How To Cut Steel Tube

Cutting steel tubes is an important part of many metalworking projects – but if you’re reading this, you might not know exactly how to cut steel tube

Steel tube cutting requires special tools and techniques to ensure that the cut is clean and precise. Various methods can be used including sawing, drilling, and grinding.

Keep reading for our top tips on how to get the best results when cutting tube steel, or you can make the most of our tube laser cutting services by getting in touch.

Contact us online, or give us a quick call on +44 [0]161 278 2386 to find out more.

What is the best way to cut steel tube?

 Whether you need to cut steel tubes for a DIY project, or you’re looking for a professional way of cutting metal for small jobs or large projects, different methods will be necessary at different times depending on the thickness of the tube, the size of the tube, the shape of the tube, and the magnitude of the project.

What is the difference between a tube and a pipe?

Steel tubes can be any shape or profile, while steel pipes are round.

Expert advice on finding the best way for you to cut steel tubes

Special Metal Alloys are experts in all things metal, including the best way to cut steel tube. In this article, we will help you find the best way to cut steel tube, by explaining 14 different methods and looking at the appropriateness, advantages and disadvantages of each method.

What should you do before cutting a steel tube?

Whichever way you choose to cut steel tubes to best suit your circumstances and the job you are doing, there are certain essential things to do before you start.

Correctly measure and mark the cuts you want to make.

  • Ensure you have enough material for the project.
  • Make sure you have enough space.
  • Decide how to place the full length of the tube for the best balance and support on either side of the cut to make sure it is safe to start cutting.
  • Measure the correct length and cutting pattern and mark all the way around the tube.
  • For complex cuts, use a template to mark the cut before you start.
  • Remember the adage: Measure twice – cut once!

Clamp and support the steel tube securely for accuracy

It is of great importance that the tube or pipe does not move while you are cutting to ensure accuracy.

If the cut cannot be completed in one direction, take great care to clamp the tube in exactly the right position, every time you need to change positions, before proceeding.

Take Safety Precautions

  • Use the correct cutting tools, blades, power tools and disks meant for steel tubes.
  • Only work with sharp blades or new disks.
  • Sharpen blades before starting and check the sharpness at regular intervals.
  • Check the condition of cutting disks at regular intervals to ensure there are no cracks, chips, or other damage to the disk.
  • Ensure the work area is safe.
  • Keep a clear working area without obstructions.
  • Keep any assistants or observers in safe positions.
  • Do not wear loose clothing.
  • Tie back long hair and put on a net if necessary.
  • Keep your feet, hands and body away from the blade, flying sparks, filings, shavings, or metal chips.
  • Take care to position yourself and others not to stand where cut sections may fall.
  • Ensure there are no inflammable materials or combustibles near the working areas.
  • Wear protective clothing

Cutting steel involves heat, metal filings, sharp edges, sharp offcut pieces of metal, sometimes electricity, flames, and several other hazards.

Make sure to safeguard yourself and other workers from cuts, burns, eye injuries, etc. by wearing:

-thick gloves to shield your hands and if necessary, your arms

-safety glasses or face shield

-eye protection against flares, flames, arcs, or laser beams

-sleeve shirts/overalls to shield your arms

-long pants to protect your legs

-sturdy shoes, or safety boots if required

-ear protection when there is noise

How do you decide which is the correct method to cut steel tube?

These are some popular questions to consider to help determine the best method of cutting steel tubes:

  • What size are the tubes and the pieces being cut off? What size tools are required?
  • How much space is required for safely cutting things and moving the pieces?
  • How heavy are the steel tubes and the sections that are cut? (Do you need additional assistance or supporting equipment?)
  • How thick are the pipe or tube walls? Which tools will you require to cut through the various thicknesses?
  • What is the diameter of the steel tubes? What size tool is required to cut through, or how does the remaining length need to be repositioned to complete the cut?
  • What size are the pieces being cut?
  • How fast do you need to cut? Some projects require speedy delivery of the cut sections and the faster you need the process to produce them, the more sophisticated tools and methods you need.
  • How accurately do you need to cut? (Some processes require great precision, while others allow for an acceptable margin of error.)

14 ways to cut steel tube

The following 14 methods to cut steel tubes are arranged in progressively more sophisticated ways, starting with those that can be done by DIY enthusiasts, and building up to more complex methods requiring specialist equipment.

1. Pipe cutters

Starting with hand tools, pipe cutters are used for thin gauge steel pipe only.

Pipe cutters are typically handheld tools consisting of two handles that allow you to slip the cutting jaws over the tube. It scores the pipe with a rotating wheel as you rotate the pipe cutter around the pipe.

2. Electric pipe cutters

Used for thin gauge metals only.

It works in the same way as the handheld pipe cutter but is powered by electricity to spread and close the jaws around the pipe.

It leaves small burrs which can be quite sharp.

3.   Hacksaw

The ubiquitous hacksaw is found in every workshop and is incredibly versatile to cut steel pipes, using HSS (high-speed steel), tungsten carbide, or cobalt blades, with a few drops of cutting oil if necessary.

The biggest downside of a hacksaw is the amount of time and effort required.

4. Power hacksaw/ reciprocating saw

A power hacksaw/reciprocating saw with the correct blade with the right number of teeth is very useful to reach awkward places and speeds up hacksaw cutting and generally cut faster than abrasive rotary tools.

It is very handy near flammables or in places where heat, dust, or vibrations can do damage, as it does not generate much heat or sparks and the vibration is less because of slower movement. They can cut different gauge steel tubes with one blade with no need to change blades.

It is difficult to get an accurate straight cut though and it is important to set the saw to a slow speed for greater precision. If the saw has the option, set it to straight cutting rather than oscillating. Try to keep vibration and “wandering” to the minimum with a firm grip and careful cutting. Blades also wear out quite quickly and it is therefore not viable for large quantities of steel tubing.

Cutting steel with a reciprocating saw is similar to milling and it leaves tiny metal chips which need to be cleaned up afterwards. A magnet placed inside a plastic bowl is quite handy as the chips stick to the outside of the bowl and can be dropped in the disposal bin by simply removing the magnet from the inside.

5. Angle grinder

There are several methods for rotary tool cutting and an angle grinder is probably the most common and versatile. If fitted with abrasive discs or cut-off wheels it can make fast, but quite rough, cuts and are not suitable for precision work or intricate cuts.

Certain models are designed specifically for cutting steel pipes and tubes, and adapters are sold for “normal” angle grinders. They look more like a circular saw, fitted with clamps and rollers to hold the tubes or pipes in position. They are much more accurate, leave a very small kerf and there is little wastage.

It is very important to use the correct cutting disk for steel, the work must be clamped with chain clamps, and supported properly, and the grinder must be started slowly and carefully lowered onto the work surface, carefully avoiding the blade from getting wedged in the cut as it can splinter and cause serious damage or injury.

Abrasive discs are the most common method to cut metal but blades with carbide tips on the teeth, and diamond blades that are rated to cut steel will last longer, cut metals more accurately, and cause fewer sparks and vibration. They are less messy and also keep their size as they don’t wear down and get smaller like abrasive discs.

Grinders are very noisy, generate a lot of heat, are quite messy, and should not be

6.   Chop Saw

Chop saws are a variation on an angle grinder, but are fitted to a base, usually with a vice, and are hinged. They are considerably easier to use and are more accurate than freehand work with an angle grinder, but are less versatile because they have to be used in a fixed position.

7.   Die grinder

A die grinder is another variation of angle grinders but is designed for small spaces and to reach awkward places. They are great for notches and slots in steel and aluminium tubes but they are not practical for large projects.

8.   Circular Saw

Instead of a grinder, a circular saw fitted with the right blades rated to cut steel could be a great choice because they are usually easier to control, more manoeuvrable,  and it is easier to make square cuts in steel tubing. Although still not precision cutting, it is generally also easier to make straight cuts along the length of the steel tube than with an angle grinder.

9. Table Saw

Fitted with the correct blade designed for steel, a table saw can be very useful when doing repetitive work and along the length of the steel tube, provided the pipe wall is relatively thin.

It is important to realise that it will not be as gentle as sawing wood on a table saw. It will require firm holding and going at a slow speed. It is recommended you use a jig and clamps when cutting metal on a table saw to help stabilise the tube and prevent it from moving around.

10. Band Saw

Steel-cutting band saws are generally more expensive than the previous choices, but they are great for safely clamping down and fairly accurately and smoothly cutting steel pipes and tubes of different sizes and thicknesses.

Band saws that can be adjusted for both horizontal and vertical cuts can cut complex shapes and profiles. When cutting steel pipe with very thick walls, it is not necessary to watch the machine, saving on labour. They are quieter than an abrasive disc, do not vibrate much, and do not cause sparks.

For heavy work, it is best to use liquid coolants as it keeps the temperature down and greatly extends the blade life.

The greatest disadvantages of band saws are the cost and they require a fairly skilled operator to correctly clamp the workpiece and set the correct blade tension and speed.

11.  Cutting Torch

An Oxy-Acetylene or propane cutting torch is particularly useful to cut iron or steel tubes in situ and for unusual forms. Although very efficient when cutting thick tubes and pipes, the edge is rather rough though and it is not suitable for precision work.

Cutting torches cannot be used in confined spaces, poorly ventilated areas, or near flammable materials and they require a lot of safety precautions to protect the operator, working environment and workpiece.

With all these methods, deburring will be required.

From here on, we are moving into professional cutting, either using your own sophisticated machines or outsourcing to specialists.

12. Plasma Cutter

Plasma cutters are extremely versatile and flexible, but very expensive. Intricate cuts can be made either by freehand or clamping the steel tubes on a base that moves the workpiece around. They can be used on steel pipes and tubes with walls up to 150mm thick.

If handled with skill, they produce relatively smooth and accurate cuts with a narrow kerf, are much faster than cutting torches and do not distort or warp the material.

Like Oxy-Acetylene torches, one needs to take safety precautions to prevent injury or damage caused by the flames or molten metal.

13. Water jets

Water jet cutting of steel tubes produces very accurate and smooth edges. An extremely high-pressure stream of water, mixed with abrasive particles, can cut through thick steel tubes with great precision and cut intricate shapes and profiles, except when there are curves that the water cannot follow.

Water jet machines are very expensive to purchase and install and require suitable disposal of water, abrasive dust, particles, and metal shavings. They require a highly skilled operator to avoid losing fine detail and the cutting time is usually more than many of the other methods.

14. Laser cutting

What Is Laser Tube Cutting?

Using either fibre laser or CO2 laser beams, pinpoint straight cuts, holes, or designs can be cut with the utmost precision in steel tubes, structural shapes, and channels.

2-Axis machines are used to cut steel tubes in 2 dimensions to create the right length and for producing joints, while 3-axis machines cut metal in 3 dimensions to create chamfering, bevelling, and tilts.

When do you need laser tube cutting?

When high precision work with very tight tolerances is needed, especially if exact fitting or clean welding is required.

What are the advantages of laser tube cutting?

Laser tube-cutting machines can cut virtually any size, thickness, shape, profile, and contour of the tube and length is not an issue.

Even complex cuts are precise and clean, fitting exactly, with no secondary finishing or wastage of material. The high speed and accuracy improve fitting times and productivity.

For further information on the Tube Laser Cutting services please contact one of our Sales Representatives on +44 [0]161 278 2386.

Alternatively, contact us via email at sales@specialmetalalloys.co.uk

How to cut steel tube
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