Plasma Cutter From an Arc Lighter

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Introduction: Plasma Cutter From an Arc Lighter

About: I like turning boring things into awesome things! Usually on video.

I recently purchased a few cheap arc lighters on ebay with various projects in mind for them. I hadn't thought of a plasma cutter until I had one in my own hands and saw how it could bore a hole through thin materials that get in the way of the arc. There's an issue with trying to cut things with an arc in exposed air as the material will typically burst into flame. In this project I'll show how to integrate the arc lighter with a cutting head that acts as both a shield against air flow as well as a heat sink to prevent the arc from heating materials to their carbonation point beyond the edges of the cut. In case the embedded video above does not work for you here is a direct link to the full tutorial and a video demonstration of this project.

Parts List:

  • Arc Lighter
  • Extra Wire
  • Insulating Shrink Tube
  • 4" x 4" Sheet Glass
  • Steel Screw (~1/8" in diameter, trim to length)
  • Conductive Work Surface (steel sheet, metal baking pan, etc.)
  • Wood Drawer Handle (optional)

Tools/Consumables:

  • Wire Cutters
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Soldering Iron
  • Screw Driver
  • Epoxy
  • Flux Core Solder
  • Scratch Awl
  • Sand Paper
  • Drill
  • 1/8" Spear Tip Glass Bit
  • Mason Jar Ring

Step 1: Preparing the Glass

I went to my local hardware store and asked to have a stack of glass squares cut from the scraps they had on the shelves. I choose 4" x 4" squares as I figured that would be an appropriate size for this miniaturized project while still being manageable. I had multiples cut as I knew I would have some experimenting to get everything right with this project, especially in terms of drilling through glass which I had not done before. I also had the squares cut from the thickest scraps of glass they had available for durability reasons.

First thing I did with these squares is to blunt the edges with some sand paper. I did this slowly so not much dust was kicked up, but ideally glass should be sanded wet. You really do not want to be inhaling glass particles.

I will be mounting the output electrode for this plasma cutter into the center of the glass and as such a hole needs to be drilled to accommodate it. For the sake of longevity of the drill bit as well as to prevent the glass from cracking due to heat, glass should always be drilled under water. A trick for this is to temporarily glue a ring around where the hole is to be located. The ring is then filled with water and drilling can commence. I used a 1/8" Bosh spear tipped glass and tile bit which worked very well. It's best to drill glass with high speed and very light pressure. Once the bit penetrates the far side but hasn't quite made it all the way through the sheet should be flipped over to complete the hole. Doing so will prevent the glass from chipping.

Once the hole has been made the ring can be detached from the glass, if necessary using rubbing alcohol to loosen the hot glue. Wet a paper towel in alcohol and press it against the glue joint for a few minutes and it will cause hot glue to come free of just about anything.

Step 2: Disassembling the Lighter

Fortunately arc lighters are of fairly simple design. Most should pull free of the outside casing with the removal of a single screw inserted through the bottom. For this project the top shroud will have to be removed which is held in place with a series of pins that become accessible once the electronics are free from the case. I used a scratch awl to press the pins from one side, then pull them out the rest of the way from the other side with some side cutters.

With the top shroud removed it should expose the piece of ceramic that house the output wires to keep them from burning themselves up when an arc is struck. The wires should only be loosely set in this ceramic and it should otherwise fall out of the body freely. As soon as the shroud was initially removed you may have noticed a few springs fall out - it's nothing to worry about. These were likely part of the mechanism and flips an off switch when the lid of the lighter is closed. We won't be wanting that feature enabled for this project anyway.

Step 3: Lighter Modifications

At this point the electronics can be pressed back into the case and reinstalled with the single screw at the bottom. The two output wires should now be free and accessible, extending above the top. These need to be lengthened and so a small section of the ends should be stripped and soldered to some spare wire. What length is used is dependent on how far of a reach you would like the cutting head to have from the lighter body. I wouldn't recommend more than a couple feet of extra length. Once the soldering is finished the connections should be covered with some shrink wrap tube or another insulator to prevent an ark from jumping between the joints.

For cosmetic purposes I decided to reinstall the lid of the lighter, first drilling two holes in the top so the output wires could pass through. I then glued the lid in place since there isn't much of a reason for it to open anymore.

Step 4: Connecting the Pieces

At the end of one of the two output wires we need to attach an electrode. This can be anything from a piece of graphite to a conductive screw as I use here. The electrode must be a small enough diameter to fit into the hole made in the glass, but short enough that it doesn't poke through the other side. It doesn't particularly matter which output wire this electrode is attached to.

The electrode is placed into the hole on the glass sheet and glued in place. I attempted to use hot glue for this purpose but found the electrode got too hot and would re-melt the glue. Epoxy is a better choice here.

Last of all I decided to attach a small wooden handle to the corner of the glass sheet to help guide the cut.

Step 5: The Work Surface

With the cutting head complete the final ingredient needed is a conductive work surface to act as the electrode opposite the one mounted in the glass. I used a small scrap of steel but any flat metal object should work fine. The free electrode coming from the lighter should be placed such that it makes good electrical contact with the work surface.

That's it, the plasma cutter is ready to use!

Step 6: Using the Cutter

The material you would like to cut should be placed on the work surface and the cutting head set above. Some lighters may not function properly if they ground out on the work surface to they may need to be held in hand. To obtain a clean cut you must make very smooth movements, and the arc will be most accurate if there is already a small hole in the work for it to pass through at the start.

Once again, here is the video demonstration and tutorial for this project.

I've received some feedback that this is not a plasma cutter as some believe a true plasma cutter requires gas injection. While most industrial plasma cutters do use gas injection to direct the arc and blow away slag, that injection is not a required component of plasma production. Any time electricity passes through a gas in the form of a visible arc that luminescence and resultant heat is due to the production of plasma. With the design presented here air flow to the work piece is limited but enough remains to make the transition to plasma and facilitate an arc.

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    73 Discussions

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    Edgar

    2 years ago

    Neat idea, and can be used for many CNC Drawing machines, as a CNC Plasma cutter for ultra thin metal plate...

    Went to this Blog post, and you can see a CNC Drawing machine, there,.too! http://faz-voce-mesmo.blogspot.pt/2016/08/um-desenhador-cnc-em-cartao-e-rute-um.html

    3 replies

    This doesn't have enough power to cut anything besides foil, any thicker and the metal will sink too much heat and resist cutting I would advise the use of a cheap plasma cutter with a fine tip (non transferred arc is preferable as the cuts from a transferred arc cutter tend to be messy when used on too thin of material), or a low power laser cutter, a sheet metal oxyfuel cutting tip may also work depending on the material.

    Yes, but it is a very affordable alternative for just staring to see stuff done. Then, those alternatives kick in.

    Ok, just paper, then. Good for Paperctaft.

    Thanks I was able to find a great Arc Lighter here --> https://www.gadgetsonline.co/collections/tesla-arc-lighters-1

    Fun gizmo. It would be nice to use a transparent conductive surface to get the current out to the electrode. That way you could see clearly around your cutting point. I see Ada Fruit has some small glass plates coated with ITO (https://www.adafruit.com/products/1310) - that could work nicely.

    Bumble bees ain't suppose to fly, eggs are good - no they're bad, whole milk - 2% - 1% - skim - none, tomato tomato who cares oooohh?

    Thanks for the share and something for me to think on before what's left of the 10% - no 50% - no 100% of my grey matter explodes because it takes $0.02 - no $0.03 - no $0.04 to make a penny......$^#*&%$%(%(*^^*%$ AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

    Oh, good job by the way, thanks. Semper Fi

    1 reply

    hahaha...Rah, no gas is inert either, thought it may not have a measurable reaction in a particular application is not "inert".

    I'm truly sorry but to get a plasma arc you need an inert gas and an arc withspecial power pack, that inverts the electricity and ups the amperage. Do you want mine to examine?

    4 replies

    This is a comment I've had several times due to a misunderstanding of what constitutes plasma. This does not function via the same mechanism as commercially produced plasma cutters, but it does use plasma for the cutting action. Google 'electrical arc' and you will see that every arc is plasma, whether the gas it passes through is inert or not.

    Well then that makes a stick welder, a plasma stick welder. An air arc, a plasma air arc cutter. A spray arc, a plasma spray welder. A spot welder, a plasma a plasma spot welder. Do you want me to go on? I've been a welder for over forty years and used a plasma cutter when the unit was as big as four clothes washers, now you can carrier the units around in your hands, but you still need gas. Once the arc is struck the gas along with arc forms a plasma that is hot enough that it burns thru the metal and even glass if you have it sandwiched between to pieces of metal. It does it so quick that there is little to no heat build up in the metal and makes a fine line with very little slag. But, sorry to say, when I hit paper with it yesterday the paper burst into flames, even when I put it between the pieces of metal. But, as far as I can tell, from my experience that is not and will never be a Plasma Cutter. Sorry!

    "Well then that makes a stick welder, a plasma stick welder. An air arc, a plasma air arc cutter. A spray arc, a plasma spray welder. A spot welder, a plasma a plasma spot welder."

    As far as science is concerned, correct. All of those devices use plasma as their source of heat. If you don't want to call it that due to your workshop experience that's your prerogative.

    sorry but an electric arc in air, creates and ionized plasma. nor is electric energy, the only way to create a plasma.

    and cutting, burning is not the only use of plasma such as automobile ignition, xenon flash tubes, bug zappers, electric lighters, tokomak reactors, to sodium vapor lamps. you can deny, these things utilize plasma in their operation only in ignorance of what plasma is. and ionization resulting from, and intense energy flux.

    applications of which, are only limited by ones lack of creativity and imagination.

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    zar011

    2 years ago

    Will this be strong enough to cut thin sheet metal, and if so, what would the thickest projected guess be for cutting sheet metal? thnx

    1 reply

    curiosity, with ingenuity and creativity are always inspiring to see.

    This is really quite silly. Calling that a plasma cutter is like calling a grill lighter a torch.