. Like the aviation snips and factory shears, electric shears will wipe the Galvalume coating and protect the edges.

Mechanical Shears

Mechanical shears are an add-on tool that fit onto a battery-operated impact or screw gun. These shears do not take any metal out of the panel and will leave a slightly wavy edge. Mechanical shears are an excellent choice for bevel cutting standing-seam panels at hips and valleys, since they too wipe the Galvalume coating over the cut edges to offer protection.

Nibblers

A nibbler is a great tool for cutting across corrugations in wall panels to create openings for windows, doors and similar structural additions. A good nibbler typically costs $500-$700 (currently), but is well worth it if you often cut corrugated metal panels. The punch and die in the nibbler tends to wipe the Galvalume across the cut edge as it punches out small, half-moon shaped pieces of panel. However, because these little metal pieces will fall away from the cut, it’s important to contain them so no one walks on them. Otherwise, they can embed in the soles of installer’s shoes and create scratches in roof panels when they walk on the roof.

Skill Saw

Skill saws are an ideal tool for cutting metal panels because of their versatility. This tool can cut either across or parallel to corrugations, whether straight or at an angle. When using a skill saw, it is critical to use a saw blade that cuts cool. Otherwise, the Galvalume coating can melt along the cut edge and become ineffective. In particular, do not use an abrasive blade, which will generate heat and damage the coating.

MBCI Blog: Field Cutting Metal Panels On Site
Panels cut with abrasive blades corrode. A cool-cutting blade leaves a smooth edge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, its vital to avoid cutting panels on the roof or above other panels. A skill saw blade will throw considerable amounts of steel debris into the air and down onto any panels below. This debris, called swarf, will quickly rust and ultimately cause rust spots in the panels. If enough swarf gathers in one spot, it can rust through the panel.

MBCI Blog: Field-Cutting Metal Panels On Site

Steel swarf, like this collected at the ridge will rust through the panel.

 

Which Tools Should To Avoid When Cutting Metal Panels On Site:

Tools that should never be used include:

  • Torches
  • Cut-off saws
  • Reciprocating saws
  • Hacksaws
  • Grinders

All of these tools will melt the Galvalume® coating, causing edge rust just like an abrasive blade would. These tools also throw a lot of steel debris (swarf) onto the panels they cut. This debris will be hot and will embed into the panel coating. This can cause rust spots and bigger problems down the road.

In conclusion, using the right tools and following metal panel manufacturer recommendations when cutting metal on site will help ensure that the panels remain damage-free and the final installation will be a fairly seamless process. Using the wrong tools can result in rust, rust stains, and the voiding of warranties. For more on best practices and recommendations for on-site cutting and installation of metal panels contact your local MBCI representative.

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