When working with sheet metal, metal stud framing, ductwork, or any sheet material, you need different types of hand tools to mold and cut the material. One of them is a pair of tin snips. These are great tin knocking pliers for cutting sheet metal and plastic sheet materials. In this article, you will learn what are tin snips, why you need them, how to use them, and how to find the best tin snips for your project.
What are tin snips?
Tin snips are a type of cutting pliers for cutting sheet metal. They cut by shearing through material like a heavy-duty pair of scissors. You can use them to cut a variety of flat metals including aluminum, copper, and thin gauge steel.
Tin snips are also useful for cutting roofing materials such as corrugated iron and shingles. You can also use them to cut vinyl siding, cardboard, hardware cloth, and plastic. In fact, some tin snips cut so well that some elementary schoolers prefer to use them over scissors to cut cardboard and to cut out costumes and props for their make clubs.
Types of Tin Snips
Tin snips come in a variety of shapes and designs but the main types are either regular tin snips or aviation snips.
Regular tin snips
Regular or traditional snips resemble heavy-duty scissors. They typically have a single pivot point connecting the metal blades and handles with extra large finger holes. Another name for them is sheet metal shears. Regular tin snips are ideal for making rough cuts and making straight through cuts through thin sheet material.
On the other hand, aviation snips or compound snips are a more complex version of tin snips. They have a compound jaw mechanism with about three or four pivot points that provide more leverage when cutting. Aviation snips have a small profile and come in four different variations, namely straight cut, right cut, left cut, and offset.
Types of aviation tin snips
Straight tin snips
Straight cut snips have straight jaws and yellow handles. They are designed to cut straight. The only limitation of yellow snips is that they only cut to the depth of the jaws. This makes them unsuitable for making very long cuts.
Therefore, the yellow snips are ideal for cutting through small pieces such as roofing shingles. They are also perfect for cutting notches in sheet metal.
Right tin snips
The right-hand tin snips have slightly bent blades to the left and their handles are color-coded green for easy identification.
You can use green aviation snips to cut curves in any direction but they are perfect for cutting curves to the left because they send waste or offcut material to the right. This is why they are known as right-hand snips because the lower jaw that curls off waste material is on the right-hand side.
However, when cutting large holes into sheet metal such as a round hole in ductwork for attaching duct collar, you cut clockwise with green snips so that the scrap material will be inside the round shape. Otherwise, if you cut the hole counterclockwise with the green snips, you will damage the part you want to keep.
Left tin snips
Left tin snips typically have red handles and the jaws are slightly bent to the right. You can use them to make any type of cut but they are best for cutting curves to the right or clockwise because the waste material comes off on the left side.
But when you are cutting a round hole into sheet metal, you should work the red snips in a counterclockwise direction because you want the waste material to be inside the hole not outside.
Offset tin snips
Offset snips have an angled head. The head is either bent at 45 degrees or 90 degrees. Whichever they are, offset snips are designed to keep your hand away from the cutting path. This allows you to safely make long or round cuts into a material.
Like regular snips, offset tin snips come in either red, green, or yellow handles. The green offsets cut like the regular right-cut snips while the offset reds cut like the regular left cut snips. The yellows cut like the regular straight cut snips but they are not that useful in sheet metal work.
Between the 45s and the 90 degrees offsets, the right-angled offsets are the best for cutting circules in tight spaces. That being said, you can use any type of offset snips is to cut holes and curves into material. HVAC guys use them to cut holes in ductwork or in the middle of sheet material.
Right vs Left tin snips
The right vs left tin snips or green vs red tin snips has been a topic of argument for a long time. Some people strongly believe that right-hand snips are only for cutting curves to the left and left snips to the right. Others believe that right-hand snips are for right-handed users and left snips for left-handed users. But none of that is entirely true.
So, why are they right and left snips?
The only reason aviation snips are named directionally is so that you know where the finished and waste side will be when you cut. As I mentioned, right-handed snips send the waste material to the left while the left snips send the offcut scrap to the right. In other words, the finished side remains on the right-hand side when cutting with right snips and on the left-hand side when using left snips. This is because the lower jaw that curls off scrap material is to the left side on the right cut snips and to the right side on the left cut snips.
The lower jaw on the red and green aviation snips is responsible for curling up scrap material to get it out of the way. It is useful because it curls up long strips of scrap material when you are making long cuts so that your hands are out of danger. This also allows you to make a consistently clean cut, leaving a nice flat edge on the good side.
How thick should you cut with aviation snips to avoid damaging material?
If you want the waste material to curl up nicely and get out of the way, you should not trim more than 1/4″ of material from the edge. Otherwise, you will end up with a rough jagged edge. Sometimes it can even be difficult to cut through if the excess material is too thick.
In other words, aviation snips are designed to trim off 1/4 inch material from the edge. This makes them a perfect hand tool for making final trims on sheet metal. But you can still use snips to trim off more than 1/4″ of material. All you need to do is make multiple passes of thin strips and you will end up with a nice clean edge.
Lastly, even though the left and right snips cut differently, they operate the same way. In fact, they are both made to be used in the right hand so that you can use the right-hand thumb to undo the lock. So, do not fall into the trap of thinking that left-cut snips are for left-handed users and right-cut snips for right-handed users.
Why then do you need left and right snips?
You can use either the right-cut or left-cut snips to cut in any direction. But it is better to have both for use when you cannot change the direction of cutting or can’t turn your material. This is because the left cut snips trim off sheet material off the right edge while the right cut snips trim off the left edge.
But when you are in a position to change your orientation when cutting or can invert your workpiece, you don’t need both pairs. You only need to ensure that the lower jaw of your pair of snips is on the side of the excess material.
However, if you like to make notches into material, you can also have the straight snips. The yellows are good for small cuts that are as deep as the jaws.
Uses of tin snips
Besides cutting thin sheet metal, tin snips are also useful for cutting other materials including tough plastics, roofing materials such as shingles and corrugated iron, gutters, vinyl siding, ductwork, metal studs, and hardware cloths.
HVAC technicians use tins snips to cut holes in ductwork while tin knockers use them to trim thin sheet metal. On the other hand, carpenters and renovation contractors use snips to cut metal studs and gutters while DIYers use them to cut anything including plastic packaging and sheet material for craft projects.
In short, tin snips are for anyone who needs to cut or trim off sheet material for a project. That being said, aviation snips are more suitable for making accurate cuts and intricate curves while traditional snips are for rough and straight cuts.
Best Tin snips sets
Tin snips are available both as a single pair or as a set. But the best and the most economical way to buy them is as a set. A set of tin snips typically includes the yellow, red, and green snips. But a set of offset aviation snips only has red and green snips.
These are the best tin snip sets.
Midwest Offset Aviation Snips Set (2 piece) – Best tin snips on the market
- Length: 9-3/4″
- 2 piece set
- Soft durable grips
- Drop-forged blades with serrated lower jaw
- Angled cutters
- Made in USA
The offset Midwest aviation snips are the best money can buy. They are the cream of the crop. These angled snips measure 9-3/4 inches long and are made in the USA. In fact, when you look at them, you can tell they are built to last.
The blades are drop forged of molybdenum alloy steel for extra strength and durability. You can use them daily to cut tin for a year before the blades start to dull or even break. If you are not a regular user, the Midwest offset snips will last a couple of years if not a lifetime.
Cutting and gripping
The Midwest snips cut cleanly and feel better in the hand than the competition. You can use them to cut up to 18g mild steel or thicker for softer material. Anyone who has used them knows their durability, ease of use, and finesse are second to none. They are surely made with quality in mind.
As far as gripping is concerned, the Midwest tin cutting pliers have ribbed rubber handles that are comfortable to grip. The snips stay in the hand when cutting and are good for both large and small hands.
The midwest offset aviation snips have many great features but these three are the most outstanding.
The first one is the adjustable jaws that enable you to make clean, precise cuts throughout the life of the tool.
The second great feature is the offset design. It helps keep your hand away from the sharp metal edges that can cause injuries. This makes the pliers great for ductwork and other projects in tight spaces.
Lastly, the jaws are durable and remain sharp for a long time. Most tin snips remain sharp for a few months but the Midwest can remain sharp for over a year of daily use.
Overall, the Midwest offset snips are the best for professional sheet metal workers and tradesmen. They are the best tin snips for HVAC installs. They are a must have for any commercial or residential retrofitting and renovation project that requires cutting in ductwork.
That being said, you can use the Midwest aviation cutters for any other project. And you don’t have to be a professional sheet metal guy to use them.
Craftsman Aviation Tin Snips (3 piece) – Best for the money
- Length: 9-3/4″
- 2 piece set
- Soft durable grips
- Drop-forged blades with serrated lower jaw
- Angled cutters
- Made in USA
The craftsman tin snips set (CMHT73558) is a great value pack. It comes with three pieces of snips including the straight-cut, right-cut, and left-cut snips. Each pair is 10″ long and has color-coded handles for quick identification.
Cutting and Gripping
The cutters on the Craftsman Aviation Snips (CMHT73558) are induction hardened. They cut cleanly and stay sharp longer. The blades also have 1/4″ markings on one side so that you can easily tell the depth of your cut. This comes in handy when making precise cuts depthwise.
These Craftsman snips are comfortable to grip and easy to use. The comfort grip handles feel comfortable to hold but may be too thick for small hands. As long as you can get your palm around the handles, you can use these metal shears all day without worrying about blisters.
The features that stand out on the Craftsman tin snips set are the 1/4″ marking on the blades and the comfort grip handles. The 1/4 inch markings allow you to measure precisely how deep a cut should go. The comfortable handles, on the other hand, reduce fatigue so that you can cut more miles of sheet metal.
However, there is one downside that makes this Craftsman snip set unsuitable for precision trimming. That is, the right and left snips tend to bind up when trimming off very thin strips of sheet material. This makes the Craftsman tin snips set only suitable for projects that do not need very accurate trimming such as cutting gutters, roofing materials, and other DIY projects.
But overall, the 3-piece Craftsman Aviation Snips set is a great value for money. The individual snips are well designed, easy to use, and are durable. They feel comfortable to hold, have a spring-assisted latch, and cut really well. You can use them to cut up to 18ga cold rolled steel or 22ga stainless steel.
Stanley FMHT73558 Fatmax Aviation snips set – Best for Homeowner and DIY
- Length: 10″
- Comfortable hand grips
- Limited life warranty
- Made in China
I know you would think that these Stanley aircraft snips were labeled Fatmax to ride on the shoulders of the giant Stanley Fatmax tape measure is. Well, while that could be true, this set of aviation snips is a giant in its own right too.
First, the set includes three types of tin snips, namely, the yellow, red, and green snips. Secondly, the snips have beefy handles that are comfortable to hold but can be a handful for a small hand though not unuseful.
That being said, the set packs everything an average homeowner or DIY enthusiast needs for a project that utilizes sheet materials. From the nicely forged chrome-molybdenum steel blades that cut cleanly and remain sharp for long to the decent pricing. These snips from Stanely Tools are all you need for projects around the house. They even have a measuring ruler on the blade to let you know how deep a cut is.
However, although the Stanely Fatmax snips are rated to cut up to18 gauge steel, I find them ideal for cutting aluminum, vinyl siding, cardboard, leather, and other softer materials. You can also use them to open plastic packages when you can’t find your utility knife or leatherman! They are just not good enough for major sheet metal jobs.
Downsides of Stanley Fatmax Snips
When I say the Stanley Fatmax snips are not the best for serious sheet metal jobs I don’t mean that the jaws cannot handle heavy gauge steel sheets. No! They do a good job but you need a lot of hand strength to cut make a cut. In other words, the jaw mechanism does not provide good enough leverage to let you cut through thick sheet material without cursing.
Furthermore, the locking tab on the Fatmax aviation snips is another source of trouble. It keeps on locking the jaws accidentally when cutting, which can be frustrating. But overall, the Stanley FMHT73558 tin snips set is a decent option for an average user. You can use them to cut sheet material in your DIY home projects and to cut open the clamshell packaging.
Milwaukee 3-piece aviation snips set – Best for small hands
- Length: 10″
- Slim ergonomic grips
- Lockable jaws
- Limited life warranty
Whether you cut sheet metal for a living or occasionally work with sheet material, this new milwaukee tin snips set (48-22-4533) can be a good alternive to the Midwest offsets. The set comes with three regular tin snips; a straight, left, and right snips.
Unlike the old Milwaukee aviation snips that had red and black handles, these new Milwaukee snips have all red handles. However, the greens and yellows have a yellow or green ring respectively and a color-coded tip on one handle for easy identification.
Cutting and gripping
These new milwaukee tin snips have short forged alloy steel blades that can cut up to 18ga CRS or 22ga stainless steel. With daily use, these snips can last a few months and up to a year or a couple of years if you use them occasionally. However, if you use them to cut softer material like aluminum and copper, they could last a little longer.
Regarding hand comfort, these aviation snips from milwaukee feature ridged rubber molding on the handles. This molding makes the shears very comfortable in your hands and the ridges provide a tight grip.
Unlike the earlier version, these new milwaukee snips have slim comfort grip handles. This makes them perfect for small hands. The latch also works perfectly to lock the shears when not in use. It does not lock accidentally like the annoying push-button lock on the previous version.
Overall, this new set of milwaukee aviation snips is a real value set for home users, DIYers, and professional sheet metal workers. They may not be the cream of the crop snips, but they will get you through your metal roofing project or ductwork.
Away from the job site, you can use them to cut aluminum, vinyl siding, screening, cardboard, leather, and copper. Lastly, you won’t pay through the nose to get this 3-piece Milwaukee snip set.
Overall, tin snips are a great type of cutting pliers. They make light work of cutting sheet material. When shopping for them, there is a variety to select from including the traditional snips, and the various types of aviation tin snips. But if you cut sheet metal for a living, I would recommend getting green and red offset aviation snips. They have compound jaws that provide great mechanical advantage and are bent away to keep your hand from danger. Aviation snips also have a way of curling up the scrap material to allow you to make long continuous cuts. However, you must make sure you are not cutting more than 1/4″ from the edge.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tin Snips
Red tin snips, also known as left-handed snips, are great for cutting straight or curves but are perfect for making left-handed curves or cutting clockwise. This is because the snips cut excess material off the left. Green tin snips are exactly the opposite of red snips. You can use them to make straight cuts and curves in any direction but are best for cutting curves to the left or clockwise. This is because they cut off scrap on the right-hand side.
If you want to keep your snips sharp and without nicks, avoid cutting thicker material than they are rated. Ideally, most tin snips cut up to 18g mild steel and 26ga galvanized steel. Another thing you can do to maintain your tin snips is to keep the jaws adjusted and lubricated. If the jaws are not serrated, you can as well try to sharpen them using these methods.
Always ensure you are not cutting more than 1/4″ from the edge of the material if you do not want to damage or distort the good side of your sheet material. Also, make sure you use the correct tin snips so that the scrap material will curl off and not the good side.
Green and red tin snips can cut in any direction if you can change your orientation. But when you have to work from the same position, the green handle snips are best for cutting curves in the left-hand direction and red snips for right-hand direction. When cutting circles and round holes, you should use the green snips to cut in the counter-clockwise direction and red snips in the clockwise direction.