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Metal Cutting Tools: Plasma vs. Oxygen Acetylene

Kevin Caron: Some of my YouTube subscribers, having watched my earlier how-to videos on the various metal cutting tools, sent e-mails asking "What about the oxygen-acetylene or plasma cutter?"

Oops, I forgot to mention those. If you want to look at them, come here and I'll show you.

Starting with oxygen-acetylene: That's what I would use for heavy metals, such as quarter-inch plate, up to an inch and a quarter; inch and a half. That's what I would use the oxygen-acetylene for.

The plasma cutter: That's what I use for the thinner metals; some of the finer metals I use in my contemporary art sculptures. This plasma cutter is only rated to a half an inch. That's all it will cut.

The Voice: What model is it, Kev?

Kevin Caron: This is a Hypertherm 380. They come much bigger than this; in fact, you can get plasma cutters that will cut the same thickness as an oxygen-acetylene.

It really depends on what type of metal cutting project you're going to be doing as to which cutting tool you want to go buy. Do you want to see what they do?

The Voice: Yes, let's see it.

With either tool you've got to have dark glasses. And you'd better put on some gloves, because there is hot metal going everywhere.

Let's fire it up the machines. Here is a little piece of eighth-inch plate I have laying around the studio. All we want to do is get it hot. And there you go.

Now, I'll show you something. With the plasma cutter, all you do is turn the switch on; hook up the air hose to it, and it cuts that easily.

The Voice: Which cut is cleaner?

Kevin Caron: Let me show you. That's why I made this little cut with oxygen-acetylene. Now, let me make a little cut with the plasma cutter.

Come here and take a look. You can see this is the oxygen-acetylene cut. You can see how melted it is and uneven on the edges. Now look at the cut using the plasma cutter; it?s a nice, straight even cut. Nice square sides.

Let me flip it over. This is the oxygen-acetylene cut and this is the plasma cut. As you can see, the plasma does a much neater, cleaner, straighter cut; as long as you're within its tolerance. The oxygen-acetylene will give you a much wider cut; it?ll take more metal. It's a more jagged cut; a little harder to clean up.

With the plasma cutting machine, cutting is all you can do with it; whereas, with oxygen-acetylene, if you change the tip, you can also use it for welding, or for heating or bending metal.

The Voice: Will they both cut the same thicknesses?

Kevin Caron: Oh, no. Like I said, the plasma is rated up to a half an inch. It will cut a quarter. It will shear a half, so, it will give you that nice, clean, straight cut up to a quarter-inch thick. After that it gets a little wobbly, a little jagged; it gets a little more like an oxygen-acetylene, but it still only takes a sixteenth of an inch worth of kerf out of it.

The Voice: What about cost of the two units?

Kevin Caron: That little plasma cutter was just over a thousand dollars; and you need compressed air and 220. The oxygen-acetylene, the torch kit, with the hoses, gauges, the two bottles and then the cart to haul it all around with is in the $500 to $750 range. It?s a little cheaper than the plasma, but you can take the oxygen-acetylene anywhere you want it, and you don't need electricity for it. The plasma cutter, on the other hand, requires 220 and compressed air, or bottle gas; either one.

It all depends on the type of metal working project you're going to do.

See you next time.

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