Cutting Torch Guide – Oxy Acetylene or Plasma Cutter ?

Oxy Acetylene Cutting Torch Or Plasma?

There are basically two types of cutters for a small auto body, fabrication shops, and home fabricators.

These two types of cutters are the Oxy Acetylene Cutting Torch, and the Plasma Cutter…

There are many arguments for and against each type of cutter for different situations, but it all boils down to what your projects are metal thickness and budget.

In this Cutting Torch Guide, we will discuss the basics of each type of cutter.

Also, I will also provide you with a summary of what you might want to go with based upon your current situation, whether you are running a small shop, working on a farm, or simply metalworking at home…

What Is An Oxy Acetylene Cutting Torch And What Is The Best One For Your Shop?

An oxygen acetylene cutting torch is a cutting mechanism that is can be extremely dangerous and should only be used by those knowledgeable in torch lighting and cutting techniques.

However, if you are trained this tool can effectively cut steel to your desired size and shape easily. In order to use an oxygen acetylene cutting torch properly, you must understand what it is and how it works.

The good news is that it’s easy to learn the basics. This article is not a guide to how to operate the torch properly. For that, I recommend you get hands-on training and buy the best cutting torch on the market.

Acetylene Explained

First, the acetylene gas is used to heat the steel causing a molten state. Pressurized oxygen is then used to burn through the steel and form the desired cut and shape.

This process is referred to as cutting steel and can’t be used on other materials. An oxygen acetylene cutting torch can only be used on steel and carbon steel it won’t be able to cut through stainless steel or aluminum.

Safety Tips

I know one guy that forgot he left a gas tank in his shop, and he nearly had a massive problem on his hands.

Another friend of mine accidentally flung a piece of heated steel. Don’t ask me how he did this, but it went down his friend’s shirt!

You must also have safety goggles and leather gloves to ensure that the cutting torch doesn’t harm you during lighting and the torch cutting process.

Loose fitting clothes should also be avoided when you are using a cutting torch because they can ignite easily and cause detrimental effects.

Fire-safe material is optimal, but if that isn’t available make sure all your clothing is fitted and not frayed or sagging.

Basic Cutting Torch Gear and Safety Equipment

In order to use this cutting torch properly, you must have the required safety equipment available.

  1. Fire Extinguisher: An extinguisher is always necessary when you are using an oxygen acetylene cutting torch. You’d be surprised how easy it can ignite things in your shop. And you might leave something flammable nearby that you forgot about.
  2. Goggles: The heat from an oxygen acetylene torch (the flame) as well as the sodium flare can cause short and long term eye problems. So wear proper goggles even if you see others not wearing them. A lot of welders like these safety glasses for torch cutting.
  3. Heavy duty boots: Needless to say, slag can fall on or even in your shoes so you need to protect from that alone. Also, how many times have you dropped your tools or a piece of pipe or steel and it nearly landed on your toes? These boots come highly recommended.
  4. Heavy duty gloves: It’s pretty obvious why you need gloves, right? These gloves should do the job.
  5. Torch striker: using matches or a cigarette lighter is not only dangerous but stupid. Be smart and professional and use a striker. This one will work just fine.

Cutting Torch Guide

In order to use the cutting torch, you must hold the flame steady to and close to the steel. It is always beneficial to heat the steel before you begin to actually cut.

It normally takes about a minute of heating the steel to ensure that the desired temperature is met. There will be intense sparks that will become apparent during this process. Just increase the pressure until the steel is cut through completely.

Remember to cut slowly using the oxygen acetylene cutting torch to better see how you are cutting and maintain proper form.

You can let the steel cool naturally once you have finished cutting with the torch or you can pour water over it to hasten the cooling process.

Be aware that steam clouds will form if water is poured over the molten steel. The oxygen acetylene cutting torch is an effective tool to cut through steel if you know how to properly use it.

What Is A Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter is similar to an acetylene torch cutter in that it is used to cut metal. The most common type of plasma cutter is a handheld type that fabricators, body shops, and home fabricators use. However, there are robotic ones that are used for industrial purposes.

We are only discussing the handheld torch type here.

Basically, a plasma cutter basically shoots compressed air or an inert gas (like nitrogen) through a small nozzle. Then you’ll put the tip of your nozzle on your sheet metal and you’ll create what is actually a spark and without being to technical you ultimately create a plasma which is so hot that it can turn metal to slag, therefore performing the cut.

A plasma cutter and an oxy acetylene cutter perform very similar tasks. So the question now becomes…

Plasma or Acetylene Cutting Torch?

When it comes to versatility Oxygen Acetylene cutting torch wins hands down because it cuts through thick metal and thin metal. In addition, you may need it for heating metal for anything from dent repair to bending tubing.

The plasma cutter is a winner when it comes to cutting sheet metal. However, if the sheet metal has all kinds of rough terrain then you might find the Oxy Acetylene torch easier to use on it.

Also keep in mind that plasma torch consumables can be costly if you are a frequent user: nozzles, tips, electrodes etc. But of course, the gas you’ll rent will also add up for the Acetylene torch.

A plasma cutter can be two to three times the price of a Oxy Acetylene torch set up.

A plasma cutter is a big winner if you need to shave a something down or cut strips on sheet metal.

What’s Best For Cutting In A Straight Line?

If you are cutting metal about .25 inches or thicker both are about the same. But you’ll find that the plasma is superior to thinner metal overall. Cutting a straight line on even thicker metal? As discussed, acetylene is the way to go.

So if you had to choose between the two here’s a quick shortcut:

If you are working with mostly sheet metal and it’s clean (not too many nooks etc.) then you will be very happy with a plasma cutter.

But if you will need to heat things up, cut thicker metal, and you need something more versatile where you’ll cut thick and thin metal, then you’ll want an Oxy Acetylene torch.

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