Motorizing A Plasma Cutter On The Cheap

A hand-held plasma cutter is an excellent tool to have if you are working with sheet metal, but it’s not particularly well suited to making long or repetitive cuts. Which is why [workshop from scratch] worked his usual scrapheap magic and built his own motorized track for making perfectly straight cuts.

Most of the frame, and even the small truck that rides on it, is made out of square stock in various sizes. A couple of bearings are enough to make sure the movement is smooth and doesn’t have too much slop. Motion is provided by a long threaded rod and two nuts, which are welded to the side of the truck.

If you had the patience (and forearm strength) you could just put a crank on the rod and be done with it, but in this case [workshop from scratch] used the motor, gearbox, and chuck from an old electric drill to grab onto the threaded rod and do the spinning for him. He rigged up an enclosure for the side of the rack that holds the motor, DC power supply, and motor controller, along with a couple of switches and a knob to control the speed.

A modification allows him to enable the plasma cutter with one of the switches on the panel, which gives the setup a much more complete feel than just putting a zip tie on the trigger. With this design, the plasma cutter itself can still be removed from the mount and used normally. You can even remove the motorized component with a few bolts if you just wanted to do manual cuts on the bed.

In the video after the break, the keen-eyed viewer may notice a few familiar pieces of gear in the background, such as the hydraulic bench vise we covered earlier in the year. As the name of the channel implies, [workshop from scratch] is all about building the workshop tools that many take for granted, and they’ve all been phenomenally fascinating projects. While we admire the gumption it takes to try and build a lathe out of scrap granite slabs, there’s something to be said for DIY tools that end up looking nearly as good as commercial offerings.

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Make Your Own Plasma Cutter

Of all the tools that exist, there aren’t many more futuristic than the plasma cutter, if a modern Star Wars cosplay if your idea of futuristic. That being said, plasma cutters are a powerful tool capable of making neat cuts through practically any material, and there are certainly worst ways to play with high voltage.

Lucky enough, [Plasanator] posted their tutorial for how to make a plasma cutter, showing the steps through which they gathered parts from “old microwaves, stoves, water heaters, air conditioners, car parts, and more” in the hopes of creating a low-budget plasma cutter better than any on YouTube or from a commercial vendor.

The plasma cutter does end up working up quite an arc, with the strength to slice through quarter-inch steel “like a hot knife through butter”.

Its parts list and schematic divide the systems into power control, high current DC, low voltage DC, and high voltage arc start:

  • The power control contains the step down transformer and contactor (allows the DC components to come on line)
  • The high current DC contains the bridge rectifier, large capacitors, and reed switch (used as a current sensor to allow the high voltage arc to fire right when the current starts to travel to the head, shutting down the high voltage arc system when it’s no longer necessary)
  • The low voltage DC contains the power switch, auto relays, 12V transformer, 120V terminal blocks, and a terminal strip
  • The high voltage arc start contains the microwave capacitor and a car ignition coil

At the cutting end, 13A is used to cut through quarter-inch steel. Considering the considerably high voltage cutter this is, a 20 A line breaker is needed for safety.

Once the project is in a more refined state, [Plasanator] plans on hiding components like the massive capacitors and transformer behind a metal or plastic enclosure, rather than have them exposed. This is mainly for safety reasons, although having the parts exposed is evocative of a steampunk aesthetic.

In several past designs, stove coils were used as current resistors and a Chevy control module as the high voltage arc start. The schematic may have become more refined with each build, but [Plasanator]’s desire to use whatever components were available certainly has not disappeared.

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A CNC Plasma Cutter Table, From The Shop Floor Up

Some projects are simple, some focus on precision and craftsmanship, and some are more of the quick-and-dirty variety. This home-built CNC plasma cutter table seems to follow a “go big or go home” philosophy, and we have to say we’re mighty impressed by the finished product.

For those who follow [Bob]’s “Making Stuff” YouTube channel, this build has been a long time coming. The playlist below has eight videos that cover the entire process from cutting the first tubes of the welded frame to the initial test cuts with the finished machine. [Bob] took great pains to make the frame as square and flat as possible, to the extent of shimming a cross member to correct a 0.030″ misalignment before welding. He used good-quality linear rails for each axis, and hefty NEMA 23 steppers. There were a few false starts, like the water pan that was going to be welded out of five separate pieces of steel until the metal shop guys saved the day with their press brake. In the end, the machine turned out great; with a build cost of $2000 including the plasma cutter it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s quite a bargain compared to similar sized commercial machines.

We think the video series is a great guide for anyone looking to make a CNC plasma table. We’ve seen builds like this before, including [This Old Tony]’s CNC router. Watching these builds gives us the itch to get into the shop and start cutting metal. Continue reading “A CNC Plasma Cutter Table, From The Shop Floor Up”

Plasma Cutter Jig Notches Tubing Quickly And Cleanly

It may be [MakeItExtreme]’s most ambitious build to date. There are a lot of moving parts to this plasma cutter tubing notcher, but it ought to make a fine addition to the shop and open up a lot of fabrication possibilities.

We have to admit to a certain initial bafflement when watching the video below for the first time. We can usually see where [MakeItExtreme]’s builds are going right from the first pieces of stock that get cut, but the large tube with the pressed-in bearing had us scratching our heads. The plan soon became clear — a motorized horizontal rotary table with a hollow quill for the plasma torch leads. There’s a jig for holding the torch itself that can move in and out relative to the table. Cams made of tube sections can be bolted to a fixed platen; a cam follower rides on the cams and moves the torch in and out as the table rotates. This makes the cuts needed to properly fit tubes together — known as fish mouth cuts or saddle cuts. The cams can be removed for straight cuts, and the custom pipe vise can be adjusted to make miter cuts.

All in all a sturdy and versatile build that ought to enable tons of new projects, especially when teamed up with [MakeIt Extreme]’s recent roll bender.

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Mini Plasma Cutter

What do you get when you combine an arc cigarette lighter and some scrap glass and metal? [NightHawkInLight] created a simple plasma cutter project along with some hot glue and a few simple tools.

If you aren’t a smoker, an arc lighter uses a high voltage spark to light the cigarette. He essentially cannibalizes it for use as a power supply. Any similar high-voltage power supply should work just as well. He also uses the same cigarette lighter power supply for an arc pen, that we covered earlier.

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Propane Tanks Transformed Into Extreme Sandblaster

The [Make It Extreme] team has been racking up the builds lately, and a lot of them are heavy with metalworking. When you’re doing that kind of work, and you put as much care into finishing your builds like they do, it’s a good idea to have access to a sandblaster. So naturally, they built a really nice one.

We’ve featured a couple of [Michalis Mavros] and team’s build recently; you’ll no doubt recall this viciously effective looking spot welder and a sketchy angle grinder cum belt sander. The sandblaster build, centered as it is around scrap propane tanks, has some lethal potential, but luckily the team displaced any remaining gas from the tanks with water before doing any cutting. The design allows for a lot of sand in the tanks, with plans to provide a recycling system for the grit, which is a nice touch. And it works great – they even used it to clean it up before final finishing in the trademark [Make It Extreme] green and black paint job.

What we really like about the video, though, is that it’s a high-speed lesson on metalworking techniques. There’s a ton to learn here about all the little tricks needed to bring a large-scale metalworking project to fruition. It also demonstrates that we really, truly need a plasma cutter and a metalworking lathe.

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Electric Compass For A Plasma Cutter

If you are a Maker space or individual lucky enough to own a Plasma Cutter, this electric protractor compass could be handy. The folks over at [MakeItExtreme] built this circle cutting tool to help cut circles and rings in thick metal sheets using their plasma cutter.

The whole thing is built around an electro-magnet, so the jig will only work with magnetic metals. There are not a lot of design details, but it’s possible to infer how to build one looking at the video and the photos on their blog. There’s a couple of nice hacks along the way. Since the electro-magnet is stationary while the rest of the jig rotates, the main mounting bolt had a hole drilled through it to help route the cable. The rotating protractor arm is made from a slab of aluminium and holds all the other parts together – the drive motor, the central hub and the plasma head. The motor used appears to be a 60rpm AC synchro motor. These types usually have an RC phase shifting network between the two coils to allow direction reversal. Friction drive is used to rotate the jig, with the friction coming from a pair of rubber tube bands attached to the electro-magnet and the motor drive hub. The plasma head holder has a rod-end with a roller bearing attached, acting as a caster wheel, ensuring the arc gap is maintained as the jig rotates. A few switches to activate the electro-magnet, motor forward / reverse and plasma enable complete the setup.

Their blog, and YouTube channel has a lot of other interesting projects that they keep building. Check it out.

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