When it comes to CNC plasma cutters, there are a few ways that you can use them to achieve the ideal cut. Various accessories and guides exist to help improve your cutting and get you the edge your project needs.
Amongst these techniques, you will often hear people talking about drag and standoff tips. These two are kinds of tips for plasma cutters that change how they are used to cut. Below, we’ll give you an overview of both and explain how they can improve your cutting techniques.
What is a Drag Tip?
The drag tip works like this: the tip of the plasma cutter is dragged along the surface of the material being cut. The process is wholly manual, with the user placing the tip of the plasma cutter directly against the material and slowly moving it along the desired line.
The torch must begin at the farthest point from the user’s body and be slowly drawn inward. This is what earns it the name “drag tip.” The movement of the drag should be kept slow to allow the cutter to cut through the material effectively and maintain the cut’s angle. The torch must also be held upright, as the angle of the cut is determined by the tip’s angle. If you hold the torch at a diagonal from the surface, the cut will likewise be diagonal.
What is a Standoff Tip?
Standoff tips are shaped similarly to drag tips; however, their distinction comes in how you use the cutter. Rather than making contact like you would with a drag tip, a standoff tip is held above the cutting surface. The ideal distance here is 3 to 4mm, as this distance will greatly improve the accuracy of the cut.
Fortunately, many standoff tips are designed with a groove that runs around the upper edge of the ceramic casing. The purpose is to allow a guide or standoff roller to be attached to the tip without interfering with the plasma tip. These guides are short metal brackets that, when pressed against the cutting surface, hold the tip at the perfect distance from the surface. They allow the user to provide the correct cutting power while accurately following a cutting path. The guide provides visibility around the tip that the plasma cutter’s nozzle might otherwise obscure.
Drag Tip vs. Standoff Tip
There are three main ways in which drag and standoff tips are similar.
- Both require specific cutting tips attached to the plasma cutter to focus the plasma output. These are usually made of ceramic and screwed in place over the end of the cutter nozzle.
- Both drag and standoff tips require the tip amperage to match the output amperage.
- When using either type of tip, the user must begin at the cut’s or material’s farthest point. The cutter is then drawn slowly towards them along the cutting line.
The differences between the two types of cutting tips lie in their structures. A drag tip has two grooves in its face, while a standoff tip is smooth. The grooves offer a channel that contact slag from the cut can move from. This helps clear the tip and prevents the plasma arc from going out, allowing for a neat and continuous cut.
Because a standoff tip does not have grooves, it can become clogged with slag if the tip is allowed to touch the cut surface. However, this isn’t an issue, as the tip shouldn’t touch when using a standoff tip. If it happens, you must clean the tip as soon as possible, as the nozzle will easily clog with excess slag.
Drag Tip Pros and Cons
Ease of use is the key benefit of using a drag tip with your plasma cutter. Because you can maintain close proximity to it, you have more control over the torch’s movement, making it easier to follow a template marker accurately.
Drag tips also produce much less blowback and spatter of slag waste. This provides a double bonus of making your work much cleaner and maintaining the lifespan of the torch’s nozzle.
On the other hand, drag-tip plasma cutters must be used at much lower power (40 amps), reducing the torch’s heat input. This can be good for energy conservation but makes cutting thicker and harder metals much more difficult or impossible.
Standoff Tip Pros and Cons
Unlike drag tip cutting, standoff tips operate at a much higher amperage. Standoff tips can reach currents of up to 900 amps, giving them much more versatility. Also, due to this boost in power, standoff tips allow cutting to happen much faster.
The cons of using a standoff tip lie largely in the method of use. Due to the precise angles that the tool must be used at, handling one can be more problematic. Cut edges will be uneven or angled incorrectly without good steadiness in the hands of the user. While guides will help mitigate this, many are only thin frames and will still need care and a light touch to use.
Overall, which tip you use will depend on how thick or hard the surface you are cutting is and how skilled the user is with plasma cutting tables. The drag tip is ideal for thinner metals and is unlikely to result in uneven edges due to the full contact nature of the cut. The standoff is ideal for thicker metals but will require a steadier hand or a willingness to accept uneven cuts.