Plasma Cutting, Sandblasting & Powder Coating

Recently, I spent quite a bit of time researching tools and metal-working techniques again and I thought it would be nice to share the information and maybe get some professional tips from you guys.

Plasma Cutting: The reason why I had a look into plasma cutting was because of my frequent use of laser cut elements in my art & design work. Ideally, I would LOVE to have my own lasercutting machine but even the used ones are still super pricey. The second-hand machines I found that are capable of cutting 1mm stainless steel sheet started around $20k. This is a price I can’t afford at the moment… not sure if I ever will but I very much hope I might be able to purchase one further down the road.

As ‘Plan B’, I heard about the possibility to plasma cut pieces and I decided to have a look into that technique. I found a company, PlasmaCAM, that offers plasma cutting systems. The system is made from a cutting table that holds a hand-held plasma torch and plugs into your personal computer (needs to be Windows). It comes with a software that enables you to cut customized shapes. I watched the demo-video and it seems pretty easy to me to operate. The system does not come with a plasma torch, so this machine needs to be bought separately. I guess this is good on one side, given that you can choose yourself which machine to work with and how pricey it can be. On the other hand it is an additional cost. I called up the guys from PlasmaCAM to inquire about the price of the 4×4 table, which comes to $6980. I was further told that a plasma torch for my needs would approximately be around an extra $2000. The shipment of the table would approximately come to $190, so the final price is somewhere around $10k. For me, this is still a pretty steep price that I cannot afford right now but I am happy to know that there is something out there that I could use for big designs further down the road. For my jewelry, I think I will have to stick to lasercutting after all. The cutting line of the plasma cutter is too wide for my designs. I need to be able to get more into details. Also, I heard that the cut on the back can be pretty messy and needs a lot of cleaning. I wonder if this depends on the plasma torch one uses? Probably also speed and temperature?

PlasmaCAM cutting table

Sandblasting: Further I had a look at a sandblasting machine. I will need one for my enameling-work and I was once again surprised by Rio Grande. (My new pink kiln arrived by the way and it waits for me to start working with it once the studio is set up. Read more about the pink enameling kiln story on the Rio Grande ‘The Studio’ blog ‘A Kiln of a Different Color’ and my research on ‘Enameling Kilns’). For the studio in Shanghai, we bought a sandblasting cabinet from Italy that I believe was around 2000€, so I started having a look at DIY home-built options, since I did not want to afford that much. Luckily, it seems like I will not have to go that far and build it myself, since I found a cabinet, the ‘Small Benchtop Pencil-Style Bead Blaster’ on the Rio Grande website starting from $145. It is not massive but big enough for my use and they also offer a bigger version for $185. All you need in addition is an air-compressor, which comes to $150-200.

Rio Grande ‘Small Benchtop Pencil-Style Bead Blaster’

Powder Coating: Yesterday night, Barry and I went to visit the Meyda Lighting company and workshop in Utica NY, and I was amazed by the dimension of their production! This place is glass and metal-working paradise! They really build all their beautiful lamps from scratch. Even the metal parts are hand-made. I was very impressed.
During the tour, we passed the powder-coating facility, which intrigued me quite a lot. I love using color in my work and I had heard of the technique before but I did not know how to use it. I conducted some research on it this morning and to my surprise, it does not seem to be complicated at all. I think I will give it a go in the near future. Have a look at this DIY garage-made video to see how it works.
Further, I had a look at the Eastwood website, a company that specializes in automotive parts and powder coating. They offer powder coating kits from $99.99 for the ‘Original HotCoat Powder Coating Gun’ and $169.99 for the ‘Eastwood Dual Voltage HotCoat Powder Coating Gun’. They also offer pretty attractive starter kits. In addition to the gun and the powder, you need a compressor and either a toaster oven or normal cooking oven that reaches a temperature of 400F.

Eastwood ‘Dual Voltage Powder Gun Starter Kit’

The World’s Largest LED Free-Hanging Chandelier was designed, engineered and installed by Meyda Lighting for the historic Stanley Center for the Arts in Utica, New York.

I am still trying to get everything together for my studio and nothing is set in stone yet, so if you have suggestions or better information on the mentioned tools, please let me know. I would appreciate your opinions and experiences.

Thank you for reading.
Please have a look at my websites www.lisa-juen.com and www.proonk.com.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @LisaJuenProonK and like the FB ProonK page.

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4 thoughts on “Plasma Cutting, Sandblasting & Powder Coating

  1. Hey Lisa! You asked for opinions, so… I had a look at the media blaster from Rio Grande, and I noticed that the mesh size for media is 150 or smaller (the Al Ox they advertise is 240 grit which is fine, though the garnet they also have on the site is 55 which probably wouldn’t run through that machine). I use aluminium oxide grit that is 80 mesh, though I’m keen to try something a bit more abraisive, and on the other hand, I can sometimes get enamel to stick after glass bead blasting (rarely though). I’m not sure exactly how abrasive your blast media needs to be in order to get the tooth needed to enamel onto steel, but it might be something to consider. I know that certain hardware stores (like Harbor Freight) advertise both relatively cheap sandblast cabinets as well as the compressors to power them, so they might be worth looking into.

  2. Hey Melissa!
    Thanks so much for the reply. You are right about the grit, I didn’t think that far. I assumed that one can just operate the cabinet with coarse grit media. Thanks for reminding me of this! I had a look at Harbor Freight and they do have a floor blast cabinet that is in the same price range. http://www.harborfreight.com/40-lb-capacity-floor-blast-cabinet-93608.html
    The reviews look alright when keeping in mind that one has to use tons of silicon and alter a few things. The size is definitely a plus but then, being a jeweler, the question remains if one really needs such a massive machine that takes up tons of space…
    I also called the Rio guys to inquire about the size of the grit and they said that the blue cabinet they offer can go down to 40-60 grit. http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Benchtop-Bead-Blaster/336249?pos=6
    It still runs with glass beads but pretty coarse ones. I am sure that should do the trick, even for enameling on steel.
    But another thought… are those machines really only made for glass beads or can one use other media as well?

    • I have read the leakage issues about the ‘red’ models – they are sold all over from different places, in Australia from a local reseller and on EBay. It scared me off at first, but now I realise that no matter how good the machine, you eventually have to open the door, and dust will get out 🙂
      If you’re not working that large you could probably try for the bench mounted model, also on Harbor Freight, since it would likely require less air. Air requirements take a pretty big jump between smaller and larger units, from the type of compressor that would drive the Rio version to the ones that you will need to drive something that size. I actually bought this 60 gallon compressor to drive my blaster http://www.lowes.com/ProductDisplay?partNumber=54284-1126-VT6362&langId=-1&storeId=10151&productId=3370356&catalogId=10051&cmRelshp=req&rel=nofollow&cId=PDIO1 (A pic of my blaster is here: http://www.melissacameron.net/blog/?p=2396 )
      As for media – I would imagine that you could put something more abrasive through the Rio blue one? You certainly can through the others. They all have changeable internal parts so that once something wears out it can be replaced. Having said that, jewellers aren’t always that hard on them – mine’s been going 2 and a half years and it’s only just time to change the gloves.
      As for what to use pre-enamelling, a glass bead, no matter the size, is a rounded surface. So a smaller bead in that instance might actually impart more texture. I have got enamel to stick after glass, like I said, but I have to be more careful of what I’m putting down as the first enamel layer.

      • Thanks again. For some reason, I did not stumble over the Horbor Freight bench mounted version yesterday (weird!) but that one looks pretty interesting. It is not even that small. The expensive Italian machine we used in Shanghai was much smaller than that and it leaked as well. I think when most people speak of leakage, they are mainly talking about the seams of the machine. But one should be able to fix this issue pretty easily by applying silicone into the gaps. Opening the door will always be an issue but then one can wait until the dust settled a little or the vacuum sucked it all up. I will definitely drive by Harbor Freight and have a look at it. 🙂
        The point you make about the sand media makes sense. We used glass bead media at some point in Shanghai too and I have to admit that I was never a huge fan of it. It worked with the enameling but then I never tried to enamel stainless while in Shanghai. I can imagine that it might turn into a big issue once I start to enamel on steel again.
        Again, thank you very much for the tips! I very much appreciate it! I hope we will get the chance to meet again soon while you are in the US! 🙂

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