One of the great debates in metal industries is whether Plasma cutting or Oxy-Acetylene cutting is a better method for cutting metals. Metal cutting is normally a part of most welding projects, and this is true whether you are in a workshop or directly at a job site.

Considering that both these methods are effective and can successfully get the job accomplished, every method offers advantages that the other cannot.

Therefore, when you need to choose, it will come down to what exactly you need to cut and the end results that you hope to achieve. As such, a final definitive verdict really isn’t possible as both methods have pros and cons.

Factors such as metal type, metal thickness, and cut location will need to be evaluated. Where you cut the metal must be considered because available power resources must be factored in. And the cost will also be a determining factor in the final choice.

Factors such as metal type, metal thickness,

Plasma Cutter vs. Torch – A Comparison

Plasma cutting uses a jet stream of plasma, the fourth state of matter, to cut through conductive metals with an electric charge. Plasma is basically ionized gas that will conduct electricity. It is created when an electrically neutral gas such as compressed air has electricity added. 

These two elements are joined in a chamber that sits between the electrode and the nozzle. Gas becomes plasma and this plasma will be forced through the nozzle by air pressure creating a constricted flow. This flow or stream is electrically conductive.

Oxy-Acetylene will instead use a heat source with a very high temperature. A combination of a fuel gas flame with oxygen will preheat the metal to be cut.

Oxygen is then streamed onto this material to create iron oxide and send it onto the metal to burn it away. Four gases are usually employed often in combinations: natural gas, propane, acetylene, and propylene. The gases will be selected based on the application, oxygen consumption, heat output, and cost.

Each of these two metal-cutting methods has distinct advantages that make it more appealing than the other. This means that choosing your preferred method depends on the exact applications you have in mind.

Plasma Cutters – The Pros and Cons

The plasma cutter is without a doubt the most versatile cutter as well as the method that offers the most precision. This method also leaves very little to no slag when cutting. There will not be a lot of mess to clean up afterward.

Versatility is also a characteristic of the plasma cutter. This tool can cut shapes, gouge or pierce, and a bit more. Where the plasma cutter truly distinguishes itself from the oxy-acetylene torch, is that it can cut both aluminum and stainless steel. The oxy-acetylene torch cuts usually only ferrous metals.

The difficulty with using a plasma cutter is relative to the metal thickness. A plasma cutter really cannot cut metals that measure more than two inches in thickness.

Plasma cutters also require a source of compressed air and an electrical power source. This can possibly influence the convenience of portability negatively. A smaller plasma machine can be transported easily, and a job site will most likely have a source of electricity, but you will need to be near it. And you will still need compressed air or gas.

Plasma cutters also require a source of compressed air

Oxy-Acetylene Cutting – The Pros and Cons

What plasma cutters afford you in precision, the oxy-acetylene torch will offer in power.

This is one powerful cutting technique. Whereas your plasma cutter will just about manage two inches of metal thickness when cutting, the oxy-acetylene torch will be able to cut through metal as thick as two feet. So, if you are looking for power cutting, the challenge is over and oxy-acetylene wins hands down.

Oxy-acetylene torches have long been popular because of their portability, although plasma cutters with more advanced technology have rendered plasma a more portable tool.

With every advantage, there is a downside. With oxy-acetylene cutting, cuts will be messier with quite a lot of clean-up afterward.

Plasma Cutter vs. Oxyacetylene Costs

When considering the two methods, know that an oxy-acetylene machine will be much more affordable than a plasma cutter. When considering if your choice is cost-effective, think long-term.

If you need precision cutting, a plasma cutter may be a better investment over time, because cleaning up will require supplies and added costs. Accumulation of costs must be considered in the long term to get the most from your investment.

It’s necessary to consider which type of cutting you do most often. Do you need precision cutting of metals that are less than two inches thick or do you require the cutting of very thick metals? If the thickness is a condition, the oxy-acetylene torch will be the obvious choice. Remember however that the torch will require the purchase of gas to operate.

If instead, you work primarily with stainless steel or with aluminum, your only choice will be the plasma cutter.

work primarily with stainless steel o

Cost vs. Performance

Plasma cutters will initially cost more than an oxy-acetylene rig set-up.

So, when you are purchasing, a plasma cutter will require a greater monetary investment immediately. However, when considering the continued expense of using an oxy-acetylene torch, a plasma cutter, may in the long run save you more money.

Because oxy-acetylene is a messier type of cut, you will need to spend more money on gases and materials to achieve the cleanest of cuts. And it doesn’t end with supplies.

You will also need to spend more time and work hours to achieve the cut you want. Those hours could be spent finishing the project or on other work. Consider that time is money. If this is only a hobby, it may not matter. If instead, your projects are a source of earnings, it can make all the difference.

Also, plasma cutters will allow you to cut shapes and designs that a torch simply cannot handle. So, again, if this is a source of earnings, you may want to include this in your analysis.

Summing Up the Pros 

A plasma cutter will afford you:

  • The capability to cut many kinds of metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, or cast iron. 
  • Precision. A plasma cutter produces little to no slag and provides a narrower kerf.
  • No Preheating. Metals do not require preheating to be cut with plasma.
  • Faster cutting speeds especially on thin metal and with little or no distortion. It also performs well when cutting stacked metal.
  • Great cutting on metals that are shaped such as tubes.
  • Increased safety. No storing of gases or the open flame to deal with.

An Oxy-acetylene Torch will:

  • Be great for cutting thicker metals.
  • Offer greater portability because they do not require an electrical power source.
  • Offer varied extended lengths for safe distancing.
  • Permit more process versatility. These torches can be used to heat, braze, cut, gouge, solder, and weld.

Conclusion

Plasma cutters are relatively new to metal cutting, having only enjoyed widespread use in the last two decades or so. Oxy-acetylene torch cutting, on the other hand, has been around a lot longer and has been utilized with success for generations. The debate, in the end, boils down to your specific cutting needs.

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