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Introduction to Metal Fabrication Techniques

There are as many types of metal fabrication techniques as there are types of metal alloys to choose from. Whether you’re a beginner, a specialist in a particular technique, or a metalworking virtuoso, there is always something new to learn.

Metal fabrication techniques can be additive or subtractive, automated or manual, or something else entirely. Here, we’ll look at a variety of metal fabrication techniques, from the traditional to the modern, and discuss some of their common applications.

Traditional Metal Fabrication Techniques

The following traditional metal fabrication techniques are still some of the most popular and commonly used methods in the metalworking industry today.


Many of the most common metal fabrication techniques fall under the category of cutting operations, or any technique in which a tool is used to split or remove material from the workpiece. While automated technologies like CNC machining have become the go-to for many manufacturing operations, manual techniques and tools are still widely used.

Below are some examples of manual cutting techniques:

Technique Description Applications
Sawing Uses a heavy-duty blade to cut a large workpiece into smaller pieces Initial cutting of workpieces to an appropriate size and shape for additional processing steps
Shearing Uses a shear tool like a pair of scissors to slice through sheet metal Cutting straight lines or trimming excess material from sheet metal
Turning A machining process in which material is removed from the workpiece by rotating it against a stationary tool Producing parts or features with rotational symmetry, such as holes, threads, and circular parts like bearings
Milling A machining process in which material is removed from the workpiece by a rotating tool (the opposite of turning) Cutting precise features and shaping a workpiece into a finished or semi-finished part
Broaching Uses a tool with a series of cutting teeth to cut linearly into a workpiece Used for high-precision cuts and for cutting odd shapes like keyways
Grinding Uses an abrasive grinding wheel to gradually remove material from the workpiece Used for finishing operations to smooth or deburr the part


While the cutting process removes material from a workpiece, other techniques can combine pieces of metal together. Welding—the process of joining two pieces of metal by heating their surfaces to their melting points—is the most common way to do this.


There are many types of welding, but these are the four most common:

Technique Description Applications
Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding Uses a consumable wire that carries the electric current to heat the metal and provides filler to create the weld Used for large or thick metals; faster and easier than TIG welding
Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) Welding Uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to heat the metal, used with or without a filler Usually used for thinner materials like pipes; slower, costlier, and more difficult than MIG welding
Spot Welding Electrodes applied directly to the workpiece apply an electric current, producing the welding heat through the metal’s internal resistance Used to weld two or more metal sheets together
Stick Welding Uses a consumable filler rod covered with flux Used for thicker metals and welding outdoors in wind or rain, as it does not require a shielding gas


Forming techniques reshape the metal workpiece by physically deforming it. No material is added or removed.

Many upstream operations used by mills to create the initial metal stock, including forging, rolling, and extruding, are forming techniques. Below are some examples of forming operations that are more commonly used by fabricators:

Technique Description Applications
Hammering Uses a mallet to manually shape sheet metal against a shaped surface or die Used to shape sheet metal into curved or complex profiles
Bending Uses a press brake or similar machine to force a metal sheet or tube around a die Used to create angular shapes in thin metal parts like sheet metal enclosures or metal tubing
Stamping Applies an external impact force to plastically deform the workpiece Used to form sheet metal into specific desired shapes

Forming technique

Automated Metal Fabrication Techniques

All of the aforementioned metal fabrication techniques can be performed with simple, manual tools—in fact, some of these techniques have been in use for thousands of years and are still used today.

However, modern technology allows many of these techniques to be largely automated. Computer numerical control, or CNC, uses software to automate machine tools, allowing them to produce extremely precise, consistent features.

CNC technology has replaced many of the manual tools and machines in large manufacturing plants. Furthermore, it has opened the door to entirely new metal fabrication techniques like 3D printing. These technologies are becoming more accessible, too, with affordable CNC machines for small shops and home fabricators becoming increasingly available.

CNC Cutting Techniques

Almost any metal fabrication technique can be CNC-automated. Below are a few of the most common types:

Technique Description Applications
CNC Machining Performs milling, turning, or routing operations using CNC code Used for all kinds of precision fabrication
Water Jet Cutting A highly pressurized, fine stream of water, sometimes containing abrasives, is used to cut material Can cut virtually anything, including very soft and very hard materials. Used when extreme precision is needed or to avoid the heat generated by other cutting methods
Laser/Plasma Cutting Uses a focused laser beam or plasma jet to cut or etch material Often used in onsite construction work for its speed and portability

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is the newest metal fabrication process. Unlike subtractive operations like cutting that remove material from the workpiece, additive manufacturing process techniques build a workpiece up one layer of material at a time by depositing small amounts of material.

Metal additive manufacturing technologies are constantly being developed and improved, with entirely custom metal fabrication processes being introduced all the time. However, the two you are most likely to encounter are powder bed fusion and binder jetting.

Technique Description Applications
Powder Bed Fusion Uses a laser or electron beam to heat and fuse metal powder into solid shapes Used to create complex shapes that would be impossible with traditional machining
Metal Binder Jetting Uses a printhead to deposit a liquid binding agent onto a bed of metal powder to create a solid part, which then must be sintered Similar applications to powder bed fusion, but tends to be less expensive

Additive Manufacturing

Local, Precision-Cut Materials for All Metal Fabrication Techniques

No matter the metal fabrication process you’re using, Industrial Metal Service has all the raw metal material you need to feed your metal fabrication processes. In addition to our massive inventory of new and remnant metals, we have top-of-the-line sawing capabilities to provide any fabrication service provider with what they need. Our metal saws can cut even the toughest and thickest metals to precise dimensions, helping you to:

  • Reduce waste.
  • Accelerate production processes.
  • Reduce labor and material costs.

For special materials or shapes, we can also arrange precision water jet cutting.

Published by IMS Team

Industrial Metal Service has decades of experience and over 1.1 billion pounds of metal sold and recycled. Our founder, Jeff, has spent his life in the industry and prides himself on offering fair, efficient, trustworthy, knowledgeable, outstanding customer service. We offer metal salesmetal recycling pickup service, and other associated services, such as precise metal sawing, machinery teardown, and warehouse cleanupGive us a call and we’ll get it done.