Is it hard to use a plasma cutter?

By: Contributors

Plasma cutters can be used to make airplanes and they can be used to design works of art. Clearly, you'd need a much bigger plasma cutter for your plane project, and the bigger the machine, the more complex it is. The idea behind a plasma cutter is to cut tough-to-manipulate metal using very high temperatures that turn gas into plasma. In essence, the plasma cutter works like an incredibly powerful saw or knife.

A plasma cutter sends nitrogen, argon, oxygen or some other pressurized gas into a small channel, where it meets a negatively charged electrode. When you power the electrode and touch the tip of the plasma cutter to metal, a circuit is created. The circuit creates a spark that heats the gas until it reaches the state of plasma, which is normally somewhere around 30,000° Fahrenheit (16,649° Celsius). To become plasma, the gas molecules have to break apart and atoms have to split. Once the atoms' electrons separate from the nucleus, they begin to rush around frantically, leaving their positively charged nuclei (ions) behind. When the electrons collide with other electrons or with ions, they release a ton of energy, which is what makes plasma so powerful. When you hold the plasma cutter, you can direct that stream of hot plasma wherever you need to slice through metal.


Even though there are a lot of intense reactions and very high temperatures forming inside a plasma cutter, the user's part is relatively easy. While some plasma cutters need robotic arms to work on the more enormous projects, some are handheld units that you can manage by yourself, much like an electric drill or reciprocating saw. The small versions are commonly used by locksmiths, and you can find them in a typical handyman's shop.