A plasma cutter is a tool that uses a high-pressure stream of gas to cut through metal. The gas stream is produced by an electric arc between two electrodes, creating ionized particles called plasma. It helps cut clean and straight lines in old cars or buildings, removes bolts without damaging the surface underneath, and so much more!
Some plasma cutters have a maximum height of six-plus feet, allowing you to reach higher spaces easily. Some builders use them instead of saws for cutting wood beams! Quite impressive stuff when you think about it.
How does it work
As stated earlier, a plasma cutter uses an electrical arc to produce ionized plasma particles. It is done by forcing compressed air through a narrow channel. Whoosh! The resulting gas stream (plasma) is directed at the metal you wish to cut, and it cuts through. The burnt metal can be removed by prying or scraping with a putty knife.
Plasma cutting works well on metal pieces that will fit flat on your table and when the metal piece is held down with a stable surface, table, or clamps. But you may need extra prep work if the cut lines are not going in straight lines and curves because clamped pressure only works well with curves.
The plasma cutter passes through the metal as it simultaneously melts it, leaving a rough cut. You'll need to smooth out the edges and clean up the cut before using it. It's just like with a hacksaw!
Once your metal pieces are cut, they will show signs of flame-singed surfaces and other imperfections; plasma cutting is not meant to "beautify" metal in any way. It's perfect for rough cuts and is excellent at cutting metal with minimal preparation, but if you want to make your cuts look like they were made by a machine rather than by plasma arc, you'll need to do more preparation.
Types of Plasma Cutters
There are two main types of plasma cutters; direct current (DC) and inverter.
Plasma cutters that use DC produce a limited arc with high amperage, meaning the metal has a hard time heating up enough to melt. The resulting cuts are rough, but if you're in a pinch for time and want to save money on fuel and electricity, this may be the cutter for you!
Inverter plasma cutters produce a longer arc that reaches around 150 thousand degrees Fahrenheit (65 thousand degrees Celsius). This type is better at making straight cuts through metal because it heats the metal faster than DC. It means you'll have to do less prep work before using your cutter, and you won't have to wait as long for your cut.