How to Use a Plasma Cutter

welder setting up plasma cutter

Welding Buddy Experts

April 6, 2021
plasma cutter

Learning a new skill entails familiarizing yourself with brand new tools and techniques. It requires hours of practice, watching video tutorials online, attending workshops hosted by skilled artisans—information overload. Work through it one step at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. A great way to start is not by grabbing the powerful machine right away but by reading up on (1) how it works and (2) how it is used. Soon, you’ll see yourself learning the craft and doing it with ease.

What is a plasma cutter?

Not everyone knows about the different tools you may use for crafting, welding, or building your dream house. Today, we’re shedding light on plasma cutters and how to use them. A plasma cutter works with different kinds of gas, from compressed air to argon or oxygen, to penetrate and cut through metal. 

Do you remember your science classes back in the day? Most of you would remember the three states of matter, but are you still familiar with the fourth state? That’s what we’re dealing with—plasma.

Plasma is different from gas since it contains the same number of negative and positive ions. When high heat is applied to the gas and transforms into plasma, it gains a unique capability powerful enough to melt and cut through metal. When plasma is directed towards a piece of metal at a very high speed, the electrons in the plasma collide with the base metal.

How do you set up the machine?

What’s great about a plasma cutter is that, even though it’s such a powerful tool with a great many applications, it’s as straightforward as a machine can get. Even when you use the basic handheld model, you can easily use the torch and electric and gas inputs. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that every plasma cutter needs a steady supply of dry air. Although the majority of the machines use filters to remove any dust particles or impurities from the air feed, other machines do not. Your plasma cutter, for one, requires a good compressor.

A plasma cutter runs on either 110v or 220v. Both are great choices for hobbyists who are just starting out with the craft. The 110v plasma cutter has excellent portability, making it ideal for mobile workers. However, since it only runs on 110v, there might be limitations on the thickness of the metal that you’ll be cutting.

When you finish setting up the air and plugging in the machine, you’re ready to use your plasma cutter. Just make sure that you mark the metal before you start cutting. This is to guarantee that you’re only feeding the machine what it can handle. Other machines that use 220v can cut at least ⅜” thick of metal.

Another big thing that you need to remember is cutting speed. It’s crucial to know that when the metal you want to cut is thick, the slower your cutting speed needs to be. When you move through the metal too quickly, you may not carry out your desired results.


Similar to welding, plasma cutters also need replacements to their consumables from time to time. The main thing you need to prepare to replace would be the tip of the plasma cutter.

Some of the well-known plasma cutter brands house their own supply of tips and other components that are only compatible with their products. Meanwhile, others use generic components that you can avail of at a more affordable price.

How to use a plasma cutter?

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what a plasma cutter is, it’s time to learn how to operate the machine to fit your needs.

Step 1: Choose an appropriate workplace

When you plan on cutting through metal with a plasma cutter, make sure that you do this at a suitable workspace that’s safe and wide enough to avoid any welding accidents.

Make sure that you have a balanced and sturdy table in a spacious workshop. Ensure that your workspace also has enough air circulation and remove any flammable materials in the immediate vicinity.

Step 2: Ensure the use of safety gear and equipment

Before you cut any metal or turn on your plasma cutter, make sure that you follow the safety rules and regulations to ensure no harm comes to you.

Follow these instructions to minimize the risk of accidents:

  • Wear a welding helmet to protect your head from the usual welding dangers.
  • Tie your hair up or put it in a bun to avoid catching fire.
  • Wear a welding jacket to keep your body and arms safe.
  • Use heat-resistant gloves and an apron.
  • Protect your legs by wearing work pants or jeans.
  • Wear durable work boots to keep you safe from metal drops.
  • Put a fire extinguisher in your workplace for fire prevention.
  • Make sure to keep your workpiece secure.
  • Safely mark the metal where you need to cut with a metal chalk or any appropriate marking tools.
  • Wear two earplugs and a respirator.

Step 3: Set up your plasma cutter

Depending on the machine you’ll be using, you’ll need to adjust the amperage, which is also relative to your cutting speed. For 18-gauge sheet metal, the ideal current is 25 amps. Bear in mind that the thicker the metal, the higher the amperage you’ll need.

Step 4: Operating your plasma cutter and start cutting

  • Start by plugging in the plasma cutter and the air pipe. Turn on your air compressor and remove the safety trigger lock to activate the plasma cutter. Then pull the trigger on the machine.
  • Keep your distance from the sparks. Choose a position that lets you clearly observe and see what you’re doing. Keep your distance from possible debris that will fall.
  • Provide ample space in case you need to move around the plasma cutter.
  • Move the plasma cutter at an even distance and don’t hasten the process. Ensure that you penetrate the metal down to the bottom
  • If you don’t see sparks drop, either your arc power is lacking, or you move the torch too swiftly.
  • Direct the plasma torch towards the edge of the metal to finish cutting it off. Make sure to wait a minimum of two seconds before you remove your hand from the trigger. Doing so ensures that you thoroughly cut through it.
  • Cool the metal before picking it up from the ground. Remember that the smaller the metal piece, the hotter its temperature will be.

Where do you use plasma cutters?

  • Apartment renovations
  • Art installations
  • Maintenance
  • Business use

What are the accessories of a plasma cutter?

  • Plasma cutting table
  • Magnetic guide
  • Circle kit

Final word

If you plan on pursuing a career in plasma cutting, such as metal fabrication, automotive repairs, and art installations, investing in a plasma cutter would certainly do you a great deal.

Different kinds of plasma cutters are available in the market. You can find great ones that come with their own set of components for only $800 and below. Thorough research and practice go a long way, so what are you waiting for? Invest in your own plasma cutter now!

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