How to use a Plasma Cutter – Plasma Cutting Beginners Guide

Before we begin, our motive through this “How to use a Plasma Cutter” guide is to help equip you with best and safe practices to become an effective metal forger, knowing not only the skills but also the physics and chemical reactions throughout the process. Fabrication can be fun to work but also involves risk; we only recommend industry-grade protection gear and a safe workspace.

Plasma Cutting
Plasma Cutting

Plasma Cutting – An Overview

Metal cutting requires a precise, dross-free finish to make the desired product. The cutting process with superior material interaction should be clutter-free, and less time-consuming. Plasma cutters offer remarkable results emerging as an alternative over traditional cutting processes. The process requires compressed air and electricity to produce the plasma arc. The machine assembly is less complicated, requiring no additional tools.

The learning curve is the usual ritual starting from the basics and improvising. The plasma cutter’s ease of use enables high quality and high volume production in a shorter time. Considering its dominant role, plasma metal cutting skills can enhance your career prospects.

Read More: 5 Welding Safety Tips That Every Welder Should Know

    This guide is to help equip you with the best and safe practices. Fabrication can be fun to work. We only recommend industry-grade protection gear and a safe workspace.

This guide covers the following section

  • What is a plasma cutter?
  • How does a plasma cutter work
  • Best Practices and Safety Rules

Plasma cutters are alternatives with great ease of use and better monetary returns. Mechanized Plasma cutters are effective in large metal cutting. They can cut electrical conducting metal, unlike Oxy-Acetylene (oxy-fuel) cutters. The cutting process is faster on carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum.

What is a Plasma cutter?

Adding heat/energy to compressed air or gas produces “Plasma”. This ionized state is also called the “fourth state of matter” penetrating through metals. Plasma cutters focus the ionized gas on the metal region weakening the atomic bond. The metal dissects because of the concentrated discharge of ionized gas. The plasma gun uses a combination of nozzle-air pressure mechanisms to control the arc.

One example to understand the process is “Lightning”. The electrical charges emitted by lightning ionizes the gas present in the air. The conductive rays manifest in the form of light and electrical charge. The Plasma cutter as a tool is fairly portable, consisting of simple mechanical units that mimic a normal weld gun.

Parts of a Plasma Cutter

  1. Nozzle – Copper
  2. Electrode – Copper or Tungsten
  3. Electrode Insert – Hafnium (most preferred), Tungsten (highly reacts with oxygen)
  4. Gas Baffle (Swirl Baffle)
  5. Retaining Cap
  6. Swirl Ring
  7. Shield Caps

The copper or alloy nozzle constricts the ionized gas stream. The electrode connected to the power supply ionizes the gas thereby producing an arc. The tungsten or hafnium electrode insert protects the copper electrode from burning. The assembly differs into two main types depending on its application. 

Conventional Plasma Cutters

Conventional Plasma cutters use atmospheric air instead of gas. It finds application in metal cutting requiring less precision and cutting quality. The shape of the nozzle plays an important role in maneuvering the plasma arc.

Precision Plasma Cutting Method

Precision plasma cutters use high current density for a superior quality metal cut. The assembly in a few cases comprises extra accessories for desired results. The selection of gases ranges from purified atmospheric air, oxygen, argon, hydrogen. Some processes use a mixture of these gases according to metal’s electrical conductivity.

The nozzle mechanism determines the quality of the cut. The basic machine set-up is standard for all plasma cutters. More advanced operations integrate the plasma cutter to a CNC machine.

Setting up the Plasma Machine.

The set-up comprises a plasma power source, gas control unit, torch control. It includes CNC and software/hardware interpreters in advanced machines. The precision and cut quality depend more on extra tools and their integration. Using advanced high-precision plasma machines alone does not guarantee the desired results. The emphasis is more on the integration and choice of extra tools.

Plasma cutters are easy to handle and need proper maintenance for a good flow of compressed air. The mobility of the machine often depends on voltage outage. Plasma cutters with 110v ratings are portable, can fit normal power source outlets.

The selection of plasma cutters depends on the material thickness and production. High material thickness and production volumes need plasma cutters with higher voltage.

Start by setting up the air compressor flow and connect the machine to a suitable power source. The travel speed depends on the thickness of the material. Slower movement is suitable for thick materials to aid deep cut. Materials with high thickness will need plasma cutters 220v and above.

Using Plasma Cutter -Application and  Best Practices.

 We discussed the science behind plasma cutting and its related tools. The best way to use the cutting unit is to use compatible tools and ambiance. Let’s see how the plasma cutter is used in different working conditions. 

Application in Workshop

Plasma cutters can exploit the working conditions in shops or workshops. This is an ideal condition for undertaking fabrication projects requiring repeated cutting maneuvers.  Integration with the CNC machine can open a whole new realm of fabrication realities.

Conventional Application

The plasma cutting process brings an interesting perspective to interior designing and household uses.

  • Maintenance and Service 

High Temperatures and Shock cause wear in the machine leading to material deformation. This can obstruct the operation in the long run. Plasma cutters help to chip and reshape deformed materials. Metal operations/maintenance using plasma cutters have increased in recent years. They are fast and energy-efficient alternatives to traditional metal cutting methods. 

  • Material Art and Display

Metal designing finds application in metal art needing a perfect metal finish. Plasma cutters can give the desired metal architecture with ease requiring less skill. It has since become popular in mainstream art engineering.

  • Apartment and Home Renovation

Plasma cutter offers mobility making its application scalable to indoor and domestic uses. It has replaced complicated older cutting equipment. It leaves less residue during operation requiring less postoperative maintenance.

Field Use

The fabrication workload may involve challenging circumstances in the field use. The safest bet is a machine with a flexible mechanism for power source and air supply. Investing in alternate power sources like generators can make your work more diverse.

Operating the Plasma Cutter Machine 

You have an idea by now on operations and different applications of plasma cutting. Let’s move to the most important part; To operate the plasma cutter machine.

  1. Assemble the main unit and the accessories in place that provides good ergonomics.
  2. Check the working condition of the air supply system and pressure using a gauge. Accumulation and compression of air is a very important prerequisite.
  3. Calibrate the suitable air pressure, electrical outage, the elevation of the base metal. Refer to the manual in any uncertainties.
  4. The air pressure will vary according to the working/idle condition of the plasma cutter.

Power and Tool Adjustment. 

Begin by turning the compressor On and subsequently check the airflow pressure. Calibrate the amperage of the unit by checking the rating.

  • Power

    The thickness determines the magnitude of the ampere. Machines with a lower amperage rating can cut thinner base metals.
  • Plasma  Arc

The torch comes with safety features that remain in idle mode if the assembly is incomplete. The plasma arc poses a serious threat to workplace safety. As it can intrude on anything that conducts electricity. The second important feature is arresting unintended ignition using a separate trigger-guard arrangement. Releasing the trigger-guard in the opposite direction unlocks trigger action.

Plasma Cutting Operation

  • The next step is to put techniques into practice after the amp calibration is in place. The immediate step is your safety and protecting the machine from exposure of charge. Look for cords or avoid places that may arrest your free movement.
  • Calibrate the design and maneuvering mechanism as per the design. Magnetic guides improve arc or curved metal cuts.
  • Keep in mind that small swirling motions accompany travel speed. This can reduce the heat flow inside the plasma gun. Start by aligning the torch over the work-piece at 90 degrees. Move the trigger guard before pressing the trigger. Press the trigger and move along the design outlines of the work-piece.
  • You should notice the plasma cutting the metal as you maintain the travel speed. Optimum Travel speed can avoid an unusual accumulation of sparks and dross.
  • Slower travel speed causes uneven cuts making room for a faulty finish product. Right travel speed ensures residues falling either on particle bed or workplace floor.
  • Crest and trough can be filed to achieve the desired metal cut finish. Placing the torch at a perfect angle is the key to a clean metal cut.

Extra tools for Plasma Cutter.

Adding tools makes a huge difference in the fabrication process. The assembly provides an economic alternative to automation and CNC.

Fume control mechanism

Field use or bulk fabrication projects may involve smoke or fumes. Downdraft or water table fume can control fumes. The control system must be effective in capturing particles of all sizes. They come in two different types;

  1. Water Table

The water table control uses water both as a coolant and to attract the particles. The base metal mounts over the water table allowing the bed to arrest particles. The water table acts as a coolant, besides, so preferred in some processes.

  1. Downdraft Table

The Downdraft table uses a power air control mechanism to drive off the particles through a duct. This method is effective in metal cutting operations generating large particles.

Mechanical tools

The Integration of different mechanical components is based on production size. The industrial set-up has precise and heavy-duty peripherals with robust mechanisms. Peripherals are a good economic investment in entry-level metal cutting operations.

Stepper motors offer an easy alternative in operations involving lightweight machines. They can give precise and repetitive movements that can increase production volume. Servo motors are used in advanced cutting processes. It requires software back-end and coding skills.

Plasma cutting table 

A cutting table locks the base material avoiding splinters from falling on the floor. Ensuring a rigid and ergonomic cutting table optimizes the workplace for better productivity.

Magnetic guide

Let’s accept that metal cutting maneuvers around curves can be challenging. Cutting the metal with precision and reduction of waste is crucial. Magnetic guides help maneuver the torch as per the design. This makes dealing with complicated curves and arcs easier.

Safety and Important Guidelines

The plasma torch is highly reactive threatening you and others surrounding your workstation. Besides, protecting machines, gears, wires, and inflammable sources is also of utmost importance. Plasma cutting can create chaotic workplace scenarios with particles and fumes formation. Following standard safety and procedures help reduce the threat.

  • Industry Standard Safety Gears offers thermal resistance. Note the tolerance level of different gears as they may vary. Non-flammable welding aprons and helmets can give protection from heat and shock.
  • You may see splinters, thin metal chips, fumes, sparks coming from the material fusing area. Wearing good eye protection can protect against the intrusion of particles.
  • Electrocution can cause serious health consequences. Grounding the machine in the best possible way to avoid electrocution. Avoid electrocution by standing on rubber or insulated platforms when operating heavy-duty machines.
  • Proper ventilation in the workplace maintains a conducive ambiance. The fumes and gas are unsafe for the human respiratory system. Ensuring proper ventilation in the workplace can avoid the accumulation of fumes.

 Read More: 10 Best Plasma Cutters: Complete Buying Guide and Review 2021

Concluding Thoughts

I hope this guide helped you in your metal engineering and fabrication endeavors. There’s always excitement surrounding a new tool. This guide is a small attempt in understanding plasma cutting technology. It has an amazing scope in metal fabrication saving a lot of time and resources. I hope you enjoyed reading this guide, best wishes for your endeavors, and thanks for reading.

Read More: Get familiar with how to use a CNC Plasma Cutter