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Tag Archives: plasma

  • Plasma Cutter Consumables: What You'll Need

    Plasma cutters cut so easily they seem like magic; even their name sound like something from a science fiction story. But they are real, and in the past 15 years the prices have come down to the point that nearly every shop has one, from the hard working professionals to the weekend warriors. In order to keep your plasma cutter working like a high tech X-acto knife, and not a rusty hatchet, you need to periodically replace the consumables to keep the arc consistent and the air focused.


    What Are Consumables?

    When talking about plasma cutter consumables people usually mean just 2 parts: the nozzle and the electrode. But there are other parts that may need replacing too like the diffusor and outer nozzle cover. Typically it’s the nozzle losing its focused jet of plasma, or the electrode producing weak spark that signals it’s time for a tune up.


    Why are they consumed?

    Plasma cutters can slice through thick hunks of metal like a hot knife going through butter, no joke. The plasma (super-heated, electrically charged air) which gives these tools their name is at a temperature of about 10,000° Fahrenheit, and moves at thousands of feet per second. The flow of air and electricity through the nozzle causes erosion the same way water does when running down stream. Sure the erosion is on the atomic level, but electricity flows at a much higher speed than running water, so with use it eventually wears out the precisely sized hole in the end of the nozzle.


    The electrode does not have plasma running through it. The air, not yet charged or heated, swirls around it as it goes through the torch. The electrode needs this airflow for cooling so it doesn’t start to melt with all the heat coming off the end of it, where the plasma is formed. Just like the electrodes in a spark plug, there is a highly conductive core, surrounded by a lesser metal like copper. High voltage by itself will cause the erosion of the center of the electrode. Let it go too long and your torch will lose a great deal of its cutting ability, as the copper produces a lower voltage arc, and less hot plasma.


    The outer nozzle, and diffusor  don’t really wear the way the other 2 parts do, but it is a good idea to replace them occasionally too. A worn or cracked diffusor can cause the electrode or nozzle to run hot and wear out faster. The outer nozzle can be damaged by dropping the torch, or metal blowback into it, disrupting the air or plasma out of the gun. These parts should be replaced every ten times you replace the electrode and nozzle, even if they look okay.

    Replacing Consumables

    Luckily, like many periodic maintenance projects, replacing plasma cutter consumables is a simple, quick and easy job on most machines. Once you’ve done it a few times it should only take a few minutes, provided you have the replacements handy already.

    Here’s how:

    1. Make sure the machine is off, maybe even unplugged. These machines can deliver more than 300v through you if they are on, so safety first.
    2. Unscrew the outer cover of the nozzle. The nozzle, diffusor and electrode should drop right out.
    3. Place the new parts in the torch and screw the outer nozzle back on, and you are done.

    Minimizing Consumption

    The 2 biggest things that cause quicker consumption of consumables are contamination in the air lines, and overheating the torch. Always run a quality oil/water separator on your line when using a plasma cutter, and be sure to drain the compressor tank periodically. Disposable in-line air dryers work well too, as added protection.


    When cutting with your torch, working too slowly will expose the consumables to more heat, and cause them to wear out faster. Though move too quickly with your cut on thicker materials and the result will be lower quality, rough, slaggy cuts. Also make sure you are feeding the torch with enough air flow. Not only does the air provide the plasma, and the shielding/focusing, it also has to cool the electrode and the nozzle.


    Wrapping Up

    So in conclusion, like many other tools that make your life easier, plasma cutters require periodic maintenance.  Most hand held plasma cutter torches make it easy; just a few minutes of down time are needed to do the job. The difference between a freshly tuned up torch and one with a worn nozzle and electrode can be as dramatic as being able to cut through inch thick steel, or having a hard time with 5/8”.

    Consumable are not expensive either, as they are meant to be consumed. Eastwood carries all you should ever need if you bought one of our plasma cutters. A kit with 5 nozzles and 5 electrodes, plus a diffusor and an external nozzle is less than $50. The number of clean precise cuts you get, and the time you save with a well cutting machine are worth the price.


    Check out the Eastwood Blog and How-To Center for more Tips and Tricks to help you with all your automotive projects.  If you have a recommendation for future articles or have a project you want explained don't hesitate to leave a comment.

  • How to Diagnose your Sick Plasma Cutter

    What does this mean to you? That small, intense plasma beam is extremely powerful and can cut through metal with ease. This also means it can wear out consumables. We get calls from time to time about customers that have had issues with their plasma cutters. The symptoms are often that the plasma cutter won't initiate an arc on the metal, or the arc will start and stop erratically while you're cutting. I decided to put together a few causes for those sort of issues. Hopefully one of them can save you time when diagnosing an issue with your plasma cutter.
  • Shaved Fender Vents on 08-10 Super Duty

    Shaved Fender Vents on 08-10 Super Duty

    Version 2

    The fastest way to make your vehicle stand out is with exterior modifications, but in order for them to look good it must be done the proper way.  Adding new pieces such as wheels, tires, bumpers, etc. is one method but it can easily be over done and just look tacky.  How many times have you seen a car with parts that just don't belong? I've seen way too many.  The other, and sometimes more difficult method is to remove parts that were originally there.  Not only does it make the vehicle look more seamless it also separates it from all the others.  From the factory this 2009 Ford F-350 Super Duty came with chrome plastic fender vents that stick out more than 3/4" from the panel.  Some may like this look but it ruins the body lines of the truck.  Just like Hot Rod guys shave door handles you'll see step by step how to remove these vents and make it look like they were never there in the first place.



    These are the vents I'm talking about, yeah they are flashy and catch your eyes but they don't do much for the over all look of the truck.  With these removed the side of the truck is stream line all the way to the tail lights.



    Using a plastic trim tool to pry off the vent, the recessed area underneath is revealed.  Having a recessed area the exact shape of the vent provides a great starting point because it will be much easier later on when I weld the new piece in.  As you can see in the above picture the fender is slightly curved so not only will the patch piece have to be the correct size it will also need the bend to be exactly the same to appear seamless.



    I started by making a templet with a piece of poster board, to do this I cut a rectangular piece slightly bigger than what I needed and with masking tape attached it to the fender so the the vent area was fully covered.  Then using a marker and my finger I pressed on the edges of the recessed area and drew "+", one in like with the edge and one perpendicular to the edge.  I did this along the whole outer edge of the vent area and using a ruler connected all of the intersecting points.  Note that I did not once use a tape measure, on most patch panel fabrication an exact measurement it pretty much necessary but for a small piece like this the method I just described takes a lot of the guess work out because you are using the actual panel to get the shape.  Using a ruler and an exacto knife I cut out the shape using the marks I made earlier.



    The template was was a perfect fit,  I want the panel to sit as close to flush as I can, this will reduce the amount of filler and body work later on.



    Next using a piece of 18 GA steel I carefully traced the shape on to the metal. For the first side I wanted to use my Versa 40 Plasma Cutter to cut out the shape.


    Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 3.41.38 PM

    The plasma gives me the ability to cut the curves of the piece near exactly but for extra assurance I used two pieces of 1/4" Bar as a guide to make the the cuts perfectly straight.



    Using a  60 grit flap disc attached to a 4.5" Grinder I removed the burrs, beveled the edges, and removed the surface rust.  when making patch panels like this its very important to bevel the edges, this gives the allows for a cleaner weld that will lay much more flush with the panel.


    Version 2

    Next to get the patch piece to match the slight curve of the factory panel I used my Bench Top English Wheel  to gently curve the panel.  Be very careful to only apply forward and backward pressure on the panel in line with the wheel.  Putting too much side pressure on the panel will give it a dome and not match the contour of the fender.  One way to eliminate giving the panel a domed effect is to put a rubber band over the upper wheel.  This reduces the side to side stretching of the metal because the band stretches instead of the metal.



    You can see the difference in the two panels with the one on the right being the one that I ran through the wheel and the one on the left has not been touched.  Even though the curvature in the fender is very little, the extra time rolling it through the english wheel will save a lot of time later on when it comes time to apply filler.



    Before prepping the fender for welding I used a magnet to hold the patch piece in place and look at the fitment and gaps from multiple angles to make sure no corners were too high or out of place.  After taking it off to grind a few areas down I was satisfied with the fitment and sprayed the back with Self Etching Weld Thru Primer to prevent rusting from the inside.



    To prep the panel for welding I used a flap disc on a 4.5 ANGLE GRINDER and removed the paint down to metal all the way around the areas where I would be welding.



    Starting with the top edge I used my MIG 175 on a very low setting to tack weld the panel in to place, making sure the panel was seated in the right place before tacking in.



    If you find that after your first tacks the panel is no longer sitting flush with the opening there is a way to save the welds without having to cut the piece out.  To do this use a wide flat blade screw driver putting half of the blade on the new piece and half on the original.  Press the panel so it sits just below flush with the opening then place a tack weld right above the blade.  In the event that the panel sits too low in the opening you can use a very fine flat blade screw driver to pry the panel up to the desired depth.



    The first step in the filling process I started by using Contour Short Strand Fiberglass Filler.  This filler is infused with fiberglass which makes it much much stronger than ordinary filler allowing it to be applied much heavier to fill larger gaps and depressions. Before application I wiped down the fender with PRE Painting Prep to remove and contaminants that would affect the adhesion of filler.  I applied the Short strand on all of the weld seams as well as the top section of the patch which were the lowest areas that needed the most support.



    While some say this material is hard to work with because it gets too hard too quick making it more difficult to sand.  I've found that the ideal time to sand is about 10-15 min after application using 40-60 Grit to knock down the high spots then 80 grit PSA to level the rest.  Be aware that this is a very tough material and will harden very quickly so make sure you get all of the sanding



    After the Short strand is leveled I applied and block sanded Contour Glazing Putty to finish off the panel.  I would have only needed one pass of Putty but I went too light with the short strand in the lower corner. To knock down the high spots I use 80 grit PSA  on a  11" x 1 3/8" Durablock, this block is great for smaller areas like this because it is easy to hold and is long enough to be able to slightly bend so all areas of the block are in contact with the panel at all times.



    Now that the filler is blocked down flush it is time to apply primer to seal the area.  First I again wiped down the with PRE then used 2K Urethane Primer Surfacer using the Evolution Paint gun with a 2.0 tip.  This primer will not only seal the panel but also build up enough that I can come back with 320-400 Grit on a block and do a final blocking in case there are still any imperfections.  The best way to apply this primer is to start from the outside and work your way in, as you can see in the picture I taped off the area about 5 inches off the filler edge this will prevent primer overspray from getting on other parts of the panel that do not need it.  I am not using the tape to create a hard edge and will never have to primer in direct contact with the tape edge.



    The final step before paint is to block the whole fender with 400 grit to remove and sanding scratches and scuff the existing paint so the base coat will stick.  Additionally I scuffed the whole fender with a red scuff pad to create a uniform painting surface.  Wipe off the panel with PRE and then with a tack rag to remove any dirt or lint from the painting surface. You MUST use a blow gun and move as much dust and dirt away from the area surrounding the panels.  Even dust on the floor nearby can get kicked up by the paint gun and get trapped in the paint.



    I sprayed the base with the Concours Pro HVLP Gun with a 1.3 tip. The color I used is a Ford color code UD which was mixed at a local automotive commercial supply store.  Although these stores supply to collision shops most will mix as little as a quart of color matched paint at a reasonable price. I was lucky enough that this Ford UD Ebony color was a very common mix and a quart was just under $25.  Depending on the color code and the additives that go in prices can go as high as $200 just for a quart.  After three coats of base with about 15 min flash time and a wipe down with a tack rag between each its time for clear.



    I applied 3 wet coats of 2:1 European Urethane Clear also using the Concours Pro HVLP Gun with a 1.3 Tip. I mixed the clear 2:1:1/2, the 1/2 being urethane reducer. This helps the clear flow a lot better and lay on the panel much nicer.  I applied 2 coats allowing about 15 min flash time between coats, because it was about 85 degrees the flash time was greatly reduced.






    The fenders still need to be buffed to remove some small dirt specs but other than that there is no reason a job like this cant be done at home as long as all the preparation is done properly.  Post a comment about what you think, or any questions about the project!

    - James R. / EW


  • Plasma Cutters & Plasma Cutting FAQ

    plasma cutter can cut anything that is electrically conductive, which means all metals. Some metals conduct better than others, or melt at a lower temperature and therefor cut easier, but pretty much all of them can be cut. You would be surprised at just how thick of a piece of structural steel can be easily cut with the most basic of plasma machines.
  • Early Summer Project Pile House Update.

    With the floor pans made up I decided to move outwards and tackle the rust in the door openings. The truck door sill on the drivers side was rotted away and the front of the door opening/jamb was rotted pretty bad. In fact the lower portion was almost non existent.

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