How to Operate a Plasma Cutter

straight-edge-for-plasma-cutterThis guide will give you a working knowledge on how to manually operate handheld plasma-based cutting devices. Plasma cutters are fairly simple to use. Anyone can operate these extremely effective cutters with a little dedication and practice. Cutting using plasma-based tools is a fulfilling and engaging experience once you get acquainted to it. Most do-it-yourselfers, artists and fabricators who have integrated plasma cutting in their projects are satisfied with the fast, clean results.

What is a Plasma Cutter

Plasma cutters cut through metals or any electrically conductive material in seconds. Praised for its speed and ease of use, it decreased the cost of cutting and significantly increased work productivity.

Compared to other industrial cutting tools, it is not as time and effort consuming as mechanical cutting devices (shears, snips, saws or cut-off wheels) nor does it have the restrictions of oxy-fuel welding tools such as a pre-heat cycle requirement and limitations on penetrating certain metals like aluminum and stainless steel.

Plasma cutting is an efficient and powerful method in slicing electrically conductive materials. Maximizing this tool to achieve optimal results require a decent understanding on the concepts behind the notable machine.

On Using Plasma Cutters


Depositphotos_3164781_s-2015-Plasma is the component responsible for the design’s quick cutting ability. It forms as a high-temperature gas that conducts electricity which is why it can penetrate through all electrically conductive metals. Here is an overview on the cutter’s mechanism.

  • The torch emits an electrically heated gas (or air) inside the chamber, thus ionizing it.
  • Gas heated in the chamber, between electrode and torch tip, creates plasma, causing it to expand in volume and pressure.
  • The cutter’s torch then forms a plasma arc that is released through the narrow opening of the torch tip.
  • The torch tip’s narrow opening constricts plasma, accelerating towards the work piece at high speeds up to 20,000 feet/second and temperatures as high as 30,000° Fahrenheit.
  • As the plasma arc touches the working surface, it melts through the metal and leaves behind tiny molten spots (dross).

The System’s Components

  • Plasma torch – The plasma torch guides the cutting procedure for proper alignment. The torch contains the main parts needed to generate the plasma arc: the electrode, swirl ring, and nozzle. Inside the torch is a coolant to prevent overheating.
  • Power supply – This component converts AC (alternating current) voltage into DC (direct current) voltage that ranges from 200 to 400 VDC (volts of direct current). The DC voltage maintains the plasma arc throughout the cutting process and regulates the current output based on the thickness and type of the material being cut.
  • Arc Starting Console – The arc starting console produces high AC voltage (around 5,000 VAC or volts of alternating current) that produces a spark inside the torch which creates the plasma arc.

Safety Precaution Checklist

You have to make sure that you have the proper protective gear and a safe environment before starting your project. Here is a good list of what you will need before proceeding to your work.

  • Eyes and face: welding helmet, hand shield, or goggles
  • Hands and feet: insulated gloves and boots
  • Ears: ear plugs or ear muffs
  • Lungs/Breathing: respirators face masks
  • Body: Fire resistant aprons or clothing

Final Consideration

Some plasma torch systems use high frequency start technology to initiate the system. It is advised that you put away mobile phones, computers and other electronic equipment as they may interfere or even damage these devices. Review your product before proceeding to your work.

 A Step-by-Step Guide


  • Step 1. Maintain correct standoff distance (approximately 1/8 of an inch) before proceeding. Point the plasma torch straight down to the working piece.
  • Step 2. Release the trigger lock. Press the trigger to activate the plasma torch and create plasma arc. CAUTION: The arc starts immediately when trigger is pressed.
  • Step 3. Slowly move the torch against the metal.
  • Step 4. Adjust speed so sparks pass through the metal. If you don’t see sparks at the bottom of the plate then the arc is not penetrating the metal. You might be moving the torch too fast, having insufficient amperage (see your product’s manual) or you’re pointing the torch at an angle and not straight down.
  • Step 5. When you reach the end of the cut, pause momentarily to sever the metal completely.
  • Step 6. Air continues to flow 20-30 seconds after releasing the torch’s trigger. Wait for another 20-30 seconds before cutting again.

Other Techniques

 Plasma torches can also perform other welding techniques such as piercing for creating holes and gouging for removing imperfections.

Piercing procedure:

  • Direct the torch at an angle (40 – 45 degrees) towards the work piece.
  • Press the trigger and wait for the torch to create a plasma arc.
  • Bring the torch tip down, creating a 90 degree angle and wait for the metal to be pierced.

Gouging procedure:

  • Direct the torch at an angle (40 – 45 degrees) towards the work piece.
  • Press the trigger and wait for the torch to create a plasma arc.
  • Bring the torch tip down, creating a 90 degree angle and wait for the old weld or unwanted material to be removed.

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