4WDrive - - Contents - Words and Pho­tos by Bryan and Greg Irons

Fire, inevitably, has to be one of man's great­est dis­cov­er­ies, and the power con­tained within has been a stake­holder in the abil­ity of the hu­man race to ad­vance through the ages. We’ll ad­mit that there have been a few set­backs with the per­ceived “con­trol” we have over the flame, as many a burnt home and forest will agree, but we con­tinue to ad­vance, right? Heat, cooking, ster­il­iza­tion, light, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, are but a few of its uses, but we’re here to talk about fires more cre­ative prop­er­ties, specif­i­cally cut­ting metal.

The abil­ity to cut steel has been the driv­ing fac­tor be­hind drag­ging an oxy-

acety­lene torch setup into your shop or garage. It all seems like the per­fect next step in the fab­ri­ca­tion pro­gres­sion after us­ing up cut­ting wheels by the dozen. But there are draw­backs to the bright blue flame when used to cut metal for your off-road projects. The need to store highly flammable gasses at high pres­sures close to where you sleep at night is only one of many rea­sons to ques­tion the need for a torch setup. Hav­ing to re­fill the gas cylin­ders (which seems to only hap­pen to us on Sun­day af­ter­noons), let alone hav­ing to buy or lease the bot­tles gets ex­pen­sive and de­ters us from mak­ing the pur­chase. A great al­ter­na­tive was stum­bled upon in the 1950’s when a new method of weld­ing was be­ing de­vel­oped… it back­fired and plasma cut­ting was born.

Plasma cut­ting re­moved the beloved flame from the equa­tion and in­stead uses a com­pressed gas source that is su­per heated with an elec­tric charge mak­ing “plasma”. An­other blast of gas forces the plasma out of a pre­cise noz­zle to ac­cu­rately slice though any con­duc­tive ma­te­rial… such as steel or alu­minum. Com­pressed air is the typ­i­cal medium used for plasma cut­ting these days, as it’s easy to get (you should be breath­ing it now) and rel­a­tively safe as op­posed to acety­lene or other com­pressed gases. An out­let with 120 volts and a source of clean com­pressed air is all you need.

Ad­vance­ment had been slow and lethar­gic for the first half cen­tury of the plasma’s life. The main prob­lem with yes­ter­year's plasma cut­ters was the equip­ment used to cre­ate the plasma it­self. Most com­monly, the large trans­former based equip­ment, with mul­ti­ple heavy­duty con­tac­tors, were cum­ber­some and of­ten had the re­li­a­bil­ity of Carly Rae Jep­son pro­duc­ing hits. Un­til re­cently, prices for such a setup was also a huge de­ter­rent and left the plasma cut­ter out of reach for the home or small shop de­spite the ben­e­fits.

“In­verter Tech­nol­ogy” has been a tag line for the last decade when it comes to elec­tronic giz­mos, one of them be­ing the lowly plasma cut­ter. In­vert­ers and smaller more pow­er­ful mi­cro­pro­ces­sors, have re­sulted in the mas­sive re­duc­tion in

the equip­ment’s foot­print. Take the new Miller Xtreme 625 shown here com­pared to the gar­gan­tuan Hyper­therm Max40 we used to wield.

Smaller, more com­pact power sys­tems also mean more room for other fea­tures to be in­cor­po­rated into the new cut­ter. The 625 has a built-in self di­ag­nos­tic sys­tem to tell you that the con­sum­ables are com­ing to their end of lives be­fore more dam­age oc­curs to other pieces. Self-ad­just­ing air sup­plies also lend to con­sum­able longevity by al­low­ing just enough air­flow as is needed to get the job done. All you have to do is ad­just the cur­rent with the sin­gle knob on the front of the ma­chine and pull the trig­ger.

Prices have also come into the

realm of the av­er­age home fab­ri­ca­tor, and as usual, we ad­vise that you take the proper steps to gain ap­proval from your sig­nif­i­cant other be­fore pulling the trig­ger… We have been in­formed that “af­ford­able” and “cheap” are NOT the same and we bear the emo­tional scars to prove it. The lat­est plasma ma­chine tech­nolo­gies will also save a few bucks when deal­ing with the con­sum­able com­po­nents of the plasma torch. Tips and cups privy to the lat­est in flow dy­nam­ics are last­ing longer than ever be­fore. The starter kit we got with our 625 Xtreme in­cluded a bunch of dif­fer­ent tips for per­form­ing dif­fer­ent pro­cesses such as goug­ing, pre­ci­sion cut­ting and ex­tended tip cut­ting for hard to reach places.

The hand torch and tips from Miller are all “drag cup” style mean­ing you can drag them across the sur­face of the metal be­ing cut without short­ing out. When us­ing older ma­chines, you had to “hover” over the work piece like when us­ing an oxy-acety­lene setup to cut. With a sim­ple straight edge and steady hand, you too can slice per­fect lines that would make a coke­head gig­gle in de­light.

It used to take us ages wield­ing an an­gle grinder to turn out CAD draw­ings (Card­board Aided De­sign) into steel re­al­i­ties, all while launch­ing sparks and fly­ing de­bris across the shop. Back in the day it was a dream-come-true to score a plasma cut­ter and get our hands on an old worn out Hyper­therm Max40. The di­nosaur worked well, when it worked, but re­li­a­bil­ity was ques­tion­able and re­place­ment parts on a 30-year-old ma­chine that was rare to be­gin with, made us ques­tion drag­ging the old beast out from the cor­ner. The Miller 625 Xtreme brought long last­ing con­sum­ables and ex­tremely easy-touse op­er­a­tions with it into our shop. Porta­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent as all you re­quire is a source of com­pressed air and a 120V or 240V out­let. Now you too can start breaking down your next project or build­ing the rig of your dreams.

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