Inside Thermal and Mechanical Metal Cutting Processes

Despite being one of the hardest and most resilient things on earth, metal service centers can cut and shape metal for specific construction projects. Cutting metal is contingent on what type of metal it is and what role this metal will play within a standard building job.

Different projects require different metals in a variety of shapes, which is when a metal service center comes into play. They have the tools necessary to break down metals and cut them into the exact shape specified by a blueprint.

The process of cutting metal can be broken down into two broad categories known as thermal cutting processes and mechanical cutting processes. Before deciding what kind of metal to use, it’s important to understand the attributes of each metal-cutting process and how they will affect the result.

Thermal Cutting Processes

This process uses an energy source to heat and liquify specific portions of metal for thermal cutting. The cut is made by precisely blowing away the molten metal from the solid metal.

The three most common thermal cutting processes are:

  • Flame Cutting – Oxygen is used in combination with acetylene or propylene fuel create the flame for cutting and the means to blow the molten metal
  • Plasma Cutting – An electrical arc is the heat source to heat, cut, and blow the molten metal
  • Laser Cutting – Laser energy creates a monochromatic and coherent light beam that’s focused on melting and cutting the metal.

Depending on the application, thermal cutting is often the preferred method because it’s much faster than other processes.

Mechanical Cutting Processes

Unlike the heat applications involved in thermal processes, mechanical cutting processes involve a physical cut to the metal. The quality of the cut can vary greatly depending on the specific type of automated cutting process being used. There are a few methods considered to be highly auspicious, so they are used much more often.


Saw cutting for metal uses a vertical or horizontal band-saw cut and a coolant, which is generally applied to offset the frictional heat between the saw and metal. Saw cutting is an effective way to produce metals in an array of shapes, types, and sizes. On the other hand, it is slower than other production methods.


Miter saws use a circular metal saw blade, usually composed of carbides. As the blade spins, it is lowered at precise angles to make exact cuts.


Using considerable force, shearing compresses the metal into a sharp edge to deform and eventually make the cut to the metal. This tactic most commonly applies to sheet metal cutting. While it is a high-quality cut, the process can leave visually un-appealing edges.

Hole Punch

This method is mostly utilized to cut metal into shapes like tubes or cylinders. It works similar to shearing. A metal tool of a specific configuration is pressed into the newly forming metal until a shape is punched out.


Notching employs the same tactic as shearing, except the sides are slowly worn away to create a specific shape, making this the preferred method for three-dimensional objects. Notching is mostly used for sheet metal or thin bar stock.


A drill bit is pushed into the metal to cut cylinder-shaped holes. A countersink bit can also be used to make sharp cuts.

Water Jet

High-pressure water is forced through a nozzle to cut softer metals. An abrasive material is often added as an erosive.

If you’re still not sure which tactic is best to cut the metal you need, seek the advice of professionals at your local metal service center. Avion Alloys has extensive experience creating an assortment of metals for different projects and can explain exactly which method to use depending on the end-goal. For more information, contact us today.

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