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Oxy-fuel or Plasma; Which is Best?

Cutting metal is so commonplace in welding that you’d be hard pressed to find a welder that hasn’t done it. But which is better, plasma or oxy fuel?

The simplest answer is it depends on the requirements of the job. In this blog, we’ll be detailing the benefits of each method, as well as discussing when you use them.

Plasma Cutting

Through ionised gas and electricity, plasma cutters create a powerful plasma arc that’s capable of both cutting and gouging.

Key benefits of plasma cutting:

  • Portability – There are many small and compact plasma cutting machines, meaning they’re easy to transport. Although they do need a source of electrical power, today, many workshops and jobsites have power supplies readily available.

  • Suitable for a variety of metals – Plasma cutters are great for cutting a wide range of conductive metals, including stainless steel, aluminium and cast iron. While plasma can be used on most metals, they can only cut a maximum metal thickness of around 1 inch.

  • Fast cutting on thin metals While plasma might not be able to cut the thickness that oxy-fuel can, but it can cut thinner metals quicker, and with less, or zero, distortion. It also makes quicker work of stacked metals.

  • Precision – Plasma generally produces better finishes than oxy-fuel, creating minimal slag, resulting in smoother cuts with a slimmer kerf.

  • No preheating – You can get started on a job quicker with plasma cutters, as the process doesn’t need the metal to be preheated before starting the cut.

  • Better performance on complex jobs – If a piece you’re working with has a bit more of a complex shape, or has angles, channels or tubes, plasma will likely produce a better finish due to its high precision.

  • Usability – Plasma cutters are very easy to operate and with minimal clean up required, they can be the better option for new users.

  • Safe – As plasma cutters don’t need any explosive gases to operate, this means less storage considerations and less dealing with an open flame.

In summary: If you’re working on a complex piece of with thin metals, the precise, set-up-and-go nature of plasma cutters will likely be your best bet.

With a plasma cutter, you’ll be able to set up quickly and get to work, producing clean cuts with minimal distortion.

Oxy-fuel Cutting

Oxy-fuel cutting utilises an oxygen/fuel gas flame to cut metals of a wide variety and thickness.

Key benefits of oxy-fuel cutting:

  • High performance on thick metals – The average oxy-fuel system can cut steel ranging from 6 to 12 inches thick, with some higher quality systems being able to cut through more than 20 inches. When working with thicker metals, oxy-fuel cutters will produce a higher quality cut, quicker than plasma.

  • Portability – Needing no electrical power, all you need is the fuel and a torch and you can cut steel in almost any environment.

  • Versatility – Oxy-fuel cutters are also able to weld, braze, solder, heat and gouge.

  • Adaptability – The torches for oxy-fuel cutters are available in a wide variety of lengths, allowing operators to be kept further from heat, fumes, slag and flames, keeping them safer.

  • Cheaper initial investment – When compared to plasma, getting set up with an oxy-fuel cutter is the cheaper option initially, but beyond the initial purchase you will have to consider the costs of fuel.

In summary: If you’re going to be working on thicker metals and need a cutter that can do it all, oxy-fuel may well be the way to go.

With no need for an electrical power supply, you’ll be able to cut metal in almost any environment with an oxy-fuel cutter.

The Verdict

As much as we’d like to give you a straightforward A or B answer, it’s not always that simple.

Which cutter is best entirely depends on the job requirements.

If working on a complex piece with thin metals, a plasma cutter will be the better choice. If you’re working with thicker metals and will need to do more than just cut the metal, an oxy-fuel cutter would suit better.

For most welders, the best choice will be to have access to both systems and use the appropriate one for the appropriate job.

How RentArc Can Help

Every welder has their own set up and investing in kit can be expensive. At RentArc, we offer comprehensive hire packages on a wide variety of welding equipment.

We provide everything from welding machines and consumables to fume extractors and PPE, in order to Keep Welders Welding.

If you need some kit for an upcoming project or you don’t see something you’re after, call us on +44 (0)23 80 867 789 or email us at and we’ll get you sorted.


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