What You Will Get Here
- What is Plasma Cutter and Why Use It?
- Which Type of Cutter is Right for You?
- How did we pick the best?
- Things to Consider While Buying Best Plasma Cutter
- Our Top Ten Best Plasma Cutter
- 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
- Safety Tips
What is Plasma Cutter and Why Use It?
Plasma is a super-heated ionized gas; it's the fourth phase of matter like solid, liquid, and gas. Cutters are power tools that make cuts through various types of metals. A plasma cutter is a tool that uses an electric arc to ignite compressed gas and make the particles electrically conductive. Unlike traditional meta-to-metal and thick steel cutters that use oxy-fuel (oxidation process), most plasma cutters run on compressed air.
Plasma is a type of particle that forms by applying electricity to gaseous fuel. Usually, these plasma gases like oxygen, nitrogen, and environmental air are compressed under high-pressure. Electricity from an external power source combines 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 increase the performance of plasma cutting machines.
Portability : Plasma cutting machines enable much ease of movement. Unlike traditional bulky oxy-fuel cutters, these machines are handy, smaller, and have lightweights. Their portability doesn't reduce the power and performance you can get. When you buy a plasma cutter without a trolley, its housing comes with studs underneath and a handle on top.
Versatility : You can use plasma cutting machines on a range of thick materials efficiently. The versatility of a plasma cutter is enhanced by its electric arc process. It enables precise cuts on thin rusty metals, 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. Especially when you have to make measurements cut along lines, plasma cutters are accurate and highly efficient. However, skillful welders use plasma cutting guides to get the best out of their machines.
All of these features wit plasma cutters are impossible while using the oxy-fueled cutter. Other factors in this article can help you choose the best plasma cutter 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 proper and cost-effective to pick a plasma cutting machine that’s a tier above your current need.
How did we pick the best?
Regarding my earlier advice in the introductory segment, plasma cutting machines have different levels of performance. There is an improvement in plasma cutting systems. In this plasma cutter guide, you'll get the basic understanding of how we picked these products. Our volunteers and team of experts spent hours on research and site tests. They used practical methods to analyze how our top 10 plasma cutters work and compared them with customers' reviews.
You will also learn why each product in our top picks are ideal do-it-yourself (DIY) or professional tasks. Usually, the cutting ability and amperage the unit draws (duty cycle) are important factors to consider before spending money on cutters. Other considerable features that help to choose the best-rated plasma cutter are price, warranty, pilot arc, and built-in inverter.
According to the claims made by manufacturers of cutting machines in our top picks, they are efficient and reliable. However, our research and consultations from experts show that none of these products is perfect. Instead, a top rated plasma cutter in this buying guide has more features, and efficiency than other products.
I'll advise novice and expert operators of plasma cutting machines to choose the specifications that meet their needs. Before buying any product from our top picks, it's important to understand that ergonomic features of power tools don't determine its efficiency. Regardless of how beautiful a plasma cutting machine appears; it's a product that offers value for money that gives a rewarding experience.
Things to Consider While Buying 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 necessary factors before buying a good cutting machine, the tool might end up in a repair shop, or salvage yard. Here are some important features that buyers must consider.
- Voltage : Generally, the built-in compressor in a plasma cutter is designed for either 110-volt or 220-volt outlet. No country that uses both ratings simultaneously. Instead, there are plasma cutters with dual voltage ratings and manufacturers place built-in switches that helps 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 ad voltage to resistance ratio. A plasma cutting machine can’t generate the cutting arc without an electrical current. It’s the reason for rating cutters in Amps (Ampere) before they are connected to any source of power.
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.
Cutting Speed and Quality
Generally, the cutting speed depends on the metal's thickness, and the best plasma cutter offers very high performance of cutting quality. They are more precise and accurate while cutting, but are pricey. Unlike oxy-fueled cutters, modern cutting machines pierce thick metals in seconds. Usually, operators experience more speed while cutting thinner metals. The plasma cutter with 20% duty cycle can cut metals at 20 inches per minute before cooling.
When you consider 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. Choose an 80-amp cutter for heavy-duty cuts on metals like mild steel that are above 1 inch.
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 use. In the plasma cutting system consumables are electrodes and nozzles. Usually, manufacturers of consumables estimate their lifespan. Copper nozzles are good conductors of heat, but copper consumables melt at 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, modern cutters 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 might evaporate hafnium. Inaccurate cuts occur because of a misfiring torch. A cheap plasma cutter often makes operators buy consumables periodically.
Usually, the best plasma cutter uses a 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 forms a plasma arc (field) of heated 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.
Indicators and Controls
The basic control features and knobs in 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. Some housing units are aesthetically improved and rugged; they can withstand a variety of conditions.
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 shuts down and switch on machines without the intervention of operators. These automated functions are self-regulating, and these high-end features increase the cost 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.
Price to Quality Ratio
Multi-process welders with built-in plasma cutters 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.
Our Top Ten Best Plasma Cutter
The plasma heat severs metals as high-pressure gases blow the molten metal away. Novice and would-be plasma cutter operators might not know what makes a high-quality product. However, best plasma cutter reviews show the potential effects of any plasma cutter in our top picks. Also, I'll help buyers understand how to spot a durable product that fits their purpose. Additionally, our team of experts offers some useful insights to buyers according to their budgets.