Invented by Edmond Fouché and Charles Picard in 1903, the modern cutting torch is an integral part of today’s welding process. By utilizing pure oxygen (though oxy acetylene torches are also commonly used today) to create flame hot enough to melt and cut through metal, cutting torches are essential to many different kinds of metalworking.
Understanding how a cutting torch works can sound complicated, but we hope to break down the various parts and accessories you’re likely to encounter when torch cutting your work.
In this guide, we want to explain all the variations you might see in a cutting torch and answer the most common questions people have when cutting torches are brought up in conversation. Hopefully, you’ll better understand these useful tools by the time you finish reading this article.
What Makes Up Your Average Cutting Torch?
A regular cutting torch is usually made up of the following components:
- Torch body
- Cutting tip
- Flame tube
- Control valves, including a cutting oxygen lever
- Separate gas tubes (for oxygen and acetylene)
- Mixer chamber
- Gas regulators
- Flame traps
- Gas cylinders
Now that we’ve listed the various parts that make up a basic cutting torch, let’s talk about the purpose of each part and how these pieces work together to ensure the cutting torch is functional.
- Torch Body - The torch body gives the user something to hold onto and acts as the central part of the overall torch. It holds the torch handle and torch head and nozzle and connects everything together. Think of it as the tree trunk or the body's torso – without it, everything else is separated and useless.
- Cutting Tip - Often made of copper alloy or a similar conductive metal, cutting tips emit the flame that cuts the metal. Though it is referred to as cutting, the metal is being separated by an intense flow of oxygen or acetylene – it is a result of a chemical reaction, not a physical cutting, per se.
- Flame Tube - A flame tube is a heat-resistant tube or container in which the flame begins in a cutting torch.
- Control Valves - Control valves are gauges that the user can manipulate to adjust the amount of oxygen or acetylene flowing into the cutting torch flame. By turning these valves up or down and releasing more gas, the flame will get bigger and more intense, and vice versa.
- Separate Gas Tubes - Cutting torches need to keep oxygen and acetylene separate. These tubes are what those gasses travel in before reaching the mixer chamber.
- Mixer Chamber - The mixer chamber combines the oxygen and acetylene in the cutting torch. By mixing the gasses together, an oxygen acetylene torch allows for a hotter flame.
- Hoses - Hoses are another way the gasses fueling the cutting torch can effectively travel until reaching the mixing chamber.
- Gas Regulator - The gas regulators adjust the pressure of different gasses throughout the cutting process. The regulator allows users to adjust the gas to a pressure low enough to utilize a cutting torch safely.
- Flame Traps - Flame traps are safety mechanisms that prevent the flame from a cutting torch from traveling backward and reaching the fuel sources. Known as flashback flames, these can travel backward and cause injuries if they reach the oxygen or acetylene tanks.
- Gas Cylinders - Gas cylinders store the oxygen and acetylene that fuel the cutting torch. These cylinders are often color-coded and are at very high pressures to hold the maximum amount of fuel possible. These high-pressure levels can only be used with appropriate cutting torches. If a cutting torch isn’t equipped to handle certain pressure levels maintained by a specific type of fuel gas cylinder, then users should avoid said cylinders.
Safety Checks for a Cutting Torch
Undergoing safety checks is an essential part of using any kind of cutting torch. Now that you know the various parts that go into the average cutting torch, you should know how to check a cutting torch for flaws or issues that could prove dangerous to your metalworking experience.
Firstly, you’ll always want to double-check all gauges to ensure they are at proper levels before turning on flames. Ensure your gas cylinders are at the appropriate levels so that you don’t risk the leakage of oxygen or acetylene.
You should also check to ensure the pressure levels of each tank are at the appropriate level; if the pressure levels are too low, then that could mean your tanks are leaking or allowing too much airflow to the mixing chambers.
Improperly mixed gasses could spell disaster, so ensure you know what the proper measurements should be – this information will be available to you in your owner’s manual.
You’ll also want to ensure that all hoses are properly linked before using any cutting torch. A sputtering or uneven gas flow could imply that fuel gas isn’t flowing evenly. It might also indicate a blockage or puncture in one of the hoses used by your cutting torch.
Another safety check is to check your cutting tip to ensure it is in good shape. Look for any signs of warping, corrosion, or other damage. Not only could a damaged cutting torch tip lead to problem-ridden metalwork, but it could also lead to injuries if not properly taken care of.
What Else Is There to Know About Cutting Torches?
Cutting torches are relatively simple equipment, but they should still be fully understood before they are utilized. You should never walk into a metalworking job and start using a cutting torch you have never worked with without fully consulting the owner’s manual and performing all the relevant safety checks.
Cutting torches can make your life easier by drastically cutting down on the time it used to take to separate metals, but that doesn’t mean they are tools to be taken lightly.
Hopefully, this guide proved useful to your understanding of what makes up the average cutting torch. We hope that we were able to help you in any of your future metalworking jobs.