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Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 3:47 PM

For cutting the wall of a shipping container, I have heard that a plasma cutter is the best option. In addition to cutting space for windows, I will have to install the windows as well, which will require welding. What should I buy, cheap as possible, that is a combo plasma cutter and welder? Do you recommend such a combo? What the difference between a Cut50 plasma cutter and a Cut50d? What does the D refer to?

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#1

Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/13/2011 4:01 PM

An oxyacetylene torch would probably be better, and certainly less expensive. If the welding is not particularly critical, an AC arc welder with about 1/8" E6011 electrodes will suffice, and will likely be the most economical.

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#14
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/14/2011 6:35 AM

.

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#16
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/14/2011 7:09 AM

I think Anonymous must be shy!

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#19
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/14/2011 8:07 AM

Probably has no fingers .

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#2

Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/13/2011 5:17 PM

Cheap as possible is a reciprocating saw and a $100.00USD wire feed welder from Harbor Freight. (Not an endorsement).

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#4
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/13/2011 6:45 PM

Thanks a bunch. Why a reciprocating saw and not an angle grinder, which I have seen used for this purpose before? How would I initially penetrate the steel with the reciprocating saw? I need a hole in the steel wall to start, don't I?

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#6
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/13/2011 7:18 PM

Overall, a recip saw will be quicker. You'll need to use a fine toothed blade for this thin metal.

Drilling a start hole will make things easier and save blades, but pros can start a saw by gently letting the blade penetrate the metal.

You'd start with the "nose" of the saw pointed down, touching the surface. The blade will be at an angle, with the tip just touching the metal. When you start the saw, gently begin to lower the blade into the work. The tip will do the work here. Once you've penetrated the metal, you can put the saw foot back to parallel on the surface and make the cut. Take your time. Have spare blades ready.

I'm really not so sure the angle grinder wouldn't be better for you, if you are comfortable using it. Now that I think about it, I have both and I'm not so sure I wouldn't go with the angle grinder. (If you don't have a recip saw, this is a perfect excuse to buy one)

If you really want to do this with a single tool, use a gas cutting torch to cut the holes and then gas weld the windows in. I've built exhaust systems with an oxy acetylene cutting torch and then coat hangers as filler metal.

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#21
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/14/2011 10:17 AM

An angle grinder will be faster but the cut-off wheels tend to wear out quickly. Two to five dollars a pop depending on quality. They can also give a clean, precise cut with careful handling. Remember to file off the burrs as they are razor sharp and will cut you badly before you even know it's happening.

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#15
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Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/14/2011 6:37 AM

...and wear ear and eye protection during the operation! →

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#3

Re: Plasma cutter for shipping container

11/13/2011 6:33 PM

Hi,

I wouldn't buy a combo, buy used acetylene torch and AC or AC/DC stick rod welding machine(check C.L.). A four inch grinder with cutting discs can be used to cut holes but it will be labor intensive.

Thanks

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#5

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 7:12 PM

"D" for these plasmas refers to auto dual voltage (120V/240V) units. But unless I really needed this feature I'd avoid. S.M.

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#7

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 7:19 PM

As a former welder and plasma cutter service tech I can tell you don't bother with the combo welder/plasma cutter stuff or the lowest end cheapo stuff.

Once you get a plasma cutter you are going to find a lot more uses for it than you first thought so spending a little extra to get a good name brand one with a decent warranty is well worth it. Personally I would a recommend something in the 50 amp range though. The cutting speed increase on sheet steel is well worth the little extra cost. As far as ratings go an honest rated 35 amp plasma cutter will easily cut metal up to 1/2 inch thick but it will be slow. More amps means greater cutting thickness and speed.

Same goes with a welder. Basic wire feed is good and so is AC/DC stick but ideally thats the machine you want to have as combo unit for both stick and wire feed capabilities. With welders I would not recommend anything less than 175 amps capacity in either wire or stick. The little 120 volt units are good for automotive sheet metal and low duty cycle work but not much else. For shipping containers going with a larger machine will be well worth it in saved time and money.

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#8

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 8:14 PM

Good fast or cheap. You get to pick only two. This applies to housing, cars, AND welders.

Make sure you lay a good foundation the length of the container. Once you cut big holes in it, it will no longer support itself on its corners until you weld a substantial ring around the opening. Most container floors have soaked up MANY applications of industrial pesticides, so if you expect to live in there, you will need to rip up and replace the floor. ( Not required if you use NEW containers. ) And if you expect to insulate, or hang cupboards or pretty much do anything to the interior, you will still need studs and sheathing and drywall. Oh, and if you torch the walls, wear a good haz mat mask because the fumes are more toxic than usual what with zinc and marine grade lead paint being possible.

Have your windows and doors there on site before you start cutting holes, then you can use recycled windows which always seem to come in odd sizes. Keep them in the "other" container with your tools to keep them safe from the elements and opportunistic visitors.

I am on record as stating that I believe that storage containers make poor habitations, and really awesome um...storage containers. I think you should keep your tools in an unmodified container, and then build a cordwood house around it. You can always use it as a storm shelter, garage or furnace room. Cordwood construction is a lot cheaper, more eco friendly, looks better, is a lot more spacious and comfortable, and did I mention cheaper?

Making containers habitable is a big project. You can do it, but it is expensive. Easy to mess up the job, and difficult to get permits.

I wish you all the luck in the world. You will need it.

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#9

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 10:45 PM

Hi Edgar

Nobody has pointed out yet that you need a gas to carry the plasma. Normally with cheap plasma cutters it's air from a compressor, with a regulator. A feature that is useful is a pilot arc to jump the air gap between the torch and metal to be cut, especially if it's painted. I would tend towards an angle grinder with a thin blade, the buggers bite when break so use a face mask and guard the crown jewels.

A mig welder is easier that a stick and you can tack by turning your head away and pulling the trigger. You can also weld vertically, which is difficult with a stick rod.

Tony

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#10

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/13/2011 11:41 PM

Agree.. Wire feed welder.. 15 amp. Plenty for your work. 7-1/4" circular saw with a 7" metal cutting abrasive disc.. easier and straight compared to a hand held grinder.. less sparks in the face too.. Use "ugly" blades for any reciprocating saw work... They are... Very nice and they last longer... . pick the stub nose blades (if possible) over the pointy ones when plunging in the blade sans pilot hole.

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#11
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Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 12:29 AM

With saw blades, you can start the cut at an outer corner of a corrugation, without dealing with plunge cuts. If the blade is narrow, you can then radius 90° to follow the direction of the corrugations. Finally, if need be, square up the corners.

If you use abrasive cutoff disks, the thinner ones (0.045") will cut fastest. With practice, you can get a pretty smooth edge.

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#12

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 3:02 AM

A second hand Oxy Acetylene kit is cheap and will do both jobs, BUT here in OZ the gas bottles are an annual 'hire' arrangement and that is quite expensive. That said the outfit WILL be used a lot.

Small stick welders using inverters are also cheap second hand.

What country are you in?

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#17
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Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 7:20 AM

You can hire gas cyliders by the month if you ask for it.

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#13

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 5:46 AM

A disc cutter will make a neat job of cutting the openings, These are so cheep now that you can throw them away when the job is done, you don't say if this is a one off or on going project, A cheap MIG will do to weld the frames in as well as to weld any bracket's to the structure.

Bazzer

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#18

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 7:24 AM

If you choose the plasma cutter then ask about the consumables. The tips do wear out and can get expensive. We had an old Miller and it cost more to operate than a new ESAB. Both are good brands. Since you are asking for the cheapest option you might consider renting a good plasma. Have everything laid out ahead of time and use the grinder to remove the paint where the cut will start. It may not be the case any more but we used to drill starter holes for our plasma as starting a hole with it was hard on the tips.

My vote is for the plasma since you had to ask. Otherwise I would say Oxy/Acet is the way to go because it is cheaper starting out. Plasma is around $2,000.00 and an Oxy Acet kit is about $200.00 plus tank rental. No grinding discs to bind and shatter or the noise with these choices. Your neighbors will appreciate that. Plasma and Oxy both work very well around contours in metal. Plasma makes a clean cut with little slag and it's easy for a novice to use. Oxy torches can also produce clean cuts but it will take practice. Beginners, without any one there to teach them, will spend more time cleaning a fouled tip than cutting. Beginning oxy torch users tend to waste a lot of fuel re-cutting due to improper torch angle, travel speed, tip distance and tip size.

TIP:

You can tack a piece angle iron or flat stock to the container and drag the torch head along it to get really good straight cuts. The material you choose for the guide depends on the shape of the torch head. Just remember to offset the straight edge by the radius of the torch head.

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#20

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 8:31 AM

You can use a side grinder with a cutting blade. Far less expensive and easy to use.

tex298

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#22

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 10:20 AM

Let us know how you have decided to proceed. Pictures would be appreciated, too.

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#23

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 10:52 AM

Sorry, I failed to answer the question what with reading all the great responses here! It will be hard to add much! I am a metal worker by trade, and my choice would be a jig saw with a metal cutting blade. It will work beautifully and the blades will last a long time if you have a kid on the outside spraying water on the blade. I have got my blades to last for 20 feet of cut in fourteen gauge, after which you swap in another two dollar blade. (When my neighbour did his, he screwed bags of sand-sawdust mix to the outside to cut the noise a bit. Surprisingly enough, it worked pretty well, but the cutting noise could still be heard a half kilometer away!) I loaned him my variable speed jig saw, and the noise was abated a lot with the slower speed metal requires.

So, I would suggest that the best reciprocating saw should be a varable speed one. Don't worry, you will use it on a thousand other jobs!

Oxy was too filty for indoor shop use, and the tanks were too expensive to rent. I tried to use a plasma cutter, and found that my shop air supply was too dirty! So what with the high cost of plasma cutter, plus a set of filters for the oil, I decided to go with power shears and nibblers instead. But this was for a business. You just want to cut some holes. Well, an electric drill with some bits will always be useful, so get a reversible variable speed drill. start with eight inch holes and expand them by drilling bigger holes until you have created five sixteenth holes in the corners of where your windows are going to be.

Remember, a good set of safety goggles, ear plugs, and a kid with a garden hose (or spray bottle) set up outside. Cut with your jig saw. It will go faster than you think, my Makita moves through 14 gauge heavy stop sign material at about three seconds per inch. Not that much slower than an oxy or plasma, and there is very little clean up. Have lots of spare blades and ear plugs.

Personally, I don't like welding. (hah! some metal worker I am!) I would rivet or bolt on angle irons around the window openings. You can get cheap angle irons easily enough...what I used for my neighbours container was angle irons from beds we got from the dumpster in behind the salvation army. seems they get lots of beds, more than they can sell! I can't imagine a cheaper source of good structural steel!

Hope this helps.

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#24

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/14/2011 11:23 AM

My experience with a Cut60D was not very good although that was more about the company I bought it from. More details can be found here if you are interested http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/8086

I agree with what others have said, a grinder or a sawsall may work ok for this cutting job and would be a lot cheaper. Before I had the plasma cutter I found metal cutting blades for my skill saw that were basically grinding disks that worked quite well, and made a nice straight cut.

I wouldn't buy a combo welder/cutter unit.

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#25

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/15/2011 1:34 PM

I have done dozens of shipping containers where we made them into control houses and cut in doors, windows, air conditioners etc. We started off trying sabre saws and angle grinders and if you have very many to do, you will hate yourself for being cheap. We graduated to oxy-acetylene torches and that was better, but very slow. We broke down and bought a plasma cutter and OMG, where had it been all my life! Went through that corrugated hard steel like butter. Cut the job time by 75%, which paid for the cutter and consumables in just 2 jobs, then made us more competitive from there on. We then went on to make templates for many of our common tasks and used the plasma cutter for a lot of our door mounted instruments from then on, I found it to be faster than even punches if you are doing repetitive common cutouts.

Absolutely forget the saber saws, useless in this material. It is hard steel and the odd shaped corrugations mean breaking LOTS of blades.

Forget the abrasive grinders too, waste of time unless you only have one door or window to do.

If you only have one container to do, consider just using the torch, less investment.

If you have to do two or more containers, buy a GOOD plasma cutter, you will NOT regret it. I'm not a big fan of combination tools though, you usually end up with a compromise on both fronts and when you decide you like the plasma cutter, you will want a better one anyway. Buy a good plasma cutter and rent the welder if you have to. I found that when we used the plasma cutter for the doors and windows, welding in the frames went a lot smoother, so you will cut down on the welding time by having a good quality cutout to start with.

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#26
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Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/15/2011 9:01 PM

Excellent report from somebody who has been there.

Thanks.

Good answer. I have ALWAYS hated myself for going cheap, but unless this guy is planning to do what you did and make them for a living, he will be stuck with a VERY expensive tool. I concur, you will break a lot of sabre saw blades, (gosh knows I did on MINE!) but if he is only planning to do one container, the jig saw (saber saw) with a flood of water will take a lot longer, and will be useful for a hundred other things as he turns the house into a home.

A sawsall is mostly overkill, and hard to handle. I don't like it for sheet metal as much. It is hard to beat one though, and a sawsall will also have tremendous other uses as he recycles other items.

Maybe you can sell this fellow a container with most of the hard cutting done?

Oh, and I just noticed the error on my last post!

Start with eighth inch holes and work up, not eight inch holes and work up.

doooooh!

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#27

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/17/2011 7:27 PM

Thank you all for your advice. I plan to manipulate more than two (and hopefully more) steel shipping containers, and therefore, I plan to buy a quality plasma cutter. The price of an oxy-acetylene cutter/welder kit and the tank does not seem to be worth it for its performance (JRaef). Any type of saw will be more difficult to use, take longer, make too much sound (I am in urban area), and not be the best option for multiple containers. I have shopped for plasma cutters and I see that, as some of you have said, they are expensive-around $2,000 plus gas bottles that seem to be priced around $30 (depending on the gas type). Yet there is one plasma cutter, CUT50, that is only about $300, and it seems sufficient for my purposes. This CUT50 is the one I plan to buy. http://containerist.com/?p=251 As for the welder, I have decided not to buy one, and rent a wire feed welder if I eventually need to. I plan to make the door and window frames from wooden 2x4s instead of steel, which I have found out would be less expensive. I will need to figure out how to attach the wood to the steel walls using anchors and I assume some kind of adhesive. As for the pictures, I may provide them eventually, but at the moment I have a ways to go with planning before I will proceed with the cutting. Yusef1, I really appreciate your lengthy answers, the first one most of all!

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/18/2011 7:55 AM

Bolt the 2 x 4 boards to the container then you can use traditional construction techniques to install the windows. Bolting lumber to steel is common.

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#29
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Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

11/18/2011 9:59 AM

Oh well, if you are going to make a business out of it....different considerations apply. I thought you were just going cheap because you were looking for cheap housing and this was going to be a "one off". Hard to get cheaper than a decent sabre saw and a stack of blades, (though it WILL take longer. Remember....good...fast...or cheap. Pick only two. With a saber saw or a jig saw, you only get good and cheap, you don't get fast. Though MY experience with the blessed things is that they are quicker cutting than you think...esp. when you consider the practically zero set up time.) Remember, I cut openings in a container with a jig saw. Its not so bad, as long as you use good blades and flood them with water.) Remember, you need to buy a good air compressor with oil and water filters to run a plasma....set you back another five to eight hundred bucks on top of the cost of the plasma cutter, but on the other hand you will use a compressor in your business for a thousand other jobs as time goes by.

If I was going to modify a half dozen of them, I would use my nibbler. No special air compressor with fancy oil filters, no spray of molten metal to ignite floors or splash onto unsuspecting passers by on the other side. No smoke to tick off the neighbours. Heck, no need for eye protection, and it is a fraction of the noise of a jig saw or side grinder. A nibbler costs a quarter to a third of a comparable quality plasma cutter. You run a line of oil along the chalk line, and it will last for years. My nibbler is 442 dollars from here. and it is pretty much top of the line! I touch up the blades from time to time with a diamond stick. Downside? Well, it doesnt do turns well. You have to cut an opening in a corner to start the cut, and for that you might need a jig saw or if you are in a real hurry, a greenley hole cutter .

Another alternative is to get a pro to modify your containers in a welding yard, and bring them to your facility (your home?) to finish up inside as a little cottage industry. They are portable after all. Its hard to beat the good job that a professional in his own yard can do. And if you are selling them, your customer will look at those welds really closely, and if the welding looks amateurish, it may be a deal breaker.

My great container experiment (or rather, my neighbour's experiment) did not end well. He cut the holes, the container buckled because it was not supported in the middle, and his dog got sick from pesticide oozing out of the floor. (Possibly his kid as well, though the kid was not running on it in bare feet.) The bylaw officers came in and ordered the eyesore removed, and it cost him a crane truck rental as well as shipping to get it out of there. So, our experience has been pretty much uniformly bad. I am still planning to make my blacksmith shop in a container because I cannot get insurance on my present building, and it is sitting there, waiting, containing stuff which is getting mouldy due to the sweating (dew) of the steel. At least IT is squirrel proof!

Oh, and I just watched the Youtube video on the cut50. VERY cool! Looks like the compressor is integral to the machine! I note that right at the end of the video, he packed up his tip! Oh well. I may have to re-think my distaste for plasma...

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#30

Re: Plasma Cutter for Shipping Container

02/06/2012 12:44 PM

Great post Yusef, great info.

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