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Welding Process

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Plasma Cutting Is Better than Oxy-Fuel … or Not

Metalworkers love debates, and “what’s the best process?” is a common one. The problem is technology does not get applied in the abstract. There is always a context and variable to consider. Take cutting processes.

Oxy-fuel is considered “old school” because it has been around since 1903 (check out this interesting mish-mash of history). There is also an article in The Fabricator that provides more background on the process, as well as its suitability for mechanized cutting applications.

Oxy-fuel is also considered old school because the process essentials remain the same, and a cutting torch from 100 years ago looks much the same today. However, if you go into a career like pipe welding or structural steel, chances are the oxy-fuel process will be essential.

Plasma cutting is considered more modern…yet the Thermal Dynamics brand started in 1958 and Hypertherm started in 1968 as noted in this history. However, today’s compact, portable manual plasma cutters that use inverter technology look nothing like the original equipment, which required a crane to move.

Arclabs made this quick chart that offers a comparison of the processes, and Miller has this good background story if you want a bit more detail.

Our take is that you should absorb all the knowledge possible. Build your skills as weld-rounded candidate when you apply for a job. Also, remember a torch is just a dumb tool — all the intelligence and skill rests in the hands and mind of the operator.


Factor Oxy-Fuel Plasma
Portability Requires cylinders (but those fit in the back of truck) Requires electricity (which means a generator)
Reliability Very simple, less to go wrong, easy to repair. The go-to choice for field work Rugged but more complex, more to go wrong
Precision Takes more skill to create a precise cut Easier, but still requires skill; easy to use a template to cut precise shapes
Thick metal Winner – can cut sections 6” or more About 1-1/2 in. for manual

About 2” steel for automated

Speed Slower on materials < 2” Faster on materials < 2”. Blazing fast on thinner materials.
Thin metal Not a good choice for sheet metal Winner – great for precise cuts on sheet metal.
Warping/HAZ Heat affected zone is an issue Less of an issue because of faster cut speeds
“Weld ready” cuts No bevel angle, but need to remove dross, which is harder.


WPS may call for mechanically prepped cut face (grinding or milling)

Slight bevel, but less dross and dross comes off easily for faster clean-up.


WPS may call for mechanically prepped cut face (grinding or milling)

Cost Lower purchase price, but ongoing cost of gas; consumables last longer Higher purchase precise; air (free) is the fuel, but consumables wear faster.
Safety Gas cylinders require more safety measures No cylinders, but electricity is a hazard