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How To Use A Plasma Cutter

How To Use A Plasma Cutter
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Last Updated: 29 April 2020

Using a plasma cutter is a relatively easy task if you’ve done it for years. But if you’ve never used one before, it can seem like a daunting task at first. Getting the best plasma cutter is the natural part. The difficulty begins when one wants to understand o how a plasma torch works and what one can do with it. In this guide, we go through the mechanism by which the plasma cutter works, the various ways one can use this instrument to cut different metals, and how to safeguard one from potential hazards that arise from working with the best plasma cutter.

How Does A Plasma Cutter Work

How Does A Plasma Cutter Work

Understanding the process by which a plasma cutting works is essential when it comes to using one effectively. So, let us break down the process step by step.

A plasma cutting machine sends an electric arc through a gas that passes through a nozzle. When the gas passes through the nozzle, it increases its temperature to such a degree that it turns into a fourth state. We all know the other three states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas. Scientists call this fourth state plasma.

Since the metal that is being cut is a part of the circuit, the plasma arc caused by the electrical conduction is transferred to the work. The gas passing through the nozzle is squeezed at such high speeds that it cuts through the molten metal. Furthermore, the gas is restricted to the perimeter of the cutting area to shield the cut.

The best plasma cutter utilizes a pilot arc between the electrode and the opening (nozzle), which ionizes the gas and generates the plasma before it is transferred to the arc.

What Kind Of Gas Does A Plasma Cutter Use

The best plasma cutter uses compressed air, which works well for most metals up to 1 inch thick. It can also be used for plasma gouging on carbon steel. For higher plasma systems, nitrogen is used to cut metals up to 3 inches thick and produces high-quality cuts on most materials. How thick can a plasma cutter cut? Mechanized cuts utilizing a mixture of argon and hydrogen can cut any material that is thicker than 3 inches.

Oxygen is used for the smooth cuts on carbon steel up to 1 and a quarter thick. It can also be used on stainless steel and aluminum though it renders a rougher cut. The best plasma cutter for aluminum and stainless steel uses a mixture of Argon and Hydrogen. It produces exceptional cuts that are clean and smooth and can cut any material up to 3 inches thick.

How To Cut With A Plasma Cutter

Now that you have a sufficient understanding of how the best plasma cutter works let us get down to actually using it. Follow the necessary steps mentioned hereunder to get going.

How To Cut Thick Metal

The first few steps will show you how to set up a plasma cutter, while the rest will guide you through the cutting process.

  • First up, turn on the air compressor and let the pressure build.
  • Open the windows to encourage ventilation.
  • How To Cut Thick Metal
  • Ensure that there aren’t any fire hazards in the vicinity.
  • Clamp or girdle the metal to a table.
  • Ensure that the cut metal doesn’t hit you or the plasma cord when it drops.
  • Draw a cut line on the metal with a chalk
  • Connect the plasma cutter clamp to the metal to keep it stationary after the cut.
  • Follow the plasma cutter safety procedures and put on safety equipment.
  • Line yourself up to the metal such that you are out of the line of sparks, have a good view, and safe from the falling piece.
  • Keep the plasma torch a few inches away from the metal to prevent blowbacks.
  • Switch your best plasma cutter on and use a smooth motion to make the cuts.
  • When you cut a piece, let it cool before you lift it up.

How To Cut Plate Steel

People often wonder – “Will a plasma cutter cut stainless steel?” The answer is yes. Plasma cutting stainless steel utilizes the same steps mentioned above with one crucial difference. It is the use of Nitrogen gas instead of air. Using Nitrogen as gas and submerging the steel underwater improves its metallurgy while improving its edges. Mixtures of nitrogen and hydrogen work well as plasma gas as well.

Will A Plasma Cutter Cut Aluminum

Will A Plasma Cutter Cut Aluminum

Compared to cutting steel or other metals, plasma cutting aluminum is uniquely challenging when we consider its chemistry and crack sensitivity. The gas used and the techniques themselves are slightly different, which makes a world of difference to how well you can cut aluminum.

One of the common problems is that cutting aluminum requires one to spend a lot of time cleaning the edges, and even then, there is no guarantee of clean cuts. The reason behind this is the gas. The best plasma cutter generally requires compressed air to make cuts on metal. However, if you desire clean and precise cuts with aluminum, you may have to switch to such inert gases as nitrogen or a mix of argon and helium.

Follow the steps mentioned below to cut with the best welder for aluminum:

  • Move the torch rapidly to ensure that the arc doesn’t go through the aluminum.
  • Aluminum tends to get sticky when warmed, which can be avoided by ensuring that the air source is correctly connected to the cutter. Mostly, the best plasma cutter won’t switch on unless the air source is in the socket.
  • Place the torch to keep the electrical waves passing through the arcs away from the aluminum as it can melt it.
  • You need to keep in mind the thickness of the aluminum sheet. If you are working on a thick sheet, the plasma cutter should have wider gaps and bigger arcs.
  • Do not drag the plasma cutter on the metal surface as it can completely damage the machine. Hold it exactly above the area that you have to cut.
  • It is a good practice to mark the area that needs to be cut, especially if you are going to cut a large piece of aluminum sheet.

Plasma Cutting Tips

Even if you are using the best plasma cutter, certain tips can improve your cutting experience and help you get smoother cuts. Here are seven tips that one can enhance your cuts today:

  • Read the manual thoroughly to get acquainted with the machine and help you understand its capabilities.
  • Before you apply it to actual use, make a sample cut on the same material that you’re going to work on. This will ensure that you are using the correct settings and travel speed.
  • Plasma Cutting Tips
  • It can be challenging to stop cleanly on long cuts. Therefore, it is advisable to practice the movement before you pull the trigger. This will allow you to have freedom enough to move and make one long continuous cut.
  • If your best plasma cutter has a drag shield, use it. It allows you to rest the cutter on the piece while ensuring there is enough standoff space, and the torch doesn’t touch the tip of the metal.
  • To have better control, use your other hand and support your cutting hand. This will provide the freedom to make the necessary movements while maintaining a comfortable standoff.
  • The faster the travel speed, the smoother the cuts will be. This is especially true for aluminum that tends to get a little sticky. When cutting thicker sheets, vary the travel speed with the cutter to full output. Conversely, you can turn down the amperage on thinner materials.
  • Ensure that the arc exits the material at roughly a 20-degree angle. If the arc is perpendicular to the ground and going straight down, then you are moving too slowly. If it sprays back to you, then you’re going too fast.

Plasma Cutter Safety

Plasma Cutter Safety

Safety is of utmost importance, even when using the best plasma cutter. It can be a dangerous tool if proper safety precautions are not taken. This makes using safety gear incredibly important when working with the best stick welder.

There are a lot of dangers and hazards that need to be kept in mind when working with the best plasma cutter. These include toxic fumes and gases, sparks, the possibility of electrocution, and the plasma arc itself. The arc is extremely hot and can be fatal for unprotected body parts. It can even burn the skin as well as the eyes, which makes it a severe fire hazard.

The cutting process, especially with coated metals, produces a lot of gases that are toxic and hazardous. These can be fatal to one’s health and also to the general working environment and others. Another issue when using the best plasma cutter is the heat and the sparks generated, which can be a direct danger to anyone near the cutting area. The sparks can burn any uncovered skin, get into cuffs, and cause serious damage. Eye injuries may result from the sparks, the radiation, and the intense light coming from the plasma.

The use of personal protective equipment then becomes highly necessary, and a professional operator never works without it. When using the best plasma cutter, ensure that you have the following safety gear on:

  • Best welding helmet for the head
  • Goggles, hand shield, and caps for face and eye protection for plasma cutting
  • Gloves for hand protection
  • Rubber boot for foot protection
  • Apparel for skin protection
  • Respiratory mask for lungs protection
  • Earplugs and muffs for ear protection

We hope that we have helped you in understanding how to go about using the best plasma cutter. Once the mechanics of how the tool works is understood, the working process, the importance of technique, and the dangers of mismanagement become all too evident.

Various variables need to be kept in mind when working with the best plasma cutter, such as the type of metal, the thickness of the metal sheet, as well as the gas that is to be used. For cutting most metals, compressed air is sufficient. However, as we get to metals such as stainless steel and aluminum, inert gases such as nitrogen or mixtures of argon and hydrogen are recommended.

Always read the manual that you get with your best plasma cutter. Most manufacturers provide a guide that highlights all the correct techniques that should be employed when using a plasma cutter. Ensure that you follow all the safety procedures and wear all your gear if you want to avoid any health hazards. Make sure that you keep it away from children and allow only other workers if they’re wearing protective gear near your working environment.

If you want to read similar articles or want to check out the best plasma cutter products that are available in the market, don’t forget to check out homemakerguide.

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