(1) If iron or steel is heated to its kindling temperature (not less than 1600°F (871°C)), and is then brought into contact with oxygen, it burns or oxidizes very rapidly. The reaction of oxygen with the iron or steel forms iron oxide (Fe3O4) and gives off considerable heat. This heat is sufficient to melt the oxide and some of the base metal; consequently, more of the metal is exposed to the oxygen stream. This reaction of oxygen and iron is used in the oxyacetylene cutting process. A stream of oxygen is firmly fixed onto the metal surface after it has been heated to the kindling temperature. The hot metal reacts with oxygen, generating more heat and melting. The molten metal and oxide are swept away by the rapidly moving stream of oxygen. The oxidation reaction continues and furnishes heat for melting another layer of metal. The cut progresses in this manner. The principle of the cutting process is shown in figure 11-17.
(2) Theoretically, the heat created by the burning iron would be sufficient to heat adjacent iron red hot, so that once started the cut could be continued indefinitely with oxygen only, as is done with the oxygen lance. In practice, however, excessive heat absorption at the surface caused by dirt, scale, or other substances, make it necessary to keep the preheating flames of the torch burning throughout the operation.