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How Does a Plasma Cutter Work

How Does a Plasma Cutter Work?

A plasma cutter works by a high-velocity stream of ionized gas, known as plasma, to melt and cut through metal with precision and efficiency. It is achieved by passing an electrical current through a gas, such as air or nitrogen, which ionizes the gas and creates the plasma stream. The plasma stream is then directed through a small nozzle and onto the metal, which melts and cuts through the material.

What is a Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter is a tool that uses a high-pressure stream of gas to cut through metal. The gas stream is produced by an electric arc between two electrodes, creating ionized particles called plasma. It helps cut clean and straight lines in old cars or buildings, removes bolts without damaging the surface underneath, and so much more!

Some plasma cutters have a maximum height of six-plus feet, allowing you to reach higher spaces easily. Some builders use them instead of saws for cutting wood beams! Quite impressive stuff when you think about it.

How does it work

As stated earlier, a plasma cutter uses an electrical arc to produce ionized plasma particles. It is done by forcing compressed air through a narrow channel. Whoosh! The resulting gas stream (plasma) is directed at the metal you wish to cut, and it cuts through. The burnt metal can be removed by prying or scraping with a putty knife.

Plasma cutting works well on metal pieces that will fit flat on your table and when the metal piece is held down with a stable surface, table, or clamps. But you may need extra prep work if the cut lines are not going in straight lines and curves because clamped pressure only works well with curves.

plasma cutter working process

The plasma cutter passes through the metal as it simultaneously melts it, leaving a rough cut. You'll need to smooth out the edges and clean up the cut before using it. It's just like with a hacksaw!

Once your metal pieces are cut, they will show signs of flame-singed surfaces and other imperfections; plasma cutting is not meant to "beautify" metal in any way. It's perfect for rough cuts and is excellent at cutting metal with minimal preparation, but if you want to make your cuts look like they were made by a machine rather than by plasma arc, you'll need to do more preparation.

Types of Plasma Cutters

There are two main types of plasma cutters; direct current (DC) and inverter.

Plasma cutters that use DC produce a limited arc with high amperage, meaning the metal has a hard time heating up enough to melt. The resulting cuts are rough, but if you're in a pinch for time and want to save money on fuel and electricity, this may be the cutter for you!

Types of Plasma Cutters

Inverter plasma cutters produce a longer arc that reaches around 150 thousand degrees Fahrenheit (65 thousand degrees Celsius). This type is better at making straight cuts through metal because it heats the metal faster than DC. It means you'll have to do less prep work before using your cutter, and you won't have to wait as long for your cut.

How to Use a Plasma Cutter

If you've ever cut with a hacksaw, you already know the basics of using a plasma cutter! It's important to ensure that your metal piece is stable and level, held down with clamps or other means. Plasma cutters need to be able to heat up quickly and can overheat if they aren't in direct contact with the metal piece directly.

Next, make sure your plasma cutter is in good condition. Check the power box for blown fuses and replace any that are missing. Test the air pump, ensuring it's blowing hard enough to produce a good arc.

Once your cutter is ready, place it on the metal so it's at a good working angle (typically around 45 degrees). Plug it in and turn on the air pump and voltage supply. Then, turn on the plasma arc! As you hold down the trigger button and pass through the metal, you should see your cut line form right before your eyes.

When making long cuts, you may need to stop and move the plasma cutter several times. Don't worry, and this is all normal! If you have a hand-held air hose and an air regulator, hold down the trigger button for a few seconds before moving it to the new cut line. This way, it will be easier for you to start up again because there will be a small amount of hot metal left from where you just cut.

Safety and Maintenance

Plasma cutters only require a little maintenance, so you may get away with using one without as much safety equipment as a gas-powered saw. If you are in a tight space, wear eye protection and gloves. You should also ensure that your metal piece is stable and level before passing through the arc; otherwise, you could put yourself or others in danger.

If you want to cut sheet metal or other materials that can't support themselves (such as old aluminum windows), it's best to use clamps or something similar to hold it down on your table securely.

If you're new to plasma cutting, ask your instructor or another expert for advice on correctly using a plasma cutter.

FAQs about plasma cutter

Which plasma cutter is the best on the market?

Plasma cutter is essential for making big cuts or cutting metal too big for a hacksaw. With this tool, you can make clean cuts in metal that are accurate and don't waste much space.

What kind of gas do you use with a plasma cutter?

No particular gas is needed for the plasma cutter to work. All you have to do is plug it in and turn on the switch to use its electric arc technology to start cutting metal.

How Much Does a Plasma Cutter Cost?

In the United States, plasma cutters usually cost between $500 and $3,000. It may seem like a lot at first, but you will quickly get your money back if you cut a lot of metal or need to make big cuts. You can check affordable plasma welding supplies and choose based on your needs. 

How does a plasma cutter create plasma?

An electric arc is used to melt metal in the plasma cutter. The arc heats the metal to about 65,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts it and removes any impurities that cause rust.

Can plasma be used to cut metal?

Yes! A plasma cutter makes it easy to cut through metal because it quickly heats up, melts, and cools. You can use this method to make long shortcuts if you can quickly get from one place to another.

How thick can plasma cut metal?

A plasma cutter should be able to cut anything with a thickness of less than 2 inches. You can cut through thicker materials using a support material or do the cut in two steps.

Do I Need Safety Equipment?

Wear eye protection and gloves if working in a small space or near other people. You should wear safety gear if you're working with plugged-in electrical tools.

Does Plasma Cutting Hurt?

No! When you use power tools and feel pain, that's a good sign. It means the tool is doing its job well and putting out enough heat to help clean the metal.

Is plasma cutting AC or DC?

With an AC power source, a DC plasma cutter can be used, but it won't get hot enough to be safe. For the best results, use an AC plasma cutter. To know more about result read our another blog How to Get More Results Out of Your Plasma Cutters

Can I use my plasma cutter on stainless steel?

Yes! A plasma cutter can cut through less reactive materials, like stainless steel, that aren't "stainless."

How big a cut can a plasma knife make?

Like other tools professionals use to cut metal, plasma cutters only need to pierce the material's surface before heating it quickly and melting it.

Do plasma cutters need an air compressor?

A regular air compressor or even a portable air hose would be enough. Make sure it's not too strong!

Does Plasma cutting use an arc?

Yes. A plasma cutter makes it easy to cut through metal because an electric arc between electrodes at the tool's tip makes a lot of heat. This method is efficient because you won't have to wait around for specific gases or refill your instrument between cuts.

Is Plasma cutting recommended for home use?

Yes! Unless it's a plasma cutter, you won't find a welder that can cut through metal as quickly and efficiently as a plasma cutter. You won't have to worry about cutting metal at home if you have one of these.

How much psi do you need to run a plasma cutter?

With the right force, a plasma cutter can cut through metal, but not with too much force. Use a DC plasma cutter with a pressure of about 150 psi (for comparison, a regular shop vac is around 90 psi).

How do I cut aluminum with a plasma cutter?

Aluminum is hard to cut by hand, but plasma cutters make short work of it. When using a plasma cutter, it is important to be safe and wear protective gear.

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