Separate variable-speed dial makes it easier to get the best cuts while fully pressing the trigger. 5.5 inch cutting radius is smaller than other options for sharper turns. Head swivels 360 degrees. Powerful, but easy to operate.
Struggles with cutting curves and corners on metal thicker than 18-gauge steel.
The motor is powerful enough to produce smooth cuts in a quick manner. The head swivels 360 degrees. Has a solid design that will be comfortable to hold for hours on end. Lightweight and easy to set up.
It won’t be able to cut through anything on the thicker side without some issues.
The powerful motor provides fast cutting action and 360-degree head rotation gives versatility. Weighs no more than a corded tool even with the battery attached. Design is comfortable and easy to hold.
Does not come with a battery or a charger.
The head can swivel 360 degrees to adapt to any project. The design helps protect your hands from metal shavings. These are cordless so you can take them anywhere on a job site. Comes with a three-year limited warranty.
“Ribbed” roofing material can be rather challenging for this tool.
Large metal cutters can be rotated 360 degrees to position the shear correctly. Variable-speed trigger controls the speed with pressure. Easy to move around.
It can be difficult to control curved cuts with the swiveling head, depending on the cutting angle.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
If you’ve ever tried using a manual shear on anything more than very thin sheet metal, you’ll immediately understand the benefits of electric metal shears. A powered metal shear not only makes the job much easier but is usually more accurate, too. You don’t need to exert a lot of physical force to use the tool, so you won’t slip, which is a frequent problem with a manual shear.
If you’re a hobby metalworker, you needn’t spend a lot on a good-quality electric metal shear. If you’re a pro, you can choose from numerous high-quality tools. Our recommended products include examples of both and offer a variety of solutions for those of you who are ready to buy.
If you still need more information, the following shopping guide looks in greater detail at all aspects of choosing an electric metal shear, including features to watch for, prices, and answers to some frequently asked questions.
We’re focusing on handheld electric metal shears in this review, but it’s worth taking a quick look at the alternatives to underline why these tools are so popular.
Hand shears: These are also called tin snips or metal scissors. They serve a purpose if you’re working on very thin material (for example, what food cans are made of), but they rely entirely on muscle power. Even if you’re strong, you’ll soon tire. These shears are also very uncomfortable to use for an extended period of time.
Hydraulic metal shears: These floor-standing machines with a guillotine action are at the other end of the spectrum. They’re extremely powerful but not very versatile – you can’t use them for corrugated material or any prefabricated shape because the work would be crushed by the clamp that holds the material in place before cutting.
Pneumatic metal shears: Also called air shears, these can be either floor-standing guillotine models or hand tools. The latter are very similar to electric metal shears, but you need an air compressor to drive them, one that produces sufficient cubic feet per minute of air pressure to power them efficiently. If you already have this kind of compressor, pneumatic shears have certain advantages. They’re powerful, and because there’s no motor in the unit itself, they’re lighter. They’re often cheaper, too. However, many find the air hose cumbersome, and the compressor itself needs regular maintenance.
Electric metal shears: These use a basic motor with a gear head that converts rotary motion into a cutting action. They’re relatively light (seldom much over five pounds), almost maintenance-free, and powerful enough for all but the toughest metal-cutting tasks.
When it comes to electric tools, there are differences between corded and cordless models, but as the capacities and performance of batteries improve, the differences are becoming smaller.
That said, an electric metal shear is a particularly power-hungry device, and corded tools dominate the market. There are cordless models out there – and their specifications suggests they have an equivalent capacity to their corded rivals – but the run times aren’t as long as we’d like, and they’re considerably more expensive. Unless you have a very strong need for the freedom that a cordless tool allows, we’d find it difficult to justify the extra expense.
Perhaps the most important difference between models is the thickness of material the shears are able to cut. You’ll quite often see 18 gauge for steel and 20 gauge for harder stainless steel, the most common specification, though there are also shears that cut 16 gauge and 14 gauge. Very few floor-standing machines exceed that because it’s just not practical to shear thicker sheets. If you need to do it, a metal band saw is probably a better idea.
Electric motors are usually 4 amp or 5 amp. Both offer similar cutting capacities, so the difference is ease of cutting and long-term durability. Ball bearings are quoted as extending the tool’s life, which is true, but almost all motors use them, so it’s not a major consideration.
Handheld metal shears have either two blades (single-cut) or three (double-cut).
Two blades: Single-cut shears are more precise, but the cutting action can deform the edge of the workpiece. The thicker the material, the more likely this is.
Three blades: Double-cut shears cut on both sides of the blade, removing a sliver of material (about 1/4-inch wide, depending on the model). That’s not a problem for sheet-metal work that isn’t to tight tolerances (or when the waste is taken into account) and edge distortion is virtually eliminated.
Cutting speed: This is generally 0 to 2,500 cuts per minute, and there’s little difference between budget and professional models. Speed variation is usually a question of how hard you press the trigger, so it’s difficult to be precise. Some high-end metal shears have selectable ratios, giving greater control.
Swivel head: Most electric metal shears have a 360° swivel head to make it easier to cut at different angles.
Trigger: Many products quote a two-finger trigger, meaning the action is light and easy to pull. A lock-on button, once set, allows you to let go of the trigger for continuous cutting.
Minimum corner radius: This isn’t regularly quoted, but if you do a lot of curved cutting, especially small radii, it’s worth finding out.
Inexpensive: There are a number of perfectly adequate corded electric metal shears in the $50 to $60 range. These perhaps aren’t the most powerful tools, but they can be a great value for the DIY user.
Mid-range: Spend between $80 and $170 and you can find shears with similar gauge specifications to the budget models but with more powerful motors and better build quality. These are pro tools designed to give many years of service in constant-use environments.
Expensive: If you want to cut metal thicker than 18 gauge, you’ll need a heavy-duty metal shear. While you’ll find a few at lower price points, most are $250 or more.
Cordless: The range of cordless electric metal shears is currently quite small and the prices high. Around $150 will get you light-duty snips, but if you want the cutting ability of corded rivals, you’ll spend in the region of $250 for a bare tool, and closer to $500 if you don’t already own a compatible battery and charger.
Q. What’s the difference between metal shears and nibblers?
A. It’s not unusual for shears to be called nibblers, but that’s not really correct. Shears cut like powerful scissors. Nibblers take out a series of small chunks – or bites – which is where they get their name. Because they actually remove material, nibblers shouldn’t be used for cutting accurately along a line. However, they can cut a very tight circle and are often used on corrugated steel, which is awkward to cut with shears.
Q. Do I need any protective gear for working with an electric metal shear?A. A good pair of leather or cut-proof gloves. That’s not really for the shear but rather to protect your hands from the cut metal edge, which can be razor sharp. In any workshop situation we would also recommend some form of safety glasses or goggles.
Q. Can you explain what gauge is when talking metal thickness?
A. The gauge system predates using inches or millimeters as standard measurements and dates back to a British way of measuring wire thickness. It’s not clear when or why it was adopted for sheet metal, but it remains the standard today.
Higher numbers are thinner. So 14 gauge is thicker than 18 gauge. Confusingly, it also varies from one metal to another: 18-gauge steel is .0478 inches, 18-gauge stainless steel is .050 inches, and 18-gauge aluminum is .4030 inches. Minor differences for sure, but important for some users.