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Metal Cutter: Plasma vs. the Nibbler



The Voice: Hey, Kevin. What are you getting ready to do?

Kevin Caron: I had an email the other day from a guy in high school taking welding class, and he said, "Man, we just got to play with the plasma cutter, and it is so cool! But the instructor said something about a nibbler. What the heck is a nibbler and could I compare the two of them?"

Ooh, that sounds like fun! Hang on, we?re winding up....

This is a plasma torch, a plasma cutter torch. It runs on electricity and compressed air, and when the air comes up through the gun, there's a little chamber inside that makes the air swirl, and then inside this little tip, there's a nozzle.

This is the nozzle, and there's a tip inside there, where you get an electric arc going across. That's what creates the plasma, and then you get the flame coming out.

It's great for thicker metals, such as the kind I use while creating a contemporary art sculpture. This one will cut up to a quarter inch. It's very fast, but it's kind of messy. Not like an oxygen acetylene torch, but messy. You'll see.

Look here. I just drew out a little pattern; I have the plasma cutter on one side and the nibbler on the other. Watch as I use the plasma cutter. It's real quick, but this is what you get when you cut it off (besides hot). You get the jagged edges.

So now you have to come back in and grind all of it smooth, plus grind on the back side to get the slag off. You also get a little distortion from the heat, especially on the thinner metals, and it will cause warping.

Now, you see, the nibbler (this is an electric one; you can get them air-powered also), this one's rated 10-gauge, which is just a little bit thicker than an eighth of an inch. It's got this little cutter inside here that moves back and forth.

This is a die; it allows you to work in a slot such as here. That thing will come down and, as you move forward, it'll take a little chunk out as you go, like nibbles. It's really messy. There's a lot of little, sharp pieces that come out of the bottom as you work along.

You have to keep the nibbler lubricated. Use some WD-40 or cutting fluid or something like that, to keep the die and the punch cool, and also to make it cut a little easier. With the plasma cutter, however, there?s no need for lubricant.

The nibbler's a lot faster, I think, than the plasma cutter as far as getting in there where you want to go. It's a little more controllable, because you can stop, or work real slowly and easily and then just shave that portion away.

It's not like a pair of shears, or scissors, though. You can't just follow the line along because you?d put the die in a bind and snap it off along the base. It's just for coming in from the open edge and taking off little bits of material. It's kind of fun to play with, great for little sharp corners.

They all have their purpose: use the plasma cutter when it's a thicker metal, and the nibbler for thin metal. When I tried the nibbler on stainless steel, it was bad. I broke the die off left and right. It was a little too heavy, little too hard for the nibbler to run through. That's the difference.

The Voice: Can you hold up your finished product there so we can see it?

Kevin Caron: Here's where the plasma cutter cut and you can see the heat distortion; you can see the burned area on the metal. Here's where the nibbler cut. No difference in the color of the steel at all.

Now, if you turn it over and you look at the back side, you see where it is all nice and smooth and this part is all jagged. So I'd have to come in where I used the plasma cutter and grind that area off again and smooth it down to get rid of the slag. Then I'd have to come in and trace right along the edge of my line to get it right on the line, whereas, with the nibbler you can get in a lot closer.

I guess it depends on what piece of metal you're working with, and whether you have this toy or that toy in the studio. I mean this power tool or that power tool!

Back to work. Bye!

Plasma: More cleanup. More warping, discoloration. Handles thicker metal. Better for stainless.

Nibbler: Messy. Takes more time. Needs lubrication. No distortion. More controllable.

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