Resto Series Number 3: Welding Skills Page 2



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Plasma Cutting

    No discussion about welding machines would be complete without touching on plasma cutters. Although most metal-cutting tasks that you’ll encounter in body repair basics are best performed with a high-speed abrasive cut-off wheel, power saw or air hammer with a panel cutting bit, a growing number of people are becoming interested in plasma cutters.

    The plasma cutter may sound like a high-tech piece of equipment, but it’s actually quite a simple one. All matter takes on one of four forms: solid, liquid, gas, or plasma, depending on its temperature. When a solid is heated to its melting point, a liquid is formed. Heating the liquid to its point of evaporation turns it into gas. And heating gas to an extremely high temperature produces plasma. Most of the matter in our universe (the sun, for example) is plasma matter, but due to its extremely high temperature, the only plasma that you’ll likely find on Earth is in a bolt of lightning or coming out of a plasma cutter nozzle!

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    So a plasma cutter is basically a machine that creates and harnesses the energy of a plasma arc to cut metal. Without getting into a boring lesson on the physics and science of plasma, suffice it to say that using a plasma cutter is the fastest and cleanest way to make flame cuts in metal without the residual heat generated by a conventional torch.
Because of the great amount of metal work that we do, my shop has several plasma cutters on hand ranging from small 110-volt models such as the Esab Handy Plasmarc 125 to the heavy-duty 220-volt Powercut 650 that can slice through a three-quarter-inch slab of steel like it was butter. Another good-quality plasma cutter is made by Hypertherm. My shop’s PlasmaCAM CNC plasma cutter uses the Hypertherm Powermax 1250, which can cut up to a 1/4-inch-thick plate of steel. And for all-around hand cuts, we use the Hypertherm Powermax 1000 and 600 models. Like welding machines, plasma cutters range greatly in size and cost.

    Using a plasma cutter is not only easy, but it’s a lot of fun! Because of the accuracy of the plasma arc and the thick metal-cutting capability, this tool is a must for serious fabricators. In the right hands, it can be just as useful for cutting and installing patch panels, quarter panels and more.

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We filled this sunroof in with metal, which required shaping a piece of metal on the English wheel and welding it into place. Once again, we used a TIG welder to minimize warping.

We often have to stretch or shorten frames and drive shafts. This isn’t exactly basic bodywork, but definitely involves welding skills.

When we shorten a car, we have to weld the entire width of the floor to maintain structural integrity, just as you would have to do if you replaced a quarter panel on a stock car.

If you can become a proficient welder, you might be able to pick up some extra money installing roll cages on racecars. Knowing how to weld tubing is a real asset, as well as good practice for other kinds of welding.

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