How Can Water Cut Through Steel?

Water jet cutting process

While it may seem counterintuitive to think that water can be used to cut through steel, that’s precisely what industrial waterjet cutting systems are designed to do. The use of waterjets for cutting can be traced back as far as the 1950s when water was used to cut lumber. Today, through technological advancements, water is used for cutting and fabricating harder materials, including steel. But how exactly can water cut through steel?

It’s All About Pressurization

Water can be used to cut materials like steel when it’s highly pressurized and concentrated through a tiny opening. Waterjet cutting machines feature an intensifier pump that forces the water through a nozzle at an incredibly fast speed, producing its cutting ability. The point of such a nozzle is often made from a diamond so it isn’t damaged by the stream.

Abrasive Water Cutters

Another factor in the ability of water to cut through metals is the use of abrasives. While pure water can cut through softer materials effectively, when it comes to metals, cutting abrasives like garnet or aluminum oxide are added to the water to help the process. These abrasives can vary in grit size.

Water Cutting’s Benefits

Some of the benefits of waterjet cutting are obvious, as it allows you to avoid using heat and generating contaminants, as can be the case with plasma, oxy-fuel, and laser cutting. This also means that there’s no heat-affected zone on the material, so you don’t have to avoid it after cutting. Waterjet cutting also:

  • Can process steel plates up to eight inches thick
  • Can be used to produce intricate shapes and contours
  • Is ideal for 3D processing
  • Optimizes the use of material and minimizes scrap

The Negatives of Water Cutting

While some types of cutters can regulate cutting depth to exacting specifications, waterjet cutting can generally only be used for cutting completely through a material. Additionally, waterjet cutting machines commonly feature a single jet so they can be outpaced by other metal fabrication options. Another drawback is that waterjet cutting machines tend to be pricey to purchase and operate.

Water Cutting vs. Plasma Cutting

When compared to plasma cutting, waterjet cutting offers advantages and disadvantages. For example, water cutting can be more precise than plasma cutting, with an accuracy of up to +/- .005 inches compared to +/- .01-.03 inches for plasma. And since water cutting doesn’t require heat, it can be used for thicker plates than plasma cutting, which can generate unwanted slag when a plate is too thick. Perhaps most importantly, plasma cutters only work on conductive materials while waterjet cutters can be used on just about anything.

On the negative side, waterjet cutters often require more maintenance because of the incredible pressure the components are under. They also require regular cleaning, which can raise production costs.

Want More Information?

If you’re interested in having a custom waterjet cutter manufactured for your company, look to the trusted professionals at Machitech®. Contact us today to arrange a free consultation so we can tell you more about our plate-cutting solutions.