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How to Pick the Best Fuel for Cutting Metal

Metal Sheets

For many years acetylene has been the cutting fuel of choice for cutting metals, but there are many alternative fuels that can be mixed with oxygen for oxy-fuel cutting that offer their own advantages. Propane and propylene have been popular fuels that cut at a temperature slightly below acetylene. HGX is a relatively new additive for propane that allows it to cut at 5400 degrees F, a temperature that is comparable to acetylene, while using less oxygen. There are a variety of factors that may make alternative fuels a better choice than acetylene, but which fuel is the right one for you?

Here are some factors to consider when deciding between acetylene and an alternative fuel. 

Supply of Cutting Fuels

One of the most important factors to consider lately with cutting fuels is the availability of each fuel. After an explosion at a facility that produces acetylene, the supply of that particular fuel has decreased significantly, causing prices to rise and many cutting operations to seek alternatives.

Cost of Cutting Fuels

The cost of using acetylene before the current shortage was significantly higher than other cutting fuels. In addition, many factories and home shops already have propane on hand. Therefore, it makes sense in many cases to use propane or propane with the HGX additive in order to save on cutting costs.

The Cutting Speed of Cutting Fuels

Acetylene has been particularly popular with cutting operations because it heats the metal quickly, allowing workers to make their cuts much faster without a long preheating time. However, fuels such as propane, propylene, and HGX can achieve significantly high temperatures when used with torches and tips specifically designed for them.

Propane, propylene, and HGX all concentrate their heat on the exterior of the flame, and therefore, they heat and cut best by moving the torch further from the metal—something counter-intuitive for many familiar with acetylene. By making slight modifications to the cutting technique and equipment, many cutting operations and home users will not notice a significant slow down in cutting speed.

The Volume of Metal to Cut

Tied closely to cutting speed and cost factors is the volume of metal you plan on cutting. If you’re only cutting the occasional piece of metal at home, then you may want to just use whatever fuel is cheapest or is most convenient.

However, if you’re cutting on a larger scale for a major project or at a production plant, you will need to weigh how much metal you plan to cut, whether you have the right torches for alternative fuels, and whether your fuel supply and storage situation can accommodate what you need.

While alternatives such as propane, propylene, and HGX are generally cheaper and easier to store, be sure to review your options for your particular situation before investing in a setup. If you have a lot of metal to cut, all alternative fuels will make a cleaner cut than acetylene, and if you have a lot of metal to clean off after cutting, that may be a good reason to switch from acetylene.

The Safety of Cutting Fuels

All cutting fuels can be hazardous and require safety measures such as storing them in secure, upright positions where they can’t be knocked over, punctured, or set alight with a spark if a tank leaks. Out of all the cutting fuels, acetylene is the most flammable, and therefore this safety factor alone has been significant in convincing many cutting operations to switch to a less flammable alternative fuel.

Ed C.


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