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michael cook 12-02-2008 05:51 PM

plasma cutter
thinking about buying a plasm cutter for use in my garage cutting brackets and sheet stock like to spend under $1000.00 any sugestion on brand and model like to cut 1/4 -5/16 at times

yknot 12-02-2008 08:32 PM

Turefully I have owned two Plasma cutters, one was a very large Miller, that cut up to 1" thick steel, the other is a small Lincoln that is only good to 3/8" I believe. I thought I would really like Plasma, but i never really seen where it was that great. Sure it sounds neat, but it does nothing a good cutting torch won't do. Only real benefit is the absence of a flame. I use by Plasma machine very little, when I want a clean cut i have saws that produce a great cut, last time I used the machine was to remove the floor board from a 1933 sedan. Good Luck.

powerrodsmike 12-02-2008 08:52 PM

I don't know about the under 1000.00 cost part, but I have a Thermal arc xl38 plasma torch with a drag tip that has made a significant difference in the amount of time I spend making brackets and such. It's max cut is 3/8" .
The neat thing about a drag tip is that you can make a template from wood or posterboard and follow it around as you cut. With just a little practice you can make very smooth cuts that require little or no grinding. The heat is concentrated so warpage is kept to a minimum. For fabrication of even intricate parts you can't beat a plasma torch. A gas axe still has it's place in the shop, heating and cutting big nasty stuff is about all I use mine for anymore.

Watch out for the cheaper brands of plasma torches, replacement parts are hard to get.

Later, mikey

NEW INTERIORS 12-02-2008 09:59 PM

I agree with Mikey on this one.A plasma is a very need tool and a fab shop.It cut's very clean and fast.Don't have to worry about warpage.Don't have to preheat like a torch.I'm about to buy me a miller.I had one at the shop I worked at,And once you get use to using one you won't use a touch anymore,Well I can't say that,But you will grab that plasma more then the torch... :D

oldred 12-02-2008 11:45 PM

Also a plasma will cut stainless and other metals you can't cut with a torch. For steel however a good torch with the right tip will do an excellent job and would be a lot cheaper, this however is really comparing apples to oranges since these are really two different tools and a well equipped shop would of course have both.

F&J 12-03-2008 06:15 AM

I used to dread getting a 4" x 8' or 5' x 10' sheet of metal... until I got a plasma. I can slice it up in sections as it comes off the truck tailgate with wicked clean cuts.

Some plasmas suck. a friend bought a Snap=on, and it cuts much worse than a Ox/Ac with a badly plugged tip.

Around my area, Thermal Dynamics outsell the rest.

NEW INTERIORS 12-03-2008 07:14 AM


Originally Posted by oldred
Also a plasma will cut stainless and other metals you can't cut with a torch. For steel however a good torch with the right tip will do an excellent job and would be a lot cheaper, this however is really comparing apples to oranges since these are really two different tools and a well equipped shop would of course have both.

Sorry oldred....But I would have to say,In the long run the plasma would be cheaper.....As many times as I paid to fill a bottle + rent..I could of had more then one plasma.... :sweat: :drunk:

35WINDOW 12-03-2008 07:41 AM

My understanding of the Plasma Industry is that Thermal Dynamics and Hypertherm are considered the Cadillacs (please correct me if I'm wrong here)-I also understand that Hyperhterm makes many of the parts (and more?) for the Miller machines. Esab is also considered a good one.

I looked around and could not justify a new Machine ($$$$), so I took a chance (I am pretty conservative, so I ususally buy new). I got a Hypertherm 380 (max cut is 3/8", severance capacity 1/2") off of Fleabay, and I got a great deal (well under $500.00).

It cuts great and I wonder how I got along without it.

oldred 12-03-2008 08:01 AM


Originally Posted by 35WINDOW
It cuts great and I wonder how I got along without it.

I always considered myself handy with a torch and could not see any reason for a plasma cutter in my shop but I agreed to let the salesman leave the demo with me for a week. Well after a week I still felt it was just a useless expense and my torch was all I needed but they never came by to pick it up for over a month and by then it was too late, I probably would have shot them if they had of tried to leave with it! :) I still was very partial to my torch, just set in my ways I guess, but that plasma machine just did so many things my torch would not do and did it so clean that I too wondered how I got along so long without it.

timothale 12-03-2008 08:15 AM

I bought an ESAB jessie james model from my welding supplier for about 2 K. It was their display model and they threw some extra stuff. the thing worked good until I got some water in the air and poof ...a hundred dollars worth of parts were ruined. I worked for a company that made Harley parts and the shop air had big compressors and refrigeratored air dryers. Never any problems there. It is very important to have some type of water seperator. I bought the Motor guard can filter. I think the company used to make oil filters. also I have the clear plastic seperators that change colors when they get loaded with water. I have an automatic drain system on my shop compressor but It doesn' get all the water out.

oldred 12-03-2008 08:36 AM

That is one of the drawbacks to a plasma outfit and unless care is taken to make sure everything is in order they can be expensive to operate. That big Linde outfit I had was also set up with a gouging head and if this thing was used improperly it was VERY expensive to use! Theoretically it should not have been too bad but it was nearly impossible to use much at all without encountering blow-back from the work that would destroy the expensive cups and tips. We tried this for a while to replace carbon arc gouging for weld removal and joint preparation in an effort to eliminate the major problems caused by the contamination of the base metal from that danged air-arc but it just became too expensive. Maybe others have had better luck with gouging with plasma than I did but even with the high cost of Acetylene I found that a torch with a grooving tip was still much better than plasma, the torch was much better than carbon-arc too but more costly due to the cost of the gas. For cutting however the plasma is in a league of it's own and for thin stuff like most would encounter in automotive work a good plasma outfit will be an extremely useful tool.

powerrodsmike 12-03-2008 09:35 AM

I was wrong about the brand on my is a Thermal Dynamics XL38, not Thermal Arc as I previously said...The tip change is expensive, about 15.00 for an electrode and brass tip, I get about 20-30' of really clean cut in 3/16 before I change tips...The cost in tips is offset by not having to use alot of grinding discs for finishing and by not needing to buy acetylene or oxygen. The small amount of slag on the part is easily broken off with a blunt rock chisel, or chipping hammer. Can't do that with torch slag.

If you move the plasma torch as fast as you can, and still maintain cutting totally through the piece, you minimize blowback, and minimize slag..The tip lasts longer as well. A smooth motion ,(like using a torch), will get the cleanest edge.

If you want to get a clean cut in Aluminum, use nitrogen instead of shop air. I never tried it, but heard it from another fabricator buddy of mine.

Later, mikey

awert 12-03-2008 03:45 PM

plasma cutter
I have both, but the gas is terrible, i paid $27 bucks yesterday for the Acle. tank fill, and that is a very small tank, the portable set, maybe 12" high and 3" OD. might last me 1/2 hour......

oldred 12-03-2008 04:15 PM

I know what you mean about the cost of acetylene, try using a big ol, Victor 1600 with a no.12 gouging tip! It will go through a 135 cf tank of Acetylene in a matter of minutes. :pain: I much prefer that grooving tip over Air-Arc for weld removal and joint prep because of the increased speed and the much cleaner cut but it finally just got so expensive I rarely use it anymore. The plasma gouge may be just the thing for automotive work, if the machine being used is capable, when removing welded on parts because it leaves a very clean surface that needs little to no clean-up before welding.

yknot 12-03-2008 06:41 PM

I got to thinking about my post and thought I should reword it....First i think people or at least gear heads, always want the new tool, it's the grass and greener thing.....

My first Plasma Cutter was a hass, it was pretty powerful for it's day and cost over $3500.00. It was usefull, and I used it, just it wsn't the end all of things.

I guess the fact that i did purchase another plasma machine should have been the hint that i felt they were useful, just not the tool most think they are.

Yes, tank fills are expensive, I go thru several a year on the MIG, but you have to have them to weld, same goes for the torch. Plasma parts are extremely expensive, and you have about 5-7 piece that wear with each cut, and and have to be replaced to maintain the quality of cut.

Yes, they are nice to have........I think everyone knows that...But I have other tools, and so does others, that can do the same thing and often times better. I really think most should get themselves a good (GOOD) Metal cutting circular saw, like the one from Van Saint Tool sales. These saws allow me to make very high precision cuts, quickly and with no clean-up or grinding required after the cut. I can cut up to my personal best of 3/4" thick plate with this saw and the blade lives on. typically i get about 275-325' of cut per blade, which is way cheaper then any other cutting system. I use a 14" chop saw with special metal cutting blade also and love the performance, and accuracy. I think this system would be the best option for many in the Hobby.

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