Power & Hand Tools

Plasma Cutting Tips

Plasma Cutting Tips
Plasma cutters are so easy to use that it's tempting to take your new plasma cutter out of the box and go to work. However, there are a few practices that can increase your efficiency, improve your cut quality and prolong the life of your equipment.

Keeping a few tips and best practices in mind when choosing and using a plasma cutter can help you improve results.

Read the manual
Thoroughly read the owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with the safe and correct operation of your plasma cutter. This will help you optimize your plasma cutter’s capabilities and also promote safe use of the machine.

Pay attention to setup
Secure the ground clamp to clean metal only. If necessary, grind off rust or paint, which inhibit the flow of electricity.

Also, place the ground clamp as close to the cut as possible, or place the clamp on the workpiece itself if possible. Check your cables for worn spots, loose connections or anything that could add unnecessary resistance to electrical flow.

Before starting, check your air supply to make sure you have the correct air flow and pressure entering the machine. Your owner's manual should contain the air requirements.

It’s also important to remember that dry air is important for plasma cutting and maximizes cutting capacity. Consider installing an air filter and/or dryer on the machine, if it does not come equipped with one. Check, clean and replace the filter and/or dryer in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations.

To set the amperage, or heat, of the cutting unit to the proper level, make a few practice cuts with the amperage set high. You can then adjust the amperage down according to your travel speed. If the amperage is too high or your travel speed is too slow, the material you are cutting may become hot and accumulate dross.

Trace the path before cutting
Without pulling the trigger, trace the path you plan to cut. On long cuts, practice your movements before pulling the trigger to make sure you have adequate freedom of movement to make one continuous cut. Stopping and starting again in the same spot is hard and typically creates irregularities in the cut edge.

You can also make a sample cut on the same type of material with which you’ll be working. This helps ensure you’re using the right settings and travel speed.

For additional precision, clamp an edge to the workpiece to guide the torch. If you need to make repeatable cuts of the same shape, create a template. Make sure the guide isn’t flammable. Straight and circle guides are also available to help ensure precise cutting.

Use proper technique
Use your non-cutting hand as a support for your other hand. This steadies your cutting hand, provides freedom of movement in all directions and helps maintain a constant 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch standoff. Note that most people find it easier to pull a torch toward their body rather than push it away.

Follow safety procedures
Proper plasma safety requires protecting exposed skin. You'll need welding gloves and a welding jacket or other flame-resistant clothing. Button your shirt cuffs, pockets and collar so they don't catch sparks.

Shield your eyes with the proper shade lens for the plasma cutter you plan to use. The owner’s manual will state the necessary shade for the amperage. You can use traditional plasma cutting/oxy-fuel goggles or a welding helmet with a cutting mode.

Safety procedures must be closely followed in any plasma cutting application.

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