Whether you have a small metal fabrication business or a metal sculpting hobby, a plasma cutter can be an extremely valuable tool. It’s fast, versatile, precise and it’s relatively easy to operate. But to ensure that your experience with a plasma cutter is as smooth and efficient as possible, you need to first have a solid understanding of the accessories that it requires. This includes plasma cutter guides, shields, air filters, swirl rings and personal equipment.
To help you out, we’re going to discuss five essential plasma cutting accessories.
What is plasma cutting?
Before we get into the accessories, it helps to understand the plasma cutting process.
Plasma cutting is a method of cutting metals via a plasma stream. A plasma cutting machine typically takes compressed gas (i.e., air, nitrogen, oxygen, or inert gas) and ionises it via an electric spark. This process is used to heat up the gas until it changes matter. Just as liquid turns into gas when heated, gas turns into plasma when it reaches a certain temperature.
Once the gas is ionised, plasma is pushed out through a nozzle, creating a concentrated stream. This plasma stream/column can cut through steel, aluminium, brass, copper and other electrically conductive materials.
Since plasma is extremely hot, the accessories around it can easily wear out if you’re not careful. Such accessories are called consumables since they typically need to be replaced after a few uses.
For your own safety and for the longevity of your plasma cutter, it’s important that you understand how these consumables work and how to make them last.
Essential plasma cutting accessories
- Plasma cutting guides and shields
Shields are used to protect the nozzle from damage. These shields are important especially if you’re planning to use your plasma cutter for contact cutting. Contact cutting involves placing the nozzle directly on the metal workpiece to make the necessary cuts. Though this method gives you more control and accuracy, it will cause your nozzle to wear out quite quickly. A shield not only protects the nozzle, but it also protects the inner parts of the cutter such as the retaining cap, the swirl ring and the electrode.
If you’re not looking to use contact cutting methods, then you might want to purchase plasma cutting guides.
A roller guide holds the cutter over the metal workpiece at a set height and uses rollers (wheels) to move the cutter along a single plane. Since the nozzle is farther from the metal during the cutting process, it’s not going to wear out as quickly. Additionally, the rollers allow you to get an accurate and uniform cut.
There are also circle guides which can help you cut out rounded shapes from a metal workpiece. Circle guides are perfect for small businesses who need to fabricate multiple metal products with accuracy.
An electrode is a conductor that carries an electric current through matter. In the case of plasma cutters, it is the part responsible for creating the electric spark that ionizes the compressed gas.
Unfortunately, the more sparks the electrode creates, the more it’s going to wear down.
According to UNIMIG, a plasma cutter supplier, you should replace your electrode as soon as there is a 1mm pit at its centre. Additionally, if you’re going to replace your electrode, it’s also a good idea to replace the nozzle as well.
- Swirl rings
The swirl ring helps control the swirl of the plasma around the electrode and centres the stream through the nozzle. Without it, your plasma cutter isn’t going to be as stable. Additionally, since the plasma stream is left uncontrolled, the absence of a swirl ring will also cause the nozzle to wear out faster.
Swirl rings are typically made from plastic. Every time you switch out your nozzle or electrode, be sure to check the ring for any damages. This could be cracks, holes or other deformities. If the ring isn’t in good condition, get it replaced as soon as you can.
Luckily, swirl rings don’t need to be changed as often as nozzles or electrodes.
- Air filters
Most plasma cutters use air compressors. This means air quality is extremely important for your plasma cutter. If too much moisture finds its way into the machine via the compressed air, it could wear out your consumables faster and affect the quality of your cuts.
If you’re running a business, it’s best to invest in quality filters. Roll filters and in-line filters are said to be great options when it comes to professional quality plasma cutting. However, both products aren’t perfect. Roll filters are typically non-self-draining, which means you need to manually change them frequently. On the other hand, in-line filters block out the moisture along with the air flow. This blocked air flow, is serious enough, could affect the quality of the cut.
If you’re simply using the machine for your hobby, then the filter that comes with most plasma cutting machines should be good enough.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Finally, you need to be wearing the proper PPE whenever you’re using a plasma cutter. This applies to both workers and hobbyists.
If you’re running a business, make sure that you’re following work health and safety regulations. Ensure that there’s enough PPE for all the workers who require it. Additionally, you must ensure that the workers are qualified and trained to use the cutters and that the machines are regularly maintained.
Even as a hobbyist, you shouldn’t be complacent about protective gear. A small misstep with a plasma cutting can cause serious injuries if you’re not careful. It’s important to follow strict safety guidelines even if you’re working at home.
There you have five accessories that you need for your plasma cutters. Get these five items right and your experience with your plasma cutter should be smooth and easy. If you have any questions about these accessories, you can ask local trusted suppliers or manufacturers.