You've got a big project to do, but you're not sure how to use your plasma cutter. You've heard horror stories about people cutting off their fingers and toes with these things.
Imagine having the confidence that comes from knowing exactly how to set up and operate your plasma cutter safely. With this knowledge, you can focus on completing your project without worrying about injuring yourself or others around you.
This blog post will help give you the information needed to get started using a plasma cutter in no time at all. I will cover everything from setting it up correctly to safety tips for avoiding accidents while using one of these powerful tools.
Moreover, a plasma cutter is a machine that uses high voltage to cut through metal. How does it work? How can you use one safely? How do they differ from other types of cutting tools? This post will answer those questions and more.
Before using a plasma cutter, you need to know the answer to the following questions:
- What equipment is needed for plasma cutting?
- Do you need to ground a plasma cutter?
- Where do you ground a plasma cutter?
- Do you need an air compressor for a plasma cutter?
- Do plasma cutters have built-in air compressors?
- How much air pressure do you use on a plasma cutter?
- What size breaker do I need for a plasma cutter?
- What size wire do i need for my plasma cutter?
- Amp settings for plasma cutting
Wait; are you scared about getting the answers for aforementioned questions? Don't worry I have listed all the answers in a table let's have a look.
# Table of Contents
What equipment is needed for plasma cutting?
Amp settings: For 3/8” cut, 40 amps. For ½” cut, 50 amps
For one pole 15 or 20 amp, For two pole 30 amp.
As per your need
Usually 8 gauge for 40 amps and 6 gauge for 60 amps
Ground fault circuit interrupter outlets or GFCI plugs to avoid shocks and other hazards.
Now, you are well equipped with all the answers and ready to use a plasma cutter. But before going to use a plasma cutter, you need to know how to set up a plasma cutter? Then, I will give you the step-by-step procedure to use a plasma cutter.
Let's start with the setting up of a plasma cutter. Once you get all your equipment, place them in an accessible area before proceeding to setup.
How to Set Up a Plasma Cutter?
Setting up a plasma cutter the first time may be daunting, but after you have done it once or twice, it will become much easier and quicker. Follow these easy steps to set up your machine so you can start creating clean cuts with ease.
01. Check the Machine’s Voltage
Make sure your plasma cutter is set the proper voltage for where you live. Note that some manufacturers recommend setting the power level at 75% on low-voltage units or 50% on high-voltage units to prolong machine lifespan.
02. Close Circuit Reels
Open electric circuit reels (include one every 8" of pipe) and attach all electrode tubes to pipes ensuring they are closed tight using wire clamps provided by the manufacturer in the kit.
03. Test the Machine
Perform a complete system test to ensure your plasma cutter is ready for use. Some machines utilize smoke testing which allows you to see the area cut by blade and carbon arc while gas flows through it creating a smoke plume.
04. Clear Cutting Area
Clear out all flammable materials from the cutting area and set up a fire extinguisher nearby.
05. Attach Grounding Cable
If your machine requires it, attach grounding cable to the frame of your plasma cutter and clamp it securely onto any metal part on that frame. Note that some machines have built-in ground clamps.
06. Feed the Wire through Tube
Push the wire through the electrical tube to the clamp on the bottom end. Make sure the wire is securely pushed through the tube and clamped closed tightly.
07. Connect Red Wire
Plug one end of the red wire into the positive terminal (typically red) of your electrical power source and plug the other ends into a matching color terminal on your plasma cutter’s control box.
08. Connect Black Wire
Plug one end of the black wire into the negative terminal (typically black) of your electrical power source and plug the other ends into a matching color terminal on your plasma cutter’s control box.
09. Set Proper Voltage
Look on your plasma cutter or in its instructions for recommended voltage ranges. Some recommend a voltage range for different metals. When in doubt, start with low voltage and increase it if your cutter does not cut through the material you need.
10. Check Voltage
Adjust the electrical power source’s voltage to the recommended level and check again that it is set properly on both your plasma cutter and control box.
11. Set Cutting Depth
Set the depth of cut to match the thickness of the material you are cutting. Most home plasma cutter kits for sale will come with different-sized nozzles that help adjust this setting.
12. Turn on the Machine
Turn on your plasma cutter and check all connections again to make sure they are secure.
13. Check Grounding
Make sure your grounding wire and all connections are secure before beginning to cut.
14. Turn on Air Supply
Slowly turn on the air supply by turning the knob from zero to its highest point, then back to zero again. You should hear a hissing sound as you do this. If you hear nothing or no response when turning it on, check your air supply and connection.
15. Check Muffler
Check your plasma cutter’s muffler and ensure it is not blocked or clogged with debris.
16. Turn On Air Supply Fully
Your plasma cutter will require the air supply to be on at its highest flow rate for optimal cutting power which can damage the unit. Therefore, keep the air supply on at its highest point only for as long as it is needed to cut the material you are working with.
17. Test Cut
Make a clean test cut before beginning your project. If you have any problems with your plasma cutter during the initial test cut, return to steps eight through eleven and check that all connections are tight.
18. Clean Area
Cover your plasma cutters electrical and air supply lines using tape as well as the metal tubing you will be cutting during your project to protect it from debris.
19. Cut the Metal and Enjoy
Once all preparations have been made for your project, begin cutting at a slow speed and increase the speed as you see fit.
20. Remove Cut Metal
Remove your cut material from the area and clean up all debris you have created during cutting.
21. Practice Safety
Your local fire department recommends conducting a test even while following these instructions exactly to ensure that your plasma cutter is working properly and to provide yourself with valuable training when using it for real.
22. Turn off Machine and Disconnect
When finished cutting, turn off your plasma cutter and unplug all connections before moving it, or when you are done for the day.
23. Clean Up after Yourself
Restore the workspace to its previous condition including cleaning up any debris created during your project, covering all electrical lines and removing all tape that may have been used.
24. Store Plasma Cutter Properly
When you are not using your plasma cutter, unplug the electrical power source from the control box, disconnect any metal tubing from the air supply line and store it away safely to avoid damage or theft.
25. Keep Minimalist Design
Your plasma cutter is a tool and should be treated as such. Keep the machine out of reach of children and ensure that unauthorized individuals do not have access to it.
26. Always Use a Grounding Wire
Ensure that your grounding wire is connected properly at all times when using your plasma cutter.
27. Disconnect Air Supply When Not In Use
Your plasma cutter’s air supply should be disconnected when not in use.
After setting up your plasma cutter, you will want to check that it is working properly before you begin cutting. It's time to use a piece of metal to check that the machine is working correctly.
How to Use a Plasma Cutter?
Step-01: Figure out the right size tubing or nozzle
The first thing you need to do is figure out what size tubing or nozzle your machine has. There are three different sizes:
- ⅝" which can be used for thin sheets of metal up to ⅛", ¾" which can handle thicker pieces up to ½", and
- ¾" which can work with anything from 0.06" to 0.50".
Step-02: Adjusting the air pressure and Amperage
The next step is adjusting the air pressure and amperage so that it's not too low or high; this will affect how well you're able to cut through the material. How do you know what pressure and amperage are right? You'll need a test piece of metal that's about an inch thick. If it cuts smoothly, then the air pressure is correct; if not, turn up or down accordingly until you find the perfect level for your needs.
Step-03: Using your plasma cutter
The last step in using your plasma cutter is to get it warmed up. How long will that take? It depends on the machine, but anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour is a safe bet.
Which Plasma Cutting Machine Do You Need?
Plasma cutting is used to cut parts that cannot be cut by a traditional saw or milling machine. It can even be used for thick materials, and very thin materials, making it highly versatile. If you are using the plasma cutter in your workshop as part of your day-to-day operations, then we have some information on which plasma cutting machine you should buy.
Plasma cutters are a popular tool in the workshop. Whether you're cutting thin sheets of metal or thicker materials, there is a plasma cutter for all your needs.
Here's what we recommend: If you need a machine that can handle thick material (like 3mm) and has enough power to do so without warping, then go with Hypertherm Powermax45 XP Plasma Cutter.
For those who want something on the lower end of cost but still good quality - try an entry-level model such as PrimeWeld 50A Air Inverter Plasma Cutter from Amazon which costs around $400.
However, if you want to work with different materials outside of your workshop, then we recommend a more portable model like the Hobart 500564 Airforce 12ci Plasma Cutter.
But if you just need plasma cutter for your hobby, then any model will do. Here are the criteria that we think is important when it comes to buying a new plasma cutter:
1) The material thickness cuts which the machine can handle - Most metal sheets are 0.8mm thick. To handle materials that are as thick as 3mm, you need a plasma cutter with sufficient power. Check the model that you are interested in to see if it can handle one or two sheets at a time. It is usually not advisable to cut more than two sheets at once to avoid warping and uneven cutting.
2) The size of the machine - Larger plasma cutters can be a little bit more expensive than smaller ones. On average, you will spend around $300 for a 20in the model. If you only need to cut sheets that are 9.5mm thick, then go for the smallest cutter available; they cost less!
3) The quality of the machine - If you look at most reviews, people will say that it is hard to find a decent plasma cutter for less than $400. We have found one or two entry-level machines available for around $250 on Amazon, but don't expect them to last more than few months! You can get a better model for around $400, but this will not be as powerful or efficient. Similarly, if you want the best plasma cutter money can buy (rated at 5 stars by users), then it would cost around $2,000.
4) The material thickness that the machine can cut - You may have noticed that most models have a maximum cutting thickness of 0.9mm. It is possible to go over this by cutting multiple sheets at once, but if you are buying the plasma cutter for a single job or hobby, then it does not make sense to get a machine that can handle thicker metal.
5) The power rating of the plasma cutter - When looking for a cheap plasma cutter, you need to check the power rating. Some of the entry-level machines are not powerful enough for some jobs, and will either: A) Chuck the circuit B) Burn out C) Completely stop working!
6) The warranty period - Most plasma cutters come with a two-year warranty. This tells us how confident the manufacturer is about their product! So if they are offering a two-year warranty, it means that the plasma cutter is almost as good as new.
7) The size of the consumables - Remember to check out the size of both the consumable electrodes and replacement parts for your plasma cutter. Buying regular replacements may cost you more than buying a larger or industrial model! Check out this video for more information.
8) The consumables - When it comes to plasma cutting consumables, you will either need a gas bottle or an air compressor. Check the prices of both accessories before making your purchase!
9) How easy is the machine to use and transport? - If you are planning on using your plasma cutter outside the workshop, then you need to look for a model that is easy to carry, such as a plasma cutter with built in air compressor. But if you are using the plasma cutter inside your workshop, then it doesn't matter much.
Tips For Using Plasma Cutter
- Maintain Your Plasma Cutter: Periodically inspect your plasma cutter’s connections, air supply line, electrical box, and any metal tubing for damage or deterioration. These components are responsible for safely connecting the power source to the cutting head of your plasma cutter. Therefore, they should all be in good condition at all times before using one of these units.
- Use the Appropriate Cutting Head: When purchasing a plasma cutter, check whether you will require the use of fiberglass cutting discs or metal cutting blades. Some companies produce combination sets that include both types and are very convenient to use with one tool.
- Know Your Material: To get the best performance from your plasma cutter, you need to know the type of material you will be cutting. This information is usually contained on a small plate located either near or inside the unit.
- Avoid Cutting Wet Materials: Your plasma cutter’s performance may be reduced when cutting wet materials. If possible, allow your material to dry for several hours before applying power to your machine.
- Avoid Metal Shavings: Do not allow metal shavings to build upon your plasma cutter’s power head as they may make contact with the inside components and damage these delicate parts.
- Use Pure Oxygen: When using pure oxygen, hydrogen will burn in its place reducing the amount of noise emitted from your plasma cutter and improving its performance.
- Use A Grounding Wire: Always use a grounding wire when working with your plasma cutter to reduce the chances of electrical shock or damage to yourself and any nearby surfaces.
What are consumables? How often will I have to replace them?
Parts of your plasma cutter that wear out over time are called consumables.
Different types of consumables include a shield, deflector, retaining cap, nozzle, electrode, and swirl ring.
Each one of these parts has a different lifespan depending on how much you use them.
Have you heard of consumable kits before? They have everything that you need for the machine in one convenient box and they usually cost around $125.
The disassembly is very simple and all you have to do is pull apart the nozzles and replace the parts that are worn out. These kits can last up to 8-14 months depending on how often you use your machine.
What Are The Two Plasma Arc Starting Differences?
HF Contact start
HF contact start is a way of starting a plasma cutter by pressing the torch against metal and pushing the button. An arc is formed between the metal and the tungsten electrode. The plasma cutter then turns on and cuts through any material it makes contact with.
HF Pilot Arc Start
The HF Pilot arc starts are a type of plasma cutter that has two types. These tools create high-frequency currents inside the machine, and when the trigger is pressed then pilot arcs will emit from the tip about 1 inch long.
The moment, these pulses touch your workpiece it senses this and starts cutting amperage accordingly - which makes them an efficient way to cut anything, without damaging material or overheating parts due to constant exposure to heat.
The new innovative pilot arc cutting process is helpful for many reasons. First, you can start with heavily painted or rusty surfaces which are difficult to cut normally because the paint builds up due to its thickness and stickiness on a surface; the second benefit of this technology is that it features an auto-re-starting pilot arc so when you get near metal endpoints, your machine will sense this and reengage before moving onto another piece. This means no more wasted energy as other machines would waste power by repeatedly engaging without actually committing much work since they have already reached their endpoint.
This saves you having to release the trigger and re-press to start the arc again.
You press the trigger for awhile until you see pilot arc coming out. You can immediately move your torch to the workpiece, then count 1 2 3 and the machine will start to cut.
This is a very good feature for beginner because you don't have to worry about how much pressure you should apply when pressing the trigger, or if your torch goes out of focus, which may cause long melt-time or damage to tungsten tip.
Effect of Cutting Speed, Amperage and Cutting Tip Size
The plasma cutting speed is based on the amperage and the material size.
If you are cutting metal with a machine, there are two ways to cut it. One way is by setting the amperage lower and at a slower speed. That way the metal will be smoother but take longer to cut each piece. The other way is by using more amperage and going faster, but this may cause a little bit of extra unwanted material on the bottom of the cut.
Effect of too slow cutting speed:
If you cut too slowly on your machine, the arc might stop with a contact start or it might not stay on long enough. The metal will get very hot and more liquid will come out. So, make sure that you either go faster or use less amperage to cut the metal.
When cutting metal, you need to start from the edge. Cut all the way through and make sure that there is no dross coming out. You want to move the torch along the metal and keep it at a low angle (less than 45 degrees). If you have trouble with clean-cut and little dross, then try increasing your amperage for cutting.
Effect of too fast cutting speed:
When you cut too fast, it will be difficult to get the cut right. You have not cut all the way through and this will make it more difficult to finish the job. When you do not cut all the way through, there will also be a lot of pieces that are left over that you need to clean up before using them.
The blowback of dross is what happens when you do not completely cut through the metal and use your torch for too long without moving away from it. The blowback can go in any direction, but if you're cutting too fast, then it might go back at you.
What Is The Difference Between A Clean Cut And Severance Cut?
A clean cut is where the machine cuts through the metal and it falls away from each other. This leaves little dross on the edge of the cut. When you use pliers, then you can take off all of the dross.
As you can see with this piece of aluminum, then there's no need to do any further work before welding or whatever. The cutting marks are straight and sloping a small
A severance cut is when the user cuts metal very close to its max cutting thickness, which is slower than a clean cut. The metal needs to be cleaned up a little bit at the bottom edge.
The information in this blog post is designed to help you understand how to use a plasma cutter. From understanding what equipment and safety precautions are required, you'll be able to tackle your next project with confidence. If there's anything that we've left out or if you have any questions about the process of using one of these powerful tools, please leave us a comment below! We're eager to answer any question as soon as possible.
Do you need to ground a plasma cutter?
Yes, grounding the machine is very important. Plasma cutters are connected to the ground wire as much as possible, but if it is not attached firmly enough, there will be a risk of fire or electrical shock. The earth wire (ground wire) can be secured by adding a special bracket to the machine body or fixing the cable to an iron plate on the building floor. A two-hole connector should be used for the purpose of grounding.
Where do you ground a plasma cutter?
Grounding the plasma cutter is important. So you need to connect the frame of the table to an electric wire that is in contact with bare earth. This will help keep noise from getting into your machine and disrupting it because of its electrical charge. The machine's clamp should not be grounded, so don't do that either.
Do you need an air compressor for a plasma cutter?
Plasma cutters use a two-stage process. That means that they use air pressure. Air compressors are needed for the air pressure. If you buy a plasma cutter without an air compressor, you will need to buy one separately. An air compressor is used to provide the high pressure and volume of air needed to operate a PED (plasma, electron, dielectric) welder or cutting machine. Without an air pump, most PED welders and cutters will not produce enough heat or energy to take apart metal. That doesn't mean you need an air compressor to use a PED welder or cutter, though. There are several ways around it.
Do plasma cutters have built-in air compressors?
Plasma cutters need high-pressure air to work well. However, some have air compressors built-in. This makes it easy to use a plasma cutter, but the price is usually higher. Some companies offer low-priced models with built-in air compressors. And some of these are very popular with hobbyists who just want to cut their own material. If you don't need a professional-level plasma cutter, and if you're not doing heavy-duty work, then it's worth considering a model with a built-in air compressor.
How much air pressure do you use on a plasma cutter?
If you are using a plasma cutter, you need to make sure that the air pressure is between 50-70 psi. If it's less than 45 psi, then the arc will blow out. This happens when there's not enough air to make a flame. If the pressure is too high, then there will be a loud noise and damage done to your equipment.
What size breaker do I need for a plasma cutter?
Plasma cutters that are portable or good for home use tend to use breakers and circuits that you can find in a house. One pole is 15 or 20 amps, and two poles are 30 amps. A bigger breaker will not hurt your plasma cutter at all. It is quite the opposite, a bigger breaker will help protect you from wiring mistakes and shorts that cause fires. It seems many people purchase a small 15 or 20 amp breaker to run their plasma cutter when they should have used a 30-amp circuit.
What size wire do I need for my plasma cutter?
To find out what size wire to use for your plasma cutter, you'll need to know the voltage and amperage. For 230 volts at single-phase, 10 gauge wires is a good size. You will need a 35 or 50 amp slow blow fuse with this much power. A higher amp rating will mean a thicker wire which means you should use an 8 gauge for 40 amps and a 6 gauge for 60 amps.
What are the Amp settings for plasma cutting?
When using a plasma cutter, the best amp settings for a 3/8
What Metals Does A Plasma Cutter Cut?
A plasma cutter cuts metal. You can use it to cut any metal that conducts electricity. For example, steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper and brass conduct electricity so you can use a plasma cutter on these metals.
How much do I need to spend on a plasma cutter?
The price of a plasma cutter varies depending on the complexity and tool quality. A basic one starts at around $1,000 and can be had for as little as $400. In the end, it depends on what you want to do with it, and your budget. It also depends on good brand such as Hypertherm, Lincoln and Miller. They can be found in any online shop or in specialized shops.
Do I need a plasma cutter with a built in air compressor?
If you're using your plasma cutter to work on metal or other materials, then it would be smart to also have an air compressor designed to work with your specific cutter. With this type of device, you will be able to cut thicker pieces of material without any hassle whatsoever. It is also more flexible for mobile welder. The air compressor is designed to be the perfect backup for your plasma cutter and can easily take over if needed. On the other hand if you already have an air compressor separated from your plasma cutter, you would need to determine if it is powerful and heavy duty enough to ensure the best performance. If not then it might be a good idea to get yourself one that can work in tandem with your cutter.
Last Updated on November 2, 2021 by weldinghubs