How to Use A Plasma Cutter - A Beginners Guide
Last updated ago
9 min read
By 
Welding Buddy Experts
Published 
February 24, 2021

How to Use A Plasma Cutter - A Beginners Guide

Last updated ago
9 min read
By 
Welding Buddy Experts
Published 
February 24, 2021
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If you have ever wanted a cutter that will improve your productivity, then use the plasma cutter. It’s super easy and convenient to use that fabricators, contractors, maintenance personnel, and artists rave about it. But, how does it work for a beginner like you? Luckily, we’ve created a small guide on how to use a plasma cutter. 

Metalworking can be pretty overwhelming, especially for a beginner. There are tons of principles, tools, and machines you need to learn to become a master. And we know you don’t want to make a mistake. The best solution is for you to learn one small thing each day. That way you can pick up a good amount of tips and practices along the way. 

Our goal is for you to learn how to operate a plasma cutting machine. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of this machine. We’ll teach you how to run a plasma cutter, so you’ll feel confident to use one on your own. 

In this article we will cover the following:

  • What exactly is a plasma cutter?
  • How much do you need to spend on a machine?
  • Commonly asked questions on the plasma cutter
  • Components of a plasma cutter
  • Benefits and uses of a plasma cutter
  • Safety equipment and safety hazards
  • How to operate a plasma cutter?

Plasma cutting was developed at the end of the 1950s for cutting high-alloy steels and aluminum. Over time, it has been used by many people and industries to create beautiful and smooth cuts. Hence, a plasma cutter is a great tool to have. If you aren’t using it yet, then you should. 

What Is a Plasma Cutter?

Before we talk about a plasma cutter, we need to answer the most important question “What is plasma?” By answering the science behind it, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the machine. It can also help you know which objects it should be used on. So, what is plasma?

Plasma is the fourth state of matter. The other three states of matter are solid, liquid, and gas. Matter changes through the introduction of heat. For example, a solid object such as ice can turn into water when the heat is applied. It will change again from liquid to gas (steam) when the heat levels increase. Now, when the heat levels increase again, the steam becomes electrically conductive, becoming plasma. 

A plasma cutter uses this electrically conductive gas to transfer energy from the power supply to any conductive material. When the electrons in the plasma are used at  high speed, the plasma melts the metal to form a cut. Hence, a plasma cutter results in a faster and cleaner cutting process.

For a more detailed discussion of how it works, the plasma arc is formed when gas is heated at a very high temperature. The plasma arc torch uses a swirl ring to spin the gas around an electrode. The gas is then heated in a chamber to be formed into a plasma. The plasma continues to expand in volume and pressure. It moves towards a small, narrow opening in the tip of the torch and cuts through metals. 

How Much Do You Need to Spend for a Plasma Cutter?

You may think that paying for a popular brand of machine translates to great performance, durability, and cut quality. But, there are some cheap machines that can do impressive cuts on thick materials. So, the big question you should ask is how will it function until one of it’s each components breaks?  Ultimately, it’s up to you if you wish to pay for a professional-grade machine or choose an inexpensive alternative. 

Do I Need a Plasma Cutter With a Built-in Air Compressor?

Some plasma cutters are made with built-in compressors to help supply the machine with air while you cut. These machines are best for users who want a mobile machine, so they can cut wherever they are without the need for an air compressor. However, these machines are a lot more expensive than a normal one. It is best that you pick a plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor if you really need one. Otherwise, you’ll be spending more money than you normally would for convenience. 

What Does Pilot Arc Mean? Do I Need It?

A pilot arc means you can cut metal without touching the tip of the torch. When you are using a pilot arc machine you will hold the tip of the torch a few centimetres from the metal. This makes it easier and smoother to cut metal. Plus, it increases the life of the consumables in your torch.

If you use a non-pilot arc machine, the tip of the torch needs to touch the metal in order to make a cut. It can affect your consumables and cost you more in the long run. So, it is best to invest in a Pilot Arc machine if you can. 

What Are Consumables? How Often Will I Have to Replace Them?

Consumables are parts of your plasma cutter’s torch that will wear out over time. These consumables are the shields, deflectors, retaining caps, nozzles, electrodes, and swirl rings. These components have their own life span which can depend on how you use your machine. 

Luckily, you can buy a consumable kit with all parts inside. Once a consumable part is worn out, you can easily replace it. Usually, these kits cost around $125. 

Components of a Plasma Cutter

Now that you know more about plasma cutters, it’s time for you to understand the different parts of it. The plasma cutter is a simple, portable, and easy to use machine. A basic handheld plasma cutter has the power supply, arc starting console, and plasma torch. 

  • Power supply -- The power supply helps in converting an AC line voltage into a DC voltage. The DC voltage maintains the plasma arc throughout the cut.  
  • Arc Starting Console – It helps produce the AC voltage which produces the spark inside of the plasma torch to create the plasma arc.
  • Plasma torch – It provides proper alignment and cooling of the consumables parts. The consumable parts are the parts you need to change from time to time. Examples of these parts are tip, swirl ring, nozzle, and electrode. 

The plasma cutter is pretty simple. Try to pick a plasma cutter that runs on 110v or 220v. A 110v can cut metal but it is limited to the thinner metals. So, purchase a machine that works for you. 

Benefits and Uses of Plasma Cutter

A plasma cutter can help you efficiently cut metals, lower the cost of cutting, and improve productivity. It’s super easy to use, the only hard part is selecting a machine that suits your needs. 

Since it’s super easy to use, you can use it for several types of work such as apartment renovations, art installations, and maintenance. For example, you come across a machine that needs a small repair. Simply use a plasma cutter to cut odd shapes or small pieces. So, if you are asking how to use a plasma cutter for art, keep reading. 

What Safety Equipment Do I Need to Use a Plasma Cutter?

When it comes to working with a plasma cutter, you need to know that it can be dangerous, so you must have the proper safety equipment to avoid any serious injuries. 

Here is some safety gear we recommend: 

  • Plasma helmet for eye and face protection
  • Welding jacket to protect your arms and torso
  • Welding gloves to protect your hands
  • Welding beanie to protect your hair from sparks
  • Set of jeans to protect your legs 
  • Laced and tied boots to protect your feet from both sparks and dropping pieces of metal 
  • Fire extinguisher

These safety gears will protect you from sparks and molten metal. Usually, when you first start cutting metal, there is a chance it will spray backwards. This is called the blowback. When blowback occurs, the sparks from the metal can burn through your clothes and skin. So, you need to wear safety gear. 

What Safety Hazards Should I Be Aware Of?

One of the safety hazards you should be aware of are the metal sparks that can fly in your face. You need to get yourself a good plasma helmet with goggles. These machines can do some serious damage to your eyes, so you NEED that helmet. 

Another thing you need to be aware of is the flammable liquids in your area. If you work in an area where you store brake cleaner, oil, gas, etc. know that these things are highly flammable and dangerous. Continuous sparks will light these substances on fire. So, make sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby and clean your area from any flammable liquids. 

Whenever you cut metals, don’t let heavy pieces hit your legs. Many people forget that after you cut metal it’s extremely hot. So, use gloves and watch where it might fall. 

Safety is important when welding. Additionally, you have to know the right equipment when running a plasma cutter. We’ll discuss it in detail below. 

What Equipment Do I Need in My Shop to Run My Plasma Cutter?

If you have been asking what equipment you need to run a plasma cutter, don’t worry because we have you covered. These are the necessary parts and tools you need:

  • Outlet

You need the outlet for your machine. It can be 110v or 220v depending on your machine. Also, make sure that the plug on the machine matches with the outlet especially if you are running 220v. 

  • Air compressor

An air compressor is a device that uses power to convert it into energy and store it in compressed air. This air helps the plasma cutter make smooth and easy cuts.  

  • Moisture Filter

A moisture filter helps make sure that clean dry air is sent to the plasma from their compressor. You can purchase this for only $50. Moreover, it helps you increase the life of your machine. 

How to Use a Plasma Cutter?

Before you start using your plasma cutter, make sure everything is ready to go. For example, if your machine needs external air then hook up the line now. If the machine needs to use its own air, then plug it in a power supply. Also, your machine might need a specific air pressure for optimal cutting, so be sure to check the manual. 

Open the windows in your shop to help ventilate air. Don’t forget to clean the surrounding area and remove any inflammable liquids. Turn on your air compressor and start building air pressure. 

Clamp the metal you are about to cut to a stable surface or table. Make sure the metal will not hit you when it drops. Clean the selected cut area and draw your cut line using metal chalk. Put on your safety equipment. 

The next step is to plug in your plasma cutter and air hose. Once your machine has power, adjust it according to your needs. For the amperage, adjust according to the type of material you are about to cut. The rule is, the thicker the material the higher the amps. The second part you need to check is the torch.

The torch contains a built-in safety feature which is the trigger guard. The torch won’t work if it is missing a piece or it wasn’t properly assembled. The trigger guard helps you in properly aligning the material that you need to cut. 

Once you have your plasma cutter ready and powered up, it’s time to start cutting. Put on your gear and line up your body to the piece of metal so that you are furthest from the sparks. Make sure you can still clearly see the chalked cut line. 

Then, press the switch on your torch so you can start cutting. Continue to make the cut until the metal hits the floor. If there are a few areas that didn’t cut through, use a hammer and lightly tap it to break it and allow it to fall to the ground. Last is to pick up the metal on the ground, but pick it once it cools. 

How to Use Other Plasma Cutters?

If you are asking how to use a miller spectrum 875 plasma cutter, how to use a miller plasma cutter, or how to use a CNC plasma cutter, then you’ll be happy to know that it’s the same with any other plasma cutters. The miller plasma cutter offers one of the best cutting power in a small package. It only weighs 21lbs! Moreover, it is one of the industry's most portable and powerful 60-amp plasma cutters that offer 7/8" mild steel cutting.

The CNC plasma cutter type is one of the most expensive plasma cutters available in the market. It’s the same as any other plasma cutters. The difference is it is run by an attached computer. Hence, manufacturing companies and industries, tailoring and fabricating, production of goods, uses CNC plasma cutters. 

Conclusion

Using a plasma cutter is easy. As long as you don’t forget about the safety gear and precautions, then you’re good to go. The plasma cutter will help you save time and money. Plus, you get to create a smooth cut on metal that clients will be pleased with.

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