Pros: Small; inexpensive; fast
Cons: Noisy; blizzard of sparks
I like to work on cars and I also do some metal fabrication for various things around the house. Occasionally, I have to fabricate a bracket or metal support for my part-time business, and having the right tool always makes everything go much faster.
If you need to cut a piece of metal that is thicker than sheet metal, there is nothing faster than a pneumatic cut-off tool like the Campbell Hausfeld TL1035. I got mine in a kit of pneumatic tools that came with a compressor I bought at Wal-mart. I have now used the tool several times for projects as diverse as removing rusty exhaust systems to fabricating brackets from 3/8-inch thick steel bars.
The Campbell Hausfeld TL1035 is about 1.5 inches in diameter and about 10 inches long. At one end is an inlet for air and the other end has a three-inch abrasive disk that rotates up to 20,000 RPM. (That's right... 20,000!) The disk is protected by a metal cone-shaped shield that covers about half of the disk, leaving the other half open. The metal body of the TL1035 and the shield are made from an alloy that is fairly light weight and does not rust.
The tool has a simple on/off lever that runs most of the way along one side. The on/off lever is about one inch wide and four inches long, hinged at one end and with a little safety catch at the other end. You activate the tool by rotating the catch and pressing on the lever.
The TL1035 is just the right diameter to fit comfortably in my hand, and moving the catch and pressing the lever is easy and comfortable. It is not hard to hold the activation lever down for extended times -- in fact, once I start the tool and grip it in my hand, I hardly know the lever is there.
The weight of the Campbell Hausfeld TL1035 is good too. Much of the handling of this tool is governed by the pneumatic hose that is attached to one end. This hose accounts for most of the handling concerns and also adds weight.
You need about 90 psi of pressure for the TL1035 to work well, although you can do light work at lower pressures. I usually run it above 100 psi. At this pressure, the TL1035 cuts through rusty bolts and exhaust pipes like my old friend Tommy went through bags of potato chips. In other words, it's like they are not even there.
You absolutely must wear goggles when using any high speed tool, and the TL1035 is no exception. When cutting iron or steel, the cutting disk throws a Fourth-of-July shower of sparks that is both impressive and hot. Obviously, you should have no open containers of gasoline in the area when you use this tool.
The cone-shaped shield forces the sparks out of one side and they come shooting out at high velocity. Touch the rotating disk very gingerly to the metal the very first time you use the tool, so that you know exactly how and where the sparks will appear. This is not a toy and you will almost certainly want to wear gloves when using the TL1035.
You will also want to use ear protection, since the TL1035 is pretty noisy. When I'm working under the car, the sound is trapped between the car and the concrete floor and it gets quite loud. (It's a great, professional mechanic kind of sound though... most tool guys dig that sound!)
It is easy to manipulate the tool to delicately cut a bolt, while leaving a bracket intact. Unfortunately, the pneumatic hose at one end limits the maneuverability of the TL1035, so I often can't reach around the old exhaust pipe to cut off that one remaining bolt.
When cutting through an exhaust pipe, the exhaust system sometimes settles and pinches the abrasive disk so that it literally grinds to a halt. The amount of torque supplied by the TL1035 is low, so this is not a wrist-snapping problem. I simply have to re-adjust the pipe and tool, and keep cutting.
The metal that you are cutting can get very hot. The temptation is great to scoop those rusted bolts off the floor but you might want to let them cool for a few minutes.
The abrasive disks last for about an hour of cutting, which is actually quite a lot of cutting. It takes only a couple of minutes to replace a disk on the TL1035 and a pack of 10 disks costs about $3 if you look around. I have had a cut-off tool like the Campbell Hausfeld TL1035 for several years and I'm still on my first pack of 10 disks.
At $30, the Campbell Hausfeld TL1035 is an inexpensive and handy cut-off tool for homeowner or hobbyist use. If you are a professional who does automotive or machine-shop work, you will want a more rugged, professional-quality tool. But I've had the Campbell Hausfeld TL1035 for two years and it has worked perfectly for my occasional use.
Like any power tool, you have to be careful when you use it. And never even consider using it without goggles. I also highly recommend leather gloves and ear protection when using the TL1035.