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Cost Cutter - Chicago Electric's 240 Volt Plasma Cutter

Posted in How To on May 1, 2012
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Plasma cutters are a must-have for any metal shop and have been for years. Good cutters normally cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000, and have always been well worth the purchase when considering the amount of time saved while trying to clear and/or remove metal from a project. The time (and subsequently, money) saved spending 30 seconds cutting a hole in a floor pan with a plasma cutter instead of 15 minutes with a drill, grinder, and Sawsall is obvious.

Plasma cutting is done by sending an electric arc through a surrounding gas that is passed through a constricted opening. This increases the temperature of the gas where it reaches a fourth state of matter—plasma (thus the moniker “plasma cutter”)—with a high electric conductivity that allows the arc to transfer to the metal as the high-speed gas cuts through the molten metal. Depending on what type of cutter, the gas required can be compressed air, oxygen, nitrogen, or argon.

For the shade tree metal-working enthusiasts who are becoming more skilled and knowledgeable with every passing minute (we are thoroughly impressed with what some backyard fabbers are coming up with these days) plasma cutters are becoming a standard garage shop tool. It helps tremendously that there are now more plasma cutters on the market less than $1,000 and directed at the do-it-yourselfers.

Chicago Electric’s 240-volt plasma cutter is listed at $650 and can cut up to half-inch steel plates. It’s hard to justify countless hours sawing through projects when you can plasma cut this inexpensively. Though the more affordable plasma cutters may not meet the demands of shops that constantly plasma cut all day long, they are certainly filling the niche for the backyard and garage fabbers working on their own projects after a long day on the job.


Make: Chicago Electric 240-Volt Inverter Plasma Cutter
Voltage: 240 volts
Phase: Single
Duty Cycle: 60% @ 40 amps, 80% @ 34.6 amps, and 100% @ 31 amps
Max open circuit voltage: 148 volts
Rated output voltage: 94 volts @ 35 amps
Rated cutting current: 15 to 40 amps
Full load amperage: 19.2 amps
Gas: Dry air
Air flow rate: 3.5 cfm
Air requirement: 60 to 80 psi
Cuts (materials): Steel, aluminum, titanium, copper, stainless steel, brass, magnesium alloys
Cuts (thickness): 0.08 inch to 0.5 inch thick

The Chicago Electric 40A plasma cutter has a digital display that shows the amount of current you are using. During operation, the green “working” indicator light should be lit up. At all times the unit is on, the red “power” indicator lamp should be lit up. The yellow “over temp” lamp is a thermal overload indicator that initiates an overload protection circuit. It will only come on if the cutter is overheated and it will shut down the cutter until it cools down. If this occurs, make sure to leave the unit on so the cooling fan will continue to operate. The plasma cutter has a duty cycle of 60 percent at 40 amps, 80 percent at 34.6 amps, and 100 percent at 31 amps.

The Chicago Electric plasma cutter is extremely simple to operate. After a compressed air source is hooked up and regulated correctly (60 to 80 psi) and the ground cable is attached to whatever metal you are working on, a single rocker switch turns the machine on. The toggle switch labeled “set” and “cutter” control air being on or off and is used when changing the setting of current. To change the current, simply flip the switch to “set” dial in the amount of current you think you might need, and flip the switch back to “cutter.” It will take practice to become familiar with how much current you should use to cut certain thicknesses of metal.

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