How to Use a Plasma Cutter – Beginner Plasma Cutting Guide

If you are reading this article, that means you are doing an inquiry about a plasma cutting tool. So, what brings you here? Are you thinking of having a tool for occasional repair and maintenance work or going to start a new project where a lot of cutting is a must? Or you just want to upgrade your current mechanical cutting saw?

All these reasons can bring you up here to read this article. No matter what the reason is, you have made a great decision to choose this tool. Plasma cutter is a great invention of modern science which is helping people to cut through a variety of electrically conductive materials like stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, etc. according to their needs. After reading this whole article, you will have a clear idea about using a plasma cutter.

Using a Plasma Cutter 

Plasma cutter is a very versatile tool which makes your task easier and provides you with a high-quality cut with a professional finish within a very short time. If you are a beginner and want to know how to use a plasma cutter, then you have come to the right place.

In this article, I am going to discuss the ins and outs about the plasma cutter and the ways to use it properly and safely.

Know Your Tool First

Before you start using a tool or learn how to use that tool, it is very important to know about the tool properly first. Let’s have an introduction session with this amazing tool:

What is Plasma Cutter

Plasma cutting is an improved cutting technique by which you can cut through any conductive metal. Metals like steel, aluminum, brass, titanium, copper, etc can be cut very easily with this technique. No matter how thick or thin they are, you can cut them without facing any kind of complications.

The tool that people usually use to perform a plasma cutting is commonly known as a plasma cutter. You can do plasma cutting using your hands just with the help of a hand-held plasma torch which is also known as plasma arcs, plasma guns or plasma cutters. This cutter allows you to cut any materials very easily. This machine contains a torch that will help you to have a precise cut within a limited time period. You will find various types of plasma cutters in the market depending on the thickness and material you want to cut.

As the plasma cutter is very much cheap, plasma cutting is much lower in cost than other metal cutting processes such as laser cutting and water jet cutting. Most importantly it is famous because it is a handheld operation.

Components of a Typical Plasma Cutter

Like all other tools, there are also some components of this tool. Let’s have a look at the technical components of a plasma cutter:

  • Power supply 

A single or three-phase AC line voltage is properly converted into a smooth, constant DC voltage ranging from 200 to 400VDC by the plasma power supply converter. This DC voltage maintains the plasma arc throughout the cut. It also regulates the current output which is usually required depending on the material type and thickness.

  • Arc ​Starting Console

The ASC circuit produces approximately 5,000 VAC of AC voltage at 2 MHz which produces the spark inside the plasma torch to create the plasma arc.

  • Plasma Torch

This is one of the most important components of a plasma cutter. The plasma torch provides proper alignment and cooling of the consumables. The main consumable parts which are usually required for plasma arc generation are the electrode, swirl ring, and nozzle. An additional shielding cap is also sometimes used to improve cut quality. All these parts are held together by inner and outer retaining caps.

How Does Plasma Cutter Work?

Plasma cutter works by passing a very fast jet of hot plasma through metals to cut through it. An electric arc passes through gas like nitrogen or oxygen to make the plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter. Then this plasma is usually forced through a small opening like a nozzle. It comes out at a super-fast speed to cut through conductive metals. Plasma cutters are safer and easier than cutting metals with a saw.

What Kind of Works Plasma Cutter is Mainly Used for?

Plasma cutter is mainly used in metal fabrication projects. Generally, you will see a plasma cutter in construction sites and salvage yards. Some metal fabrication shops use this tool for cutting metals in a proper way. Designers and artists also use this tool for signage and sculpture purposes. Some interior designers also use this for designing purposes. You will see it is mostly used in garages.

Safety Hazards You Should Be Aware of

You need to be aware of some safety hazards that may lead to some serious injuries. These are some of the important hazards that you should be aware of:

Eye Damage

Protecting your eye is very important. You can buy a plasma helmet for you. A full shielded helmet will be a better option than a goggle because when your face is hit by the metal sparks, that won’t be a good feeling either. When you are not working, you will be able to flip the helmet up. So, that will not become very annoying.

Sparks and pieces of metal can permanently damage your eyes. So, never neglect this factor. It is also necessary for the people around you to wear eye protection if they are looking at your work.

Flammable Items around Your Cutting Area

It is a great alarming matter. If you are working in a garage with a plasma cutter, just look around you. You will see many flammable items around you like brake cleaner, oil, gas, carb cleaner, spare rags, etc. Sparks that produce from your cut can light up those materials and the total workplace can be easily blown up in just a few seconds.

So, be careful about this matter and make your workplace clean by shifting those materials in a safe distance where sparks cannot reach them. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your workplace in case of an accident.

Dropping Piece of Metal

Dropping pieces of metal can sometimes be very dangerous. Before starting your cut, make sure that the piece of metal will fall at a place that will not cause any damage after you cut it. Make sure it doesn’t fall on your legs, feet or on the plasma torch line.

Handling Metal after It’s Cut

Many beginners and also experts make this mistake of holding the metal just after cutting it. The metal remains so hot after it is immediately cut that it can even burn your gloves too. Give the metal some time to get cool and after that, you can hold it. But if you need to pick it up, then use a vice-grip to do the job.

Safety Equipment You Need to Use a Plasma Cutter

When you are using a plasma cutter and you are not using it properly and without any safety equipment, it can cause you very serious injury. But you don’t need to think much about that or worry about it. With proper safety gear and safety rules, a plasma cutter is a safe tool you can use.

Here is some of the safety equipment you need to use while operating a plasma cutter:

  • To protect your eye and face, you can use a plasma helmet.

  • A welding beanie can protect your hair from sparks.

  • Wear a welding jacket to protect your arms and torso.

  • Welding gloves will protect your hands from any kind of damage.

  • Though a set of jeans will protect your legs, still using welding leathers to cover your legs is also a great idea.

  • To protect your feet from sparks and dropping a piece of metal, you can use laced and tied boots.

  • Always keep a fire extinguisher in your workplace.

When you are cutting metal with a plasma cutter, most of the sparks and molten metal will be shooting towards the floor. But when you start your cut, there is a chance of flying the metal upwards until the plasma has completely pierced through the metal. It is always called “blowback”. This thing happens while cutting a thick metal and lasts for a few seconds only. But in those seconds the sparks can cause burns through your clothes and head. That is one important reason why safety is a must. So, it is a must for you to take safety steps considering those factors before you start working using a plasma cutter.

I will recommend you to use steel boots if you cut heavy metal. Always stay out of the way from the place where metal will fall after the cut. It is necessary to prevent burns and any kind of injury.

I know some of you are smiling at me and thinking you don’t need all this equipment and only a pair of gloves and a helmet will be enough for you. To be honest, I was also thinking like you when I was trying it for the first time. But when the dripping hot steel fell on my regular shoes and burning my foot, I came to realize the importance of safety gears. Your life is much more worthy than the money you should spend on these gears. So never hesitate to buy and use them. Another thing you must keep in your mind is, never work without proper eye protection.

Equipment You Need in Your Workshop to Run a Plasma Cutter

You need a few supporting types of equipment to run a plasma cutter in your workshop. Do you want to know about them? Here I go.

The Correct Power Hookup for the Machine

The correct power hooks up depend on your machine. It can be either 110v or 220v. When you are using 220v, make sure the plug of your machine matches the outlet you have.

Air Compressor

The most important thing for your plasma cutter is the air compressor. Very high pressure continuous air pressure is a must to make cuts. You should have a proper size of compressor that matches your needs. If you have a small compressor, you may have to wait between your cuts to refill it.

Moisture Filter

Moisture filter makes sure that clean and dry air is successfully sent to the plasma from the compressor. I will highly recommend you to use this device because it will increase the life of your machine.

Grinder or Wire Wheel

If your cutting material has painted over it, grind down the surface around the cutting area to expose the metal. If you cut over the paint, it can sometimes catch fire and can be very dangerous. 

How to Cut with a Plasma Cutter

When you know properly about the cutter and also you have the proper equipment and even if you have already taken necessary safety precautions, it is very easy for you to cut with a plasma cutter. Below, I will describe the process in some simple steps:

  • At first, turn on the air compressor to start building air pressure.

  • Now open the windows of your shop for a proper air ventilation system.     
  • Then clean your surrounding area and make sure there is no fire hazard coming between your working zones.

  • Next, get your metal positioned in a vice, on sawhorses, or clamped to a table to make it steady.

  • Check to make sure the cut metal will not hit you or your plasma cord when it drops after cutting.

  • After that, clean the selected cut area with a wire wheel or grinder to make the metal visible.

  • Then draw your cut line with either metal chalk or any other marking device on the metal. If it is a straight line, you can also use a scale.

  • Hook the ground clamp of the plasma cutter to the metal that will stay stationary once the cut is properly completed.

  • Put on your safety equipment as I mentioned above.

  • Plug in your plasma cutter and plug in your air hose properly.

  • Double check that your machine is receiving both the power and the air in an uninterrupted way.

  • Line up your body to the piece of metal so that you stay far from the sparks. Have a clear view of your cut and be aware of the piece of metal falling once you cut them.

  • Double check that you can move the plasma torch through the full range of motion of your cut. And you can do that without having to reposition mid cut.

  • Now, flip down your plasma hood.

  • Position your plasma torch slightly backward to the piece of metal to prevent blowback. (this will not be possible if you start a cut in the middle of a piece of metal)

  • Press the button or switch on your torch. Now, start the cut using a slow smooth range of motion.

  • Continue the cut until you hear the sound of metal hitting the floor.

  • Let the metal cool before you pick it up from the ground. If it is necessary to pick up right then, you can try using some hook to catch it.

Final Thought

Plasma cutter is such a machine that people are randomly using for cutting different types of metals. Even nowadays people are comparing this handy tool with a good welder. As it is a very useful machine for various kinds of metal cutting works, once you start using this cutter properly, you will never think of any other alternatives. Whether you have a workshop or a garage or you want to use them in your home, it is always a great option for you to use. But never forget to ensure safety, because safety is always the most important thing. So, always follow safety tips and never forget to wear safety gears while operating the machine.

Leave a Comment: