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Posted by McElroy Metal ● Feb 13, 2024 3:54 PM

Metal Roofing 101: Cutting Metal

Are you planning your first metal roof installation or looking to increase your skills in working with metal? Whether you are a seasoned contractor or just beginning your career, working with a new material can be intimidating. This post will give some helpful tips to ensure your project turns out just how you envisioned.

Contractor image 6Metal panels are a staple in commercial and residential construction; renowned for sustainability, cost-efficiency, and reliability, metal is only growing in popularity. Becoming adept at using metal in your projects is an excellent asset in your "tool kit." Speaking of tools… let's talk about your setup!

Establish Your Set-Up: The Essentials

Working with the right tools makes all the difference in accuracy and safety. You can accomplish a lot with basic tools, and you will find all of these products in our service centers or your local hardware store.

  • Tape Measure
  • Speed Square
  • Sharpies
  • Aviation Snips
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Impact Gun
  • Safety Gear

Measure Twice, Cut Once

A reliable tape measure is crucial for accurately measuring your roof deck and cutting metal panels to size. Opt for a tape measure with at least a 25-foot reach and graduations in both inches and millimeters for added versatility.

speed-squareAccuracy + Speed = Speed Square

A speed square is a multi-use tool commonly used in construction. It is typically made of high-impact plastic or aluminum and has multiple scales and markings printed on it. This handy tool is great for marking straight lines, checking square cuts, and transferring angles. It's also helpful in setting the bevel on your aviation snips for angled cuts. With prices ranging from ten to twenty dollars, this affordable tool is a great asset!

Take Note!

Sharpies® are perfect for marking cutting lines and panel overlaps on your metal roofing panels. While you might think about using a graphite pencil, DON'T! Graphite is highly corrosive to bare metal materials, and using a graphite pencil will degrade your material. Instead, opt for permanent markers when writing on metal surfaces.

The Perfect Tool

Tin snips are the go-to tool for hand-cutting straight and curved lines in metal roofing panels. Designed with different angled tips, snips are often color-coded to make it easy to grab the right tool for your cut, and you can invest in a nice set of several snips for less than $100 in most hardware stores. When shopping, choose snips with the appropriate cutting capacity for the metal gauge you'll be working with; you might be surprised to learn that you can cut up to 16-18 gauge steel with handheld snips! Look for features like compound leverage for easier cutting and comfortable hand grips to reduce fatigue.

As you work with snips, you'll find there is an "art" to cutting smoothly with this tool. Keep your blades sharp and make small, consistent cuts for the best results. We recommend practicing on some scrap pieces to get familiar with the angles and direction of each tool.

Heavy Duty Cuts

As you branch into cutting heavier gauge products, consider adding a reciprocating saw to your setup. This powerful tool is great for making quick cuts in metal roofing panels, especially when cutting curves or irregular shapes. Brands like Dewalt and Craftsman offer this tool at prices starting around $100 and increase as voltage and power increase. When you choose your saw, select a saw with a variable speed setting to control the cutting speed and a blade specifically designed for metal cutting.

Before you dive in with a power tool, consider this. Our steel panels are coated with Galvalume®, a coating composed of zinc and aluminum, and painted with specialty paint. Galvalume® is the critical component that safeguards the roof against corrosion and rust. When a high-powered saw is used, heat is generated and can melt away the zinc in the coating due to its relatively low melting point. In general, we recommend quick cuts with minimal heat contact from powered blades to minimize the risk of degradation. And be sure to tidy up - bits of leftover metal can cause rust and corrosion on surrounding panels.

Sharp Shooting

An impact gun, also known as an impact drill, is essential for driving roofing fasteners into metal panels quickly and securely. Impact guns are available in a wide range of pricing and features, starting around $80 at major hardware stores. Ensure your impact gun is compatible with the fasteners you'll be using and has enough power to penetrate the metal roofing material cleanly.

Gear Up For Safety

Safety is paramount when working with metal roofing products. Always wear the appropriate safety gear as mandated by your company, which may include hard hats, fall equipment, safety glasses, arm guards, and gloves.

Upgrade Your Set-Up

Ready to take your metal roofing gear to the next level? As you take on larger projects, finding the right tool for your challenge is important. Here are some elevated tools that our engineering team finds helpful when working with our products.


A nibbler is a tool used for cutting sheet metal by punching out small pieces in a continuous process. This results in a clean, precise cut with minimal distortion of the metal, unlike other methods like cutting wheels or saws. If you are looking for a versatile tool for cutting metal, a nibbler is an excellent option.

Here are some of the benefits of using a nibbler:

  • Clean and precise cuts: Unlike many other metal cutting methods, nibblers create smooth, burr-free edges.
  • Minimal distortion: The small bites taken by the nibbler help to minimize the risk of warping or bending the metal.
  • Versatility: Nibblers can be used on various sheet metal thicknesses and materials, including mild steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
  • Control: Nibblers offer reasonable control over the cutting process, allowing you to make intricate cuts and shapes.

On-Site Tools

Manufacturers like Swenson Shear design innovative, high-quality metal roofing tools that accompany roofers on-site. They offer tools for standing seam and exposed fastener installation and can save time and money on every job.

Let’s Wrap Up

We aim to equip you to build beautiful, enduring metal roofs with efficiency and professional polish. If you’d like to learn more about metal installation, visit our website to sign up for our Standing Seam Installation Certification. This class is designed to educate participants in installing the standing seam roof products we manufacture, and participants leave with helpful insight and practical experience. We also offer a variety of informative videos on our website - take a look and learn from our engineers!

With the right tools, knowledge, and safety methods, you are ready to get to work.

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About McElroy Metal

Since 1963, McElroy Metal has served the construction industry with quality products and excellent customer service. The employee-owned components manufacturer is headquartered in Bossier City, La., and has 14 manufacturing facilities across the United States. Quality, service and performance have been the cornerstone of McElroy Metal’s business philosophy and have contributed to the success of the company through the years. As a preferred service provider, these values will continue to be at the forefront of McElroy Metal’s model along with a strong focus on the customer.

Topics: Metal Roofing, Installation

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