What Materials Plasma Cutters Can & Can’t Cut

What Materials Plasma Cutters Can & Can’t Cut

Published on March 29th, 2023

Plasma cutting is among the most popular processes for cutting metal, and for good reason. This is a highly efficient, quick process that can make short work of some tough materials. Here at California Steel Services, we also use CNC machining along with drawings and schematics to create parts for your applications.

However, plasma cutting does have its limitations. Read on to discover what materials plasma cutters can and can’t cut, along with more general information about plasma cutting.

How Does Plasma Cutting Work?

As you probably know, the three main states of matter are solid, liquid, and gas. However, there is a fourth state of matter—plasma—created by superheating gas. A normal atom has protons and neutrons inside the nucleus, with electrons surrounding the nucleus in a cloud. When gas reaches extremely high temperatures, these electrons separate, leaving behind positively charged nuclei known as ions. Then, when electrons collide with each other, these ions release tremendous energy.

A plasma torch produces a high-temperature plasma arc by passing an electrical current through a gas like oxygen or argon. As this occurs, the gas ionizes and turns into plasma. This 30,000-degree-Fahrenheit plasma melts the material you’re cutting (assuming you’re slicing a compatible substance), while shielding gas keeps the plasma beam contained and blows away melted material.

Plasma cutters come in all forms, from small, portable units to gigantic machines that robotic arms control.

Ideal Materials for Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting’s number one job is slicing through metal. Some of the most common metals cut with plasma are mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. All three materials are excellent conductors, and they each have melting points lower than the maximum temperature of a plasma torch. Below is more information on each of these compatible metals.

Mild Steel

One of the best benefits of mild steel is its availability. Some metals are not widely available or cost exorbitant amounts to work with—mild steel is relatively accessible. On top of that, mild steel is a strong and versatile material, making it a good starting place for a variety of projects.

While handheld plasma cutters can slice through mild steel up to an inch thick, you should rely on industrial machines to tackle ferrous and non-ferrous metals over this thickness. California Steel Services has just the technology you’re looking for to make that happen!

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is another material well-suited for plasma cutting. As one of the most corrosion-resistant materials on the market, stainless steel is an extremely popular choice for many applications. With a high strength-to-weight ratio, you’ll find stainless steel in architectural, marine, and other industrial applications.

While stainless steel has a higher melting point than mild steel or aluminum, plasma cutting can still handle the task without a problem.


Aluminum, a material common in aerospace and automotive applications, is a perfect candidate for plasma cutting. It has the lowest melting point of any of the other metals we’ve discussed so far, making it extremely easy to cut through with a plasma torch.

Aluminum has high reflectivity and low thermal expansion, making it work well in architectural projects. Plus, plasma cutting can easily slice aluminum into unique shapes for architectural design.

Materials That Aren’t Conducive to Plasma Cutting

While plasma cutting is a fantastic way to cut through many types of metal, not all materials work well with this process.

Nonconductive materials are not conducive to plasma cutting, such as wood and plastic. These materials don’t conduct electricity and are therefore ill-suited to this form of cutting. For wood and acrylic, there is another option with a tool somewhat similar to a plasma torch—a laser cutter. Because laser cutters burn through material rather than causing a reaction with ionized gas, they work for nonconductive materials.

It is also important to consider metals with extremely high melting points, such as tungsten and titanium. While plasma cutters won’t be useless on these materials, their high melting points make for a more labor-intensive and less efficient cutting process.

Finally, a plasma torch can cut materials like copper, but they will create a great deal of smoke and harmful fumes. As with any cutting process, be sure the cutting environment is safe and set up in a way to keep you healthy.

Benefits of Plasma Cutting

With a sense of the materials plasma torches work well and poorly with, let’s discuss some of the unique benefits that plasma cutting has to offer.


Plasma cutters make short work of many tough tasks. When you partner with a team specializing in plasma-cutting services, you can expect them to handle your projects efficiently. Many industrial applications require quick turnarounds, and plasma cutting assists in that!


When handled correctly, plasma torches are tools with excellent precision. It’s true that someone with a handheld plasma torch in their garage may not be able to produce extremely straight cuts. However, companies that specialize in plasma cutting can harness the technology to produce great, reliable results. The machines we use at California Steel Services have an accuracy of plus or minus 0.006 inches per 3 feet, or 0.15 millimeters per meter.

Cost Effectiveness

In addition to the above benefits, plasma cutting is a cost-effective cutting method. Plasma cutters are versatile and can cut a wide range of metals, making them ideal if you need several materials cut to size. Laser cutting can provide additional accuracy but at slightly higher prices.

Who Is Plasma Cutting For?

Plasma-cutting services are essential for industries that require quick cuts done precisely. Applications range from construction to aerospace to manufacturing, with many additional industries in between. Whether you need metal frames or structural panels, plasma cutting is a method you can count on for great results.

Working With Experienced Plasma Cutters

Now that you know what materials plasma cutters can and can’t cut, you’re ready to use plasma cutting for projects that work with compatible materials, such as steel. Choosing a team of experienced plasma cutters is ideal because you will receive reliable quality on time. At California Steel Services, we use up-to-date plasma-cutting technology and techniques to provide the highest-quality steel plasma-cutting services that meet your precise specifications.

You can count on California Steel Services to handle all your plasma-cutting needs with ease. If your goal is to cut through steel or aluminum efficiently, you can’t go wrong with our plasma-cutting services, so contact us today!

What Materials Plasma Cutters Can & Can’t Cut

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