Plasma arc welding (PAW) is an arc welding process like gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). The electric arc is formed between an electrode (which is usually but not always made of sintered tungsten) and the workpiece. The key difference from GTAW is that in PAW, the electrode is positioned within the body of the torch, so the plasma arc is separated from the shielding gas envelope. The plasma is then forced through a fine-bore copper nozzle which constricts the arc and the plasma exits the orifice at high velocities (approaching the speed of sound) and a temperature approaching 28,000 °C (50,000 °F) or higher.
Arc plasma is a temporary state of a gas. The gas gets ionized by electric current passing through it and it becomes a conductor of electricity. In ionized state, atoms are broken into electrons (−) and cations (+) and the system contains a mixture of ions, electrons, and highly excited atoms. The degree of ionization may be between 1% and greater than 100% (possible with double and triple degrees of ionization). Such states exist as more electrons are pulled from their orbits.
The energy of the plasma jet and thus the temperature depends upon the electrical power employed to create arc plasma. A typical value of temperature obtained in a plasma jet torch is on the order of 28000 °C (50000 °F), compared to about 5500 °C (10000 °F) in ordinary electric welding arc. All welding arcs are (partially ionized) plasmas, but the one in plasma arc welding is a constricted arc plasma.