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What's the most expensive workshop tool out there?

Plasma cutters can cut any electrically conductive metal -- working especially well with thinner sheets of metal -- with incredible precision. See more pictures of power tools.
Photo Courtesy of Torchmate

Every year as Christmas, Father's Day and dad's birthday roll around, the usual list of possible presents immediately comes to mind. Does he need a new razor? Anything starting to look a little ratty in the wardrobe? How about in the garage, tool shed or basement -- has he had his eye on any new tools?

Shopping at the hardware store for new tools can reveal some pretty steep price tags, but that's usually just the beginning. One type of tool in particular, plasma cutters, can be rather expensive -- but also worth the price depending on what kind of work needs to be done.

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So just what is a plasma cutter? It's a machine that makes use of plasma (matter's fourth possible state) to cut metal. At cold temperatures matter is solid, followed by liquid and then gas as its temperature rises. Add even more heat to a gas and it changes into plasma, which is by far the most common form of matter in the universe [source: Mullen]. Plasma rarely occurs naturally on the surface of the earth, but it can on occasion, in the form of lightning, for example. Plasma occurs when extremely high temperatures cause atoms to become so active and energized they start to break apart into their component particles: electrons and nuclei. This ionization process makes the plasma able to conduct electricity.

Basically, plasma cutters work by creating a circuit between the power source -- a negatively charged electrode in the tip of the torch nozzle -- and the metal being cut. Pressurized gas is sent through the narrow nozzle at high speeds and is heated and ionized, turning it into plasma. This focused arc of ionized plasma conducts the electrical current to the workpiece and cuts the metal. For our purposes here, these are the basics of plasma cutting -- for more detailed information, read How Plasma Cutters Work.

While many smaller plasma cutters can be acquired for under a thousand dollars, the price of a plasma cutter system can run much, much higher. And while the sky's the limit when it comes to the most expensive of anything -- if there's someone willing to pay five million dollars for a product, there's certainly someone willing to sell it -- the plasma cutter we'll look at on the next page is definitely high on the list.

Let's check out the specs of that pricey plasma cutter.