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Plasma Cutting FAQs

plasma-cutting-faq

Many people are starting to see the values of plasma cutting for their home workshop and businesses. However, many people have a lot of questions about plasma cutters too as they can be a serious investment for a lot of people. 

So, we’ve compiled a list of plasma cutter FAQ’s below to help answer some of your questions about this fantastic tool.


What Are The Main Components Of A Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter must have a air compressor, an inverterearthing clamppipes, and cables as well as guide accessories. The compressor may or may not be integrated.

In addition to those parts, the cutting head features some parts of its own which are:

  • Torch
  • Electrode
  • Supply nozzle
  • Cooling nozzle
  • Buffer

The electrode and nozzle are the consumable parts and will need to be replaced periodically.

Does a plasma cutter need gas?

Plasma cutters work by creating an arc and sending it through a gas. So yes, plasma cutters do need gas to function. However, this gas can be shop air, so you may not need to invest in a specialty gas in order for a plasma cutter to operate in your shop as long as you have an air compressor. Also, some plasma cutters have built in air compressors too, so you may not even need shop air to get a functioning plasma cutter in your shop. Some plasma cutters also operate with argon, nitrogen, and oxygen too.

Can plasma cutter cut wood?

Plasma cutters can only be used to cut electrically conductive materials like steel, brass, and copper, for example. This is because the plasma cutter uses this conductivity to create the electric arc. So, as wood isn’t electrically conductive, it cannot be cut with a plasma cutter.

Can plasma cutter cut glass?

Much like wood, glass is not electrically conductive, and so it cannot be cut with a plasma cutter. Having said that, Tim Nettleton has created a YouTube video cutting glass with a plasma cutter! He uses a thin sheet of metal in front of the glass to create an arc that can melt through the glass! So, if Tim did it, maybe cutting glass with a plasma cutter isn’t impossible! 

Which plasma cutter for CNC?

Most CNC plasma cutting tables come in a kit with a plasma cutter already. However, many companies producing plasma table kits also offer various upgrades to the kit, including plasma cutters. It is important that you buy the plasma cutter that can cut through the thickness of material you need it to. In fact, it is better to get one that is rated for thicker than you need so that you aren’t overworking the plasma cutter all the time. These upgrades are available for most CNC plasma cutters from the companies that make them, but do shop around to ensure that the company can provide you with all the optional extras you think your plasma cutter will need.

What does a plasma cutter cost?

Plasma cutters can cost anywhere from about $100 upwards of $1,000 really. Just like most machines for your shop, the price is pretty much endless, especially when you start looking at CNC plasma cutters. It is worth shopping around and understanding what you are getting with each plasma cutter, just because a plasma cutter is cheap, doesn’t mean it is going to provide the results you need in your business. Investing a little extra in a plasma cutter can ensure you are future-proofing your needs from the machine.


What are plasma cutter consumables?

There aren’t many consumables for a plasma cutter. There is the:

  • Retaining cap; this basically holds the rest of the consumables together.
  • Next, you have the nozzle; this focuses the arc and helps with gas flow.
  • Then there is the electrode; this carries the current to the material.
  • Then you have the swirl ring which channels the gas through the torch.
  • Finally, you have the shield that protects all of the consumables.

You should keep an eye on the consumables to ensure that they are running right. Ideally, you want to keep fresh plasma cutter consumables on hand so that you’re never caught short. Running out of consumables always stops a project in its tracks! The Fabricator has an excellent article going into detail about when it is best to change consumables for your plasma cutter.


What kind of eye protection do you need for a plasma cutter?

Most people use an old welding shield with a #5 lens to protect their eyes during plasma cutting. Plasma cutters give off a very similar arc to welding, so it is good practice to wear something like this. However, some people do just use dark glasses while plasma cutter too. This is considered unsafe by most of the metalworking community as plasma cutting can burn your eyes and face just like welding. Be safe, buy a good welding helmet and use it for plasma cutting, it will save you from UV burns and looking red in the face for a few days!


What Types Of Materials Can A Plasma Cutter Cut?

In general, the plasma cutter is ideal for cutting any electrically conductive metal, including:

  • aluminum,
  • steel,
  • stainless steel,
  • copper,
  • brass and so on. 

Wood and plastic can’t be cut with a plasma cutter as they are not electrically conductive.

How Thick Can A Plasma Cutter Cut??

The maximum cutting capability of a plasma cutter depends on the maximum amperage of the plasma system and the type of material you need to cut. A plasma cutter can cut steel and non-ferrous metal less than 1-inch thickness depending on the plasma cutter model used. Lower amp plasma cutters are able to cut up to ¼-inch while higher amp units can cut up to 1-inch or more.

Hobart Airforce 12ci, 20amps can cut 6.4mm (¼-inch)  

Longevity ForceCut 42i, 40 amps can cut 25.4 mm (1-inch)

For greater thickness, say up to 40mm, you should use a 400V+ model. However, some professional grade plasma cutters can cut up to 70mm thickness. The manufacturer usually provides the cutting speed (measured in IPM or inches per minute) for all thickness of metal.

What Factors Should I Consider When Purchasing a Plasma Cutter?

When you’re considering purchasing a plasma cutter, we highly recommend doing your research as it's essential to know the differences in price as well their ability. Specifically, you should consider the the machine's features, cutting speed, and sheet type.

What Safety Equipment Should I Use When Using A Plasma Cutter?

In general, you should be using a welding mask, leather apron, flexible gloves and enclosed work shoes.

As the plasma cutting process produces ultraviolet light, a welding mask is an essential safety piece of equipment.

The Leather apron, flexible gloves, and work shoes are also essential to protect you from droplets and sparks of metal.

How Do I Choose The Electrical Output That Is Right For Me?

110Volt or 220volt- Figuring out the type of electrical output your job site or workshop uses is an essential factor when choosing a plasma cutter. This is because each plasma cutter comes with its electricity requirement. Some features 110V, others 220V, whereas some of the more versatile models can handle both.

What Performance Should I Look Out For In A Plasma Cutter?

Choose the plasma cutter that provides a smooth and precise cut. It’s best to select a model that produces no slag which means less cleanup.

How Do I Choose The Right Amp For My Work?

Firstly, determine your cutting capacity requirements. Then, decide which electricity capabilities your workplace has.

What Consumables Do I Need To Use With Plasma Cutter?

Normally you will be using a nozzle, electrode, retaining cap, shield and swirl ring with the plasma cutter.

How Much Consumables Do I Need To Stock?

It depends on your usage patterns and production requirements. However, nozzles and electrodes may require replacing frequently.

Plasma Cutter vs Laser vs Water Jet

The simple answer is due to the cost of cut per inch of thickness. The cost of cutting per inch of thickness with the laser or water jet is high compared to the plasma cutter. It’s also the most economical way to cut ferrous and non-ferrous materials.

Can I Use a Plasma Cuter To Cut Aluminum and Stainless Steel?

Definitely. You can use a plasma cutter to cut any ferrous and non-ferrous metal.  Any standard plasma cutter will do the job correctly, whilst a high-performance unit will do a superior job.

Why Should I Buy A Quality Plasma Cutter?

There are many reasons for investing into a quality plasma cutter. First of all, buying a plasma cutter is an investment, it’s not a liability. You’re buying the unit to use for a number of years. If you go for a cheaper and lower quality unit, you may find yourself having to replace it more quickly.

I’m A First Time User of Plasma Cutters. Which One Will Be Best For Me?

For the first time user, any portable option with an integrated compressor will work fine. The lightweight, compact size along with simple technical features may be the most effective solution for a first-time user.

Should I spend the money and invest in a quality plasma cutter?

With the below in mind, you can see that it's a tool that can be used for many purposes. If this is something that is used regularly, it may be wise to invest in a quality one. Otherwise, a basic model will get the job done too!

  • A versatile tool can be used for many different kinds of metal works.
  • A very useful tool to build and repair any type of metal project.
  • An essential tool that is for any metal project, making the task much easier and faster than if you didn't use one.
Ronald Wilson
 

I’m Ronald, Specialist engaged in the manufacture of fabricated metal products. I’ve been involved in the fabrication industry since 1998. To continue my love in welding and to share my experience I've formed a research team and have created this website for our valuable customers.

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