Plasma Cutting: A Beginner's Guide

Written by  The Weld.com Crew September 26, 2014

Plasma cutting is a way of cutting through metal quickly and easily. Plasma cutters are quickly becoming the go to machines for home hobbyists, weekend warriors and small shops that need to cut metal on a budget. One of the major reasons for this is the price for these machines has dropped so much in recent years, making them affordable to almost everyone. So, are you in need of a plasma cutter? Well, if you are looking to supplement [or replace] a mechanical saw, taking on new projects that require more metal cutting or just think you want a cool new toy; you might think about a plasma cutter!

How does a plasma cutter work?
Plasma cutting is a fairly simple process that doesn't require much training. The way it works is the machine connects to an air compressor, which allows it to push out a stream of ionized gas through a constricting tip [via a torch]. This pressurized, ionized gas is also known as plasma. When using a plasma cutter, the plasma creates electricity, which is then transferred from the torch to the material you are trying to cut. In fact, when using this process, you are not technically "cutting" the metal, but melting it via a very fine orifice.

How do I choose the best plasma cutter for my needs?
When purchasing a plasma cutter, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself first:

How thick is the metal I will be cutting?It is important to know what thickness of metal you plan on cutting. If you will only ever be cutting sheet metal, you won't need as many amps as if you are trying to cut one inch steel plate. You also need to look at how often you will be using the high end of your plasma cutters amperage range. Many machines are rated to cut up to one inch steel, but this is for a "severence cut", which means it will cut through the metal, but leave you with an ugly, unmanageable workpiece. Follow this link for more  information on choosing the correct amps for plasma cutting.

Are there any reviews online? Before purchasing a machine, do a search and see if Weld.com has done a review on it. We test all sorts of machines and will tell you what we like and don't like about any given machine. If we haven't done a review on the machine, consider visiting the Welding Forum and asking if anyone else has used the machine you are considering. The forum can be a great place to find unbiased opinions on a variety of machines, including plasma cutters. You can also find information on what kind of compressors people are using to get the best results out of their machines.

How long do the consumables last and are they easily replaceable?PowerPlasma 50
Plasma cutters, like many welding and cutting machines use consumable parts and pieces. For example, the tips on a plasma cutter will not last forever. There are good cutting practices to make them last longer, but in almost all cases you will be replacing them at some point in the life of your plasma cutter. You want to find a machine that uses consumables that are easily replaceable and last for a good while before needing to buy more. Once again, the forum is a good place to find information on how well any given machines consumables will last. You can also look at the manufacturers website to see how their consumables are rated, but we find that these numbers are often overstated.

What comes with the machine? When comparing machines, always see what comes in the box. Many machines will show up at your door only for you to realize you need to make a trip to the hardware store to get the right fittings to be connected to your compressor. Another item you will need is a set of shaded safety glasses [for plasma cutting] or a welding helmet. Also, if your machine doesn't have a water seperator, it is a good idea to get one that does; this will also extend the life of your consumables. Most machines will not come with everything you need, however some will; such as the Mr. TIG series PowerPlasma 50.

This is a good guide to get you started on your search for a plasma cutter. For more information on plasma cutters, subscribe to TIG Time and be sure to register in the Weld.com Forum!

Last modified on September 26, 2014