Cutting tools have a long history. They have been around for close to 2.6 million years, proof that generally, tools are older than language itself. Some scientists believe that language was developed to help us transfer knowledge of toolmaking.
Today, we have many different kinds of tools. While that may sound like a good thing, it can be confusing, especially if you’re new to cutting tools. In this review, we will shed some light on a very important tool – plasma cutter.
This is a roundup of our favorite plasma cutters. They have different combo variations and price points, so you can pick the setup that best suits your skills and workload.
Hypertherm Powermax is our favorite plasma cutter in this review. The company has been churning out high-quality cutting equipment for several decades. The company’s reputation rests on their equipment’s ability to serve you as advertised.
The equipment makes pinpoint cuts through a ½ inch steel member at a rate of 20 inches/minute. It can work the entire day at this rate. And although it comes with a substantial price tag, it is very gentle on its consumables. In fact, it is about 186 percent more efficient when compared to other models in the same category.
Plus, hypertherm Powermax consumables are fairly priced and easy to find. This is an important consideration that you cannot overlook if you are operating a business and you wish to keep up your margins.
If you run a business where you have to work all day, this is the most ideal plasma cutter. It features straightforward controls that make it easy to toggle settings between non-continuous pilot arc, continuous pilot arc and gouging.
The cutter has a knob for controlling the amperage allowing you to lock onto your desired power output. This is an important feature when you are working with metals of different thicknesses.
This cutter is designed with portability in mind. It weighs about 37 lbs. Connecting gas and torch is easy and quick, allowing you to set it up and disassemble within a short time. Powermax is a favorite of many professional welders because it was designed out of quality components. The company also offers excellent consumer support.
Where plasma cutting systems are concerned, Miller Spectrum 625 is a power house. Additionally, the Miller is perhaps one of the most lightweight plasma cutters on this list. The Miller is rated to cut ⅝ inch thick on mild steel members, which is a better performance when compared to the ½ inch that the Hypertherm offers.
With regards to quality and build, the Miller was designed to industrial standards. It operates on a power rating between 110 and 220V, so it can be used anywhere. Unlike the Powermax45, this equipment chews through its consumable a lot faster. Plus, its consumables are highly priced.
It comes with an auto re-fire functionality that lets welders cut through grates and many other perforated materials. In addition, the equipment allows for secure and quick attachment of power, gas and torch.
In all honesty, the comparison between the Miller and the Hypertherm boils down to cost. Consumables are somewhat pricey and the cutter itself costs slightly more. Otherwise, the Miller is a functional tool designed to cut through metal with ease.
A surprising feature of the Miller is its weight versus portability. It weighs slightly under 21 lbs, 16 lbs lighter than the hypertherm Powermax 45. The difference in weight is mainly due to inverter technology used to power the 625.
The Miller offers simple and straightforward controls. It features an XT-40 welding torch, redesigned for efficiency compared to some previous models. The company that manufactures this equipment is known for its emphasis on quality. The Miller comes with a limited 3-year warranty.
Looking for a plasma cutter for your home? The Hobart 40i is designed specifically for such use. The company has been manufacturing plasma cutter for close to a century.
The tool is able to work on almost all conductive materials. It can cut through ⅝ inches of mild steel with plenty of precision. It is known to server through ⅞ inches of steel with ease. The equipment has a duty cycle of 50 percent when working on ⅝ inches of thickness at 240V-40Amp. Thus, as long as it has access to its full power rating, it will work the entire day.
Hobart is designed to perform heavy welding duties. Its specifications indicate that it is rated for ⅞ inches of mild steel, but can cut through thicker sheets where necessary. Plus, its new inverter has allowed the company to make a lot of space saving within the device itself. This has made this equipment smaller compared to others with similar operational capabilities.
The Hobart requires very little time to set up and is simple to use. This version is almost the same as the AirForce 700i, except that this one is equipped with an XT40R welding torch. This torch is friendlier to consumables and comes with a flexible code. The code offers a lot of flexibility when making long cuts and it is easier to store the equipment.
Power control and adjustment is as easy as turning a dial. Plus, the cutter also features auto re-fire that lets you work on different materials without having to restart the equipment. This device runs on 240V-50Amps and 4.8CFM at 90 to 120 psi compressed air pressure.
The Hypertherm Powermax 30 is lightweight, portable and works a lot better than competing cutters than need an external air compressor to function properly.
It has a maximum cutting thickness of ⅜ inches, and offers 35 percent worth of duty cycle. The equipment can cut through different types of metals including aluminum, stainless steel, copper and mild steel. Thanks to its pilot arc ignition mechanics, it is able to cut through painted metals as well.
Its rated ⅜ inches steel at a cut speed of 10 inches/minute and can also sever ⅝ inches of mild steel each minute. It features a powerful inverter that lets it perform this functions efficiently at 120 V. The inverter provides a lot of power even at a low voltage.
The manufacturer integrated sensing technology that enables the device to function at either 120V or 240V. Although the Hypertherm’s cutting capacity is quite impressive at 120V, it works even better at a higher voltage.
At a power rating of 240V, you will register a 35 percent duty cycle in all your cuts compared to only 20 percent for a power rating of 120V. Almost all hypertherm devices feature a coalescing trap that is designed to extend the life of your consumables.
Plus, the torch is designed to continue working at maximum efficiency even when you have a poor cut quality or your consumables have a short shelf life. A poor cut quality is common when there is a lot of moisture around the plasma cutter. Fortunately, the Powermax30 comes with an air compressor, a precooler as well as a moisture drain to keep moisture away from the plasma cutter.
Out of the cutters we have reviewed so far, it is our opinion that this particular one offers the best value for your money. Cut50 features an inverter that provides better performance than Powermax45 at a slightly less cost.
So far, it sounds like the best catch, right?
Well, not exactly. Sadly, its inverter is of the same generation as the one Hypertherm had in their cutter in the 80s. That said, it weighs a mere 22lbs and can cut a ½ inch of stainless steel and ⅝ inches of mild steel consistently.
At its price point,there are very few cutters on the market like the Cut50. It is incredibly flexible, and can make short work of thick steel. It also offers you the highest level of control when cutting through thin materials.
While it is able to meet the needs of mild users very comfortably, we would not recommend it to people who cut high performance materials all day. It does not feature pilot arc or CNC control.
Control and set up are standard. Plus, the device needs the best air compressor to guarantee you a great cutting experience. Do not attempt to skimp on an air compressor as this will affect the quality of your cut.
At 220V, this device is able to cut through a ½ inch stainless steel with a lot of ease. At a lower voltage, both duty cycle and speed reduce. Unfortunately, this device does not come with pilot technology, which means you will be forced to make contact with materials your are working on to start and restart the device.
If you are a professional welder or a newbie and are searching for an equipment that is powerful and inexpensive, consider the Cut50 DX.
Most welders were somewhat skeptical when this device came to the market. They were wondering how such cost friendly equipment would fair out in the long run. Besides, there were reports alleging that the device had quality control issues.
The Cut50Dx is a fourth generation device, and most of the issues have been sorted out. The outcome is a compact and extremely reliable cutting machine. This device is best suited for odd jobs around the farm or home.
It features a simple design that makes it very easy to set up and use. Unfortunately, its torch does not support pilot arc capabilities, so you will need to use it from a distance or buy a fitting guide.
The device can cut through ⅜ inches precisely and quickly. However, at a thickness of ½ inches, you may notice some degradation in the quality of cut. Thicknesses above ½ inches will result in severance cuts.
The cutter can be powered by 120V or 220V power source. At 120V, the machine is somewhat less powerful. The device features a digital inverter, which makes it light and portable. It weighs a mere 19 lbs.
While the manufacturers use parts made by Toshiba, the cutter is not as reliable as competing brands in the same category. However, seeing as it goes for almost ⅓ of the price of a Miller cutter, this is not a surprise. The cutter comes with a 1-year warranty.
This cutter has plenty going for it. It was designed to serve three important functions: cut, stick weld and tig weld.
At 32 lbs, the Lotos CT520D is larger than a Rasmond. However, the weight should not worry you because its three functions can help you eliminate a few tools from your workshop.
Although its ½ inch cut is not as high as that of a Rasmond, the cutter supports dual voltage input. So, it can operate with a 110V or 220V source. The cutter also features TIG welding, which is why we feel this cutter is a powerful and budget friendly.
The Lotos needs an external air compressor that is not part of the package you receive when you make a purchase. Plus, its design incorporates a foot pedal for welding applications that you will have to purchase separately.
The Lotos’s cutting capacity is surprising considering how much its cost. It can walk through metal with ease. It does not feature a pilot arc, which would be a great addition, but that may cause the price to go up a little.
This device features a high frequency start function that makes its arc very stable. The quality of torch is not great, but this is expected for a device within the Lotos’ price range. If your intention is to perform DC welding only, the Lotos fits that role very well.
For other materials such as aluminum, you may want to look a little further for devices like the AHP. It comes with added functionalities suitable for cutting through aluminum.
As is always the case, you get what you pay for. Lotos is a reliable device, but its parts are not as well designed as those in the Hobart or Miller.
Although the cutters we have reviewed above make a great addition to your home or workshop, sometimes all you want is something you can carry around wherever you go.
While those we have listed above offer some measure or portability, the Hobart 12ci is both lightweight, portable and compact. An added advantage of the Hobart 12ci is that you do not need an air compressor to keep it working efficiently.
The machine operates on 120V-20Amps, so it will not cut through metal thicker than ¼ inches. Hobart 12ci comes with an inverter designed to offer you a lot of power from a small plasma cutter. At 25 lbs, it is somewhat heavier than an Extreme-625. But it comes with an in built compressor, meaning you don’t need to spend money on additional features.
The fact that it can be powered from a 120V source means you can use it at home. It also offers you a 35 percent duty cycle at 110V-12A direct current. The Hobart also features an XT 12R torch, which, frankly speaking isn’t as great as the XT40R. But it is comfortable to work with. You can detach the torch and install something a little more powerful.
We have listed a lot of information in this review for you to consider. However, before we sign off, let’s recap the important points. At the basic level, cutters are classified based on thickness or metal they can cut through.
Our top pick for best performing cutter in this list is the Powermax45. If this is way out of your price range, we would recommend the Powermax30. The next best alternative to the Powermax30 is the Lotos as it offers the best value for money, although it is not meant for rigorous cutting work.
While it seems that you have a lot of choices, the details we have posted here will help you make an informed choice.
If you wish to explore each device in detail, feel free to do so. The information we have listed here will help you get started. Find a device you want based on your intended application.
Note that the plasma cutting industry has evolved significantly. Each year, plasma cutter manufacturers bring new products to the market. Thanks to technological development, 21st century devices are leagues ahead. So, it does not matter what your needs are, you’re bound to find a cutter that suits your work.
It is no secret that plasma cutters do not come cheap. However, a substantial initial cost often translates into lower operating costs and a better performance in the long-run. This is particularly significant if your cutter is an asset for your business.
So what are some of the factors you should take into account when choosing a plasma cutter?
The best way to answer this question is to consider the kind of metal you’ll be working with. The plasma cutter’s power output will determine the thickness of metal you can work with, its duty cycle and how clean and quick your cuts will be.
Additionally, power output is directly proportional to power consumption. Some cutters have a rating of 120V-150Amps, which is standard in most homes. Others require more than 20Amps. The most powerful kinds run on at least 220V-50Amps.
Before you settle on a specific kind, first find out the type of power rating you have at home or in your workshop. You may have to hire an electrician to install the right outlets for your plasma cutter.
Here are some additional rules of thumb when choosing a plasma cutter. If you tend to work with ¼ inch thick metal or less, a 25Amp cutter will do. For metal with ½ inch thickness, you need a 40Amp cutter and above. A 1-inch thick metal needs an 80Amp plasma cutter.
The duty cycle is the duration that your plasma can operate safely within a period of one hour. This concept is expressed as a percentage and is measured based on the amount of current the plasma consumes.
Duty cycle is not an important consideration if you will be using your cutter over a short period. Although a proper welding workshop may need a 50 percent duty cycle, or more, a home cutter might be just as efficient with a 35 percent duty cycle at the same output rating.
If you are working under a tight budget, it does not mean that you have to forego durability and quality. So, before you begin searching for plasma cutters below a certain budget, ascertain the features you need the most. If your budget is below $500, you can find a lot of high quality cutters that will work perfectly for a hobbyist or light metal fabricator.
However, the downside is that you won’t find products with the best customizable or ergonomics features. If your intention is to use you cutter occasionally, you don’t need any other add-ons.
If your wish is to spend $1000 or less, you are very likely to come across a model with a lot of premium features. While the features may not relate to quality and power, you will find that the cutters come with immense portability, ergonomics and adjustability.
Note that even in this price range, you will face some trade-offs. For instance, a cutter worth $1000 or below, with a cutting capacity of 1 inch may not have the best duty cycle or current control. In the same way, highly controllable and maneuverable units do not always come with the best metal cutting capacity.
If you can stretch your budget as far as $1000, prioritize on quality and cutting capabilities. Other features such as adjustability, portability or automatic air control are not really that important, and will cause the price of a unit to escalate.