The Plasma Cutter is a GREAT tool to allow you to perform fast & precise cuts in all metals used in arc welding.
In the beginning, the military used plasma more than 50 years ago. It was developed by Linde Company ("Plasmarc"). It became more commercially used in the 1960's.
Since the 1990's, it has become affordable to many home users.
But the Plasma Cutter is still pretty spendy for most of us.
Here's the "deal":
1) These Cutters cut virtually anything put in it's path.
2) They produce CLEAN & PRECISE cuts
3) They are about 10 times faster than Oxy-Acet. to cut ferrous metals.
4) They also cut STAINLESS!
But be CAREFUL!
1) You're dealing with VERY high temperatures!
2) The voltages at the working area are higher.
3) For heavier duty units, the noise level is enough to need ear- plugs.
4) Wear ALL appropriate safety gear: gloves, goggles, etc.
The "What's it" part:
The Plasma "state of matter" happens when a gas is super-heated via an arc. When driven through the arc under pressure, it becomes "plasma", & cuts metals like butter. Different gases may be used (including air), depending on what you're cutting.
"The bottom line":
1) If you HAVE the money & you will be doing LOT'S of cutting....
2) AND you NEED very clean and precise cuts...
Then GET ONE!
3) BUT remember that MOST beginning & some advanced welders can't justify the expense, NOR do they NEED one. (at least in the beginning).
Below are some pictures & comments about some of the Cutters that are available:
The Buffalo Tools $760 unit is a less expensive, & a very useful choice for most home uses.
Above is the Miller 375 for $1400. If you WILL go into business eventually (and can afford it), I'd recommend this one.
Notice that the PRO's wear lots of protective gear. Also, note that you don't need the big, long regular welding gloves for this type of job.
Photo by: "tech shop at flickr.com"
Maybe SOMEDAY you'll need one of these CNC plasma cutter units. For now, I wouldn't bother.
Below are some VIDEOS from YouTube that I recommend for you:
Click Here: "Plasma Cut 50 VIDEO":
1) Easy to use!
2) CLEAN cuts.
3) The ground clamp: keep a good connection, MOVE it if needed!
4) Use a guide for more precise cuts.
Click Here: Plasma Cutting VIDEO: various thicknesses & speeds:
Plasma Cutting: Showing various thicknesses & speeds
I just thought it was fun to WATCH!
It's your call, to buy or not to buy.
* As a beginner, it could probably wait.
* If you have the money & KNOW that you would eventually get one, then GET ONE NOW.
* In my September 2009 search, the cheapest used one I saw on Craigslist was $700 ($1400 new)(Hypertherm Powermax 600).
* New Miller 375 = $1400 to Miller 1251 = $4800 (Cuts to 1 1/4"). (via weldersource.com)
* Plus a new "Giant Tech 50D" at $465 on sale.(at plasmametalcutter.com).
Shop around, ask your buddies, then get one for YOUR needs and budget!