Buying Guide – The Complete & The Best Solution of buying a plasma cutter
Are you completely a new user of plasma cutter?
Are you planning a move to purchase the best plasma cutter for your job?
plasmacutteradvisor.com exposes the complete plasma cutter buying guide that will definitely help you in selecting the best one.
From home to small workshops or large industrial sites where metal work is involved, the hobbyists or professionals know well how helpful a plasma cutter is in metal fabrication works.
This is one of the damn tools that makes the cutting of metals or other materials accurate, easier, as well as less time-consuming.
Think for a moment!
If the plasma cutter doesn’t perform well, what a troublesome situation you’ve to face while doing your metal cutting jobs.
With the innovations of new technologies, plasma cutters are also being improved and enhanced. And the manufacturers are offering their product with tons of features and qualities. So, not an inexperienced buyer, even a professional can easily get confused to select the best product.
Our expert team has expended a lot of time on researching and analyzing on how to choose and buy the best plasma cutter confidently that will actually work for you. And finally, plasmacutteradvisor.com finds out some basic and very important factors and considerations that you should look before making a decision on plasma cutter buying.
Have patience to read our Complete Buying Guide. At the end of your reading, definitely, you’ll earn the knowledge as well as the confidence to select the best plasma cutter as per your need.
First, Have A Look At Some Of The Important Factors Of Buying A Plasma Cutter -
- Duty cycle
- Input power/ Electrical Output
- Cutting speed and performance
- Built-in inverter
- Air supply
- Control panel
- A Compressor or An Air Filtration System
- Free-hand use or CNC table
- Replaceable Parts/ Consumables
- Duty Cycle
Duty cycles are one of the most important factors that you should consider before buying a plasma cutter. It refers to:
- The period a plasma cutter can operate safely
- Determined by the amount of amperage the tool draws
- Expressed in percentage
- A plasma cutter with a lower percentage duty cycle- run for short periods.
- A plasma cutter with a larger percentage duty cycle- run for more time.
More amperage output of a plasma cutter means it has more duty cycle, whereas lesser amperage output means lower duty cycle.
Now the question is what duty cycle do you actually need?
It depends on the type of cutting process you’re following and how frequently you need to use it.
Usually, a 50% duty cycle is more than sufficient if you follow manual cutting. However, for mechanized cutting where a system may be operated for a long time, 50% duty cycle may not be enough.
Hence, to attain a higher duty cycle, you may need to buy a larger system and operate it at a lower amperage level.
If you would like to use a plasma cutter frequently, but not continuously for an extended time, purchase a plasma cutter looking on its maximum amperage output/ cutting capacity.
On the other hand, if you continuously use a plasma cutter for a long time, choose the unit considering the average thickness of the materials and the maximum thickness that the particular plasma cutter is compatible to work with.
For infrequently using, just go by the average thickness of what you plan to cut.Manufacturers usually list the maximum thickness the plasma cutter is capable of cutting.
Keep in mind that the excellent way to evaluate whether the duty cycle is enough for your needs is to consider its load voltage and ambient temperature.
Further, you should also consider the application, be it mechanized or manual. This point will help you to identify a plasma cutter that will perform well and meet your cutting needs.
- Input Power/ Electrical Outlet
The type of input power is one of the important factors while deciding a plasma cutter model. Power output is proportional to input power.
What type of electrical outlets does your job site or workshop or home compatible with?
110V, 120V or 220V?
Almost all the plasma cutter offers 30 amps at 110 V or 50 amps at 220V. Most of the plasma cutter requires a high power of electricity to perform efficiently.
Each plasma cutter has its own electricity requirements- 110 V or 220V. Some dual voltage models feature to handle both. The ability to switch between the two voltages is also an added feature of plasma cutter.
Moreover, they also have amperage ratings. Before buying a plasma cutter, you should consider that its minimum voltage and amperage requirement can be met by the electrical outlet available in your location.
You may need to configure the wiring depending on which plasma cutter you select. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use it.
- For cutting ¼” thick material, a 25 amp unit is better.
- For cutting metal up to ½” thick, a 40 amp unit is great.
- For cutting materials up to 1” thick, you should select a unit at least 80 amps.
Also, you should make sure about other electrical appliances are plugged into the same circuit or not. If so, that will draw additional power, resulting in reduced input power.
Hence, it’s better if you use a separate circuit for the plasma cutter.
In order to initiate an arc, usually, plasma cutters come with two types starts-
- Contact start
- High-frequency start
Nonpilot arc unit features contact start. It means that nonpilot arc unit requires you to touch the torch tip to the metal surface to make a cut. It affects the life of the consumables.
On the other hand, in the case of a pilot arc unit, you can make a cut with the torch of the plasma cutter without close contact the tip of the torch to the metal surface. This feature provides an easier and smoother cut and ultimately enhances the life of the consumables
It is a little risky to use the plasma cutter with high-frequency start technology near any kind of electronic devices like mobile, telephone, computer, television or other electrical devices. It also may create a lot of interference with the control of these appliances.
But the unit with contact start technology doesn’t interfere with the control of any other electronic devices. The pilot arc produced by the contact start is visible, so you can see the arc and position the tip more accurately.
- Cutting Speed/ Performance
Cutting Speed/ Performance of a plasma cutter is a significant factor that you can’t overlook while buying the unit. Before making the decision you should determine the thickness of the metal/ material you need to cut as well as your desired cutting speed. Then compare the cutting quality and cutting speed.
You can enjoy three types of cutting quality from some plasma cutters. These are :
- Rated cut
- Quality cut
- Severe cut
- Rated Cut
- Offers the best and high-quality cut
- Is used for cutting mild and less thick steel
- Provides maximum cutting speed
- Smooth and clean cutting result
- Quality Cut
- Provides good quality cutting of thicker materials
- Cuts in a little longer time
- Sever Cut
- Able to cut very thick materials or up to the maximum thickness
- Cutting speed is slow, but the speed increases with the decreasing thickness of the materials being cut
- Cutting quality isn’t satisfactory
- Requires post- cutting clean up
Take into account the thickness of the materials to be cut, the desired speed and try to meet the desired condition. Undoubtedly, the proper combination of these factors will help you to get the desired cutting result.
- Built-In Inverter
When searching for a plasma cutter, it’s important to decide whether or not you want a plasma cutter with an inverter. Because this will make a big difference in price.
If you work frequently in the remote area where there’s no power outlet might face some difficulties in using the standard plasma cutter. In this case, a plasma cutter with built- in- inverter provides the extra facility.
The plasma cutter with built-in inverter takes DC power and feed this power through a high-frequency transistor.
This type of plasma cutter is a great choice for those users with mobile services. Using of high-frequency inverter technology adds additional functionality and portability.
Its’ compact design saves your working space. Not only that, it also offers high cutting frequency. In a word, the built-in inverter technology makes a plasma cutter fast as well as efficient.
- Air Supply
Air supply is one of the important factors for a plasma cutter. You can use normal air as the cutting gas in the cutting process. Some users also prefer bottled nitrogen instead of bottled air.
In a mobile application, it increases the portability of the plasma cutter. Moreover, bottled nitrogen is less expensive than bottled air.
Besides this, some users believe that as nitrogen is drier than compressed air, it produces less oxidation for the stainless cutting tasks.
The mobile user of the plasma cutter frequently needs to carry the bottled gas along with the plasma cutter which is absolutely difficult and time-consuming.
In these cases, a plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor is convenient and easy to portable. Plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor is lightweight, portable and also money saving.
- Control Panel
Among the other factors, you should also take into account the easy-to-use features of a plasma cutter. You know, control panel, the main part of a plasma cutter, allows a user to control the mechanism of the device.
Choose the model with easy-to-understand and easy- to- read control panel along with other possible indicators. For the new or inexperienced users, it’s essential to understand the controls to run the device effectively.
Remember, a control panel featuring specific and easy control enhances your workflow.
A plasma cutter featuring a front control panel is more convenient than having a back panel.
Although portability isn’t an important factor for all users, for the mobile users its’ need some consideration.
A plasma cutter may be used for a variety of purposes and you need to move it from one site to another or around a location or plant.
Hence, a portable unit with additional features for easy transportation will make your job easier. For portability, the size and weight of a plasma cutter play an important role.
These days, the built-in inverter, built-in air compressor makes a unit more compact in size. The features like long cables handle, shoulder strap also helps the user to transport it easily.
Some bands also come with built-in storage for consumables that also enhances the portability of the device.
- A Compressor Or An Air Filtration System
Air compressor supplies air to the machine while you cut. Most of the plasma cutter doesn’t come with a built-in air compressor, while some best brands feature it. So before making a buying decision, make sure whether you've got an external and a powerful air compressor.
It’s also important that your compressor should meet or exceed the manufacturer’s recommendation. A plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor is best for the users who prefer a mobile machine.
Unfortunately, this type of plasma cutter is usually underpowered. If you don’t need mobility features, avoid buying this and it will save your money.
An Air filtration system of plasma cutter removes the potentially harmful contaminants from the air supply. It’s ideal for all plasma cutting applications.
Dirt, oil, dust are the enemies of the compressed air system. Moreover, humidity is another issue to destroy a plasma cutter, since when pressurized it condenses and released from the compressor.
So, it is essential to eliminate the additional moisture and contaminants from the compressed air. Thus, it helps to provide a cleaner, smoother and faster cutting and also increase torch consumable life.
Although a plasma cutter with air filtration system is expensive, it makes a difference between a bad cut and a good cut.
- Free-Hand Use Or CNC Table
You’re familiar with the handheld plasma cutter, but why do you need to use a CNC plasma system?
Let’s find out the facts.
Some plasma cutters feature CNC (Computer Numerical Control) interfaces while others are only suitable for free-hand cutting. So, before deciding a model determine that what type of interface is suitable for your cutting job.
The handheld cutting torch is an outstanding tool for quickly cutting through sheet metal or materials. It’s also an excellent gouging tool for removing defective welds or for back-gouging.
A hand torch is a great tool for cutting small shapes from steel plate. But it’s quite impossible to get good enough edge quality and part accuracy for most metal fabrications. To overcome these negatives a CNC plasma is the best option.
CNC plasma machines are usually designed for “mechanized” cutting. It features a straight barreled torch and has some type of interface controlled automatically by the CNC.
For any serious fabrication or manufacturing, CNC plasma system is better.
The CNC interface system includes a free- hand torch and CNC torch that adds an extra cost to your budget.
Hence, select and buy a model that will meet your cutting needs.
- Replaceable Parts/ Consumables
You shouldn’t overlook the replaceable parts when buying a plasma cutter. Consumables are the attachments that control the plasma flow through the nozzle.
However, depending on usage, you need to replace them. Some of the consumables of a plasma cutter are- nozzle, electrode, retaining the cup, shield, swirl ring.
Among them, nozzle and electrode frequently need to be replaced. Hence, take into account the cost of these parts when making a buying decision.
Keep in mind!
If you select a cheaper model, it may require more regular consumable replacement. So, over the long run, it will add more cost to your device.
Now Let’s Go Through Some of The Important Considerations -
- Think about your projects
- Consider your working space
- Think about durability
- Decide on your budget
- Look for Product Warranty
- Think About Your Projects
- Firstly, before buying a plasma cutter you should consider your working projects that include the densities, thickness and the conditions of the metals you’ll use in your project.
If you need to cut pieces under ½’, a usual unit with average cutting rate is enough for you. But if you have to work with larger pieces, you should pick the unit that is rated for thicker pieces.
- Secondly, take into account the types of metal that you’ll use in your project. If you use mild steel, any cutter will do the job better.
But for galvanized surfaces, coated steel, aluminium or other types of metal, you have to pick a high-end cutter that features adjustable arc setting and more power.
- Thirdly, consider the cutting results or end goal. If your project needs a very smooth edge, you should round down from the unit’s stated capacity.
This is because the stated capacity of a plasma cutter is tested at an optimum condition which isn't possible to maintain in your project area
- Fourthly, If you need to work with rough, rusted or any imperfect surfaces, you should look for the “ cut cleanly” depth or “severance” depth that is listed by most manufacturers. Because all plasma cutters aren’t perfect to handle these surfaces
- Finally, plasma cutter with higher amperage is usually used for cutting 1” thickness. But it’s worth considering that whether you actually need to cut 1” thickness or a regular basis. If you occasionally need to cut such thickness, go for ½” unit that will work just fine.
- Consider Your Working Space
Where you’ll use the plasma cutter?
At shop? At worksite? Or At your home?
It’s really a matter that needs consideration before buying a plasma cutter. Because you may require hookups, equipment, and space to make the device work.
Professional grade plasma cutter usually runs at 220V. If the plasma cutter that you select is designed to work on 220V, you should confirm that you’ve 220V hookup.
In a professional shop or on a worksite it may be available, but this isn’t common for DIY shops. Otherwise, you’ll have to install a suitable hookup.
On the other hand, if you don’t have 220V hook up and also not in the plan to get one, a dual voltage or universal cutter will be a great choice for you.
Dual voltage plasma cutter works both 110 and 220V, while universal cutter works on any power supply
But do you know the difference of cutting results of these voltages?
At 220V you’ll be able to cut thicker metals and within a short time. However, if you’re a DIY enthusiast, 110V is perfect for you.
Furthermore, if you need to move a lot in your working space, look for a cutter with an at least 10-ft hose. Actually, it depends on where your power supply is and where your actual cutting space is.
- Think About Durability
Plasma cutter is a product that needs to use in some rough environment. So, before buying a plasma cutter, think about its durability.
Plasma cutters may be either highly reliable or extremely unstable. If you consider the price range, you’ll find that cheaper plasma cutters, although they offer some basic warranty coverage, are prone to overheating or circuitry issues.
It may happen due to poor quality control or lack of a built-in protection system. However, expensive models are features better cooling system, better quality control, automatic shut-off features, efficient torches, higher build sturdiness as well as built-in heat protection.
Hence, these are comparatively more reliable and durable.
- Decide On Your Budget
If you think about the price range, you’ll find that plasma cutters are available within $300 to $2000+.
The cheaper units offer basic cutting features whereas the expensive models offer special features like super maneuverability, automatic air, amperage adjustment and ergonomic design.
Although cheaper plasma cutters are not reliable and not ergonomic to use, if you’re on a tight budget (less than $ 500) and need to do some basic metal works, these models are great to get the job done.
If you’re a home mechanics or DIY enthusiasts, a plasma cutter within the price range $500 to $ 750 is dependable.
For the professional metal worker, you should go for a plasma cutter to the $1200+ options.
If you look for fully automatic features and adjustments along with ergonomic design and super maneuverability, user-friendliness and brute force, go to the top range. You've to pay premium prices that are more than $2000+ for these plasma cutters.
- Look For Product Warranty
A factor to pay attention to when searching for plasma cutter is the warranty on the product. To ensure your investment is protected over the long run, look for the warranty on the unit. Look for at least one-year warranty. High-end models offer 3 to 5 years coverage.
Never opt for a unit that doesn’t come with a warranty card. You may look for authorized retailers, as they’re able to offer manufacturer’s warranty on the product.
Also, be sure to get the return policies or money back guarantee for the unit. It’s your responsibility to buy the product from a trusted vendor and get the best product.
Thanks for your patience to read our complete buying guide.
Hopefully, we’ve become successful to help you to find out the best plasma cutter to get your job done.
Why still sitting back?
Pick the best one of our 10 Best Plasma Cutter Reviews