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I want to cut some 6" diameter holes in 1/8" thick lead sheet that is 12"x12" up to 12" x 24" but would like to minimize dust and debris.

I was thinking that the best approach to minimizing dust and debris would be to use aviation shears to cut out the hole. However, the shears would need a starter hole to be made and this is mainly the hole I am asking about. Power drilling seems to not be an option.

Is 1/8" lead sheet soft enough that I could use a 1/2" drill in a pin vise to manually work it through? That would create debris but at least it would not get kicked up.

Alternatively I could use a 1/2" or 1" diameter hole punch on a 5-ton arbor press. That would probably produce even less dust but, Again, I am not sure if that could make it through a 1/8" sheet. I've been able to punch 2" diameter holes in 1/4" thick teflon, but don't have a good reference between lead and teflon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would melting a hole with a blowtorch produce hazardous fumes? I don't think it was a problem with electronics soldering where the hazard seemed to be from the flux. $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Commented Mar 2 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, maybe the lead did affect me. Meanwhile I found the "Bad Dog Biter" for cutting sheet metal. It nibbles at it so I suspect it generates bits rather than dust. I can't see if it could cut 1/8" though. youtube.com/watch?v=kYMubCetlqU. Cool or not? (It still leaves you with the starter hole problem!) $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Commented Mar 2 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Oooh, oooh. Look at this! youtube.com/watch?v=YjNYs8ELGdk $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Commented Mar 2 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Transistor That's enough internet for you today. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 2 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ My feeling is a punch should work fine for like a 1/4" or 3/8" hole, maybe more too. Lead is quite soft, a 1/8" sheet probably might have trouble to hold up its own weight if you stood it upright $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    Commented Mar 2 at 22:59

4 Answers 4

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Make a hole cutter like a shear against a surface and hit or press through.

Similar to those pastry cutters, lead cuts easy enough.

Make in the diameters required 6", 12" even 9" etc

Something like this but only shown one half on the side view - the other half will start high on the low side of the first:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Okay so it sounds like you're saying a punching a 1/2" or 1" pilot hole on the 5-ton arbor press will work? I would have to make 6" diameter punch and I have little (that is to say zero) experience making punches. I don't think I could put out enough force for a 6" punch though. My only other reference is 2" holes in 1/4" thick Teflon and I imagine a 6" hole in 1/8" thick lead would be considerably higher. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Well I would look at using an old saw blade with an edge ground on it fitted into a thick enough wood plate which you would then press through, have cut lead sheet with a stanley knife before... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ A saw blade? Like flex the saw blade into a circle on a wood plate? Or are you talking about grinding an actual hole saw into a punch? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ You can bend a hacksaw blade or an old saw blade from something like a band saw... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to design the blade so it cuts from two points gradually - that would reduce the shearing force :) $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:52
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Depending on what's behind the sheet, you could use a hole punch (or wad punch, they're distinct) to put the initial hole through. After that use a hand nibbler, which will cut out a ribbon rather than produce dust or relatively small swarf.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not clear to me what the difference between a hole punch and a wad punch is. They both seem like straight metal posts centered on a circular steel cutting ring. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 3 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ The bevel on a hole punch is on the inside, but on a wad punch it's on the outside. However for softer materials (i.e. leather but not lead) hole punches are often sharpened on the outside to make it easier for the bits to push through. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 4 at 8:07
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A drill won't kick up dust. It will produce cuttings, but not dust unless you're abusing it.

Drill at slow speed and a feed rate that ensures uniform chip thickness. It The chips will be easy to handle, and the temperatures will not lead to lead vapour.

Furthermore, lead is soft. Punching it with hole punches made for steel should present no problem - and if you rig in a press you will not need a pilot hole.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe not fine dust, but still debris and sometimes small particles which also get thrown by the drill and the motor. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 4 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ The motor? The chips is heavy, and if you drill at low speed they will be large and not fly far. $\endgroup$
    – vidarlo
    Commented Mar 4 at 8:13
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Use a chisel and hammer. A narrow chisel will allow you to make a hole within the tolerance you need.

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