3 Beginner’s Tips For Preparing Your Plasma Torch For Cutting Steel Sheet Metal

If you work in a factory's machine shop, the plant may have recently purchased a plasma torch for you to use when fabricating parts out of steel. If you are new to using a plasma cutting torch to cut steel sheet metal for fabrication, the following three tips will help prepare you to make your first cut.

Ensure Your Safety Before Starting

As with any project that you are cutting metal with an open flame, safety should be a priority while using a plasma torch. Before you enter the work area, you need to make sure you are properly dressed and protected against the extreme heat of the torch.

  • Protect your hands by wearing heat-resistant welder's gloves. They should reach at least halfway up your forearm because the plasma stream could arc if too much air is used, causing severe burns.
  • Make sure you wear a welding helmet before you strike the arc. Although the plasma stream may not seem to be as bright as a traditional torch, the intense heat could still burn your eyes if it comes into close proximity with them.
  • Keep your arms and legs covered with thick, flame-retardant clothing. Not only does the plasma flame cut the metal, but its pressure forces the metal pieces to break away. This force could make small steel shards that could severely burn your bare skin.

Make Sure The Cutter Firmly Grounded

A plasma torch depends on electricity to light the pilot arc and keep the stream heated. Because you are working with high voltage, the plasma machine needs to be properly grounded.

  • Make sure the cutter is well grounded on a piece of metal that is away from the steel sheet metal with which you are working. If the ground location is too close to the piece you are cutting, electricity could arc between the metal and shock you.
  • Never sit or stand on the metal the cutter is grounded to. If the grounding plate were to become dislodged, your body would become the conduit through which the current would travel. This could lead to serious burn injuries or even death by electrocution.
  • If your chosen grounding location has any rust or dirt, use a steel brush to clean the surface as much as possible. This will give you a cleaner, stronger grounding connection without interference from debris.

Eliminate Moisture In The Compressed Air

When you are using a plasma cutting torch, the wand is attached to an air compressor. Not only does the air help feed the flame, but it also gives the stream enough pressure to cut through and break the metal apart. When using the air compressor, you must make sure there is no moisture in the line because it would dull or put out the flame.

  • Inspect the inside of the air compressor's tank for any water buildup. If you find any, tilt the tank on its side and use another air compressor to blow dry the interior.
  • Before attaching the plasma cutting machine to the air compressor, run air through the hose for two full minutes. This will force out any excess moisture caused by condensation.
  • Place a water trap filter on the end of the compressor's hose before attaching it to the cutter. This will capture any small droplets that remain within the air compressor system. Replace the filter with a dry one every 15 minutes while cutting.

As long as you keep the above tips in mind when working with a plasma cutter, you should be able to avoid potential problems while cutting pieces out of steel sheet metal. However, if you do not feel comfortable cutting your first pieces on your own, you may want to consult with a steel fabricator who is skilled in using a plasma torch. For more information, consider doing some additional reading.