Plasma Cutting - Selecting the right amperage

A number one question I often get is "What's the thinnest material this metal can cut?" That of course to an experienced user of a plasma cutter is a relative question. In reality, any plasma cutter really has no bottom, or minimum thickness that it can cut. It's sort of like trying to define what the smallest fire a single match can set would be. In other words, every plasma cutter can cut through the thinnest metal sheet you could find. Not all would do it as well, though based off of the tip design and diamerter of the orifice in the tip. Some would leave a broader, wider kerf, others would look like a razor blade made the cut. It would depend upon the amperage used as well. Amperage control is key to giving the best quality cut on any given thickness of metal. But, at a point lowering the amperage, makes no economical or practical sense. Speed and quality have to be balanced. As amps are lowered, quality can go up, but speed can drop drastically. And at a certain point, quality begins to quickly drop when amps are lowered too far. There is a rule of thumb that I have come up with when using a plasma cutter to achieve the best cut. You won’t find it in any plasma cutting manuals though. I have found that 20 amps is truly the lowest practical limit for a plasma cutter. That amperage is good up to 1/8” of an inch.  After 1/8” you can typically add 10 amps for every additional 1/8” of cut. While this isn’t perfect for all conditions, it works well as a general guide. For 3/8” cut, 40 amps works out well for most brands of plasma cutters. For ½” cut, 50 amps works out well, etc. Keep in mind this isn’t the maximum thickness of cut that a plasma cutter is capable of cutting but rather, it is a good rule to follow for decent cutting speed and quality. For most torches, various tip sizes are available, each with its optimum cut range.

Comments

That's a nice formula to use.  I tried using it recently with my Powerplasma cutter and it has worked out really well.  

I have been trying to follow this formula for using this Plasma Cutter from few days ago. It's really working nice. Thank you.

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Definititely works out very nicely.. I also use the PowerPlasma. Very good quality product. I've been with it for a couple years now for a number of jobs for my handyman Regina based business and never have trouble with it.

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I have always thought that it matters all the time, in each situation. Thanks for educating me and everyone.

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To properly explain how a plasma cutter works, we must begin by answering the basic question “What is plasma?  In its simplest terms, plasma is the fourth state of matter.  We commonly think of matter having three states: a solid, a liquid, and a gas.  Matter changes from one state to the other through the introduction of energy, such as heat.  For example, water will change from a solid (ice) to its liquid state when a certain amount of heat is applied.  If the heat levels are increased, it will change again from a liquid to a gas (steam).  Now, if the heat levels increase again, the gases that make up the steam will become ionized and electrically conductive, becoming plasma.  A plasma cutter will use this electrically conductive gas to transfer energy from a power supply to any conductive material, resulting in a cleaner, faster cutting process than with oxyfuel. 

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Plasma cutting technology has gradually evolved from the welding technology of the 1960s, when the early plasma cutters were bulky monstrosities! Today, there are many portable plasma cutter models on the market, and they are more flexible and safer to use than their huge predecessors. They are also more affordable for both professionals and hobbyists.

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