How practical would it be to build a plasma cutter?
I have a compressor, and 70 amp buzz box that I haven't used since I got my
I am skilled in electronics, so building a rectifier / hf circuit won't be a
Could I make electrodes for this? (I have limited machining capabilities) or
should I buy electrodes for a brandname torch?
Or even a complete torch assembly?
I probably won't be cutting anything over 1/4 inch.
Thanks in advance.
Gunner, ducking for cover and doning his Nomex...
"A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them;
the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences."
- Proverbs 22:3
The answers are yes, no, definitely, and maybe.
I will be purchasing a PlasmaCam system within one year. A turnkey deal.
It will be a daunting task to get it running and keep it running. But, it's
like a car. It isn't worth anything if it doesn't run every time you want
to start it up.
I belong to a Yahoo group on plasmacutting. In there, it has been stated
that one can build a plasma cutting table with servos, etc, for about
$3,000. Then you still have to buy the plasma cutter. Then the computer.
And all the wires and connectors to make it all work.
If you have nothing but time and money, you can build one yourself.
Question is, do you want to spend that much time doing all that, or do you
want to just plug it in and start ringing the cash register? It is the same
with welding machines. You get what you pay for, and if you want to go out
and start making money tomorrow, you don't want something that you have to
doink with every other hour. You get in more productive hours in a day.
Now, if this is just a hobby, and like model rockets or RC planes, you want
to putter and build the stuff, go ahead. A setup will cost you in the range
of $5k versus $15k for a turnkey plug and go version. Just know that you
will have hundreds and hundreds of hours in labor, and if you multiply that
by whatever you charge, that is what the system cost you regardless of the
actual amount of cash you had to outlay. And, if you do your own, you have
very little tech support, so have to troubleshoot everything yourself.
Depends on what you need as to what you do. Don't know about you, but I got
lots of things to do, and don't particularly like having to stop and work on
forgot to say. The materials required to build your own plasma cutter
(if you include all terminals, connectors, doodads, switches, etc) is
likely to cost as much as a decent used machine. Even if you are good
If you are smart enough to do it on your own, then you probably make
decent money, and are a self starter, and thus taking time away from
more profitable pursuits to make one, means that you forgo more
profitable opportunities (in other words, your time is expensive).
So, a home made plasma cutter may be fun to build, but it would not be
You seem to be confusing a plasma cutter (manual) with a CNC plasma
cutting table system, a completely different thing.
As for the OP's question about building your own plasma cutter, it's
pretty impractical. Most of the "magic" is in the torch itself and
you're unlikely to have the skill or facilities to build a torch
yourself that will give any cut quality of consumable life. So you start
with a commercial plasma cutter torch for $400 or so and try to focus on
building the power supply.
The air solenoid valve timing, current control, etc. are all pretty
picky so in trying to get those right you blow through a bunch of
consumables and test scrap metal trying to get it right, if you are
lucky enough to not damage the torch itself in the process.
The materials to build a 300VDC 5kW+ microprocessor controlled inverter
power supply capable of running the torch properly are not going to be
cheap even if you are good at scrounging. Air regulator, solenoid valve,
pressure sensor, etc. cost $ as well. You'll note there is no HF here as
most commercial units don't use HF starting anymore.
The time to build, test, troubleshoot, test some more, replace more
damaged consumables, etc. until you get it working half as well as a
complete commercial unit is going to equal the cost of just buying a
commercial unit to begin with. You're better off just saving some money
and buying a good commercial unit, which generally excludes the China
I'm incredibly good at scrounging, it's throwing stuff away that i'm no good
If it's gonna cost more than an o/a torch, then
maybe I'll just build a tig welder instead! :)
I guess i'll stock up on hacksaw blades and cutting disks then!
I just joined the group, thanks for the info!
The key difference between building a plasma cutter, and building a CNC
table that can be fitted with a plasma cutter (or router, etc.) is in
the availability of parts and modules and even kits to allow it to be
largely an assembly project.
Outside of commercial replacement torches for commercial plasma cutters
there are no parts, modules or kits available for construction of a
For a CNC table there are numerous resources available which make
construction of a CNC table a very practical option and one that can
provide results / performance on par with any of the low-mid priced
Items readily available include:
PC based CNC software (Mach3, EMC/EMC2, etc.)
Stepper and servo drives (Gecko, Xylotex, HobbyCNC, etc.)
Torch height controls (Campbell / Soundlogic and others)
Stepper and servo motors and encoders (numerous sources)
Linear rails, guide bearings, ACME screws, ball screws, timing belts,
rack and pinion, etc. (numerous sources)
Framing components such as Unistrut, Powerstrut, 80/20, etc.
There are also many plans and even some kits available.
With these resources, building a CNC table is a quite reasonable project
for a month of weekends if you're handy and can save thousands of
dollars compared to a "turnkey" commercial unit which you'd use with the
exact same commercial plasma cutter.
Saving $5k-$10 in startup costs in exchange for a month of weekends is a
very good option for people who already have a reasonably equipped shop
to begin with. Those who don't may be better served with a commercial
Even so you will find the need to eventually equip the rest of the shop
to provide for the tasks related to CNC table offerings. You may start a
business producing signs and lawn art with just a CNC plasma table, but
in short order you will find the need for a welder, grinder, buffer,
benders, ring rollers, shears, etc. to produce more finished pieces.
A new set of Victor torches can be had for $150, used ones for well
less. (My last set of Harris torches were free, the owner wanted to get
the battered set off the premises so no one could use them)
But then you have to deal with getting a set of tanks that runs on the
order of $300 or more (or try for some "owned" tanks and have to deal
with a fairly large set of hassles. )
I, for one am glad to see "a fairly large set of hassles" about "owned"
tanks. Putting serial numbers on things, having to verify ownership, and
being able to track goods through serial numbers has its advantages for