Did you know that cutting tools have been around for 2.6 million years? In fact, tool making predates language. A school of thought believes that humans developed language to transfer knowledge of toolmaking. Well, that hasn’t changed in a million years. After all, aren’t you “reading” this to expand your knowledge of the tools of your trade? But, let’s talk about what has changed.
Cutting tools have come a long way. Today, you have a variety of cutting tools and methods to choose from. On the one hand, this gives you plenty of options. But, on the other hand, it can confuse the hell out of people.
To ease the confusion, I will shed some light on an amazing cutting tool – the plasma cutter. Plasma cutters give better cuts than traditional metal-to-metal cutting techniques. They also give cleaner cuts than oxy-fuel cutters. As long as you’re working with metals less than 1 inch thick, plasma cutters are your best bet.
|MODEL||PRODUCT DIMENSIONS||ITEM WEIGHT||USER RATING||PRICE|
|Hypertherm 088079 Powermax30 XP||14 x 5.5 x 11.5 inches||42.3 pounds||5.0/5||$$$
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|Lotos LTP5000D||15 x 6 x 12 inches||19.4 pounds||4.3/5||$$
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|Super Deal CUT50||18.5 x 13.5 x 11 inches||24.4 pounds||4.6/5||$
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|Hypertherm 088016||16.8 x 6.8 x 13.7 inches||37 pounds||4.2/5||$$$$$
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|Miller Electric Spectrum 375||19.2 x 13.2 x 11.5 inches||13.8 pounds||4.1/5||$$$$
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The plasma cutter is a popular product. For this reason, there are many brands and models on the market. But, the mind-boggling amount options may fry your brain. So, let me help you decide what is the best plasma cutter on the market for you. After reading the plasma cutter reviews and the buying guide, you will be able to make a sound decision.
The Hypertherm Powermax30 XP is the best plasma cutter on the market. This dual voltage plasma cutter works with the household 120 V supply as well as industrial 220 V supply. Its output current ranges from 15 A to 30 A. This range allows the machine to make clean cuts on 1/4 inch metal easily and fast. According to the spec sheet, the Powermax30 XP can cut 3/8 inch metal at 20 inches/minute, and for 1/2 inch metal, the speed reduces to 10 inches/minute. And guess what, the specs state that this machine gives a 100% duty cycle at 15 A. So, if you cut a lot of thin sheet metal, the Powermax30 XP enables you to work continuously for long periods.
What’s unique about this machine is its special two-in-one design. The FineCut consumables allow users to make high quality cuts on thin metal, and the high-power consumables let the users make neat and precise cuts on thick metals. The Auto-Voltage technology built into the machine enables metalworkers to switch conveniently between 120 V and 220 V. The machine also comes with an adapter that lets you configure the power plug to match the outlet within a few seconds.
Despite the power this machine packs, it is light and portable. It comes with a sturdy carry case that has niches to store the equipment, cutting torch, consumables, and the product documentation. The robust Duramax LT torch that comes with the machine is specially designed to withstand heat and impact. Plus, the Duramax consumables last longer than average plasma cutting consumables. This cutter is compatible with the Hypertherm HyAccess consumables in case you frequently cut hard-to-reach areas. The range of accessories that Hypertherm offers is also of premium quality and functionality.
So, this machine rates high in terms of features, durability, build quality, and functionality. The only downside, perhaps, is the price.
The Hypertherm Powermax30 XP is obviously a high-end solution to your cutting needs. But, not everyone needs a high-end plasma cutter. If you’re going to cut metal less than 1/2 inch thick, then all you need is a LTP5000D, the best plasma cutter for the money. Like the Powermax 30 XP, the Lotos LTP5000D is also a dual voltage machine. This means you can power the machine using a 120 V outlet or a 220 V one. By default, it’s set for a 220 V outlet. To fit it into a 120 V outlet, you need to buy the pigtail adapter separately.
The machine can produce between 20 A and 50 A. You can change the amperage using the selector knob. At 50 A, the machine works on a 60% duty cycle. The product’s spec sheet tells users to set the machine at 50 A while cutting 1/2 inch metal. However, the Powermax30 XP can cut 1/2 inch metal at 30 A. So, the Lotos cutter needs a lot more juice to do the same work. The LTP5000D works requires an airflow rate of 3.6 scfm at 60 psi. The Powermax30 XP, however, needs a flow rate of 4 scfm at 80 psi. So, you can run the LTP5000D with a smaller compressor.
The most outstanding feature on this low-cost plasma cutter is the pilot arc technology. Fabricators who use cutters without this technology have to strike the arc each time they initiate a cut. This becomes annoying when you have to cut irregular surfaces, such as a wire mesh, slotted channels, and perforated sheets. But, the pilot arc technology lets you cut through different kinds of metal in one smooth and uniform motion, even if the surface is irregular, dirty, rusted, or painted. The pilot arc also increases the life of the cutter’s consumables. The machine comes with a one-year warranty.
The Lotos LTP5000D is a budget solution. Naturally, the model has limitations. However, within its limits, this plasma cutter performs exceptionally well. So, if you will not go beyond 1/2 inch thick metal, you should consider buying this model.
Let’s go deeper in the world of budget plasma cutters. If you mostly cut sheet metal that’s 22 or 18 gauge, and you never go over metal that’s more than 1/8 inch thick, then you can save yourself some more money by buying the Super Deal Cut-50. The Cut-50 is a dual voltage plasma cutter that delivers excellent performance while cutting thin metals. It could cut 1/4 inch thick metals, but you’d have to move the cutter very slowly. And the finishing will be poor. At the same time, this thing cuts through 22-gauge metal like butter.
Although the machine works on 120 V and 240 V, the power cables come unterminated. So, you will need to attach a plug to the wire manually. In the box, you will find the cutter cable, the ground cable with clamp, a limited supply of consumables, a handheld mask, a cleaning brush, and air filter with pressure gauge. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Since this is a very low-budget product, it doesn’t have the pilot arc technology. This means you’ll need to strike the arc each time you start to cut the metal. However, considering the price of the product, it’s a decent plasma cutter.
Now that we’ve explored the low budget options, let’s turn out attention to the premium segment. I’d like to introduce to you the Hypertherm Powermax45, the Powermax30 XP’s big brother. The Powermax45 is an industrial grade plasma cutter. It can go through 1/2 inch thick metal twice as fast as the Powermax30 XP can. What’s more, the Powermax45 is purpose-built for gouging. You can gouge up to 2.8 kg per hour with this mind blowing plasma cutter. Although you could cut 1 inch thick metal with this cutter, it’s more of severance than cutting.
The 088016 has enhanced all the premium qualities of the Powermax30 XP and then added some more new features. For instance, you can pair the machine with a CNC cutter. Its trademark cooling system, called the Powercool design, allows the machine to cool faster, thereby increasing the duty cycle. Speaking of duty cycles, this machine gives 100% duty cycle at 32 A. So, if you’re working on 1/4 inch thick metal, you can run the machine continuously for long periods.
But, on the downside, it’s 75 percent heavier than the Powermax30 XP. It’s also 40 percent larger than the Powermax30 XP. So, if you’re looking for portability, I will advise you against buying this machine. At the same time, if you’re looking for a premium plasma cutter to permanently house in your workshop, this is one of the best plasma cutters out there.
The Miller Electric Spectrum 375 comes within the same price range as the Powermax30 XP, and the two models come very close in terms of performance. The Spectrum 375 is a dual voltage plasma cutter that gives 20 A at 120 V and 30 A at 220 V. At 30 A, this machine cuts 3/8 inch thick metal at 18 inches per minute. To put that in perspective, the Powermax30 XP cuts metal of same thickness at 20 inches per minute.
The two machines have nearly the same duty cycle of 35% at 240 V and 20% at 120 V and 30 A. However, the Powermax30 XP gives a whopping 100% duty cycle at 120 V and 15 A, and the Spectrum 375 gives only a 35% duty cycle at the same voltage and current level. So, in that regard, the Powermax has an edge over the Spectrum 375.
The Spectrum 375 comes with a built-in pressure regulator. So, you don’t have to worry about adjusting the pressure. But, you need a recommended airflow rate of 5 scfm at 90 psi. This calls for a big compressor. If the tank doesn’t have sufficient pressure, the respective warning light on the panel will let you know that. Like our top pick, this plasma cutter also comes with a durable carry case. The machine is very portable and you can draw many years of useful service from it.
The product’s warranty is a little complicated though. Different parts have different warranty covers. So, please read the manual carefully to understand their warranty scheme.
Overall, the Miller Electric is a close rival to the Powermax30 XP. However, our top pick slightly outperforms the Spectrum 375. Nevertheless, the Spectrum is still an amazing machine worth your consideration.
Cutting is one of the most frequent operations metalworkers perform in the workshop. A good metal cutter will shorten turnaround time, increase finishing quality, and reduce effort. Investing in a high-quality cutter makes sense.
However, there are a lot of cutters out there. Before you select a product that suits you, you must eliminate all the products that don’t. Then, from the remaining products, you can choose one according to your budget and application.
To kick-start the elimination process, start with this question:
To answer this question, you must identify the metal thickness with which you most commonly work. For example, if you mostly use metals thinner than 1/2 inch, a mid to top tier plasma cutter will improve your performance greatly. But also remember your helmet when using it!
On the other hand, if you work with metals thicker than 1/2 inch and thinner than 1 inch, you need a top tier plasma cutter. On exceeding the 1-inch mark, plasma cutters will no longer serve you well. In such cases, you have to get an oxy-fuel cutter.
Therefore, the prime factor governing the purchase of a plasma cutter is the metal thickness.
A quick way to identifying the tier of a plasma cutter is to look at the severance cut and cut speed for a thickness. Here’s an example:
From the three machines, we can understand that the first one is a top tier cutter, the second one is a mid tier cutter, and the last one is a low tier cutter.
Remember, the tier system classifies machines according to their performance. It’s not a measure of quality. You can have high quality machines at all three tiers. The tier system is a way to identify the best machine for your purpose.
The tier system divides machines into three categories:
If you know what type and thickness of metal you use, you can choose a machine from the tier corresponding to that range. In future, you may expand your operation. To account for any expansion, you should pick a machine that’s one tier above your current need.
To explain pilot arc technology, you must have a basic understanding of how plasma cutters work. But first, let’s understand what plasma is. There are three common states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas. Plasma is the fourth state of matter. Non-conducting gases begin conducting electricity in the fourth state.
The air the compressor blows through the nozzle is in the gaseous state, thus it is non-conducting. But, when a triggering mechanism ionizes the air, it turns to plasma. Plasma is conductive and super-hot. The heat from the plasma melts the metal and the high-pressure air blows the molten metal away. This is how a plasma cutter cuts metal.
In some models, the plasma cutter strikes an arc between the electrode and the metal using a high-frequency discharge. This ionizes the air, transforms it into plasma, and initiates the cut. But, this method creates many safety hazards.
For safer operation, some cutters create a plasma stream between the nozzle and electrode. When you bring the torch close to the metal, it creates the main arc by transferring the pilot arc to the metal.
Cutters with pilot arc technology allow you to cut expanded and mesh-like metal with ease. It even works well on dirty, rusted, and painted surface. High frequency arc cutters work well only with clean and plain surfaces.
In summary, the pilot arc technology makes using a plasma cutter easier and safer. It’s a worthwhile investment.
After you know which tier you’re going for, you can use these parameters to select a good plasma cutter:
The product review section covers high-quality plasma cutters across all three tiers. The easy thing to do would be to pick one from our listings. But, if you want a better feel of what’s in the market, you should look at plasma cutters from Hobart, Everlast, and Lincoln. And don’t forget to check other cutters from Hypertherm, Lotos, and Miller Electric.
You’ve had a lot of information to process. So, before you leave, let me recap everything we’ve learned. At a surface level, plasma cutters belong to one of these three tiers – low, mid, and top. The tier selection depends on the thickness of the metal you want to cut.
The Powermax45 is the best top tier plasma cutter in our list. Our top pick, the Powermax30 XP, is a mid tier cutter. The Lotos LTP5000D is another great mid tier cutter because it offers the best value for money. If you’re looking for a low tier cutter, go for the Super Deal Cut-50.
If you want to explore each tier further, you can do that. Each tier has high-quality cutters. The information in the specification sheet will help you judge the quality of the product based on your application. Even though there’s a lot of choices, the things you learned here will make things easier.
The plasma cutter industry is a rapidly evolving one. Every year, manufacturers come up with new features and models. 21st century plasma cutters are leagues ahead compared to plasma cutters in the 90s. Thanks to the high-paced development plasma cutters are at a very high quality today. So, no matter what tier you choose, you will find a product worth your investment. Hopefully, we have made it easier for you to find that product!