I build cars. I started working in a Chevrolet dealership when I was a teenager, have been a line mechanic, and then ran a restoration shop for several years. Now I build a hot rod every few years.

When you build cars, you’ve got to cut metal. I’ve tried all the methods known to man, from hand tools to power tools, and I’ve learned that success in cutting steel and aluminum depends almost entirely on your choice of the right tool for the job.

That means you have only a few choices. You can buy a plasma cutter and slice through metal like butter, but plasma cutters are expensive—about $600 and up, way up. If you have an air compressor, and it has to be a pretty heavy-duty one to do the job, you can invest in air-powered tools and equip them with consumable cutoff wheels. If neither of those high-dollar options make much sense for your metal-cutting needs, I recommend a good power tool like the Milwaukee 6852-20 18-Gauge Shear. You can order this tool from Amazon.com for about $200.

What’s a shear, you ask? Basically it’s a heavy-duty drill body with a metal-cutting three-element nibbler blade mounted on the business end. What’s a nibbler blade? It’s a set of hardened steel jaws, one on each side and a movable one in the middle, that can cut through metal cleanly and with a minimum amount of distortion.

If you’ve cut through thin metals like steel or aluminum with the standard hand tools we have available, you know that hacksaws and sheet metal shears can distort and bend the metal you’re cutting. In fact, they can make a real mess of a piece of metal. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, because thin sheet metal bends easily. But if you’re cutting anything that needs to stay in the shape it came in, you’re going to want a power shear like this one.

Yes, you can buy manual, three-blade hand shears, if you want forearms like Popeye’s—they take an enormous amount of force and will wear out most people before they finish a cut of any length.

So if you’re cutting sheet metal for any purpose, do yourself a favor and get a power shear. The Milwaukee Shear, like most Milwaukee tools, is a quality piece. With a five-year guarantee they stand behind, the Milwaukee Tool people make good stuff. They’re not cheap—this tool sells for about $170 at typical big box stores.

The Milwaukee isn’t the lightest electric shear out there—it weighs in at about 7 pounds. But it’s rugged and ready to cut sheet metal quickly and cleanly, as long as you’re not cutting anything thicker than 18-gauge. Since most automotive sheet metal falls somewhere between 18 and 20 gauge (in metal, the thickness goes down as the numbers go up), this tool works great for cutting out rust, building new pieces and fabricating panels. The Milwaukee Shear will also do a great job with sheet metal projects like duct work or just about anything else, too.

Summary

The Milwaukee Tools 18-Gauge Shear nibbles neatly through thinner metals.

Pros

  • Ergonomic handle and trigger
  • Rugged cast head; rotates 360 degrees
  • Powerful 6.8 amp motor
Cons

  • Not a lightweight
  • Unusable on 16-gauge and thicker metals