How to Cut Metal License Plates

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Things You'll Need

  • Tin snips

  • License plate

  • Marker

Old license plates can be used to make garden art

If you've moved several times or if you've sold a lot of cars, it is likely that you have a bunch of license plates gathering dust in your garage. With a little creativity and free time, those old plates can be turned into windmills, mailboxes and yard art. However, you will need to use tin snips to cut them. This is the easiest and least expensive way for a beginning craftsman to cut metal. Tin snips, however, can be a frustrating tool for beginners, but it just takes a little practice to make clean and professional-looking cuts.


Step 1

Determine which type of tin snips to use. If you are making straight cuts, choose snips that have long and straight blades. If you are making curved cuts or cuts that have edges or if you are cutting intricate shapes, choose compound snips, which have shorter blades and allow you to maneuver the snips. Hawk's bill snips have an exaggerated curve on the blades that allows you to make sharp turns without bending the license plate; these snips cannot be used to cut straight lines. You can use compound snips to cut straight lines, but it will take practice to achieve a professional look.


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Step 2

Use a fine felt-tipped marker to mark your cuts in the metal.

Step 3

When cutting, apply pressure to the bottom blade of the tin snips to pull it up rather than pushing the top blade down. This is counterintuitive but will help keep the license plate from bending.

Step 4

When closing the jaws of the snips, do not completely snap them shut, this can create perpendicular cracks in the metal.


Tip snips can be purchased at any home improvement store.

Tin snips are color coded. Snips with red grips on them are left-cut snips that are generally used by right-handed people, and snips with green grips are right-cut snips that are generally used by left-handed people.

If you need to cut the license plate to specific measurements, use an awl or a sharp nail rather than a felt-tipped marker for marking your cuts because a marker does not make a precise mark.

If you are cutting a lot of license plates, consider using a band saw or a cutting torch, which will allow you to cut faster.


Wear heavy gloves, eye protection and a long-sleeved shirt when cutting the metal. Be careful when working with sharp edges from the snips and from the metal shards.


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