Plasma Cutting: A Beginner's Guide

Written by The Crew September 26, 2014

Plasma cutting is a way of cutting through metal quickly and easily. Plasma cutters are quickly becoming the go to machines for home hobbyists, weekend warriors and small shops that need to cut metal on a budget. One of the major reasons for this is the price for these machines has dropped so much in recent years, making them affordable to almost everyone. So, are you in need of a plasma cutter? Well, if you are looking to supplement [or replace] a mechanical saw, taking on new projects that require more metal cutting or just think you want a cool new toy; you might think about a plasma cutter!

How does a plasma cutter work?
Plasma cutting is a fairly simple process that doesn't require much training. The way it works is the machine connects to an air compressor, which allows it to push out a stream of ionized gas through a constricting tip [via a torch]. This pressurized, ionized gas is also known as plasma. When using a plasma cutter, the plasma creates electricity, which is then transferred from the torch to the material you are trying to cut. In fact, when using this process, you are not technically "cutting" the metal, but melting it via a very fine orifice.

How do I choose the best plasma cutter for my needs?
When purchasing a plasma cutter, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself first:

How thick is the metal I will be cutting?It is important to know what thickness of metal you plan on cutting. If you will only ever be cutting sheet metal, you won't need as many amps as if you are trying to cut one inch steel plate. You also need to look at how often you will be using the high end of your plasma cutters amperage range. Many machines are rated to cut up to one inch steel, but this is for a "severence cut", which means it will cut through the metal, but leave you with an ugly, unmanageable workpiece. Follow this link for more  information on choosing the correct amps for plasma cutting.

Are there any reviews online? Before purchasing a machine, do a search and see if has done a review on it. We test all sorts of machines and will tell you what we like and don't like about any given machine. If we haven't done a review on the machine, consider visiting the Welding Forum and asking if anyone else has used the machine you are considering. The forum can be a great place to find unbiased opinions on a variety of machines, including plasma cutters. You can also find information on what kind of compressors people are using to get the best results out of their machines.

How long do the consumables last and are they easily replaceable?PowerPlasma 50
Plasma cutters, like many welding and cutting machines use consumable parts and pieces. For example, the tips on a plasma cutter will not last forever. There are good cutting practices to make them last longer, but in almost all cases you will be replacing them at some point in the life of your plasma cutter. You want to find a machine that uses consumables that are easily replaceable and last for a good while before needing to buy more. Once again, the forum is a good place to find information on how well any given machines consumables will last. You can also look at the manufacturers website to see how their consumables are rated, but we find that these numbers are often overstated.

What comes with the machine? When comparing machines, always see what comes in the box. Many machines will show up at your door only for you to realize you need to make a trip to the hardware store to get the right fittings to be connected to your compressor. Another item you will need is a set of shaded safety glasses [for plasma cutting] or a welding helmet. Also, if your machine doesn't have a water seperator, it is a good idea to get one that does; this will also extend the life of your consumables. Most machines will not come with everything you need, however some will; such as the Mr. TIG series PowerPlasma 50.

This is a good guide to get you started on your search for a plasma cutter. For more information on plasma cutters, subscribe to TIG Time and be sure to register in the Forum!

To Mig or Tig or just Stick it!?!?!?

Written by Kevin Caron July 30, 2013

The Runner, a contemporary art sculpture by Kevin Caron, in progressWhile working on my new sculpture "The Runner" I ran into a problem. After fiting the top of the base in place and tacking it in place I was ready to do the finish welding. One section was done with no problems at all, but then everything went to worms!! Trying to MIG weld the outside joints was giving me nothing but porosity!  I turned off the evaporative cooler, thinking that might have been the problem, and tried again.

Same results.

Cleaned up the mess and closed the doors..... Same problem!!

Tried a different MIG welder - you have to eliminate the possibilities, right?  Same  results again!?!?!?

The Importance of Marketing

Written by Kevin Caron July 20, 2013

While I am busy having fun in my studio creating my work, my business manager is busy keeping my name and my work in the public eye. From keeping the website fresh with new content and adding my videos on YouTube every week, she makes sure the search engines will keep me at the top of the list. This has led to private sales as well as commissions, both public and private. When the local PBS station was looking for artists to interview, they consulted a local gallery and then found me on Google. The live TV interview came just two days later. There is also a chance the segment may go national.

Welding on Hollow Structures (Part 2)

Written by Kevin Sayler November 21, 2012

Many metal fabrication shops and welders perform repair or modification work on old equipment, both in a shop setting and in the field. Performing repair work on hollow structures can pose a significant hazard other than a large internal pressure buildup from heating which we discussed in the last welding safety article.

As an easy introduction, consider the need to perform cutting or welding on a tank that used to contain a flammable solvent. Empty of liquid means it is safe, right? Not necessarily. It is the vapors that burn, not the liquid. An “empty” hollow structure such as a tank could be the worst case scenario, full of flammable vapors. Given the right ratio of vapor to oxygen, that hollow structure is like a bomb, ready to explode as soon as enough energy is transferred from the hotwork process.

6 Reasons Why TIG Welding will make you a Healthier Welder

Written by Kevin Sayler December 8, 2011

Serious issues affecting your health – and why TIG welding is the answer.

Hazards during welding can be quite obvious like the electric arc, molten metal, radiant heat, and the incredibly bright light from the arc. Other hazards such as metals in the weld fume plume or gases produced during the welding process are not always as obvious. Fortunately, TIG welding is one of the best processes for minimizing hazards to those often unidentified hazards.

Potential Exposures During Welding: Hardfacing

Written by Kevin Sayler May 3, 2012

We’re all familiar with what happens to ice when we warm it up, it melts. If we continue to warm the water until it boils it starts to quickly evaporate. Similar to water turning to steam, some of the molten metal during the welding process evaporates into the air. This metal then quickly solidifies into a very small particulate, or fume, as it cools. This is what we see rising from most weld processes.

When we’re performing Hardfacing tasks, a specific metal of concern to our health is chromium.

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