How To Use a Plasma Cutter

May 3, 2021

You can find plasma cutters at just about any fabrication shop. 

This is because they are one of the best welding tools out there. Plasma cutters can make some of the cleanest and precise cuts. 

Perhaps you are new to the industry or have never gotten your hands on a plasma cutter before. Fortunately, the machines are not difficult to use.

This guide will explain what a plasma cutter is and how it works. We will also cover all of the essential tools you need to operate the machine. 

Finally, we will give you a step-by-step guide on how to use a plasma cutter. 

By the end of this article, you will know everything you need to know about the machine. Let’s get started.

What Is a Plasma Cutter?

plasma cutter tips and tricks

Before you learn how to use a plasma cutter, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the tool. This section will discuss what a plasma cutter is. 

A plasma cutter is a welding machine that has a torch. Welders can use the machine to cut metal with precise cuts. 

You will be able to find plasma cutters in most fabrication shops, industrial construction, auto repair shops, and scrapping operations. 

Plasma cutters are one of the most favored tools for a few reasons. 

The machines are very high speed. Many workers utilize this tool to make the most precise, clean, and exact cuts. Furthermore, the machine can cut through any type of metal, making it very convenient. 

Most plasma cutters run on the input power of 110v or 220v and direct that energy into the plasma torch, which we will explain more in the next section. 

How Does It Work?

The next thing we will discuss before teaching you how to use a plasma cutter is how it actually works. Knowing how the machine works will help you operate it more efficiently and safely. 

The way plasma cutters work is by sending an electric current through gas. The gas can be nitrogen, argon, shop air, or oxygen. Due to the high temperature, the electric current converts the gas into another state of matter: plasma. 

The metal that the operator is welding then becomes part of the electrical current. This is when the plasma, which has electrical conductivity, transfers to the metal and cuts it. 

Tools and Equipment Needed

There are a few things you will need to use a plasma cutter. The main three categories of equipment are consumables, accessories, and safety equipment. These tools and gear will help you operate the machine better and will increase the level of safety. 

Consumables 

plasma cutter consumables

Consumables are pieces of equipment that you may need to replace regularly. 

The main thing you will need in this category is a consumables kit. 

Consumables kits are sets of several contact tips, nozzles, adapters, and any small pieces of equipment you will need. Nozzles, diffusers, and electrodes will wear out over time. Having a consumables kit on hand will decrease the amount of time you spend looking for and replacing small parts on the plasma cutter. 

Accessories 

plasma cutter on cart

The following plasma cutting accessories are not necessarily mandatory for the process. However, utilizing a few of these tools will make the process much easier. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that when you use more accessories, the process will be safer since you use tools that companies explicitly designed for plasma cutters. 

  • Welding Cart - This piece of equipment will hold your plasma cutter in place and prevent it from moving around or falling. The cart will also secure other welding equipment such as the welding torch and even gas bottles. 
  • Plasma Table - A plasma table is not a necessary accessory to have, but it will make the job a lot easier. With a plasma table, you can cut directly on top of the table. This way, there will not be any metal that will topple to the floor after you cut it.   
  • Cut-N-Weld kit - Another option is to purchase a Cut-N-Weld kit. These kits will come with both a welding table and a plasma cutting table. You can find these kits at many welding equipment shops.
  • Plasma Cutting Guide - If you need to cut circles or any sort of curved shape, plasma cutting guides will be a great tool. The accessory will help you cut perfect circles. You can also use the guide to cut straight lines. 
  • Plasma Cutting Strip - This accessory will help you cut straight lines on sheet metal that is curved. 
  • Welding Blanket -  Before you start plasma cutting, it will be helpful to lay down a welding blanket to protect other areas from any sparks that will be flying around.  

Safety Equipment

Safety equipment is the last thing we will cover before teaching you how to use a plasma cutter.

Some of the most important equipment you will need for welding is safety equipment. Welding is a dangerous profession. You can get several injuries if you do not follow the proper safety precautions, such as arc eye or metal fume fever. 

Refer below for essential equipment you will need. 

  • Welding Jacket - The first thing you will need is a welding jacket. Welding jackets will protect you from the heat and sparks given off by the welding arc. The jacket will prevent severe burns. 
  • Welding Gloves - Since your hands will be close to the welding arc, you will need to wear gloves. Purchase a pair of welding gloves before welding.
  • Plasma Shades - At the very least, purchase some plasma shades to protect your eyes from the brightness of the arc and any sparks that may fly your way. However, using a full-face helmet will protect you even more. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Plasma Cutter

cutting iron with plasma cutter

Now that we have everything we need let’s learn how to use a plasma cutter. While the process is relatively straightforward, there are a few essential steps you will need to keep in mind. 

Step One: Ensure That Your Work Area Has Adequate Ventilation

The first thing you need to do, not only with plasma cutting but for any welding job, is to ensure your work area has adequate ventilation. 

Whether you use a respirator or a shop ventilation system, ensure that the ventilation equipment works properly.

This step will also be the time to make sure you have on all of your safety gear. Essential pieces of safety gear you will need include welding gloves, a welding jacket, plasma shades, or a welding helmet. 

If you have a welding blanket, lay this down as well. 

Step Two: Turn the Compressor On To Start Building Pressure

Before you touch the plasma cutter, you will need to turn on your air compressor to start building pressure.

The air compressor’s job is to build enough pressure to blow the plasma beam out. To build high enough pressure, turn the compressor on a few minutes beforehand. 

Step Three: Turn On Your Plasma Cutter and Plug the Air Hose In

plasma cutter

Now it is time to turn the plasma cutter on. After you turn the machine on, you can also plug in the air hose. 

Before you use the machine, always double-check if the plasma cutter is receiving air and power. Lastly, ensure that the plasma cutter cord is not in the way of any other equipment. 

Step Four: Prepare the Metal

Now you can grab your metal and place it on the table in a sawhorse or a vice. You can also clamp it to the table. 

Then take a grinder or a wire wheel and clean the metal you will be cutting. Use some sort of marking device to draw a line where you will be cutting. 

Make sure to grab the ground clamp of your plasma cutter and hook it to the metal. When preparing to cut, try to position yourself to be as furthest away from the sparks as possible. 

Step Five: Start Cutting

cutting metal with plasma cutter

Start cutting the metal once you have prepared everything.

Ensure you do not cut the metal too fast and that your range of motion is both slow and smooth. The thicker the piece of metal, the slower you will need to go. 

After you cut the metal, wait a few minutes before picking it up since the metal will be very hot. 

Conclusion

Figuring out how to use a plasma cutter is not as difficult as it seems. 

Before you start the process, ensure that you have all the proper safety equipment you will need, including gloves, a jacket, and goggles. Next, make sure your work area is well-ventilated. 

Turn on your air compressor to start building pressure. Then you can plug your plasma cutter in and attach the air hose. 

Now you can prepare the metal for cutting. This step involves cleaning the metal, drawing a cut line, and clamping it to the table. 

Start cutting the metal. Make sure to go slow and steady. The thicker the metal, the slower you will have to go. 

We hope that this guide has helped you learn how to use a plasma cutter.

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