Welder using cutting torch to cut metals

Mastering the Cutting Torch: Tips and Techniques

Ecenrode Welding Supply is a B2B welding distributor in Lancaster, PA. We offer tons of valuable information about welding supply tools and how we operate and distribute products to hundreds of manufacturers across the country.

Here, we define what a cutting torch is, go through its uses and functions, and outline from start to finish the entire process of using a cutting torch safely, properly, and effectively. We’ll also cover FAQs to reinforce your knowledge, so you’re well-equipped to purchase and use one of our products.

Understanding the Cutting Torch

First, let’s get straight on what a cutting torch is. A cutting torch is a torch used in metalworking that is specifically designed to cut metal. They can be used to cut steel and carbon steel but aren’t considered safe for use with other metal alloys. They’re a very useful tool and can be used in a variety of applications, from small detail work to large construction jobs.

Now let’s talk about the different types of cutting torches, as well as their uses, mechanics, and specific functions.

Types of Cutting Torches

There are three standard types of cutting torches: oxy-fuel, plasma, and laser. Let’s define and contextualize each of them.

Oxy-Fuel Cutting Torches

As the name implies, oxy-fuel cutting torches are simply powered by oxygen. Basically, a mixture of oxygen and fuel come together to form a powerful gas flame that ignites the metal, continuing to pump oxygen to increase the flame's temperature, which in turn cuts the metal and burns away the undesired parts of that metal.

The physics are pretty intuitive: air makes the fire grow, as most have witnessed from campfires or lighting candles. When there’s a strong wind, flames increase – the main factor that causes wildfires to keep burning and expanding. The same is true here. Once the flame ignites, adding pure oxygen increases the temperature.

Plasma Cutting Torches

First of all, what is plasma, exactly? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, plasma is “superheated matter.” Often called the

“fourth state of matter” next to solids, liquids, and gasses, plasma is the matter produced by adding heat to gas. In the case of cutting torches, plasma is created by adding electric energy to the air. Extremely potent, this plasma fusion sears and melts away any metal with which it comes into contact and splits it into pieces.

Laser Cutting Torches

As the name implies, these types of cutting torches are powered by an intense beam of focused energy which splits metal into pieces. Because the energy beam for these cutting torches is highly concentrated, they are used for focusing on an isolated spot within the metal, thereby melting and vaporizing the metal in that spot.

You can move the laser around with a high degree of efficiency and precision, so it’s as utilizable as the other two types of cutting torches mentioned above.

Laser cutting torch cutting small, detailed holes in metal pipe while sparks fly

Cutting Torch Safety Measures

These important guidelines will keep you safe while using any type of cutting torches.

  1. Be aware of your environment. The cutting torch is not limited to the space it occupies; physical processes will inevitably affect your surroundings.
  2. Take caution in directing the flame or laser of your oxy-fuel, plasma, or laser cutting torch. The heat is remarkably intense, with the oxy-fuel cutting torches reaching up to 5,800°F. The flame or laser will sear through and immediately burn and vaporize anything it touches.
  3. Practice cleanliness and organization in using your cutting torch. Rags, paper, sawdust, and many other materials typically found in an industrial setting are all highly flammable. Clear your space for only the torch and the metal it cuts.
  4. Have a fire extinguisher – particularly one that can put out any fire, anywhere, anytime – at the ready. This is exceedingly important.
  5. Don the correct safety gear to protect yourself and your surroundings. The basics include safety boots, safety glasses, and high-temperature, heat-resistant gloves.
  6. Ensure proper ventilation in the room, and be absolutely sure that your cutting torch is fully functional and free of any defects that could cause an explosion. Don’t be alarmed; just be safe!

Using the Cutting Torch

Oxy-Fuel Torches

Given that these cutting torches are powered by fuel and oxygen, there is a nozzle, torch body, torch tip, fuel source, and oxygen source. Oxy-fuel cutting torches are only used for cutting carbon steel. You must consider angularity, kerf (the width of the material you are removing), the physical processes that change the metallurgy on your cutting surface, dross/slag, and tolerances. There are specific practices for initiating the cut, maintaining it, and finishing it as well.

Plasma Torches

These are highly versatile cutting torches. Here are our instructions: First, connect the air source and turn it on. Next, attach the ground clamp. Turn on the machine and set the current. You are now ready to use the trigger to activate the flame and cut the metal.

Laser Cutting Torches

These torches are arguably the most efficient in terms of setup. Using computer-controlled equipment and a power source, combined with a knowledge of the different parts of the laser cutter, you should be ready to use this type of cutting torch in no time.

Maintenance and Care

Mainly, the maintenance for all of the different cutting torches involves keeping the tips clean, clearing out the slag, and rinsing the tool so that it’s free of debris. This is important because you don’t want any blockages to a proper flame.

Also important is to keep the machines free of defects, so consult a manual guide or hire an expert to inspect the equipment. You should also replace worn-out parts and store the cutting torches properly. Usually, this involves keeping them in a temperature-controlled environment, situated upright, and entirely powered off.

Plasma cutting torch cutting circular designs out of metal sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I adjust the flame of my cutting torch?

You need to adjust the valve connected to the energy source. Different welding tip sizes also produce different flame sizes.

Can I use a cutting torch on any metal?

No. Oxy-fuel cutting torches can only be used on carbon steel. Plasma torches are much more versatile, can be used on ferrous and non-ferrous metal alike, and can penetrate different metal thicknesses. Laser cutters are also versatile; however, they can only cut steel (including stainless) or aluminum.

What are the important safety measures you need to use when handling and using a cutting torch, no matter the type?

There are several measures. In brief, they are: one, be aware of your environment; two, clear your space of all flammable material; three, take caution where you direct the flame of your torch; four, have a fire extinguisher capable of putting out any fire at the ready; five, use the proper PPE; and six, check to make sure the machine is fully functional without defects before starting, and keep your environment well-ventilated.


We reviewed the various aspects of cutting torches: laser, plasma, and oxy-fuel. We covered safety measures, proper use, storage, and maintenance. You should know how to use a cutting torch and have the correct product and metal in mind for your next project.

Be sure to check out the products at Ecenrode’s Welding Supply for all your cutting needs!

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