Benefits of a CNC plasma table and how it works
A CNC plasma table can completely change the way you work with metal. These cutting tables have a computer-guided plasma cutting torch. The computer guidance enables you to achieve highly precise cuts that would be impossible with any manual cutter.
Simply create a design in a CAD (computer aided design) software and import it to the CNC software. The software will translate your design into instructions for the plasma cutting table and move and trigger the torch at the appropriate moments. The end result is a fast, accurate cutting process.
Another benefit to a CNC plasma table is that it can cut through almost any type of conductive metal. Steel, aluminum, copper, and iron materials can all be cut using a CNC plasma table.
Things to consider before you buy a CNC plasma table
A CNC plasma table is a major investment whether you’re a hobbyist or a business owner. So, it’s critical to make sure you get a table that will suit your needs both now and in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the features you need to consider when choosing a CNC plasma cutting table.
The cutting dimensions of a CNC plasma table are the measurements of the largest piece of metal it can cut. In a world where you have unlimited space and an unlimited budget, larger is always better – that way, if you have a particularly large project, your cutting table will be able to handle it without a problem.
Of course, you need to be realistic about the maximum dimensions you’re likely to need to cut. You can get a huge table like the 60” x 120” SparX510 or a much smaller table like the Baileigh PT-22.
While it’s easy to forget about software when considering a cutting table, remember that any CNC machine is worthless without high-quality software to run it. Most modern CNC tables come with CAD software that allows you to create custom cutting patterns or import design files from your CAD software of choice.
It can be hard to know if an included CAD software will have everything you need. At the very least, you should make sure that the software is flexible enough to import a wide variety of files from other design programs.
All of the CNC plasma tables we reviewed use a stepper motor, which is the same highly precise motor you’ll find in 3D printers and other high-tech machinery. A stepper motor allows the plasma torch to move along the table axes in highly precise increments.
Of course, there’s a lot more to think about when it comes to the motor driving your CNC plasma cutting table. Motors can vary in amperage and duty cycle – the longer the duty cycle, the more material your table can cut before it needs to cool off. The motor will also impact your machine’s cutting speed, which is typically measured in inches per minute.
Many modern CNC plasma tables include a water table, which plays an important role when cutting metal. By placing the metal you’re cutting in a pan of water, you can eliminate the need for a dust collector to pick up metal shards and fumes. A water table also reduces noise and arc flash, and keeps the metal cool so that it’s easy to remove immediately after cutting is finished.
There are a couple things to consider when it comes to the construction of different plasma cutting tables. The first is whether the table has two or three axis control. All of the tables we reviewed offer three axis control, which allows the torch head to move up and down as well as side to side. That’s important for controlling your cut depth.
Of course, not all z-axes are made the same. The STV Motorsports tables offer six inches of maximum vertical travel, while the Firebird table offers seven inches. The Baileigh table offers an adjustable z axis, but it must be controlled manually. As a result, you have to enter different cutting programs for cuts of different depths.
The material the table is made out of is also important. You’ll be placing heavy metal panels on the CNC plasma table, so it needs to be sturdy and durable. Look for table surfaces that are made from industrial-grade steel, like on the Baileigh and STV Motorsports tables. A welded steel frame, like the Baileigh table features, can also help give your plasma table a longer lifespan.
With any major purchase, a warranty is important for peace of mind and to ensure that you’re getting a high-quality product. Somewhat surprisingly, warranties aren’t all that common or that long for CNC plasma tables. The Baileigh and Firebird tables don’t come with warranty policies, and the STV Motorsports tables only come with one-year warranties.
Some manufacturers offer technical support in addition to or in lieu of warranties. For example, STV Motorsports offers lifetime support for all of the company’s tables.
As you might expect, CNC plasma tables aren’t cheap. A budget-friendly table like the model from Firebird, which is arguably one of the best CNC plasma tables under $10k, costs around $4,200. A large model like the SparX510 costs nearly $7,500, and that’s before you buy a plasma torch to go with it.
How to use a CNC plasma table
The first step in using a CNC plasma table is to create a design. You can use the CAD software that comes with your plasma table to make your design or use another software and export it as a .dxf file.
Next, initialize your plasma cutter and get your material aligned to the correct spot on the cutting table. Move the torch on the computer to get the alignment right, and then you’re ready to start cutting. Of course, before you start, make sure that you’re wearing appropriate safety gear (including a welding helmet if you will be watching the torch) and that you have a water table and ventilation.
When the cut is finished, use pliers or tongs to remove your part from the cutting table. You can allow it to cool on the benchtop or drop it in water for faster cooling. Then just file down the cuts to get a smooth finished product.