Tin snips and aviation shears are must-have tools, not only for technicians and contractors but also for around the house jobs. The best tin snips are capable of quickly cutting through sheets of metal cleanly and smoothly so that you never have to worry about dangerous jagged edges.
But not all tin snips are created equal in terms of cutting power, durability, and ease of use. The trick is to choose a high-quality pair of shears that can handle the specific material you’re working with. Check out these best tin snips and aviation shears on the market to help you get on the right track.
Tin Snips & Aviation Shears for HVAC Use
Tin snips are commonly used for HVAC applications, which is why they’re pretty much always included on any list of HVAC essentials. They work similarly to the standard pair of scissors, but instead of cutting paper, tin snips are perfect for cutting through sheet metal. HVAC techs who regularly work with metal materials can get a lot of use out of a quality pair of tinners.
Aviation shears are similar, but not quite the same as tin snips. They were created for use in the aviation industry. While regular snips are best used for making long straight cuts in metal materials, aviation shears are designed specifically with the user in mind. They work to reduce the force needed to make the cut and are ideal for rounded metals where a curved cut is necessary.
Tins Snips Compared
Choosing a Quality Tin Snips & Aviation Shears
Type of Snip
The first step is to decide whether you’re better off with tin snips or aviation shears. If you work regularly in HVAC, it’s a good idea to have both on hand, but if you’re just looking for one or the other, consider the thickness of the material you’ll be handling and its overall shape.
If you’re looking for precise curved cutting of thick materials, you’ll want to use a quality pair of aviation shears. For straight cuts on material that’s not quite as thick, tinners will do just fine.
Every HVAC technician knows the importance of fitting materials precisely in a variety of different sites, especially when working with ductwork. There are many angles and shapes involved, and getting them just right is crucial for successfully completing a project.
To help you choose the right snips for the job at hand, there is a color-coding system in place. There is a color designated to each type of snip curvature to make things easier on you – we’ll cover this later.
Straight or Offset
This next consideration goes along with cutting direction. Straight snips cut in a straight line, while offset snips focus on cutting a perfect curve. When deciding on an offset snip, pay close attention to left vs. right offsets. Snips that are left-offset cut in a counterclockwise motion, and right-offsets cut clockwise.
You’re not doing yourself any favors by buying a cheap pair of tinners. Chances are you’ll have to purchase a new pair sooner than you’d like and replace them with the durable pair you should have bought in the first place. The hardness of the blade makes a huge difference in how long your snips will last, so pay close attention to this.
According to Field & Stream, one of the most important questions to ask when buying tin snips is smooth vs. serrated. When deciding on blade type, F&S says that “snips with serrated blades typically require less force to cut with and grasp the metal well without slipping. Smooth blades can be useful for cutting natural materials like aluminum since they’ll leave smoother edges on the cut.”
Grips for Metal Thickness
The grips of your new pair of tinners have a lot to do with comfort, but it also determines overall cutting performance. In general, the larger the grips, the better they’ll be able to handle thick materials and lower-gauge steels. Aviation shears tend to have larger grips since they are specifically designed for cutting thick, aviation-grade materials.
Ease of Use
When you hold a pair of snips in your hand for the first time, it should feel comfortable and natural. But what’s even more important is when you start using them. You should be able to cut accurately with minimal effort without any strain or fatigue on your hands.
Price & Budget
With all HVAC tools, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. The good news is that even a high-quality pair of snips won’t set you back too much, and you should never have to pay more than $50. Just remember that going with the cheapest option often means less durability, cutting performance, and comfort.
8 Best Tin Snips & Aviation Shears Reviewed
1. MIDWEST Aviation Snip Set
Our Top Pick
|Metal Thickness||Up to 18-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Right & Left (with the option for straight)|
|Best Feature||Kush’n-Power comfort grips|
There are many reasons that so many HVAC professionals won’t ever find themselves without the Midwest Aviation Snip Set. This 2-piece set comes with both left and right offset snip, so no matter the cutting direction, you’re covered. There are also options for purchasing a single left-cut, a single right-cut, or a left/right/straight combo.
No matter which snip set you choose, you can always count on comfortable grips and long-lasting blades. The grips are made from Midwest’s signature Kush’N-Power material that conforms to the shape of the user’s hand. All along the grips, there are indented ribs to prevent hand and finger slippage while cutting. No matter how much hand pressure you use, these snips provide efficient conversion of hand force to cutting power.
In addition to easy, comfortable cutting, another great feature is the long-lasting cutting edge of the blades. They are hot drop-forged of molybdenum alloy steel and austemper heat-treated for maximum strength and durability. Not only does this mean cleaner, smoother cuts, but also significantly less fatigue for the user.
All Midwest products are made in the USA with quality and precision in mind. This is by far the best-rated set of aviation snips available thanks to the combination fo durable cutting edge, strong handles, comfy grips, and overall value.
2. Malco, M2006
Best Offset Snip
|Metal Thickness||Up to 20-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Left & Straight|
|Best Feature||Great for Cutting Tight Spaces|
Offset snips have blades that are offset below the handle, which is perfect for cutting thicker material with less effort. It’s hard to find an offset snip that out cuts the Malco M2006. This tool is capable of cutting sharp left angles as well as straight lines and circles up to 5 inches in diameter. It’s versatile, powerful, easy to use, and by far the best offset option available.
The blades are made from alloy steel and constructed with serrated lower jaws for better gripping of sheet metal. The offset design is perfect for cutting through tight spaces, and it’s compatible with both right and left-handers thanks to the ambidextrous, one-hand operation metal latch. This newly designed version of the M2006 features a narrower grip so that it can accommodate both large and small hands.
According to the Malco company, one of the most-loved features of this tool is the “superior hardened blade edges for ‘maximum’ cutting life. Riveted, head-to-handle compound linkage multiplies hand leverage applied by user…And an easily adjustable pivot bolt, with nylon locking nut, holds its adjustment securely for these hard-working aviation snips.”
Of course, these aren’t the ideal choice if you’re not in the market for an offset aviation snip, but if you’re looking for something powerful that can cut through 1.25 inches of metal, the M2006 is worth every penny.
3. Stanley FatMax 14-563
Best Straight Cut Aviation Snip
|Metal Thickness||Up to 18-Gauge|
|Best Feature||Lightweight and Easy to Handle|
Stanley hand tools have always had an excellent reputation, and the FatMax 14-563 is no exception. This straight-cut aviation snip is a fantastic alternative to traditional tin snips if you’re looking for even more cutting power for slicing through sheet metal. It has serrated cutting edges for better gripping power and a bi-material cushioned grip for maximum comfort.
The FatMax’s high-leverage compound cutting design is capable of cutting through 18-gauge cold-rolled steel and 23-gauge stainless steel. Although the straight-edge blade can’t handle extreme curves, you’ll be able to cut wide curves with this tool (although straight cutting is recommended).
The blades are made from forged chrome-molybdenum steel, which ultimately gives them their strength, durability, and long cutting life. Users love that the latch design allows for quick and easy single-handed operation and that the slip-resistant grip isn’t just comfortable, but also sturdy. Another major perk of this snip is that it weighs less than 4 ounces, making it extremely easy to handle.
In the manufacturer’s product description, Stanley says that this “is the ideal tool for cutting aluminum, vinyl siding, screening, cardboard, leather, and copper…the aviation snip features a double overwind spring for longer life, and a high-leverage, compound cutting design that allows cuts of up to 18-gauge steel.”
So, in addition to cutting through steel, you’ll be able to use this snip for a variety of materials for home improvement projects.
4. Crescent Wiss
Best Right Cut Aviation Snip
|Metal Thickness||Up to 18-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Right & Straight|
|Best Feature||Affordable yet Durable|
If you know that your upcoming projects call for clockwise cutting, then you’ll want to look for an aviation snip with right-cut orientation. The Crescent Wiss is an excellent choice for cutting extreme right curves (that’s what the green handle indicates), plus it gets the job done for straight cutting as well.
The blades on the Crescent Wiss are made from Precision cast molybdenum and built with CNC-ground edges and serrations. Like the FatMax, it can cut through low carbon, cold-rolled 18-gauge steel or 23-gauge stainless steel. The serrated blades ensure a solid grip on whatever material you’re cutting, plus they include cut quality and tool life.
With this snip, you never have to worry about tears at the end of your cuts since it is continuously working to minimize folding and burrs while controlling blade bypass. The single-handed latch operation means that anyone can use this, whether right or left-handed. At just 9.75 inches long, the Wiss is slightly smaller than other snips on this list, so it’s perfect for small-handed individuals.
Even though this is an extremely affordable tool, you can expect to get a lot of use out of this thanks to the free-float design and pivot bolt.
Crescent Wiss even says that “these new Next Generation snips last 60% longer and require 20% less force to cut on average compared to our snips from just five years ago.”
5. IRWIN Tin Snip 22012
Best Single Tin Snip
|Metal Thickness||Up to 20-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Straight & Wide Curve|
|Best Feature||Long Cutting Length|
So far, we’ve only covered aviation snips, but basic tin snips are also great for meeting your metal-cutting needs. If you’re looking for a traditional tin snip for straight cutting, then you’ll want to consider the Irwin 22012. This 12-inch snip is perfect for cutting through 20-gauge cold-roll steel or 22-gauge stainless steel. It features a flat blade that can cut straight or wide curves, but you won’t get any extreme-curve cutting out of this tool.
The Irwin is made with precision-ground edges to ensure a tight grip with each cut. The blades are made from hot drop-forged steel for maximum strength and a long lifespan, and they’re held tightly together by a durable spring washer. The handles are encased in Plastisol material to reduce hand fatigue and boost comfortable cutting.
The main downside is that this snipping tool is heavy compared to other tools mentioned so far, and they’re over 12 inches long. In a way, this is a plus because it promotes a long cut length of nearly 3 inches with each pass through, but some users find this tool difficult to handle. But all in all, these are great for straight (or wide curve) metal cutting tasks.
6. CRAFTSMAN Aviation CMHT73558
Best Aviation Snip Kit
|Metal Thickness||Up to 18-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Right, Left, & Straight|
|Best Feature||All-in-One Kit|
Having a complete set of aviation snips means that you’ll always have the right metal-cutting tool on hand, no matter if you need to cut left, right, or straight. The Craftsman Aviation CMHT73558 comes with 3 snips in one kit, but you’ve also got the option to purchase a left, right, or straight snip on their own if you don’t need a complete set.
Each tool in this set is capable of cutting cold-roll steel up to 18-gauge or stainless steel up to 20-gauge. Single-hand cutting is easy thanks to the spring-assisted latch, and the ¼-inch blade markings allow for quick, precise cuts.
The jaws are designed to stay sharp for longer with their induction-hardened cutting edge, and Craftsman says that the “large handle rings and double dipped grips on the Tin Snips are designed for more comfortable use.”
The only flaw has to do with the color-coding method used by the company. Technically, each snip is color-coded properly, but instead of the right-hand snip being entirely green and the straight snip being entirely yellow, they come with one green/yellow handle and one red handle. This isn’t a huge deal, but it can be confusing when you reach into your HVAC tool bag and retrieve the wrong color.
The company has so much faith in this product that they offer a full lifetime warranty. Even if you don’t necessarily need the 3-piece set, you might as buy the entire kit since it offers much better value than purchasing a single snip. Whatever you choose to do, though, you won’t be disappointed with the cutting performance of Craftsman.
Best Straight Pattern Tin Snip
|Metal Thickness||Up to 22-Gauge|
|Cut Orientation/Direction||Straight & Wide Curve|
|Best Feature||Non-Slip Padding on Handles|
The Tekton 10-inch Patter Tin Snips are very similar to the Irwin snips in the way they cut, but they’re a better choice if you’re looking for a smaller tool. Instead of being nearly 13 inches, these are 10 inches in length. They’re a great, compact choice for cutting straight or wide curves and can be used by both left and right-handed individuals.
The blades of the Tekton are made from high-strength forged heat-treated carbon steel and precision-ground cutting edges that have been treated to increase hardness and durability. Although the blades are incredibly hard, the handles are surprisingly soft. This is because they’re coated in two layers of non-slip material for maximum padding and minimum slippage.
These snips have a 22-gauge capacity for cold-roll steel and 26-gauge for stainless steel. This isn’t as impressive as some of the other snips we’ve covered, but it’s still an excellent tool for cutting thin sheets of metal. These snips by Tekton are affordable, durable, easy to use, and precise, but just keep in mind that they’re not ideal for thick metals or narrow curves.
Best Aviation Snips with Serrated Blade
|Metal Thickness||Up to 15-Gauge|
|Best Feature||Impressive Cutting Performance|
Last but certainly not least is the Hurrican 10-inch aviation snip with serrated blade design. This tool is meant for straight cutting of a variety of metals. The best feature of all is the impressive cutting power; it can cut up to 15-gauge cold-rolled steel, 18-gauge carbon steel, 22-gauge stainless steel, 17-gauge copper, and 16-gauge aluminum. That’s better than any snip we’ve seen so far.
The 10-inch snips are easy to fit in the palm of your hand, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate them. You can cut from just about any angle and access those hard-to-reach spaces. No matter if you’re cutting steel, aluminum, leather, or copper, this tool won’t disappoint as long as you’re cutting in a straight line.
The metal-safety locking latch prevents damage to the cutting edge when being stored, and the rubberized handle grip optimizes comfort and control. Aside from the fact that this isn’t capable of cutting a curved path, there’s nothing bad to say about the Hurricane aviation snips, especially if you plan on cutting through thick materials.
Tin Snips vs. Aviation Shears
The fact that aviation shears were initially manufactured for use on airplane materials shows that this tool is meant for extreme metal-cutting. They can handle a variety of materials, including titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel. They’re much more versatile than tin snips, but tin snips also come with their advantages.
Tin snips are optimal for easy cutting of straight lines in relatively thin sheets of metal. The simple scissor-like design is great for use on flat materials, but for curved metal, you’ll want to go with aviation shears instead. Since these two tools have two different applications, it’s a good idea to have a pair of each on hand.
Understanding Color Coded Aviation Snips
One of the things that makes aviation snips more versatile is the fact that there are several different types, and there is a color-coding system to identify each type easily. All aviation snips come with a different colored grip, and this color determines the cutting direction – whether it’s straight, clockwise (right), or counterclockwise (left).
This system isn’t used for tin snips since tinners are only meant for cutting straight incisions. Here’s a quick guide on the color-coding of aviation snips:
- Red: Used to make “left” or counterclockwise cuts in metal
- Green: Used to make “right” or clockwise cuts in metal
- Yellow: Used for straight cuts in metal
How to Use Tin Snips & Aviation Shears Safely
As long as you’ve chosen a comfortable and durable tool, using a pair of tin snips or aviation shears is easy enough. The right pair of tinners can cut through sheet metal almost as easily as scissors on paper. Using tin snips to cut sheet metal depends entirely on the thickness and curvature of the material you’re handling. The first step is to carefully examine the material and cutting direction.
If you’re wondering how to use tin snips to cut sheet metal in straight lines, use a pair of standard snips (there’s no need for aviation/compound snips) and make long, clean strokes. When using aviation snips for cutting along a curve or cutting through thicker material than tinners can handle, always be sure to open and close the jaws completely to maximize the cutting length.
People Also Ask (FAQ)
How to cut metal straight?
There’s no need for aviation shears for cutting straight lines into sheet metal. This task is better handled by tin snips – look for a pair that resembles a pair of scissors. Before you start cutting, use a permanent marker and a ruler or yardstick to clearly mark the cutting location.
How should I sharpen aviation snips?
First, clean the blades with a dry cloth to remove any dust and debris. Then separate the blades as wide as they’ll go, or remove the bolt and dismantle them entirely. The second option will give you better access for easier sharpening.
Using a metal filer, begin filing each blade in a single direction, starting from the base and moving towards the blade tip. Try to angle the file to focus on the slanted edge rather than the entire blade. Finish by polishing the blade with a whetstone that has been soaked in water. If you dismantled the snips, reassemble them.
What are some precautionary measures to take when using these snips?
The most common mistake is to use standard snips that are meant for straight cutting tasks on sharp curves. This will not only lead to an uneven cut, but it could also result in injury. Although straight tinners can usually handle gentle curves, you’ll need a pair of offset (either left or right) for more extreme curvature.
Aside from that, always wear gloves when handling your snips. Use only pressure exerted from your hands for leverage; never use a hammer, your foot, or another tool to increase cutting pressure, this probably won’t end well for you.
How thick can tin snips cut?
Metal thickness is measured in gauge, and the lower the gauge, the thicker the metal. Aviation shears can typically handle up to 18-gauge (1.2mm), but in some cases, they can handle 16-gauge steel. The cutting power of tin snips depends, but it can range anywhere from 24 to 18-gauge metals.
The Midwest Aviation Snip Set is an excellent choice for anyone since it comes with a pair of snips for both left and right orientation. It can handle metal thickness of up to 18-gauge, the grips are designed for optimal comfort, and the compound leverage means significantly less fatigue.
If you’re looking for tin snips rather than aviation snips, you’ll want to go with the 12-inch tin snip by Irwin. The flat steel blades are perfect for cutting straight lines, but it can also handle wide curves.
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