How to Use a Plasma Cutter

How to use a Plasma Cutter

 

Hand-held plasma cutters are among the most appreciated tools for constructions workers, auto repair services, home improvers, and other people who work with various kinds of metals. This type of cutting beats shears and saws since it offers precision, power, and doesn’t require any preheating.

When you read about plasma cutters, it seems as if there isn’t anything hard about operating a manual unit. It appears straightforward. In fact, it looks so simple, that you are tempted to drag it out the box and start using it immediately. However, there are a few things you might want to consider before you get into the process, otherwise, you might end up with some unfortunate consequences.


Read the Manual

Are you rolling your eyes now? Not all plasma cutters are created equal and unless you have vast experience in using many different plasma cutters, you need to spend at least 5 minutes reading the operating instructions. You’ll definitely find something you didn’t know before. Reading the manual can make a difference between a precise cut and a ruined material.

If this tip shocks you in any way, then perhaps you’re not ready!  you should head on back to our recent blog post on how Plasma cutters actually work!

Everyone else, read on!


Adjust the Settings

While there are automatic plasma cutters, sometimes you might be faced with one that requires you to adjust the settings manually. The air pressure should be set at about 60 psi. The most important setting is the voltage. Many people believe that using any tool on its highest setting will offer the best results. Such is not the case with plasma cutters. When you use the highest setting, you’ll get erratic and not precise cuts which might be a disaster for thin metals.

You need to check out the metal before making the setting. For example, steel needs more voltage than aluminum. The thicker the metal – the higher the setting. If you are dealing with rust, then you need to pump up the voltage in order to get through the rusty surfaces. If you are not sure what setting to use, go to step one. Most plasma cutters have a voltage to thickness chart in the manual. If you are planning to cut through very thick metals, you’ll need high voltage, so make sure that your outlet provides 220 volts.

Check the air supply and adjust the air flow and air pressure. You can find the air requirements in the owner’s manual. Don’t try to make any “average” settings. Each plasma cutter needs to be adjusted individually.


Check the Equipment

Even if you just purchased the plasma cutter, take 5 seconds to check if all is in order. Worn or incorrectly attached parts won’t just ruin your material, they can pose a danger to your health. Check the tip and the nozzle, as well as the electrodes. Worn electrodes can result in the arc blowing out of the side of the tip.

Pay attention to the power cord. Check if the power supply is sufficient for the work you are about to do. Some units are created to work with any power supply. Others need specific voltage.
Check the ground connection. Grounding is imperative to plasma cutters just as it is to the welding equipment.


Put the Safety Gear On

When using a plasma cutter, the safety can’t be over stressed. The protective outfit is similar to that of a welder. You need welding leathers, gloves, and goggles. Number 5 shade is the minimum requirement for eye protection when using the plasma cutter. But to be comfortable you should think about # 9 to 11. You might also want to consider getting a face shield or an auto darkening welding helmet. A helmet offers maximum protection while allowing you to see more clearly.

Don’t forget that plasma cutting is a rather loud process. If you are planning on a long cutting job, the attack on your ears will be uncomfortable. Consider earmuffs or earplugs.


Make a Sample Cut

Turn the machine on and make a sample cut. You should have a spare piece of metal you can practice on. A sample cut allows you to check your settings without ruining the metal you are planning to work on. If you’ve never used a cutter before, you should prepare a large piece to practice on. Stopping and continuing a long cut is never easy. Practice, practice, practice.

Go on to do your job. When you finish, turn the machine off, disconnect the ground clamp, and turn off the air supply.


Cutting Techniques

When learning how to use a plasma cutter, there are a few techniques you want to study.

Dragging

Dragging is the most common way to use the plasma torch. However, you can’t allow the tip to touch the metal, it will simply fuse. Depending on the type of your plasma cutter, you either keep the unit ¼ inch above the metal when cutting, which means you’ll lose some speed and precision. Or you can use drag cups. Drag cups are usually sold separately. Make sure to buy a couple since they are easily ruined. If you are not using a drag cup, operate the cutter at about 45-degree angle. This way the excess material will get blown away instead of coming at you. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to see the arc better.

Gouging

If you need to remove the old welds then you can use a gouging tip. The gouging tip creates a hole which is about 3 times wider than a regular tip makes. The plasma arc created by such tip removes more material. The arc generated by a gouging tip can be 1 – 1.5 inches long. Plasma cutter gouging produces less smoke and noise than the carbon arc gouging while offering more control over the arc. When you are gouging, you need to maintain a 40- to 45-degree angle to the base material. Deep gouging on one pass is not recommended. Make a few passes if required.

Piercing

Piercing is rather simple. All you have to is place the cutter at about a 40-degree angle to the metal. Activate the trigger. As soon as the unit generates an arc, bring the tip to a 90-degree angle.


Plasma Cutting Tips

1) When learning how to use a plasma cutter, you might want to take advantage of a few tips to make the process faster, easier, and more enjoyable

2) Match the tip to the amperage settings. Lower-amp tip has a smaller opening and maintains a narrower stream at a lower setting. A 40-amp tip used with an 80-amp setting will result in the opening distortion and reduce the life expectancy of the equipment

3) The faster the travel speed, the cleaner the cut will be. When you are dealing with a thicker metal, use the full output and vary the travel speed. When you are working with a thinner metal, reduce the amperage and use a lower-amp tip to sustain a narrow cut

4) The arc should exit the metal at a 15- to 20-degree angle opposite to the travel direction. If the arc is going straight down, you are working too slowly. If it sprays back, you are working too fast

5) When you are marking the metal for cuts, use a black marker or a piece of white chalk. These colors make it easier to distinguish the markings when cutting

6) If you are a beginner, always use a drag cup for the dragging technique

By following the above advice, you can learn how to use a plasma cutter in a matter of minutes. Don’t forget to read the manual and remember that the safety comes first. Good luck!


How to use a Plasma Cutter Video


You’re now well on your way to becoming a Plasma Cutting Guru. Click here to pick out a suitable machine that will get the job done. In our review process, we tried to make a selection that takes every different budget into account.

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