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Metal Fabrication With Plasma Cutter Cutmaster 52 - Metal Fabrication 401

Posted in How To on August 1, 2008
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Contributors: Tom Haberkamp
Always use the proper eye protection. A number-10 shade is recommended. It is also extremely important to be aware of the sparks and electricity involved in plasma cutting. Just use common sense and heed the warnings in the owner's manual and on all shop equipment.

For many four-wheelers, building our rigs is almost as much fun as driving them. There are many really unique and functional rigs built in the home shop. The adage that "real Jeeps are built, not bought" applies here. When I was 12, I spent a whole afternoon hack-sawing the bumper ends off of my Dad's CJ. It wasn't easy, since the bumper had been made out of 3/8-inch C-channel. I still have that CJ, and ever since then I have had to saw or torch metal to fabricate parts for it.

Recently I was able to test out a dream tool for metal cutting. Thermadyne has just introduced a new heavy-duty line of plasma cutters, and I tried out the Cutmaster True Series Model 52. Plasma cutting has several advantages over saws and torches in the home shop. Accurate, clean cuts can be made in most metals with little distortion, unlike torch cutting. One machine can be used to cut everything from sheetmetal to heavy plate. When used with the right attachments, you can also cut bevels and circles and remove welds by using a gouging tip. Prices on quality plasma cutters are within reach of the home fabricator, and these machines will last for decades. The Cutmaster 39 is a unit that will run on 115 or 230 volts, and can cut everything the 4x4 builder needs and will become an indispensable tool in your shop.

Setting up the machine is easy with the directions displayed on the control panel. Thinner metal is cut with lower power settings to reduce warping and make the arc easier to control.

With plasma cutting, plasma gas (shop air) is heated to an extremely high temperature and ionized so that it becomes electrically conductive. The metal to be cut or removed is melted by the heat of the arc, then blown away by shop air. Plasma is used to transfer an electrical arc to the work piece. It creates a very clean cut with minimal heat distortion, usually requiring very little reworking or cleanup.

The new Cutmaster units feature LED indicators on the front panel that allow the user to easily set proper air-pressure levels needed for cutting. These same LEDs will indicate common trouble codes. (I forgot to connect the torch completely, and the LED fault codes showed me the problem-and they are even printed on the machine. A very nice feature.)

Compressed air is connected to the inlet on the back of the unit. Also note the dual voltage switch located here (arrow).

When you need to create a particular part out of metal, I have found that making a template out of cardboard allows you to mock up the part and reproduce it as needed. After finalizing the design, cutting the matching part from metal is easy using the template.

I like to buy quality shop equipment-even when buying used-well cared-for high-end tools over cheaper new ones. The Cutmaster is an excellent tool and will give years of service. These plasma cutters carry a four-year warranty and feature rugged construction for use in real shop environments. Like home computers, the prices for plasma cutters are now in the home fabricator's range. But unlike computers, they are not obsolete as soon as you get them home.

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