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Tips for Buying a Plasma Cutter

Are you planning to buy a plasma cutter? Its can be overwhelming to purchase equipment that is new to you, not to mention there are so many models and manufacturers and models to select from.

To start with, answer the following questions before you go out shopping:

> How hours of daily use will the equipment get? In other words, what duty cycle do you need it to have?

> What type of electrical service is available where you plan to use it? Is it 50 amp 220 volt single phase, or maybe 30 amp 110 volt single phase? What other equipment will be sharing the circuit with the plasma cutter?

> How portable do you need the equipment to be? Will you take it outside or will you use it strictly in your shop? Ca you supply the machine with compressed air when you bring it to a remote location? Air bottle or portable compressor? What about the electric current onsite?

> What type of material do you intend to cut, and how thick will it probably be?

> Manual cutting or with a CNC cutting machine? Generally, the greater the plasma cutter’s amperage output , the greater the duty cycle will be at lower amperages. Many people believe that a greater-capacity machine is always better, but this is false. Fabricators usually consider oxy-fuel as superior to plasma for cutting steel that have a thickness of .5 inch or more; this is because of the 4 to 6-degree bevel in the cut face made by the plasma. You wouldn’t see it in thinner materials, but it does become more noticeable with increased thickness. Also, plasma has no advantage over oxy-fuel in terms of speed at thicknesses beyond .5 inch.

It is almost useless to buy a plasma cutter that cut 1.5 plate, if you will be using acetylene for the work anyway. If your intention is to cut aluminum, stainless or any other non-ferrous metal, which oxy-fuel cannot cut, get a 50 to 80 amp 220 volt plasma cutter. If you’re going to use your plasma cutter outside the shop from time to time, consider getting one of those new breed semi-portable types. These are little powerhouses weighing below 100 lbs., but they have the ability to cut .75″ to 1″ in a snap. You would need a a bottle of air or a compressor, with the addition of a portable generator.

If you think you might automate your plasma cutting in the future, pick a unit that that runs on a low-frequency starting circuit. A high-frequency start works like your car’s spark plug. Instead of using a relatively lower voltage pilot arc to start the plasma process, it relies on a high voltage spark, which causes electrical interference like destroying files, locking up the computer, and so on.

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