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Comparing Oxy-Fuel Cutting Setups: Propane and Acetylene

A good oxy-fuel cutting set up is a convenient and clean way to cut metal quickly. Acetylene has been an industry standard for many years, but if you’re considering which cutting fuel is the best for your shop, there are quite a few things to take into consideration. In addition, some new additives on the market have introduced some new options for cutting fuel setups.

Torch-cuttingImage source: SF Gate

The Advantages of an Acetylene Oxy-Fuel Cutting Setup

Acetylene burns at the hottest temperature for both oxy-fuel cutting and welding. If you want to weld occasionally with your torch set up, then acetylene is the only fuel to consider for your setup. It burns hot enough that metals can be effectively joined together.

However, acetylene tends to be expensive and unstable as a fuel. If you’re only cutting metal, acetylene will preheat the metal quickly, but it’s not necessarily the only cutting fuel option. If you want to save money, then you may want to consider propane as a cutting fuel.

Why Consider a Propane Oxy-Fuel Cutting Setup

Propane is an ideal cutting fuel because it is less expensive and a little more stable than acetylene—though you’ll still need to be careful about storing and using it. The key to propane is that you’ll need a T-hose and specially designed torch tips that allow you to concentrate the heat properly. Using an acetylene tip for a propane setup will work, but you won’t be able to achieve optimal heat and you’ll end up getting frustrated.

Keep in mind that propane and acetylene are both effective ways to cut metal. As far as performance goes, the main differences boil down to these two points: acetylene preheats faster and offers the option of welding.

One welding contractor suggested the following tip setup for propane cutting at Welding Web: “[I] keep a straight torch (Smith SC229) hooked up on my rigs. With propane’s heat volume capability, there’s no need for a rosebud for heating. I now just use a heavy cutting tip for heating, and Smith does make the SC110 or 112 (one is for acetylene, one is for propane) heating tips for the straight torches also.”

If you’re just starting out, you can check out complete torch cutting kits at Baker’s Gas and Welding by brands such as Smith and Victor.

Additional Options for an Oxy-Fuel Cutting Setup

One of the latest developments in the oxy-fuel cutting industry is HGX-3, an additive for propane. HGX increases the cutting temperature of propane to 5400 degrees F and uses less oxygen than acetylene. Propane with HGX can pre-heat metal at the same rate as acetylene, which burns at 5900 degrees F, and then cut just as effectively.

Since propane is a cheaper fuel that uses less oxygen, acetylene becomes the more expensive option as far as material costs go, while HGX saves on work time when added to propane. You really can’t lose with these two cutting options, but there are real differences in cost, safety, and preheating time depending on the setup that you choose.

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