So you’ve set up shop at home, but for some reason the home owners association won’t let you keep a tank of acetylene (next to a big tank of oxygen) big enough to turn the neighborhood into a crater.
This may be the one time the HOA is right, but don’t tell ’em I said so.
What you really need is a plasma cutter. Yeah, they’re a little expensive, but once you see what you can do with one, you’ll be ready to raid the kids’ college money. We tried out Hobart’s entry level AirForce 250A, and we’d have a hard time without one now. Thankfully, it’s part of our long-term test group, so you’ll see lots more about it in future posts.
Read past the jump to find out more about our experiences with the 250A along with lots of pictures.
Push aside all the complex concepts the word “plasma” brings to mind, and just think of the plasma cutter as a love child between a TIG welder and an air compressor. An arc from the torch to the workpiece heats and melts the metal, then compressed air — pumped through a port in the center of the torch — pushes out the molten metal completing the cut.
The AirForce 250A ships in a very well-designed box weighing (according to UPS) 56 lbs. Be careful when you pick it up — it’s heavy for its diminuative size. Ours shipped with the ICE-12C torch pre-installed. In fact, everything came pre-assembled, which makes getting started with the 250A really simple.
Note: Click on smaller photos for large ones.
The 250A is Hobart’s entry-level plasma cutter, offering a 35% duty cycle at 12A. It’s particularly well suited to the small shop as it’s entirely self-contained — it has a built-in piston-driven air compressor — and runs effectively off of a 20A 110V circuit. (Most new builders love to add “freezer plugs” in the garage, which is a boon to home shop enthusiats as they’re often perfect for this application.)
On the front panel you’ll find some really simple controls: a power switch, a power light, and an error light. The error light tells you whether or not the cup is grounded, the input voltage is incorrect, or if the cutter is overtemped. Besides that there’s also a little pictograph showing the thickest material that the cutter can handle in steel, stainless, aluminum, galvanized (though you should avoid galvanized because of the fumes), brass, and copper.
According to Hobart, the 250A can cut up to 1/8″ steel and “sever” (read: rend in two in a horribly messy way) up to 1/4″.
The torch features a two-part trigger. To activate it, you have to squeeze both parts together. This makes it harder for you to accidentally turn it on by laying it on a table or metal workbench. That would be bad for the workbench. The torch’s lead is 20′ long as is the grounding clamp, and the power cord is 10′ long.
The plasma cutter’s electrodes are consumable, so Hobart included a few along with the 250A to keep you cutting for a bit before you need to make a trip to the supply shop.
Read on to page two for our in use experiences with the 250A.