Guide to Plasma Cutters

It can take time to know where to start if you’re in the market for a plasma cutter. With so many different models and brands, how do you know which is best for your needs? The most important thing to consider when looking for a plasma cutter is whether it will work with your needs as a hobbyist or professional.

Suppose you’re looking for something that will last a while and help you cut through thicker metals and materials. In that case, you’ll need something that’s got more power and speed than other models. If all you’re doing is working on small projects around your home or office, then you might not need the same kind of machine as someone who needs to cut through thick sheet metal all day long.

In this article, we’ll learn more about how does plasma cutter works and give tips on how best to choose one that fits your needs!

What is a Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter is a tool that uses a high-voltage arc to cut through metal, wood, and other materials. It’s often used to cut through thick pieces of metal in industrial environments. Still, it can also be used for artistic projects in the home.

Industrial plasma machine cutting of metal plate

A plasma cutter uses a high-voltage current to create an electric arc between two electrodes. The resulting plasma torch creates a vaporized gas. It conducts electricity away from the work area, allowing it to melt through materials without leaving any sparks or slag (the residue left by molten metal).

Plasma cutters can be used on many types of equipment and materials, including automobiles, aircraft components, appliances, electronics, construction materials (including steel), and much more.

Plasma cutters are typically used in industrial applications with no substitute for their ability to cut through thick pieces of metal quickly and efficiently.

How does Plasma Cutter Work?

The plasma cutter creates an arc between two electrodes connected to an electrical power source on either side of a gas-filled gap. The gas ionizes when the electrical current strikes, then ignite into plasma. This plasma actually cuts through the metal or other material being worked on.

A typical plasma cutter will have several settings for different types of metals (such as stainless steel, aluminum, and brass), allowing you to adjust the heat generated by your plasma arc so that it doesn’t damage those materials but still cuts through them effectively enough for your needs.

Before You Buy a Plasma Cutter

There’s no doubt that plasma cutters are powerful tools. However, it would be best if you were sure you were prepared to handle one. If you have prior experience working with plasma cutters, you know what to do. For newcomers wanting to try their hand at this, we urge you to read up on how to safely operate plasma cutters and handle them properly.

Plasma cutters in inexperienced and untrained hands can cause all sorts of disasters, from electrocution to damaging your eyes without proper protection. Also, if you are working in a workshop of yours, ensure you know how to supply the cutter with power. Lastly, read up on setting up a safe work environment for a plasma cutter to avoid personal or property damage.

Things to Look Out for When Buying a Plasma Cutter

Consider many important factors for a plasma cutter. Let’s review them individually to help you better understand plasma cutters and make the purchase that suits you best.

1. Quality

Like almost everything you buy, you want something that can stand the test of time. There is nothing wrong with trying to go for a budget-friendly plasma cutter. However, get one that doesn’t sacrifice quality and reliability for the price decrease. A low-quality plasma cutter will break on you after just a few goes with it. Its nozzle might fall off, fail to start completely, or lose its cutting power.

2. The Voltage

Plasma cutters, as you will see shortly when we list a few of them, come in various voltage options. A 115-120V plasma cutter will do just fine for a weaker but beginner-friendly cutter. If you’re looking for something with a lot more kick, you must go for a 220-260V plasma cutter. One thing to consider when deciding which voltage option you go for is knowing how you will supply the cutter with power. If your shed, garage, or workshop has a standard power outlet and you plan to use it, the 120V variant would be fine. Assuming, of course, that you live in a country with 120V power outlets.

If you don’t have a power outlet near your work or are just using a generator, a 230V option might be the better choice. Of course, this dilemma is simplified if you use a model supporting a dual voltage option. We will be listing some models that feature this below.

3. The Air Compressor and The Pilot Arc Option

Plasma cutters use compressed air to create plasma. Some models have an air compressor built into them, and others require an external one. Whether you go for a plasma cutter with an inbuilt air compressor or not doesn’t impact its ability to slice through metal. Still, it does change how you work with the cutter. Models with inbuilt air compressors are more expensive but give you the freedom to work on the fly. But if you’re fine providing an external air compressor and don’t want to carry around the plasma cutter, a cheaper option without an inbuilt air compressor is a viable purchase.

Plasma cutters come in two variants. The older variant, the non-pilot arc torches, requires actual contact with the cut metal. This can decrease its life expectancy. The newer models are equipped with pilot arc torches and do not require physical contact. While piloting arc torches are not more expensive, they are featured on better-built models and thus appear more expensive.

4. Duty Cycle

In simple terms, the duty cycle of a plasma cutter refers to how long it can be used continuously. A more duty cycle means a plasma cutter can be used for longer without needing a break. The number of duty cycles you decide on depends on what you plan to use your plasma cutter for. A lower duty cycle should not impact your work if it’s for small hobby-related work every now and then. But, if you plan to spend the better part of a day with your plasma cutter and are relying on it for work, a higher duty cycle is needed.

To help you understand duty cycles, you need to know that they are measured for 10 minutes. So if you get a plasma cutter with a 5-minute duty cycle, it can run continuously for 5 minutes before needing to cool down for 5 minutes. This is contained within 10 minutes. If you plan to use the plasma cutter for deep cuts in thick metal sheets, you’d be better off with a high-duty cycle.

5. Output Power and Cut Rating

Before getting a plasma cutter, you need to evaluate what kind of metal you will use it on. More specifically, it would be best if you decided what the thickness of the metal would be. The output power of a plasma cut indicates how thick a cut can be with that plasma cutter. You can also see the various cut ratings of a plasma cutter to help you decide if it’s right for you.

The ‘Quality Cut’ cut rating tells you the thickness that can be cut at a slower rate. The ‘Sever Cut’ tells you the maximum cut you can achieve with that plasma cutter. Lastly, the ‘Rated Cut’ is a standard cut rate of what thickness can be cut at 10 inches per minute. Again, if you’re going to be working with thick metal sheets and are going to be needing deep, refined cuts, go for a higher cut rate.

6. The Operating Cost

Plasma cutters require regular maintenance in many forms. One of these is the consumables they require. Cheaper plasma cutters use up consumables much faster and may cost you more in the long run. If you plan to use your plasma cutter for a long time and consistently, you should splurge on a more expensive model that will save you long-term money by having a lower consumption rate of its consumables.

7. Weight

Plasma cutters can get quite heavy, and deciding how heavy is too heavy for you is something you should decide before you make the wrong purchase. This should be relatively easy to decide, however. If you plan to take your plasma cutter around and about, a lighter model is what you should aim for. But heavier models can get you better cuts on thicker metal. What compromise you come to between weight and performance is, ultimately, up to you.

Benefits of Plasma Cutters

Plasma cutters are used to cut through a variety of materials. They can cut metal, wood, plastic, and even glass. There are many benefits to using a plasma cutter, including the following:

  • Plasma cutters are more precise than other types of power tools. They can cut through a material with less distortion than other tools. This means you’re left with a clean edge rather than one damaged by the tool itself.
  • Plasma cutters allow you to create clean cuts that can be used as finished products without needing further work done by hand or with another tool like an angle grinder or drill press.
  • Plasma cutters do not impact the environment because they don’t use chemicals or liquids to make the cuts happen; instead, they use more sustainable electricity than other methods.

Wrapping It Up

In this article, we have discussed a guide to plasma cutters. Plasma cutters are one of the most versatile tools in the tradesman’s toolbox. They can be used for cutting metal and plastic, as well as fiberglass, ceramic tile, glass, and stone. 

They are a very useful tool to have around if you do any metalwork or home improvement. If you still need to own a plasma cutter, take some time to consider whether it would be useful for your needs and how much you would use it before purchasing one