How to use templates for plasma cutter metal art

Written by peter williams
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How to use templates for plasma cutter metal art
With a plasma cutter and a template, an artist can create multiple, identical pieces. (steel puzzle image by robert mobley from

Plasma cutters use extremely hot gas to cut metal. These cutters are so precise that they allow metal artists to render fine detail out of sheet metal. A design template is useful for creating multiples of the same piece of art. The artist has two options for using a template: trace the template design onto the sheet metal or clamp it directly to the sheet metal to guide the plasma cutter.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pencil
  • Cardboard
  • Particle board or plywood
  • Ruler
  • Jigsaw
  • Soapstone
  • Two or more metal clamps

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  1. 1

    Draw the design onto a stiff piece of cardboard.

  2. 2

    Cut out the design using a sharp knife.

  3. 3

    Clamp the cardboard template to the sheet metal. Use at least two clamps; for a large design, use three or more clamps to hold the cardboard firmly in place.

  4. 4

    Trace around the cardboard with soapstone. Go slowly, especially when working around the clamps.

  5. 5

    Remove the clamps and the cardboard. You should now have an outline of the design exactly as it appeared in cardboard.

  6. 6

    Cut the metal with the plasma cutter. Hold the tip directly over the line, and work slowly to maintain an accurate cut.

  1. 1

    Measure the distance from the centre of the cutting tip to the edge of the tip.

  2. 2

    Draw the design to be reproduced on a piece of particle board or plywood, subtracting the measurement from Step 1. For example, if the centre of the cutting tip measures 1/8-inch from the edge, draw the design 1/8-inch smaller than desired.

  3. 3

    Cut the design from the piece of wood using a jigsaw. Work slowly to ensure a smooth cut. This is especially important with this method, because the cutting tip will rest against the template as it follows the design.

  4. 4

    Mount the finished cut piece onto a piece of sheet metal using the metal clamps.

  5. 5

    Trace around the template with the plasma cutter, keeping the edge of the cutting tip against the template. As the tip approaches a clamp, it might be necessary to stop cutting and move the clamp to a new position, then continue cutting along the line.

Tips and warnings

  • Create a long-lasting template from a scrap piece of sheet metal instead of cardboard or wood.
  • Always follow manufacturer's instructions and wear safety equipment, such as welder's shield and leather gloves.

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