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In Use

We’ve mentioned before how much easier MIG welding is to learn — at the basic level, at least — as compared to stick welding, and the same theory applies here as well.  The learning curve for plasma cutting is much steeper than that of cutting with an oxy/acet torch.  After just a few practice cuts, we had no trouble making full use of the 250A’s capabilities.

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Note: Before you write in, we totally realize that it’s not the best idea to plasma cut wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts.  It was really, really hot in the shop, and we decided to take our chances.  We don’t recommend you do the same.  We recommend wearing leathers just like you would for welding.  You’ve been warned.

The biggest mistake we made at first was trying to move too quickly when cutting thicker stock.  The 250A plows right through 22-gauge sheet metal, but when you get into larger material — like, for example, 1/8″ steel — you’ve got to move much more slowly.  In fact, on thick stock you often move only 1-2″ per minute.

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That leads us to the next newbie mudhole we stepped in: not taking into account the 250A’s duty cycle when planning ahead.  (Or maybe that should just read “not planning ahead.”)

As you can tell from the specs, the 250A’s duty cycle is quite low when compared to the much larger commercial units you often see on TV.  This isn’t a bad thing as in exchange for lesser duty cycle you receive a unit that runs on 110V and is extremely portable.  But you do have to keep the duty cycle in mind, planning your cuts with “rest stops” in the middle for both the 250A and yourself.

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One of the first projects we took on with the 250A was making a second set of brackets for the Yukon engine swap project.  We made the first set using mostly a band saw, but when tasked with making another set we jumped on using the 250A as there were a number of curved cuts and inside corners that were really difficult with just the saw.

The brackets were 1/8″ steel, so we took our time.  Even our inexperienced hands made some pretty decent cuts which cleaned up nicely with a little flap-disc work.

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One bit of advice: you’ll notice in the pictures on the left and right above that the “sparks” are flying out the top/side of the metal.  This is an indication that we’re moving too quickly and not completely cutting through the metal.  In the center photo you can see the sparks blowing out the bottom.  This is much better, though moving too slowly will overly melt the metal leaving a rough edge (which can also be seen in some photos).  Practice makes perfect better.

The 250A also made cutting a notch in one side of a piece of 1″ x 2″ rectangular tubing really simple, as you can see below.  (Try that with a band saw!)

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We also keep a big piece of expanded metal around the shop because it’s handy for so many projects, and we gave the 250A a shot at lopping off a piece whenever when we needed one.  It took a little more skill to cut the expanded metal, but thankfully the 250A features a “controlled pilot arc,” which means that the arc doesn’t go out when you lose contact with the metal for a moment or so.  This is also useful when you’re cutting metal that’s partially painted as the torch doesn’t “go out” every time you hit a thick bit of paint.

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From a portability standpoint, this unit rocks.  We threw it in the back seat of the truck and took it to friends’ places on and off during testing, which was really convenient.  (It’s also good for Hobart’s sales, I bet.  Many of them “found” a need for one once they experienced it first-hand.)  It’s also handy to be able to store the 250A on a shelf or inside a cabinet, get it out for use, and put it away when you’re done.

Between the 10′ power cord and the 20′ torch/ground leads, you can extend up to 30′ from your power outlet.  This makes cutting in the driveway an option, too.

Read on to page three for our conclusions.

pages: 1 2 3

 

9 Responses to Hands-On: Hobart’s AirForce 250A Plasma Cutter

  1. Rick says:

    Nice summation guys.. I’d been looking for this review since you guys discussed it on the podcast. One thing, it would have been nice to see some close-up shots of the cuts after you were done with them. To really see what the unit can do.

    Oh, and 450×338 pixels? What kind of random dimension is that? Let me some some 800×600 at least when I click on a little image. I can’t see anything in those tiny pictures. 😀

  2. Chuck Cage says:

    Rick: Thanks as always for the comments. We shoot ’em at 7 MP, but 450 px is the limit for TM’s three-col format, so it’s the biggest we publish.

  3. Eric G. says:

    it might be worth mentioning that plasma gives you the option to cut non-ferrous (aluminum etc.) metals. which you can’t do with oxy-acetylene.

  4. thomas says:

    The pictures are actually scaled to 399×300 (at least for me) when clicked on for the first time, then 450×338 after the second click. Seeing as the second click brings you out of the format of the webpage and simply displays the picture alone, I dont see why they cant be bigger?

  5. Mat says:

    Not sure if you do much welding/cutting/brazing and the like, but you should really be wearing not flammable clothes that cover large parts of your body, i.e. legs, arms, and chest. You only have to get a bit of slag in your shoe once to find out you need to wear pants.

  6. dennisl says:

    Thanks for the story, but I have one quibble: I’m surprised and dismayed to see pictures of someone using a plasma cutter wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Is that really good safety practice?

  7. Doug B says:

    I am realllllly surprised to see any positive comments about the Hobart Air FArce 250A Plasma cutter,I have owned 2 of them and they wouldn’t make a pimple on a real plasma cutters hiney.I bought a reconditioned unit from Harbor Frieght,after trying to use it I figured it just wasn’t reconditioned good enough and returned it,I then bought a brand new one from our local welding supply house,and it cut just as crappy as the recon unit.This is one experience with Hobart,don’t get me started on the Hobart 140 Mig welder.A word to the wise.buy quality equipment.Hobart used to stand for quality,but since Miller bought them out,you may as well buy Chicago Tool.

  8. mike b says:

    don’t worry about the clothes. how can you see what you’rte doing with a welding helmet on??? i find shade 5 torch glasses to be sufficient eye protection.
    as for the performance of this unit: i have used larger ones (rated for 1/2″ or better) and this unit, IF NOT USED BEYOND CAPACITY, will perform. the key here is to cut not more than 1/8″. just because it can “severe” 1/4″ DOES NOT, in my opinion, mean it can cut 1/4″. nor does it mean you should even try. if you need to cut thicker material, get a bigger unit.
    btw, never buy “reconditioned” items. you’re asking for a let-down. you may get lucky once in a while, but play it safe. stay away.

  9. brandon says:

    Hobart is a chain store brand of Plasma cutters and usually they are cheap that is how they can be marketed in chain stores. If you want a real plasma cutter you need to go to a welding supply store. I prefer Thermal Dynamics products because of their reliability. Plasma cutting is what their business is based on. They just celebrated their 50th anniversary in the field of plasma cutting and their products show it. I had the privilege of cutting with their new CM TRUE 52. Now that is a serious plasma cutter, not for the faint at heart.

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