Several Options to Cut Openings in Shipping Containers
Measure Twice, Cut Once!
Most shipping container modification plans will involve adding windows, doors, vents or even opening up a side wall. Cutting Cor-Ten steel while not as simple as cutting wood can be accomplished with a variety of different tools that you may have available in the common handy man’s garage.
First and most importantly is to protect yourself while working with cutting tools. No matter what tool you use, the cut steel will have very sharp edges; wear a pair of heavy leather gloves like those used for welding. The cutting process will involve sparks and metal shavings, wear eye protection! The tools are loud and the steel shipping container will amplify the noise, wear good ear protection! Also wear a heavy long sleeve shirt and long pants. I know that may not always be comfortable but it sure beats hot metal shavings landing on you. Speaking of landing on you, shipping containers are constructed from 12 gauge steel, approximately 1/8 of an inch thick. A large piece of this stuff like from a door opening can be heavy, be careful when finishing your cut to make sure a large piece of steel with sharp jagged edges does not fall toward you and injure you.
To get started use a sharpie type marker to clearly mark your opening on the container steel. If cutting an opening on shipping container is not or will not become a common practice for you then you can use a saws-all or reciprocating saw with a heavy steel blade. Save yourself some aggravation here, don’t buy cheap blades, they’re cheap for a reason, this is heavy duty work and you need a heavy duty blade that will last and not break. Drill a hole on the inside of the line of your marked opening large enough for your saw blade, put your blade in and begin cutting along your line.
You can also use a skill saw with a good metal cutting blade. To start your cut, first set your blade on your mark to get lined up. Lift the back of the skill saw up enough so the blade leaves the container surface and start the saw blade turning, slowly ease the saw blade down onto your mark until the blade cuts through the metal then, continue cutting following your line. You’ll have to repeat this process when you come to corners as a skill saw does not turn. Don’t panic if you wander off the line a little bit with either of these cutting methods, any error can easily be fixed.
Those that cut this type of steel on a more regular basis will have a torch available, or the ultimate field cutting tool, a plasma cutter in the tool arsenal. These will be much quicker and easier than saws and much less messing around when turning corners. You can rent these at most equipment rental places but practice on some scrap metal before you begin cutting on your container.
While it is heavy duty work, cutting openings in shipping containers is not hard and can be done with any number of tools, just do it – carefully and the easiest method will come to you.