Yesterday, We were invited to a product demo put on by Hypertherm, a company out of New Hampshire that makes cutting products for industrial and home use. Specifically, they make plasma cutters, and they brought their latest model, the Powermax45 to demonstrate the variety of things you can do with a plasma cutter beyond just cutting metal.
The Powermax45 runs on 220V power, (though Hypertherm sells a different model that runs on regular household current), so all you need is to plug it in, connect your air hose, and you’re ready to go. It cuts through 3/8- and ½- inch steel like a hot knife through butter, and you can work your way through 1-inch thick steel plate if you slow down the torch’s rate of travel.
Need to cut through a rivet head or an old weld? No need to get out the air hammer or cut-off wheel; try gouging it. Hypertherm sells a torch nozzle specifically used for gouging. Install it and trigger the torch while holding it at an angle to the work surface.
The angle, combined with the wider arc nozzle means the arc doesn't penetrate the metal. It cuts a divot or trench instead. This can be used to remove old welds from a joint, or even old, rusted fasteners or rivets. JoAnn Bortles, Hypertherm's National Automotive Spokesperson, showed us how she likes to use the gouging technique to create flames in a piece of steel.
Another feature of this plasma cutter is the Expanded Metal setting on its control panel. When operating in this mode, the plasma cutter maintains the arc, even if you encounter a gap- like rust holes or perforations. Normally, when the torch comes to a gap in the work surface, resistance goes up and the torch turns off.
You have to re-trigger the torch to strike the arc again. Not a big deal, but if can be annoying if you’re working on something with a lot of holes in it. In Expanded Metal mode, you don’t have to do that. You simply hold the trigger and the arc starts and stops on its own. One unexpected use for this feature is that you can use the machine in this setting to shave or trim corners off your work piece by holding the trigger down and sweeping back and forth across the corner until you've created the shape you desire. This could help with fitting to panels together prior to welding. We’ll have to try this on our own stuff soon.