What You Will Get Here
- What is a Plasma Cutter and Why Should You Use It?
- Which Type of Cutter is Right for You?
- Things to Consider when Looking for the Best Plasma Cutter
- How Did We Pick the Best Plasma Cutter?
- Our Top 10 Best Plasma Cutter List
- Best Overall: Lotos LTP5000D Pilot Arc Plasma Cutter
- Versatile Plasma Cutter: Lotos LT5000D Plasma Cutter
- Best for Industrial Use: Hobart 500566 Airforce 40i Plasma Cutter 240V
- Best for Home Use: SUNCOO Cut-50 Plasma Cutter Electric DC Inverter Cutting Machine
- Best Combo Cutter: Lotos CT520D Plasma Cutter Tig Stick Welder 3 in 1 Combo Welding Machine
- Best for the Money: Mophorn 50Amp Plasma Cutter
- Best Portable: ZENY DC Inverter Plasma Cutter
- List of 3 other Plasma Cutter We Reviewed
- List of Other Products We Tested
- Safety Tips
What is a Plasma Cutter and Why Should You Use It?
Plasma is a super-heated ionized gas; it's the fourth phase of matter like solid, liquid, and gas. On the other hand, cutters are power tools that make cuts through various types of metals. So, a plasma cutter is a tool that uses an electric arc to ignite compressed gas and make the particles electrically conductive. Unlike the traditional metal-to-metal and thick steel cutters that use oxy-fuel (oxidation process), most plasma cutters run with compressed air.
Plasma is a type of particle formed when electricity is applied to gaseous fuel. Usually, such plasma gases as oxygen, nitrogen, and those in the air are compressed under high-pressure. Electricity from an external power source has the ability to combine with the gaseous fuel to form ‘plasma jets,’ and make cuts on metals quickly and easily. Also, cast iron, stainless steel, mild steel, and aluminum metals can't withstand the incredible heat (of about 40,000 degrees F) of plasma jets.
Here are some of the benefits of applying the plasma cutting technology on conductive metals.
Speedy cuts : The plasma cutting technology ensures rapid and precise cuts through thick metals. Unlike oxy-fueled cutters, plasma jets cut with ease and speed. It's the speed of cutting through thick metals that increases the performance of plasma cutting machines.
Portability : Unlike the traditional bulky oxy-fuel cutters, these machines are handy, smaller, and lightweights. But their portability doesn't reduce their power and performance. When you buy a plasma cutter without a trolley, its housing comes with studs underneath and a handle on top.
Versatility : You can efficiently use plasma cutting machines on a range of thick materials. The versatility of a plasma cutter is enhanced by its electric arc process. It enables precise cuts on thin rusty metals and conductive metals with about 80 mm thickness. Generally, plasma cutting machines can make deep cuts on multiple sheets of stacked plates.
Cost-Effective and Efficient : Instead of budgeting for highly flammable gases, if you own a plasma cutter you can save money by using electricity or compressed air. You'll need precision to make accurate cuts through metal very quickly indeed. You will find plasma cutters accurate and highly efficient especially when you will have to make measurements to cut along the lines. However, skillful welders use plasma cutting guides to make the most of their machines.
All of these features of plasma cutters are impossible to get when using oxy-fueled cutters. So, you should always choose the best plasma cutter no matter whether you need it for personal or industrial use.
Which Type of Cutter is Right for You?
The tier of any plasma cutter model corresponds to specific types and thickness of metals. It's the tier system that categorizes plasma cutters according to the range of metals they can cut. So, how would you know the tier of a good plasma cutter that suits your purpose?
- Low Tier : This tier of cutter suits metals with a thickness of less than 1/8-inch. It will produce low-quality cuts on metals with 1/2-inch, and 1/4-inch thickness.
- Mid Tier : You can’t use the mid-tier cutter for metals that are thicker than 1/2-inch and expect good performance. Instead, this category can cut less than 1/2-inch thick metals at 3 or 4 inches per minute.
- Top Tier : Cutters in this category can handle 5/8-inch and 1/2-inch thick metals with ease. However, the limit of cutters in this category is a 1-inch thick metal. Their severance capacity is at 20 inches per minute.
Heavy-Duty Plasma Cutters : Usually, it's an overkill to use this category of cutters for thinner metals. Instead, they can cut 1 to 1.5-inch thick materials easily.
Instead of thinking of what fits your purpose today, there might be a need for project expansion some day. So, it's cost-effective for you to pick a plasma cutting machine that’s a tier above your current need.
Things to Consider when Looking for the Best Plasma Cutter
You'll find welders, hobbyists, DIYers, machinists, and technicians in construction sites using plasma cutters on sheets of metal with different thickness levels. Without considering the necessary factors before buying a good cutting machine, your tool could end up in a repair shop or salvage yard. Here are some important features that you must consider.
- Voltage : Generally, the built-in compressor in a plasma cutter is designed for either 110-volt or 220-volt outlet. There are also plasma cutters with dual voltage ratings and some manufacturers place built-in switches that help you use either the 110 V or 220 V.
- Amperage : Current is measured in Amperes (A); it’s the value of electrical current that’s measured as the voltage-to-resistance ratio. The plasma cutting machine can’t generate the cutting arc without an electrical current. This is the reason cutters are rated in Amps (Ampere) before they are connected to any power source.
2. Metal Thickness
You don't need a higher amperage plasma cutter if you often cut thin metals that are less than 1/4 inches. Instead, a low-cost cutting machine fits your purpose perfectly. Also, machines that are rated at 80 Amps are ideal for cutting between 3/4 to 1 inch thick metals.
3. Cutting Speed and Quality
Generally, the cutting speed of a plasma cutter depends on the metal's thickness, and the best plasma cutters definitely offer very high performance of cutting quality. They are more precise and accurate while cutting, but are pricey as well. Unlike oxy-fueled cutters, modern cutting machines can pierce thick metals in seconds. As a result, operators experience more speed while cutting thinner metals. A plasma cutter with 20% duty cycle can cut metals at 20 inches per minute before cooling.
4. Output Current
When you consider the output current, your decision should be based on the thickness value of the metal you want to cut. Usually, machines with 75 Amps rating are ideal for 3/4-inch cuts, while 50-Amp machines fit 1/2-inch cuts. Also, cutters with ratings of 25 Amps will cut 1/4-inch thick metals. Low-amp plasma cutters are ideal for metals with a minimum thickness of 1/4 inches. You can also choose an 80-amp cutter for heavy-duty cuts on metals like mild steel that are above 1 inch.
5. Duty Cycle
The value of amperage a cutting unit draws is the duty cycle, and it's expressed as a percentage. A 20% duty cycle at 30-Amp of power and 120-Volts means that the cutting machine needs 8 minutes of downtime after working for 2 minutes of active use. It's a feature that prevents cases of over-heating. Also, a cutting machine with a 50% duty cycle at 45 Amps has a runtime of 30 minutes in every hour. Additionally, a 100% duty cycle means that the machine doesn't require any cooling time. So, when you need a machine to cut for shorter periods, machines with a higher duty cycle value might not be what you need.
The consumables in welding are items (accessories) that will wear out due to regular use. In the plasma cutting system consumables are electrodes and nozzles. The manufacturers of consumables usually estimate their lifespan. Copper nozzles are good conductors of heat, but copper consumables do melt at 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. But luckily, the modern cutters have the ability to circulate compressed air to protect the copper nozzle from the plasma's heat. Handheld torches that use electrodes emit electrons with the aid of hafnium. Sometimes the excessive heat within the torch may evaporate hafnium. Inaccurate cuts occur because of a misfiring torch and the cheap plasma cutters often make the operators buy consumables periodically.
7. Pilot Arc
Usually, the best plasma cutter uses the pilot arc technology for precise cuts. This feature allows the operator to use the plasma cutter torch without its tip touching metal. It's the space between the torch's tip and the metal's surface that forms a plasma arc (field) of heated gas, though there are different types of plasma cutter gas. The pilot arc technology makes it very easy to cut through thick metals. Also, it's a cost-effective way of saving the torch's consumables and providing cleaner cuts.
8. Indicators and Controls
The basic control features of cutting machines are power, voltage, and LED indicators. The power switch is adjustable to give an efficient cut on different materials. Usually, the calibrations (digital or manual) are easy to read and designed on the front panel of the machine. Also, the LED indicators on modern plasma cutters have red or green colors.
The housing of a plasma cutting machine is the exterior cover that protects its built-in components. Some housings allow operators to use these cutters indoors and outdoors. Many housing units are aesthetically improved and rugged so they can withstand a variety of conditions.
10. Automated Functions
Many modern plasma cutters have automated functions that improve the efficiencies of these power tools. Like cooling, fans with built-in thermostats switch on when the unit is super hot. So, automation helps shut down and switch on machines without the intervention of operators. These automated functions are self-regulating, and such high-end features increase the prices of plasma cutting machines.
The warranty policy document makes a refund or claiming process easy. It specifies terms and condition that protects the money that has been paid by a buyer for that product. Make sure you understand and agree with the clauses in a warranty document before buying a plasma cutter.
12. Price-to-Quality Ratio
Multi-process welders with built-in plasma cutters usually are expensive. The best plasma cutter for the price should have a rugged build quality that makes it durable and efficient. Also, to determine the price-to-quality ratio of a machine, check if it's a sturdy material with the right weight.
How Did We Pick the Best Plasma Cutter?
In this part of the plasma cutter guide, I'll explain how we picked and tested these products. Usually, plasma cutting tools are chosen according to some important features, such as duty cycle, electric ARC, internal voltage divider, and CNC interface. Our team of industrial cutting tools experts conducted 20 hours of web research analyzing the properties of the high-end plasma cutters on the market. Also, we incorporated a team of volunteers in our team to test the cut quality of each plasma cutter that made our list of top picks. Many plasma cutter owners shared their first-hand experience while other users that bought these cutters from popular online retailers offered their reviews on these products.
While choosing our top plasma products, manufacturers' specifications and features were also considered. This painstaking process helped our team pick 10 of the best plasma cutters you will find today. After giving so much effort in the research and testing process, we are confident that our selected plasma cutters will help increase the speed, and reduce the operating costs of beginner and experienced cutters.
Our Top 10 Best Plasma Cutter List
Now that you know what makes the best plasma cutting machine, let us go through our comprehensive list of the top 10 best plasma cutters so you can easily decide which one to buy without having to spend hours on doing the research work that we have already done here for you here.