Shipping container conversion: How to cut new openings?

Shipping container customisation is becoming more common amongst our clients. As we deal with shipping containers, day in and day out, we thought we’d pass along some of the knowledge that we’ve gained along the way. In today’s post let’s explore how to cut openings in the sides of containers.

Many customisation plans for shipping containers will include the addition of doors, vents or windows. Some may even involve completely removing a whole side wall. Metal shipping containers are typically made of Cor-Ten steel and although it’s not as easy to cut as plywood might be, it can still be done with the tools that can be found in a typical toolbox.

Before you start, be sure to protect yourself. There are going to be some very sharp edges involved. You can do this by wearing heavy thick leather gloves like those used by welders. You should also don some eye protection as they’ll be some metal shavings and sparks flying around. Whilst you’re at it, put on some hearing protection along with suitable clothing with long sleeves and trouser legs.

Most shipping containers are constructed to be very strong. This means that 12 gauge steel that is around 1/8” thick is used and can be heavy. Once you have made your cuts then be careful that nothing heavy falls on you with razor-sharp edges.

1) To get started, use a marker to draw out the shape that you want to cut on your container.
2) You can then opt to either use a jigsaw or a reciprocating saw with a blade that is big and heavy enough to strong enough. Cheap blades will just give you more work.
3) Now drill a hole on the inside of your line. This is where you will start sawing, so the hole will need to be large enough to cater to your blade.
4) Insert your blade in the hole and start cutting.
5) If you plan on doing this regularly then use a plasma cutter. You’ll find that it’s a lot easier and faster than using a saw and you won’t have issues on the corners. You may even find one of these to rent at a reasonable price.

Although this type of work is heavy going, it’s not terribly difficult to cut openings in shipping container sides. You just need to be careful and select the right tools.