While some welders choose the traditional cutting torch for their metal welding jobs, others prefer using the plasma cutters. Now, a common question arises: Is a plasma cutter better than a torch? In other words, plasma cutter vs cutting torch – which one is more efficient?
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Many steelworkers ask this, but there is no one straightforward answer here, as their efficiency depends on the thickness of the metals you’re cutting. So read on as we explore more.
A Plasma Cutter
Plasma cutters work by using high-pressure gas and electricity to cut through metals like steel, stainless steel, brass, copper, and aluminum.
The plasma cutting process creates electrically ionized gas via the nozzle. This works in parallel with the plasma arc in creating plasma gas, which elevates the required temperature for metal cuts.
As with other metal cutting tools, the higher energy created, the hotter the arc will become. Hence, it provides higher cutting efficiency for your tasks.
A Cutting Torch
As the name implies, the cutting torch method involves the use of a torch to heat metal. Once it reaches a required temperature, oxygen is then streamed to the heated areas using a trigger. When oxygen comes in contact with the metals, it produces more heat to form your cuts.
Plasma Cutter vs Cutting Torch: Advantages & Disadvantages
Each cutting method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Below is more information to help you decide which suits your needs better.
1. How it works
How does a plasma cutter work? By using a torch equipped with a nozzle inside, a plasma cutter works by creating a plasma arc. It will then come in contact with a power supply to form a plasma jet that can reach a temperature of 40,000°F.
This jet pierces through materials like aluminum, cast iron, or stainless steel into different customized shapes and designs.
How does a cutting torch work? A cutting torch entails a mixture of fuel gas and oxygen to pre-heat metals to a certain temperature. This continuous process results in the formation of iron oxide to produce cuts as the torch moves.
There are different nozzles to choose from, allowing you to customize the speed of your cuts. Since the method uses oxygen and fuel gas, it is also called oxy-fuel cutting.
2. How thick it cuts?
How thick can a plasma cutter cut? Plasma cutting is ideal for shaped metals like channels or tubes of a thickness from 1/4’’ to 1’’. They’re not made for thick metals, which is one of the biggest disadvantages of plasma cutting.
Still, some plasma cutters with higher ampere outputs can cut materials of 2 inches.
How thick can a cutting torch cut? If you need to cut metals thicker than 1 inch, a cutting torch tends to be a better choice than a plasma cutter. It can cut materials of 6-12 inches. Some models can cut plate thicknesses of up to 20 inches.
Plasma cutter: A plasma cutter is ideal for metalworks related to industrial construction, plumbing tasks, automobile repair, installation projects, recycling work, and metal fabrication jobs.
Cutting torch: While plasma cutting is mostly used for cutting and gouging, the oxy-fuel cutting method allows for a more versatile application. It provides a widespread application in cutting, gouging, heating, brazing, and welding. Therefore, these tools are popular among construction, stone, and automobile workers.
Plasma cutter: There are two common types of plasma cutting torch, based on their starting method: Contact Start and HF (High Frequency).
The ones with HF systems use HF frequency circuits to create ignition for the pilot arc. HF torches do not use any moving parts; thus, they are fairly dependable and can also provide high welding seam quality in applications of TIG. Better still, they can be re-ignited immediately, making them convenient to use.
Those with Contact Start come with a nozzle (or a moving electrode) inside the torch. Once users activate the DC power in the torch, a short circuit will spark to light the pilot arc up.
These plasma cutters are usually safer than those operated with HF as they can hardly cause fire hazards or injuries to the welders.
Cutting torch: Oxy-fuel cutting comes in two basic designs:
- Injector models mix preheat gas in their body or head, allowing high-pressure oxygen to pull gas in for cutting and welding.
- Nozzle mix torch models are, true to their names, mix preheat gas and oxygen in the nozzle.
The former is more versatile than the latter, ensuring an interrupted use when there is low pressure.
5. Gas requirements
Plasma cutters: To achieve the desired quality, users need to have different combinations of gases. The below mixtures will provide unsurpassed cut quality and economical operations:
- Mild Steel: Carbon Dioxide + Nitrogen, Air + Oxygen, Air + Nitrogen.
- Stainless steel and Aluminium: Air + Nitrogen, Nitrogen + Hydrogen + Argon, Carbon Dioxide + Nitrogen, Air + Air
Cutting torch: The five most common types of gas for cutting torch are:
- Acetylene: produces the highest temperature while minimizing the heat-affected zones. It allows for a strict focus of flame for multiple cuts at high speed.
- Propane: creates low temperature for cuts that require smooth edges.
- MAPP (a combination of propadiene & methylacetylene): is made for underwater cutting.
- Propylene: has the flame quality of propylene and the healing power of propane, but it produces hotter burns than propane.
- Natural gas: offers the lowest temperature, which means it is only suitable for slow piercing operations.
A plasma cutter is a bigger investment as it costs around $1,500 to $3,500, while an oxy-fuel cutting torch will cost around $250 to $900.
To make it easier for you to consider the strengths and weaknesses of oxy-fuel torch vs plasma cutting, I’ve put together a list of their pros and cons here:
Requires compressed air
Requires oxygen & fuel gas
Produce precise cuts on non-ferrous metals
Fastest grate cutting capability
Need least consumable costs
Cutting capabilities on non-ferrous metals
Gouging capabilities on non-ferrous metals
Requires no pre-heating
Heats for metal shaping
Can cut thin metals with minimized distortion
Cutting capacities on thick steels
Can cut cast iron
Produces the narrowest kerf
Produces least slag
Require low up-front cost
Wrap it up: Is a plasma cutter better than a cutting torch?
So, Plasma Cutter Vs Cutting Torch, which one works better? It depends on the metals you need to cut and their thickness. If you need to cut thick materials, then a cutting torch would be a better choice. However, if you need to have precise cuts on stainless steel or aluminum, a plasma cutter would suit your needs more.