Plasma cutting aluminium requires different techniques from cutting other materials since this silvery-white metal is sensitive to cracks.
Now, if you’re a welder or fabricator, you’ve probably asked yourself: can you cut aluminum with a plasma cutter? Thanks to innovative technologies, this is totally doable.
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This article will debunk a few myths, followed by a few tips so you can tackle this task with little effort.
1 Can you cut aluminium with a plasma cutter?
- 1.1 Choosing the best gas for plasma cutting aluminium
- 1.2 Potential hazards of plasma cutting aluminum
- 1.3 How do plasma cutting aluminum with a plasma cutter?
- 1.4 How to cut aluminum with a plasma cutter?
- 1.5 What do you need to do when plasma cutting aluminium with a plasma cutter?
- 1.6 What can’t you cut with a plasma cutter?
- 2 Final words,
Can you cut aluminium with a plasma cutter?
Yes, using plasma cutters to cut aluminum is possible. In fact, plasma cutting aluminum is highly effective.
Plasma cutting entails the creation of superheated ionized gas. The temperature can go up to 20,000°C to melt aluminum, copper, steel, stainless steel, copper, and other conductive materials.
This ionized gas is also referred to as plasma. The higher ampere is used to operate your plasma cutter, the hotter its arc will become. The arc heating process allows for precise cuts of molten materials, and it works perfectly with aluminum.
There is a common misconception that plasma cutters can hardly meet the tight tolerances of aluminum, and their plates leave a hard-to-clean mess. Well, as with any other myths, it needs to be debunked!
The technologies of plasma cutting have evolved significantly, allowing for speedy and cost-effective aluminum cutting tasks with high precision requirements.
It boils down to selecting the right level of gas. Plasma cutting aluminum setting involves getting all parameters correct. Ideal gas, pressure level, and cutting speed will result in excellent cutting edges on aluminum with a doss-free surface.
Check this article to know more in-depth about how does a plasma cutter work.
Choosing the best gas for plasma cutting aluminium
Plasma cutting offers users flexibility in the choice of gas. Many types of clean, dry air with 78% nitrogen can be used for aluminum plasma cutting with various levels of thickness. However, a dual gas system (or multi-gas) would produce the best finish.
Depending on how thick the material is, you can choose different types of gas to achieve the best results. Ideally, welders need to have a balance of productivity, cutting quality, and cost of operation.
Here are some popular types of gas that you can consider:
- Air/N2: while this is probably the least expensive type of gas, air usually leaves rough edges. However, this porosity issue is an easy fix: simply choose decent welding wire with added deoxidizers.
- Oxygen: produces excellent cutting quality and speed for mild steel, but it is expensive.
- N2/CO2: This is one of the best choices for aluminum and stainless steel cutting.
- H35/N2: This allows for smooth cutting edges, but it is costly and can be difficult to purchase.
Potential hazards of plasma cutting aluminum
Plasma cutting with any materials can cause potential hazards, and aluminum is not an exception.
One of the most commonly seen plasma cutting aluminum hazards is the exothermic chemical reaction. This can happen when there is spontaneous heat caused by the mix of cutting dust from mild steel. So, keeping a watchful eye on your work area is highly recommended.
Another danger is the possible plasma cutting aluminum explosion created by the combination of hydrogen and water.
While the use of water tables in plasma cutting can prevent metals from generating fumes, it requires extra care when cutting aluminum. When aluminum is combined with water, it produces hydrogen gas, which can damage your equipment or injure you.
A simple solution is to choose the cutting table designed for plasma cutting aluminum. Alternatively, you can also use an aerator on the table to reduce this risk.
How do plasma cutting aluminum with a plasma cutter?
Here are a few tips to have perfectly aluminum cuts with a plasma cutter:
- Try to achieve a balance between the amperage and the torch moving speed. That said, it’s best to move the torch quickly while ensuring that the arc penetrates your cutting metal.
- Keep a consistent direction when moving the torch. In doing so, slags (if any) won’t affect the finished piece.
- Do not drag your machine on the surface of your aluminum sheet. Otherwise, it can damage your plasma cutter. Instead, hold it right above where you want to cut.
- Sketching it out first when you need to cut a large sheet of aluminum. Planning things ahead usually make the task more manageable.
- Consider the thickness of aluminum sheets that you frequently cut before buying your plasma cutter. This will ensure you will purchase the right tool for your needs. Though smaller machines can still cut through thick materials, they can easily leave dross or slag.
How to cut aluminum with a plasma cutter?
Here are a few tips to have perfectly aluminum cuts with a plasma cutter:
Try to achieve a balance between the amperage and the torch moving speed. That said, it’s best to move the torch quickly while ensuring that the arc penetrates your cutting metal.
Keep a consistent direction when moving the torch. In doing so, slags (if any) won’t affect the finished piece.
Do not drag your machine on the surface of your aluminum sheet. Otherwise, it can damage your plasma cutter. Instead, hold it right above where you want to cut.
Sketching it out first when you need to cut a large sheet of aluminum. Planning things ahead usually makes the task more manageable.
Consider the thickness of aluminum sheets that you frequently cut before buying your plasma cutter. This will ensure you will purchase the right tool for your needs. Though smaller machines can still cut through thick materials, they can easily leave dross or slag.
What do you need to do when plasma cutting aluminium with a plasma cutter?
Before using your plasma cutter to cut aluminum, users should always read the manual and understand how to use the machine properly. To avoid getting injuries, wear protective gear when cutting.
Plasma cutting aluminum fumes can pose multiple risks to the welding workers if not properly protected. Fume inhalation can lead to eye and nose irritation. Some people can even suffer from headaches and dizziness.
That said, wear dark goggles of recommended darkness shade from #7 to #9 to protect your eyes.
Besides, ensure the air quality is safe by wearing a breathing mask made for chemical fumes. Be careful not to use those designed for dust particles, as they might not be good enough when working on welding projects.
What can’t you cut with a plasma cutter?
While most regular types of aluminum can be cut effectively with a plasma cutter, there are a few exceptions.
First: anodized aluminum shouldn’t be cut using the plasma cutting method. The natural oxide can be thickened when anodized, but this surface can be damaged due to high temperatures.
Second: an aluminum floor plate (or diamond plate) is difficult to cut. Its raised bars improve grip and protection for walls, vehicles, and other industrial usages.
However, it can easily come in contact with the height control of your machine, resulting in poor cutting quality.
Third: aluminum-lithium alloys can produce hydrogen when it reacts with water and causes an explosion. So never cut this material on a water table.
So, can you use a plasma cutter to cut aluminum? Yes, aluminum plasma cutting is possible. However, make sure you’re aware of some potential hazards and wear appropriate protective gear.
Also, as briefly mentioned above, some specific types of aluminum do not work with plasma cutting or even cause danger for welders. So users should take note of that.