Tools for Cutting Shipping Containers

Updated on August 9, 2019
Alexander Okelo profile image

Alexander is a professional engineer who specializes in the construction of affordable houses and structures using recycled materials.

Tools For Cutting Shipping Containers

Container modification requires tools and materials to effectively and efficiently transform a container to the perfect shipping container home. Whether you will be designing the home by yourself or hiring professionals, a look at some of the metal works involved could be essential to understanding the modification process.

Metal grinder
Metal grinder

Tools Used in Shipping Container Modification

Modification of shipping containers takes great work just like building a home. Installation of windows, doors, vents and other spacing options require the steel to be cut down, trimmed or shaped.

As containers have the toughest steel, corten steel, they need powerful tools made with the toughest of materials to withstand the pressure. Let's have a look at what qualities of tools are needed for this job.

The Material Base of Cutting Tools

The material of the cutting tools to be used has to be strong enough to resist the high temperature exhibited from the cutting force of the work. Their rate of hardness has to be if the highest stature to ensure it doesn't break during the job.

The tool material must have high melting points and nonreactive materials from chemicals it will come into contact with. With high hardness, high strength and high resistance to heat, the best tool for the job should be at least 1.5 times of the normal cutting parameters.

A coated tool can also be used if it presents qualities of strong and durable materials. The only disadvantage with them is that they aren't easily sharpened once they lose their cutting edge.

The best tool materials to use for the job could be:

  • Ceramic
  • Cubic Boron Nitride
  • High-speed steel
  • Diamond
  • Tungsten carbide

Cutting Tools

Since you have an understanding of the material base of tools you are looking for let's get right into it!

The cutting tools can be of different shapes, sizes, and uses. In engineering terms, they are usually classified into types to be able to easily distinguish them with their wedge shape and the job they do.

Below are types of tools that are used during the transformation process.

  • Miller or mill cutter
  • Drill
  • Shaper
  • Fly cutter
  • Planer
  • Boring bar
  • Reamer
  • Hob cutter
  • Broach
  • Grinding wheel

All these tools have their specific purpose in the process as shall be discussed below. But before we look at the purpose of these tools. Here is the classification of the tools.

Classification of Cutting Tools

Single pointed tool - with a single cutting edge, this tools only perform one task at a go. Examples of these include the fly cutter, boring bar, and slotting tool.

1. Double Point Cutting Tool

Featuring two edges, they can perform two jobs simultaneously. Like the cutting drill that is used to pierce the steel.

2. Multi-point Cutting Tool

These are tools that contain more than two main cutting edges that can simultaneously remove material in a single pass. Examples include milling cutter, broach, gear hobbing cutter, and grinding wheel.

With that in mind, let's get right into the main agenda. Shipping containers have much work to perform to adequately provide for a sophisticated home. The most common tools used include:

  • Welding tools
  • Metal cutting tools
  • Plasma cutter

We shall take a look at each and every one of them.

Metal grinder
Metal grinder

Welding Tools

This is one of the most important tools used in shipping containers due to their versatile nature. They can perform various tasks needed for the job entirety.

They include:

  • Joining two or more shipping containers together.
  • Addition of a structural element to the container.
  • Combining the shipping container home to steel beams used for the foundation.
  • Welding to add frames to windows and doors.

Types of Welding Tools

There are different types of welders used for different purposes around and in the shipping container.

Oxy-fuel Welder

To start off, the Oxy-fuel welding. Goes by other names depending on your country or state. But they operate via inert gases and liquid fuels such as gasoline to give them a powerful aid into metal cutting and shaping.

Oxy-fuel welding involves using a welding torch to burn through metal creating a molten metal which combines bothersome sides of the metal into one. Something similar to what happens during the making if gates or metal beds.

When the oxyfuel machine is used to cut through metals, the torch will also heat up the metal to produce oxygen. Combine with oxygen and the metal to form a metal oxide which then flows out as a sluggish liquid. Easily penetrated.

In cases where welding is done without the oxygen and fuel combined torch, it's just referred to as single tank torching. This will be used for simpler tasks such as brazing or soldering as they cannot effectively weld.

Metal Inert Gas Welder

Also known as MIG, this welder uses a spool of wire similar to the wire fed welder as its continuous electrode. It will combine with external shielding gas to heighten the intensity of the weld.

They are best for jobs under clean paint but they find it difficult to cut through metal unless it's coated or double hardened for the job. Making them more expensive

Tungsten Inert Gas Welder

Using a non-consumable tungsten rod, this welder uses both a shielding gas and a filler rod to adequately conduct heat for welding. The work done by this welder is rather more intense requiring you to use both hands.

It also performs better under clean and soft painted containers

Gas Metal Arc Welder

Uses certain gases to break or solder metal parts together. Not as powerful as the tungsten, they offer considerable assistance in welding.

Wire Feed Welder

This welder uses a spool of the flux core wire, strong, to continuously serve as the electrode. Working similarly to MIG, these wire fed welders are relatively easy to use. They don't cause any splatter during the process hence produce a clean cut job.

They can be expensive to use even though they don't offer much welding support as others.

Stick Welder

Using consumable electrodes, this type of welder is rather simple and fair to use even for beginners. It requires a constant change of electrodes as it's not strong enough to weld large areas for a long time.

Being basic, it's not quite recommended over large areas of construction but favorable on unclean metals as it will not stick onto the metal during welding.

Shielded Metal Arc Welder and Gas Tungsten Arc Welder

Both of these are used for welding lighter surfaces of the shipping container like window frames and hinges on doors. Not favorable for old and rusty metal as they are not that heavily powered.

arc welding
arc welding

What Tools Would You Use for Cutting?

Best Tools For Cutting Shipping Containers?

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Metal Cutting Tools

Very commonly used tools. They are specifically used to cut metal. They are needed to make openings in the chilling container hence sufficiently required for any modification task.

Just like the welding tools, these metal cutting tools also have types. While they all cut into something, they offer cutting services at different areas. They include:

  • Angle grinder
  • Cutting Torch
  • Plasma cutter

Angle Grinder

Very simple, very affordable, these cutting tools are very versatile and useful for any job under shipping container homes. Their only task comes with replacing the cutting discs but otherwise, it is very convenient.

The weight is particularly heavy compared to other tools and it is very noisy and messy. Messy in that, due to the force you exert in the job, gyroscopic is also released which creates sparks that could be harmful to the naked eye and ear.

Plasma Cutter

Using heat, the plasma cutter will cut through any conductive metal including copper, aluminum, brass and any variant of steel. very common in hardware and auto shops, this cutter is also quite easy to use.

There are different types of plasma cutters including handheld devices which offer great technique and control. Also referred to as handheld torches, they can cut through thick materials over 1.5 inches thick regardless of the material of metal.

As for other types of plasma cutters, there is the CNC cutter which is mostly used for decorative cutting. Using the same technique as laser cutting, the plasma cutter will instigate decorative wall patterns.

Cutting Torch

Very similar to the plasma cutter, this torch uses substantial amounts of heat to cut through metal. Machine-based, it can also spark and cause a lot of noise while cutting through metal.

If you want to spot this and the welding torch, then look at the blasting cap. This cutting torch has different, more defined blast trigger and lever compared to that of the welder. The process of cutting starts off by heating the metal until a color change is noted. Usually a bright red color.

At this point, oxygen will then be pressed into the area to allow for mixing of gases. The blasting trigger will then mix the oxygen and the metal to form a metal oxide which then allows for more heat to make it cut through the surface. Additional heat could be used for any further cutting.

Working alongside the grinder, once the heat and oxygen have been combined with the metal to form a slag, you can now easily use the grinder for any additional cutting.

Other Cutting Tools

Besides the most common types used by shipping containers, there are other supplementary ones that can be used for one or two purposes. These cutting tools include:

  • The mill cutter
  • Broaching metal works

Mill cutter

Also, know as a hob cutter, they come in different shapes and sizes including the helix, flutes, and teeth. With incredible coatings of polycrystalline diamond, it can be able to pierce through the corten steel easily.

There are different types of cutters available for use during the process. There is one that can grind off with a rough finishing and others that offer great finishes. The rough cutter has a sharp but serrated edge which is used to break chips of materials into smaller pieces.

The finishing cutter is used to smoothen the surface using the flutes which could also cause a swarf problem where there is an accumulation of dirt from the metal work. This cutter, however, is not appropriate for larger, or thicker material.

Broaching Metalworks

Another metal work involved is called broaching. Not common for use with shilling containers, but it can be used. It involves use if a toothed tool is known as the broach to finish any uneven cuts made by the above cutting tools.

There are two types of broaching:

  • Linear - this is a straight repetition of the cut to make it more precise and even. Somewhat like a finishing cut.
  • Rotary - this involves rotation and pressing of the metalwork to cut towards a certain asymmetric shape. This type is used as a feeder tool to a screw machine to make cuts more efficient.

When making cuts in shipping containers, some areas need precision. Probably due to balance factors or design. This is where broaching comes in. It can be used to make odd shapes such as circular or non-circular holes, splines, keys or flat surfacing.

One disadvantage with broaching is that it is quite expensive, both the tool and the process. As such not many people would want to use them as shipping container homes are a low-cost housing solution.


Every one of these tools plays an important role in the modification process. While some provide rough cuts, others are precise and delicate to the task.

You have learned the basic tools used to make cuts in a shipping container. It should be an easy process even doing it by yourself. But it's always best to involve professionals engineers or technicians to do the job for you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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