What Makes a Plasma Cutter ‘Safe’
Plasma cutters are incredibly powerful pieces of equipment capable of causing serious harm when used incorrectly. In addition to reading through the manufacturer’s operation instructions to follow safety guidelines, there are some aspects and features that you can look for to help you find the safest plasma cutter possible. Read on to learn what you should look for and how it affects your ability to operate the unit safely.
Mind the Severance and Cut Thresholds
The key to optimal plasma cutter safety really comes down to following the suggested usage methods, and ensuring that you don’t push the unit beyond its capabilities. The biggest area where this can go awry has to do with the severance and cut thresholds, which refer to the maximum thickness you can cut through for any metal type. The difference between the two is that severance refers to the thickest a metal can be for you to simply make a cut at all, while the cut thickness is the limit for achieving a smooth, optimal cut. Always choose a unit that has has maximum ratings above what you plan to cut, so that you never have to risk approaching it or going over it.
Look for Models with Warning Lights
While you should never expect to run into any serious issues when using a plasma cutter, being able to anticipate issues and become aware of them quickly is a major benefit to your overall safety. If the plasma cutter has any built-in safety lights or warning indicators, they can help you learn about overheating, clogged air filters, disruptions in power supply, or a loss in pressurization before they seriously affect your work or cause larger problems. This is definitely not a mandatory feature, and one that will vary significantly between models and manufacturers, but it’s one that can go a long way to establishing high levels of workplace safety.
Pay Attention to Air Usage
Air plays a significant role in the operation of plasma cutters, as the plasma arc itself is created using pressurized air. As such, you should understand how the cutter utilizes air so that you can create the proper conditions for optimal performance. Some units may list a recommended PSI rating for certain cuts, so you will need to make sure that you have a compressor that is capable of functioning at that level. Also, you should pay attention to the way the cutter incorporates an air filter, as well as whether or not it uses non-hazardous gas in its operation, as these can be extremely important for use in a home setting.
Check for Secure Connections
Due to the extreme air pressure necessary to create the plasma, it’s incredibly important for the device to have a proper system for securing all the necessary tubes and cables. There should be a fully-threaded locking mechanism around the air tube that runs to the compressor, as this ensures it will stay in place and not come loose during operation. Also, a loose connection can cause a loss in pressure, which will affect the plasma arc output and in turn decrease the quality of your cut. Interrupted arcs not only lead to poor quality cuts, but can cause sparking or the release of excess slag that can become dangerous.
Understand the Power Requirements
Thankfully, most plasma cutters can function with standard 110 volt outlets, so chances are you won’t have to worry about buying any special adapters in order to operate the machine. However, you still need to be mindful of the power requirements and settings on the unit as well as the existing setup in your work environment to avoid some possible issues. Since many plasma cutters feature a dual voltage functionality, which allows you to achieve different amounts of power output for working with different metal types, you always need to ensure that you are receiving a steady power supply.
A Note About Safety Equipment
Even when you follow all of the safety guidelines mentioned here, you still need to obtain the proper safety equipment to operate the plasma cutter. In addition to wearing thick gloves and an apron or jacket to protect your skin from flying debris, you should also wear a face shield. This is a “must have” for proper UV protection, since a plasma arc emits light on the UV spectrum that is harmful if observed by the naked eye.