The Plasma Cutting Basics: 5 Essentials to Start

Demonstration of The Basics of Plasma Cutting

So, you want to start plasma cutting? First, you’ll need to know the plasma cutting basics!

If you’ve ever done any metal fabrication, it’s almost a given that you’ve wished you had a plasma cutter. While oxy-fuel and saw cutting works pretty well for most purposes, the versatility and ease of use of a plasma cutter are enough to make anyone jealous.

Before you get started with this method of cutting, you should know the plasma cutting basics. Here are the 5 essentials you need to get started.

1. First up… You’ll Need A Plasma Cutting System

There are hundreds of options on today’s market for affordable, handheld plasma cutting systems. A small system in the 20A – 50A range can be had for under $500 which will be capable of cutting up to ½” mild steel. Some systems can run on 110V power or dual 110V / 220V power. Some weigh less than 40 pounds and can easily be carried around a shop or jobsite. Some even have onboard air compressors!

2. An Air Compressor Is Necessary for Safe Operation

Most small plasma cutting systems don’t require much in terms of air, but you’ll always want to make sure that your air supply is clean and dry. Oil or water in your air will cause issues with your plasma cutter. At a bare minimum, you’ll need 80psi of pressure and 3.5scfm of flow capacity to run any plasma cutting system, but some systems may require 115psi and 6.7scfm. Do not skimp on a proper air compressor. Your plasma cutter won’t function correctly if you do!

3. Next, Find the Right Power Supply for Your Cutter

The smallest handheld plasma cutters will run on 110-120VAC and draw 15-20A of current. As you go up in power, you’ll need 220V-240VAC with a 30A or 50A circuit. Many newer machines are adaptable for either voltage range, allowing maximum performance at higher voltage while still remaining versatile where only lower voltage input is available.

4. Find Long-Lasting & Durable Consumables

Just like any other tool, your plasma cutter will require an array of consumables to function. This may include electrodes, nozzles, swirl rings (baffles), retaining caps, shields, and other items. You’ll want to make sure that you have an adequate supply of these before you start cutting as they will need to be replaced periodically as they wear out or become damaged.

If you want to get the most out of your consumables, you should use high-quality products for better durability. At American Torch Tip, we have a full line of plasma cutting consumables that are built to last, saving you money on consumables.

5. Always Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You’ll want to protect yourself from injury while plasma cutting. To do this you’ll need shaded lens glasses, a face shield, gloves, and a bib or jacket to cover exposed skin and non-fire-resistant clothing. You may already have these things available but if you do not, be sure to get them before you begin cutting. ANSI and AWS recommend a minimum protective shade of 8 for plasma cutting in the 20-100 amp range.

Get Started With These Plasma Cutting Basics Today!

In addition to the plasma cutting basics above, it also helps to have a straight edge or cutting guide to assist in making the straightest, highest-quality cuts possible, especially if your torch does not use a drag shield and you’ll be manually maintaining a standoff distance. Circle cutting guides are also available for a very affordable price to assist in cutting round shapes. For more information, visit our welding blog.

If you’re getting started with plasma cutting, we recommend taking a look at our wide selection of plasma cutting torches and consumables.

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