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Guidelines for Buying a Plasma Cutter

Do you plan to buy a plasma cutter? It can be a daunting prospect to purchase a piece of equipment which is new to you, especially with a lot of manufacturers and models to consider.

As a start, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

> How long a day will you probably use your plasma cutter? What duty cycle should it have in other words?

> What electrical service type is available in the area where you will be using the machine? Will it be 30 amp 110 volt single phase or 50 amp 220 volt single phase perhaps? What other machines or tools will be run on the same circuit simultaneously?

> How portable do you need the equipment to be? Are you going to use it in your shop exclusively, or do you have to take it to the job? Do you have way of supplying compressed air to the machine when you take it to a remote location? Air bottle or portable compressor? How can you provide electric current onsite?

> What kind of material would you like to cut and how thick might it be?

> Will you only do manual cutting exclusively, or will you probably use your plasma cutter with a CNC cutting machine? Typically, higher the plasma cutter amperage output come with a greater duty cycle at lesser amperages. A lot of people think that a higher-capacity machine is always better, but this isn’t true. Fabricators often put oxy-fuel above plasma for cutting steel that has a thickness of .5 inch or higher; this has something to do with plasma-produced cut face which comes with a slight bevel (around four to six degrees). You wouldn’t see it in thinner materials, but it does become more noticeable with increased thickness. At thickness above .5 inch, plasma also bears no cutting speed advantage compared to oxy-fuel.

If you’ll be using acetylene for the work, there will be nearly no point in purchasing a plasma cutter. If you intend to cut non-ferrous metals like stainless or aluminum, which could not be cut by oxy-fuel, think 50 to 80 amp 220 volt plasma cutter. If you’re going to use your plasma cutter outside the shop sometimes, you have to consider getting one of new breed of semi-portable types. These are tiny powerhouses that weigh no more than 100 lbs., but they can easily cut .75″ to 1″. You’ll be needing a compressor or bottle of air, plus 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 is like your vehicle’s spark plug. Instead of using a comparably lower voltage pilot arc for initiating the plasma process, it depends on a high voltage spark, which brings about electrical interference such as destroying files, locking up the computer, destroying files, and the like.

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