Last Updated on December 22, 2022 by Barry Gray
A table saw is a wonderful tool to own, but in this instance, I’m going to answer a very specific question. Can a table saw cut metal?
Now, I accept that not everyone will find themselves at a point in a project where this is even something they need to consider. However, one of the things I love about DIY and working with wood is that you never know for sure what lies around the corner.
In other words, I feel this is still helpful information to have at your disposal.
I admit that most people will also look at their table saw and just think of wood and nothing else. I get that. I understand why you may not even contemplate using your table saw to cut anything else.
So, can you?
A table saw can indeed be used to cut metal, but that doesn’t mean you can go ahead and start cutting immediately.
Instead, your table saw needs to be adapted for it to then work. Failing to do this will often lead to you just not getting the results you want, and it may not even work.
You must remember that different blades exist, and those blades are designed to work on different materials or to generate different results. If you try to use a plain old wood cutting blade to cut metal, don’t be surprised if it struggles and potentially damages the blade.
But don’t worry. I will take you through how to set up your table saw to allow you to cut metal and complete your various projects.
Also, I need to make a distinction between the different metals out there. Generally, they fall into two categories: ferrous and non-ferrous.
Ferrous means it contains iron, which is clearly missing in the non-ferrous. This is important from a cutting perspective as non-ferrous metals are softer in nature and are, therefore, easier to cut.
It makes a difference when it comes to even the blade you may end up using. So, I would suggest you think carefully about what type of metal you will be cutting before you contemplate anything else.
Actually, I wouldn’t even suggest you try to cut ferrous metals. It’s just too tough, and you need specific machines to achieve this, and a table saw will not generally work.
The key to all of this is the blade. In order to successfully cut metal, you will need to ensure the blade on your table saw is designed to cut metal.
This is obviously important because metal is clearly a tougher material to cut through when compared to wood.
So, a blade specifically designed for wood will struggle and potentially even break if you try to use it for even the thinnest of metals.
How to Find the Correct Blade
A blade that can be used to cut metal is actually pretty easy to find. A number of them are on the market, and you will tend to see that the blade itself is thinner than the versions you would use to cut wood.
But that’s not the only difference. Actually, there are several key areas you need to focus on in order to get the correct blade.
Several will be referred to as aluminum cutting blades, while they will tend to come with tungsten carbide tips. In addition, I suggest that you check out the teeth and how far they are spaced apart with these blades.
If a blade has been made to then cut metal, the teeth will appear significantly closer together than it does with a blade designed for wood.
You will also find that the blade designed for cutting metal will be sharper. This is perfectly understandable since metal is clearly harder to cut than wood, so the blade needs to have the ability to slice through with less difficulty.
Also, remember how I mentioned that you have both ferrous and non-ferrous metal?
I would suggest ensuring you have a blade that can cut through ferrous as standard. That does mean it will have no problem cutting through any metal, whereas purchasing a blade specifically for non-ferrous would result in you running into clear difficulties.
However, there’s another vital point to make, and that’s the setting up of the blade. Doing this wrong will lead to you even potentially damaging your table saw.
Speed is very important when it comes to cutting metal on a table saw. What you need here is for the blade to move quicker than usual. Doing this means the blade cuts the metal, whereas a slower speed results in it chipping away at the metal, leaving a rougher edge.
As a quick aside, this is also the reason why the teeth on the blade must be closer together. If the teeth are not close, it increases the chance of the metal catching, and, once again, you have a less than smooth finish.
But I have a word of warning. Don’t think that this need for speed means you set the table saw up to be as fast as possible. That’s also not the best idea and can be dangerous.
By setting up the table to run too fast, you increase the chances of the blade breaking, or, on some occasions, the blade will shatter. That’s not a good situation to be in, and you risk injury or even damage your entire table saw.
Also, as a guide, most people argue that aluminum should be cut at speeds between 750 fpm and 1500 fpm. Other soft metals will also tend to require to be cut around the same speeds.
How to Get the Right Speed
Setting the correct speed for the blade is easy. How can I say that?
Well, it turns out that most blades designed for cutting metal will make everything nice and simple by displaying the speed of the blade. All you need to do is check out the blade, which should provide you with all the information you require to get started.
If the blade does not give you this information, I would suggest contacting the manufacturer directly. They will advise you on the speeds, and you can then set your table saw accordingly.
Setting the Fence
You will find the fence makes a big difference in the end results you can achieve when cutting metal on a table saw. In this instance, it does more than simply act as a guide to ensure you make the cut where you want.
Here, it also makes a difference when determining the correct amount of downward pressure you apply. This issue of pressure is more important than it perhaps is when it comes to cutting wood.
This is key because cutting metal this way may result in the metal trying to partially lift up during the cutting process. You can understand how that will then change how clean it can cut, and that’s why some people actually prefer to add some clamps to keep the metal pinned down. I would certainly consider doing that if at all worried about things.
Also, any type of fence will work here. The critical part is setting it up correctly to allow you to produce the perfect cut.
Setting the Blade Height
When setting the blade height, you need to ensure it’s higher than the piece of metal you plan to cut. This means the blade can pass through the metal smoothly and won’t be in a position where it rips the last part.
But here is something to consider. You must avoid setting the blade too high. If you do, there will not be enough in the way of contact with the metal, which will lead to problems.
Check the metal you will be cutting and adjust things accordingly. This also means you have limitations on what you can cut depending on your table saw. In this respect, it’s no different from cutting wood.
Cutting the Metal
To get the best results, you need to understand how to actually cut the metal. Remember, metal acts differently than wood, so do not automatically assume you can go about everything in the same manner.
The first piece of advice I would give is to go slow. I know you have the saw speed set high, but that doesn’t have to mean you too must go at speed. Actually, you will only increase the chances of making a mistake, and I certainly do not want that to happen.
It’s key for you to gradually push the metal through the blade. Slow and steady will work best here, and I promise you will achieve better results than anticipated.
Moving the Metal
But I want to say something about moving the metal. I suggest you go ahead and use a push stick. It’s safer than trying to use your hands, and that is not something I would want you to do. It’s simply too dangerous.
It can offer a sense of protection from those hot and sharp pieces of metal that will always fly off metal. A push block will also work, so if you are not used to that happening, I strongly suggest you go ahead and practice using it, even on a scrap piece of wood first.
After Cutting – File Edges
The length of time it will take your table saw to cut through metal depends on the type of metal and thickness. In that sense, it’s no different from cutting wood, as those things always play a role.
However, you will need to file the edges when you have finished cutting. There will always be rough, sharp parts to the edge of the metal, no matter the quality of the blade or how good the cut was. Being able to deburr is absolutely crucial, or you will almost guarantee that you will cut yourself at some point.
But that’s pretty much all you need to think about when it comes to cutting metal on your table saw. However, I have a couple of additional tips that may make life easier.
Tip 1: Practice
I suggest you practice on a scrap piece of metal before cutting the metal for your project. Someone experienced with cutting wood on a table saw may find it a bit easier to switch to metal, but you need more patience to get the desired results.
Stick with soft metals, and be prepared to ruin some metal while you become accustomed to cutting it on a table saw. Also, you can ascertain the best speeds to push the metal to get the smoothest possible results.
Tip 2: Stick to Non-Ferrous Metals
Non-ferrous metals, which means aluminum, copper, and other softer metals, will prove easier to cut than the likes of steel or iron. Also, cutting ferrous metals will not always be possible with every table saw.
Actually, some table saws will struggle with the likes of steel. Yes, you get special blades designed to make life easier, and I recommend buying one, but I generally feel a budget table saw will struggle from a power perspective. As a result, the table saw may come up short.
Tip 3: Ensure You Have the Correct Blade
I admit that a number of metal cutting blades are on the market. That makes it tough to choose. I would always opt for a quality brand that also comes with vents to keep it pretty cool. Not having those vents will generate excess heat, and that’s not always a good thing.
The key is the way the teeth are positioned. They must appear close together, or you will get more of a rip cut on the metal leading to more rough edges. In addition, the metal will be more likely to catch on the blade, resulting in a more uneven cut. Also, there’s a good chance of the teeth on the blade breaking.
Safety is Paramount
Finally, safety is always paramount, and because of the very real potential of tiny shards of metal flying off, you need to double-check you have everything in place before you begin.
Googles are an absolute must. Never try to cut metal without them. I would also ensure I wore gloves. Your hands are right next to the action, so imagine what would happen if a small piece of metal was to come off and hit your hand. Not only is it sharp, but there will also be some heat in there, and even a small piece of metal can cause substantial damage.
Finally, I would cover up. That means I would never work with metal with bare arms. Once again, this is to stop those metal shards from hitting your skin. The same applies to shorts and bare legs.
While I always see this as important, I feel that there is an even greater danger with metal because of how it cuts.
Remember the Kickback
A final safety point to mention, and it’s the kickback. This is very real when it comes to cutting metal on a table saw, and I would ensure I was not standing in a position where I may be caught out by this.
Remember that metal will come with more resistance than wood. That does increase the chances of this happening, so it’s a genuine risk. Also, if it does happen, expect the kickback to have more force than it would do with wood. Being prepared could stop a potential injury from occurring.
So a table saw can be used to cut metal, but only when you have the correct blade. Having the correct blade, and setting up the entire machine in the right way, will have a profound impact on the ability of your saw to cut through metal.
I advise only using your table saw to cut softer metals and forget all about cutting steel or any other ferrous metal. That type of cutting should be left in the hands of experts with some very specific machines, and your table saw in your workshop is not one of those machines.
Take your time, use the correct blade, and use a push block or stick for safety reasons. If you do that, then I don’t see any reason why you will not be able to go ahead and get those clean cuts.