How Does A Plasma Cutter Work?

Posted: April 26, 2014 By: Louis Beaudreau

In the automotive world, using a plasma cutter can be useful for slicing through almost any kind of metal like carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum and cast iron, regardless of the current quality. In this article, we delve into how this remarkable tool operates and why its so useful.

What is Plasma Cutting?

Plasma cutting is a process used to cut metals of varying thicknesses using inert gas that is blown at high speed out of a plasma torch nozzle. Simultaneously, an electric arc is formed through that inert gas, turning some of it into plasma. Plasma shooting through the nozzle at that speed is hot enough to melt the metal and fast enough to blow extra molten metal away from the cut, keeping it clean and precise. This is especially useful for cutting high gauge steel or more dense metals. Also, for auto mechanics, a plasma cutter can be great for gouging, removing crushed welds in precise areas without disrupting the shape of the original parts.

Another benefit of using a plasma cutter for auto body work is how well it can work with pre-cut templates. A plasma cutter operator can drag the top of the torch directly along a work piece and use pre-cut templates, like circles or straight lines, without damaging anything unintentionally. Plasma cutters are fairly easy to use, and you can learn how to use one for the first time in just minutes. Let’s take a look at how one of these machines works below.

The Mechanics of a Plasma Cutter

A plasma cutter works by sending a pressurized inert gas, like nitrogen, argon or oxygen, through a small internal chamber. In this middle of this chamber, there is a negatively charged electrode. When electrical power is supplied and you touch the tip of the torch nozzle to a piece of metal, a powerful spark is created between the metal and the negatively charged electrode. As the inert gas travels through the chamber, the spark heats the gas and creates a direct stream of plasma, which is the fourth state of matter and therefore contains more heat energy than a flame. The plasma itself conducts electrical current and creates the powerful arc that is continuous as long as electrical power is supplied to the plasma cutter.

Since a constant flow of gas is released from the chamber, it creates a gas shield around the cutting area, which relieves the metal of any dust or other contaminants that may exist. Operating the plasma cutter is easy. Simply, plug the plasma cutter into an outlet for power, connect your air supply for the gas flow, attach the ground clamp for operating steadiness, and pull the torch trigger to complete the circuit and start the flow of plasma.

To learn more about plasma cutting and for more DIY car tutorials, be sure to visit Eastwood.com.

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