Best Angle Grinders for Shipping Container Homes

Converting this shipping container into a home is going to take a lot of DIY effort and more than a little sweat and tears (let’s keep the blood to a minimum okay?)  You embarked on this undertaking because you wanted to build it yourself and because after a little research online, you found that ordinary people like you and me can, and have, built large scale projects like this.  Don’t be intimidated by the massive amounts of work ahead of you, remember your goal and focus on doing the best job you can at each step of the way.

One of the most important keys to your success will be having the correct tools for the job while maintaining a realistic idea of what is appropriate for your level of expertise, what tools are available, and ultimately, what fits within your budget.  You learned a long time ago that there was nothing more dangerous than a dull knife because forcing the knife to do the work is what causes slips and cuts.  On the other hand, you don’t need to use a razor sharp ancestral katana to cut your steak.  Both overkill and under-performance are terrible wastes, not to mention a potential for danger.

Unless you are content to live in a dark box with two large industrial doors at one end, you will be cutting metal to create new windows and doors in your shipping container.  If your build consists of multiple shipping containers in a line or building skyward with stacked containers, you may be cutting out entire walls and parts of the roof and floor.  Picking the right tool for this work will most likely result in the purchase of an angle grinder.  If you have free and easy access to a cutting torch or a plasma cutter, they’ll do the work handily, but most of us don’t have that luxury, or more importantly, the experience to use those tools safely.  Most of us will be using the highly efficient and versatile angle grinder.

Often called a “Side/disc grinder”, an angle grinder is a high torque motor that spins a replaceable disc.  The angle grinder is not to be confused with the cut-off tool.  Though they appear similar, the cut-off tool is lower torque tool and used for light duty cutting work.  The angle grinder may be a little bulkier but it can handle the cut-off work and so much more.  In the course of your container build you will be cutting metal, grinding down welds, and polishing off surfaces.

Once you establish the need for an angle grinder over the more industrial options such as a plasma torch, we’ll need to determine which type of powered grinder will best fit your needs.  There are three common sources of power for the angle grinder.  AC power, DC power, and air power.

Let’s get air power out of the way first.  A pneumatic tool can be a powerful tool in many cases.  However unless you’re running an industrial tool shop, the commercially available pneumatic angle grinders are directed more toward polishing and small cuts, not the heavy duty work we’re going to require it to accomplish.  The only positive attribute I can assign to an air-powered angle grinder when building a shipping container home is the use of the air tank as a capacitor.  Sometimes these builds are happening way out in the middle of nowhere and electrical power is an issue.  If you’re running a pneumatic, small intermittent losses of power won’t be as noticeable as when you are running an AC powered grinder.  But that’s about it.  The air-powered grinders just aren’t sturdy enough for cutting holes in shipping containers and you’ll be grinding away long after it would have been finished with an electric grinder.

Electrically powered is the only way to go when you’re tearing apart your shipping container.  A direct plug into the wall with an AC powered grinder would be preferable as you will have a constantly powered unit, but in some cases like building out and away from the existing electrical grid, a DC battery powered tool is the only option you may have.  Battery powered tools have come a long way in the last decade and are stronger, hold charges longer, and can offer the portability and freedom of movement that corded units can’t.

The operational specifications on your angle grinder are the important numbers that will tell you if the tool is up to the task.  You need to learn what each one of them means before you shop around for tools because often it’s the sum of the whole that means more than any individual number.

Power tools are always rated by their performance and most of these specifications are measurable and quantifiable.  Some specs are a little more nebulous and can be open to interpretation.

Speed is easily measured, and done so with an RPM (revolutions per minute) number.  If you know about 33 and 45 vinyl records, you already understand RPM in relation to speed.  When you flipped that switch up to 75, the record sped up and sounded like The Chipmunks.  Higher RPM equates to a faster speed.  Angle grinder RPM ratings range in the high thousands, 5000 to 12000 RPM.  Enough to shatter your vinyl.  High RPMs will equate to a faster cut on your shipping container, but don’t fully discount lower RPMs, as a slower cut can equate to a more delicate and detailed cut.

Power is a combination of voltage and amperage.  If you’re plugging your angle grinder into the wall, you’re most likely using 120VAC at 60Hz.  On a battery driven grinder, it will depend on the manufacturer.  A common voltage for battery operated power tools is 20VDC.  The voltage is merely the vessel in which your amperage arrives.  Amps is a better measure of tool power.  Higher amps means more power available for the tool’s motor to do its job.

Torque is a clouded measurement that incorporates the efficiency of the motor in its calculation “T = (I x V x E x 60) / (rpm x 2π)”.  The amperage, voltage, and RPM may be identical, but your manufacturer isn’t always forthcoming with their efficiency rating on the motor.  So for the same statistics, you may get a different answer depending on the quality of the motor itself.  In the end, torque is the ability of the motor to turn its electrical energy into rotational force and spin your cutting wheel.  The higher the torque, the stronger the rotational force and the less likely you are to have a “weak” cutting experience.

Black+Decker BDEG400

Black and Decker is a long valued and trusted name.  Odds are some of your first tools were B&D and served you well.  Known for being affordable and reliable, the brand still delivers on its promise with the BDEG400 model angle grinder.

The 6.5A motor is sufficient enough to provide strong cutting power at 10000 RPM making this an adequate choice at it’s modest price point.  If the shipping container construction has you at the thin edge of your budget, this may be the angle grinder for you.

Three positions to mount the handle make this a quick and easy tool to get into any cutting position.  The metal carrying case will protect your tool against a rough worksite when not in use.

Quick pro:

  • Inexpensive and functional. You didn’t spend a lot of money and didn’t have to settle for an unknown, untrusted brand.

Quick con:

  • The 6.5A motor can easily cut through the thin metal walls of your shipping container, but it is on the weak side of the margin and you may find yourself wishing you got a stronger model when you’re grinding away heavy welds or cutting thicker steel.

Makita 9557PBX1

If you’re stepping up the budget and going with a professional grade tool, the Makita 9557PBX1 will keep you cutting and grinding with confidence for a long time. Makita has a strong history in power tools and their brand is one of the go-to choices for contractors and home DIYers alike.

You’ll get an 11000RPM tool with a hearty 7.5A motor which will equate to a torque plenty sufficient to handle anything your shipping container can throw at it.   Cut, grind, polish, and cut some more as this versatile tool hold up against all the wear and tear you give it.

Protection from the elements is important and Makita has covered your bases large and small.  The included case protects the tool itself, while specially designed housing (or “Labyrinth construction”) keeps moisture and dust away from the critical motor.

At first glance the two handle mounts appear as a limitation, but the working head can rotate to any 90° angle giving you a fully functional tool in any position making handle relocation unnecessary.

Quick pro:

  • The Makita brand is recognized for customer satisfaction and the heavier gauge/tighter wound wires in the coils of this model’s motor is just one example of the brand’s consistent overbuild and dedication to quality.

Quick con:

  • The lack of a variable speed trigger or even a speed controller can be a limitation when tackling some delicate cuts. This “all on, all off” tool gives you a lot of power but sometimes you only need a little.

Dewalt DWE402

It is surprising to compare and contrast this class of angle grinders and find the Dewalt DWE402 at the same price point as the Makita 9557PBX1.  For the same price, the Dewalt offers the same 11000RPM, but with the added torque of an 11A motor.  This makes the upgrade a simple choice and one you won’t look back on with any degree of remorse.

Dewalt’s “Dust Ejection system” actively repels dust and debris from entering the housing and damaging the internal components and motor.  Adjustments to the cutting angle are by way of a one-touch system that allows for a full 360° rotation for comfortable and safe cutting at any angle.

The disc swap out will undoubtedly eat up plenty of your time while making those long precise cuts on the steel walls or grinding out the weld slag.  The DWE402 has a no-tool wheel release that will have you back in action before you lose your momentum.

Quick pro:

  • The upgrade to a much stronger motor for the same cost as the closest competitor is a no-brainer. Equal quality, better specifications, same price… what’s not to like?

Quick con:

  • This heavy duty tool is indeed heavy. Weighing in at 6lbs, you will feel the weight of the power tool in your hands.  After a day of cutting away your shipping container’s walls, you will know you’ve had one heck of a workout.

Porter-Cable PCC761B

If you’ve been around power tools, you know the name “Porter-Cable” is synonymous with the tradesman who relies on reliable tools.  The Porter-Cable PCC761B is no exception to the P-C pedigree.

20VDC power delivers a respectable 8500RPM.  While not as fast as the corded electric angle grinders, this battery driven tool will give you plenty of power in those locations where electrical power just isn’t possible.  Converting a shipping container requires a lot of metal work, cutting and grinding, and when you’re building out and away from conventional power, a battery operated tool is the only option you may have.

The gear housing is made of cast metal instead of plastic to help with heat dissipation and even with the metal housing and 20V battery, this tool weighs in at just over six pounds.  Battery operated tools are often bulky and heavy due to the weight of the battery but this tool is well balanced and light enough to make the cuts.

Quick pro:

  • Part of the Porter-Cable “20V Max” platform and works with existing batteries and chargers on the same system.

Quick con:

  • Strong enough in as pinch, but comes in at the low end of the cutting/grinding spectrum. 8500RPM and lower torque limits this tool to occasional or “no other choice” uses.

Dewalt DCG413B

Dewalt offers the DCG413B as a powerhouse batter operated angle grinder.  A strong 9000RPM delivered on a 20VDC battery is about as much as can be expected from the cordless industry.  Packed with power, even with the battery attached this unit weighs under four pounds and this light weight attribute will be appreciated after an afternoon of wielding your angle grinder all over your shipping container build.

Safety is a major concern when working with a high revolution, high torque tool such as an angle grinder and this model addresses many of the dangers with features to minimize the risks.  The blade brake stops the disc within two seconds of releasing the trigger rather than allowing the disc to coast to a stop before you set it down.  If the tool experiences a kickback, the kickback break will pinch the disc to stop it immediately and the trigger will need to be cycled before the tool will reengage.

Quick pro:

  • The brushless motor means there is less maintenance required for this tool and the efficiency improves 50% which gives more torque to the 9000RPM.

Quick con:

  • This unit is expensive. It doesn’t come with a battery or a charger which isn’t a problem if you’re already using the Dewalt 20V battery system but can pose a problem to first time buyers.