Aviation snips. Tin snips. Metal shears. Compound snips. Whatever you call them, a quality set of aviation snips are the single best way to cut thin and flexible materials like sheet metal, plastic, thick textiles, heavy-duty paper, and wire products like poultry netting (chicken wire), and the like. They're affordable, last for decades, and are an essential component in any DIYer's toolbox.
What are Aviation Snips?
First off, the name. No, using them doesn't make you fly, though you might feel that way when you realize how much better they are than scissors or pliers for so many tasks.
Instead, the term originates from the aviation industry, as the tool was developed to cut aluminum parts for the construction of aircraft. Modern snips have a "compound action," meaning there's a mechanical linkage that makes it much easier to cut by hand without increasing the size of the tool. In short: these make quick, easy work of slicing through thick material without needing a ton of hand strength, or making you sore with repeated use. Think of them as scissors you use for anything thicker than a piece of construction paper.
In addition to the mechanical advantage, aviation snips have a robust, serrated edge that makes them grab the material, preventing slips and helping you slice through all kinds of good stuff.
What are the Best Aviation Snips?
When you think metal cutting snips, the go-to brand is Wiss. They're high-quality, made from very nice steel, and have a comfortable grip for any hand size. Plus, my favorite: every pair comes with a robust loop on the handle for hanging them on the wall or pegboard.
The tools themselves are color-coded. The standard model is yellow-handled. These should be the first pair you get, and for most of us, they're probably the only pair you need. These are designed to cut straight lines, but can also cut left and right curves. If you really get into metal cutting, say for ductwork or creative projects, the red-handled snips are designed to help you cut curves to the left (clockwise for right-handers), and the green have a curve to cut right (clockwise.)
Uses for Aviation Snips
Since these guys can cut 18-gauge carbon steel, you likely won't damage them. If you think you can cut something, you probably can. But here's a short list of common projects where they'll prove essential:
- Cutting thick plastic "clamshell" packaging from new purchases (way better than scissors)
- Cutting ductwork for HVAC and laundry ventilation
- Home improvement projects like repairing gutters, tin tiles, or cutting corner beads or molding
- Cutting flooring like vinyl planks or carpet
- Slicing cardboard, poster board, foam core, and other thick paper products. Especially helpful when cutting curves and shapes where you can't use a craft knife
- Creative projects like jewelry-making, sculpture, or art
- Lawn and garden projects using hardware cloth or poultry netting
- Cutting sheet plastic or PVC for around-the-house tasks
If you ever do any kind of cutting besides paper and fabric, a good pair of aviation snips would make a great addition to your toolbox. Just the fact that they can make easy work of frustrating clamshell packaging is enough of an incentive to get yourself a pair!
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