Plasma Cutters Best Torches and Consumables
If you are not familiar with how a plasma cutter works, here is a very simple explanation that deals with it. We will also be discussing how the best plasma cutter could be of great use for your home workshop.
So let’s begin from the basics –
I’m sure you know of the 3 states of matter (solid, liquid, gas).
But have you heard of the 4th state? This is the plasma and it’s the highest form of gas. Plasma consists of charged particles like neutrons, protons, and electrons that are loosened up but can react as a whole.
Plasma can flow like a liquid and at the same time can contain an area like gas. By its character, although plasma has individual particles it can also react intensely when prodded with electricity and the result is a high-pressurized spark.
Inside our fluorescent lamps is plasma gas that when bombarded with low-voltage electricity will heat up and glow.
The sun’s solar arcs are purely made of plasma and even on our plasma televisions plasma provides glow to the pixels which help produce the bright high-definition images.
Plasma can be produced by ionizing gas with electricity and people use plasma to take advantage of its heat potentials to cut metals and this is how the plasma cutters are being utilized.
What Are Plasma Cutters?
Plasma cutters are tools that can easily burn through metal. They can cut almost all types of metals from the metal sheets to the thickest stainless steel. They are also available in various sizes and shapes.
The large ones are for industrial use and assisted by programmable CNC (Computer Numerical Control) computers.
The industrial CNC plasma cutters usually have hands like robots and can create precise incisions based on how they are programmed to.
The smaller and compact plasma cutters are the handheld unit types that are commonly used in home workshops. Large or small, plasma cutters all work on the same principle and are almost designed similarly with a varying degree in sizes, amperages, and attachments.
A small plasma cutter for a home workshop is mainly composed of the plasma cutter unit with its attachments (torch and ground clamp) and connected to it is an air compressor or tank for the inert gas.
The inert cutting gas that is usually used is either argon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen or a mixture of these gases depending on the type and thickness of metal you want to cut.
How Do Plasma Cutters Work?
A plasma cutter works by sending a force of inert gas or shop gas through a hose and into the torch. At the tip of the torch is a narrow channel and in the middle of this channel sat a negatively charged electrode.
When gas is released and electricity flows through the electrode, the gas gets electrically charged (ionized) inside the nozzle and that what turns the gas into plasma.
As you press the trigger of the torch, electricity will jump from the electrode and triggers a spark into the plasma gas. So what will come out from the tip of the nozzle is an arc from the burning plasma that could reach up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are using a high-frequency plasma cutter, as the arc gets nearer to the work metal (positively charged) space in between the electrode and the workpiece will produce a conductive path which allows the arc to jump into the work metal like a bolt of lightning.
And because the opening at the nozzle is restricted, the heat intensity of the arc between the electrode and the metal could reach up to 45,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
And this is how even the thickest metal can melt so quickly due to intense heat.
The use of air in plasma cutter is to serve as shielding gas for the arc and also as a cooling agent for the nozzle and for blowing away much of the melted metal.
With industrial CNC plasma cutters, cutting can happen differently. The torch nozzle tip needs to get very close to the workpiece to create a bridge of spark. This is why the cut is more précised with CNC plasma cutters because every movement of the robot’s arms is precise and the tip of the nozzle will only create the arc once it gets near the metal work piece.
Advantages of Having a Plasma Cutter In Your Home Workshop
Plasma cutters are mainly used in automotive repair, metal restoration, fabrication shops, industrial construction, metal scrapping, and salvaging.
From using them in large-scale industrial CNC applications, the portable ones are also popular and very important tools among hobbyists and DIY individuals and use them for repairs, construction, art, and for various small cutting jobs.
If you want the best metal cutter that can cut clean and can cut almost any type of metal, you’ll need a plasma cutter.
This is also easy to use without the need for extensive training like with TIG welding and MIG welding. The gas you use is also safer and not highly flammable.
Versatility is what makes the plasma cutters more popular and the cut it creates is more précised than using manual cutting tools.
And lastly, you won’t need to wear a welding helmet with plasma cutting although you still need to wear auto-dimming glasses, pair of welding leather gloves and leather shoes for utmost protection as you will be dealing with bright and intense heat and flying metal debris.
If you are doing metal projects at home and have either a TIG welder or a MIG welder, then having a plasma cutter could complete your workshop tools and will let you do a lot of metalwork projects.
Conventional & Precision Plasma cutters
Conventional plasma cutters commonly require shop air gas for plasma and their plasma arc is based on the opening of their nozzles.
They also typically have amperage 12-20K amps/PSI. Examples of these are handheld systems.
Precision plasma cutters are the more engineered type that produces the highest and sharpest quality cuts using plasma. They require torches and consumables that are more complex and have additional pieces to better constrict their nozzles and manage the shapes of their arcs.
Their amperages approximately run at 40-50K/PSI and they use a combination of gases to cut on various conductive materials. Examples of these cutters are the high-frequency and the CNC- assisted plasma cutters.
Which to Buy For Home Use
If you intend to buy a plasma cutter for your home workshop, you don’t have to buy the bigger more expensive 3-phase voltage unit.
Using the 3-phase can use more power compared to using a single-phase plasma cutter. Also most of our workshops don’t have 3 phase wiring.
Mainly, 3-phase units are useful for cutting thick steel needed for bigger projects.
The good news, however, is that there are now more innovated plasma cutters that use the “auto-line technology” that can automatically adjust the machine’s amperage from primary single to 3-phase and there are also the 45-amp plasma cutters that can operate on 3 phase without the need for manual linking while not affecting your current flow.
Nevertheless, we can categorically say that a multi-phase plasma cutter could be more expensive than the basic 50-amp cheap plasma cutter which is still the best choice, in our opinion, for home workshop use.
If you are going to buy a portable 50-amp plasma cutter, you have to consider some necessary features:
It should have an automatic dual voltage system frequency like 110/229 volts and 50/60 Hz.
It should allow you to produce an arc without the need to scratch it with the metal.
Should have the capacity to cut up .5 to 0.75 inches in many types of metal.
Only uses non-toxic cutting air.
Must be highly portable.
Its torch attachment must be compatible with the generic plasma cutter consumables.
What a 50-Amp Plasma Cutter Can Cut?
We also advise that there should be a general guideline when choosing the capacity of a plasma cutter. For 20 amps unit, it should be able to cut 1/8” of an inch then add 10 amps for additional 1/8” of cut. If you intend to cut up 3/8” thick metal, 40 amps would work fine. But if you are to cut up to ½”, 50 amps will be the best choice.
The cut that you can do with a 50-amp plasma cutter also depends on the tip sizes you use. Moreover, this unit should be able to cut copper, sheet metal, aluminum, mild steel, stainless steel and all sorts of metal.
Some of the most recognized 50-amp plasma cutters today are the inverter plasma cutter types. Inverter plasma cutters allow the pilot arc to jump-start which means you don’t have to scratch the tip of the torch on the grounded metal to initiate an arc. As soon as you press the trigger of the torch, the arc is produced. Inverter plasma cutters are also generally lightweight and smaller and don’t require transformers, unlike the 3-phase units.
They can also cut seamlessly even up to 0.34” thick of alloy steel, mild steel, aluminum, copper and other conductive softer metals. They are also generally dual voltage and can rectify the mains supply from AC to DC thus they can withstand current fluctuations without the need for voltage regulators or transformers.
Running Cost of a 50-Amp Inverter Plasma Cutter in Terms of the Necessary Consumables
Consumables of a handheld plasma cutter particularly the 50-amp type are usually composed of the shield, retaining cap, nozzle, electrode, and swirl ring. Consumables means these parts need to be replaced when severely damaged, clogged up, warped or twisted. A good indicator that consumables require replacement is when you see that the torch is creating a bigger cut than what it should cut.
You also need to replace the torch leads as part of your regular maintenance requirements. If necessary, change the torch altogether if every part of it is almost falling apart like exposed body shell or if there’s damage to the torch lead’s jacket that exposed the wires.
Also, if there is constantly presence of water or oil in the line, this can result in the bad quality of the cut while shortening the life of the consumables present on the torch. In this case, replace the whole torch but you can still keep the usable parts.
Consumables You Need
The best examples of consumables we can offer to you for the handheld inverter plasma cutters are the PT-31 and LG-40 Air Plasma Cutter Cutting Torch Consumables. These can consist of electrodes, swirl rings, nozzles and, ceramic shields and of course as the name suggests all of these are adaptable to PT 31 torches and LG 40 torches and we have all of these including these torches.
One good model of a 40-amp unit that the PT 31 and the LG 40 torches are highly compatible with is the cut 40 plasma cutter and it comes with many brands. Though portable, this unit type only weighs less than 30 pounds and able to fit on almost all of the generic type consumables. It can also cleanly cut through 12 mm steel, 5 mm stainless and 3 mm thick aluminum.
Our consumables can be used for a variety of cutting torches even by the popular plasma cutter brands. They are also the cheapest consumables but of high quality. We also have a lot of consumables for the pilot arc plasma cutters including torches.
If you are not familiar with pilot arc plasma cutters including its counterpart the high-frequency plasma cutters and how they work, here is a simple discussion about them.
Pilot Arc Plasma Cutters Vs. High-Frequency Plasma Cutters
Two major types of plasma cutters are very common today in the market and these are the high frequency (HF) and the pilot arc plasma cutters.
High-Frequency Plasma Cutters
High-Frequency Plasma Cutters
High-frequency plasma cutters like the CNC types need a high frequency circuit to create an arc. Much like the spark plug of your car when you start your engine, the electric current will flow through the spark plug and create a spark which will ignite the compressed fuel mixture inside the cylinder and create an explosion.
HF plasma cutters can also be identified by way of having a fixed electrode and nozzle. When gas is released and the electrode is activated inside the nozzle, this creates an arc. Once the nozzle of the torch gets near the metal the electricity will jump into the gap and will build blazing hot plasma between the metal and the electrode. So in essence, you need to put the tip of the nozzle of the HF plasma cutter near the metal to create a very powerful cutting arc.
High-frequency plasma cutters like the 100 amp phase 3 units are the types of plasma cutters that are more preferred for industrial use and in a way can produce more precise cutting jobs. They are also bigger, heavier and more heavy-duty built and designed with complex grounding as well as filtering system which allow them to be used without causing stress on the electricity around them.
On the one hand, there are now some models of HF plasma cutters that could fire high intensity
“pilot arc” as the pilot arc cutters do without the need in tipping the nozzle to the work piece and these are what they call the “high-frequency start” or “scratch start” HF plasma cutters.
Pilot Arc Plasma Cutters
Pilot arc plasma cutters are the simpler cutting machines but must convert AC to DC power to enable it to activate the plasma torch. When DC is applied on the electrode and the gas flows in, this causes short circuit spark inside the nozzle and the gas will become ionized and out from the nozzle is the arc.
The pilot arc plasma cutters are generally the handheld types which have a maximum of 100A. They are some of the latest innovations designed to reduce interference with home electronics and they offer more stable cutting arc.
Cheap and stable, pilot arc plasma cutters have movable electrodes and nozzles. And regardless of the metal to be cut is rusted, painted or greased it can still produce the arc without the need of scratching the tip of the nozzle on the metal workpiece. However, these handheld plasma cutters are thought to consume more consumables than the HF types because of many reasons.
Pilot Arc Plasma Torches Vs High-Frequency Plasma Torches
You may think that a pilot arc plasma torch would be different from the HF plasma torch. But if you look at them closely both have almost the same design and use almost the same types of consumables.
The only difference you could easily notice is that the pilot arc torches are lighter, more compact and the generic plasma cutter consumables are generally adapted to their torches. Good examples of these are the PT31 torches and the LG40 torches.
HF torches are typically bigger, longer and have more angled necks. Nonetheless, sometimes it’s just a matter of using the right consumables even you are using a standard plasma cutter torch and regardless if you are using an HF or a pilot arc plasma cutter.
If you need to replace some of your consumables including the plasma cutting torches, we have you covered . Our Pt31 and LG40 consumables also come in various metal types like nickel-plated or copper made.