ToolTally is reader-supported and earns a commission when you purchase a product through links on our site
Plasma cutters are an extremely handy way to cut metal that is less than an inch thick.
Plasma is a gas of ions, with an orbital electron removed. Plasma cutters work by initiating an arc over compressed gas that is being forced through a small opening. While plasma cutters can use an inert gas like nitrogen, they also can just use shop air to get the same thing done.
As technology has developed, plasma cutters with an internal air compressor have become fairly standard for small jobs. This means that you can easily move from job to job, plug in the tool, and get started with the cutting.
There is a limited number of these systems that offer an onboard air supply. It is cheaper to purchase an external air compressor and a standard plasma cutter. However, there are times when having both tools is too cumbersome. Buying an all-in-one plasma cutting tool is sometimes the only option.
Here are five of the best plasma cutters available online. This list is designed to help you get the right compressor at an affordable price.
All of these tools require the consumables to replace. Normally a set of consumables is sold by the manufacturer. It is worth the hassle to go ahead and buy another set of tips to go with your new plasma cutter.
Hypertherm Powermax 30 Plasma Cutter with Built-in Air Compressor
The Hypertherm series is one brand that was strongly represented on our list of plasma cutters. This brand makes high quality, dependable tools at a great price. Their tools are some of the easiest to use as you can get the arc started pretty easily, and it holds a steady plasma flow during the entire time.
The Hypertherm Powermax 30 air is a smaller machine to their popular Powermax 45 XP. It can handle everything from cutting metal that is 5/8-inch thick down to doing intricate cuts for carving decorative pieces. The ergonomic handle makes this one a pure pleasure to hold during the cutting process.
There are some concerns over using the 088096 Powermax 30 in the workplace for 40 hours a week as there are reports of an internal valve that fails and has to be replaced. That said, very few of our readers are looking for a tool to use at that level.
This one is a dual voltage tool that can use either 110 volts or 220-volt power supplies. With the lower power supply, it still has a 3/8″ thick cutting capacity. You can also throw this on the work truck and run it with a 3KW generator, giving you tremendous portability.
At only 30 pounds, it is very easy to carry around from job to job. It’s definitely easier than moving a plasma cutter that needs an external air compressor, or just moves it around the shop as you need.
When powered on a 120-volt circuit, it has a 20% duty cycle, which means that it needs to rest for 2 minutes out of every 10 minutes of use to prevent overheating. With a 220-volt power supply, that duty cycle increases to 35%.
As one of the few American Made tools in this category, it offers better customer service and warranty support than most of the other ones on this list. With a three year warranty, your investment is well protected.
Hobart Airforce 12ci Plasma Cutter 120v/240v
As an American company, Hobart makes some of the best welders on the market. Their welders are consistently in that perfect sweet spot of high performance at a low price.
This welder is no exception. With a built-in air compressor and a 20 amp output, it is a strong contender to the Powermax 30. It comes with a 5-year warranty, further adding to the attractiveness of this tool.
As with the Powermax, it can handle up to 3/8 inch thickness of cuts on 110 volts. If you connect it to a 220-volt power supply, it will sever metal up to 5/8-inches thick. It is also only recommended for a minimum cutting thickness of 1/4 inches, which means some folks.
The two things that people seem to prefer about the Powermax is the handle design and the longer fifteen-foot lead length (the Hobart has a 12-foot lead).
However, the new XT12R torch feels great in your hand.
Otherwise, these two tools are pretty neck and neck, in my opinion. The upside with the Hobart is that it doesn’t seem to have the failure issues under heavy use. The added two years on the warranty are a nice touch.
If you are doing a lot of shop work with 1/4 inch or thicker metal, the Hobart should be a strong consideration.
Miller Electric 907529 Plasma Cutter – Commercial Plasma Cutting
Often considered the “Lamborghini” of the welding world. Miller Electric offers some of the best durability, and their coveted blue color is only owned by the best shops.
The 907583 plasma cutter is a lot stronger than most of the ones on this list and is designed for daily use in an industrial setting.
The first thing with this tool that you will appreciate is that you get a clean cut without adjusting the air supply. The tool automatically “reads” the load and adjusts the air supply to match. This is one less thing that you have to mess with in order to get the job done.
With its inverter controlled 60 amp output, it is four times as powerful as some of the other tools on this list. This lets it gives it a 7/8-inch thick cutting capacity. That is almost on par with an oxyacetylene torch, except you still enjoy the faster cutting speed of plasma cutting. For this tool, that speed is rated at 15 inches per minute, making it the fastest one on this list.
If you have a 240-volt power supply for it, you can increase the duty cycle to 50%, lengthening the amount of time that you can use it every day. It also comes with 20 feet of cable, which means you can carry the cutting power deep inside of the area you are working.
One of the challenges with plasma cutters is that they need a fan to cool down the hot internal parts. As the fan blows, it can suck in dirt and grime from the shop and shorten the lifespan of these machines. With this Miller Electric model, the fan only kicks on when the tool gets too hot, reducing the need to constantly be blowing abrasives into the machine. This helps protect the tool and provides greater longevity.
This is also the only one on this list that is compatible with CNC cutting machines, meaning that you can use it both as a handheld tool, or swap out the head to connect it to a CNC cutter for automation cutting.
If you need to use this one as a remote tool, you can power it with a 10 KW or larger generator.
Backed by Miller’s three year True Blue Warranty, this tool earns its place as the best commercial level plasma cutting system with a built-in air compressor.
Forney 317 Plasma Cutter With Onboard Compressor – Cheapest Option
If you are a DIY shop owner who wants a cheap air plasma cutter to use on those occasional jobs that come through the shop, this is the perfect tool to consider.
I’m already pretty impressed with the Forney brand as a high-end consumer model. We see them well represented with some of the best beginner MIG welders. This 15 amp plasma cutter is no less impressive. You’ll have no problems cutting stainless steel, mild steel, high carbon steel, aluminum, brass, copper, cast iron, and other conductive metals with it.
This one runs on any 15 amp, 110-volt input power. This means that you can easily use it anywhere there is a standard 110-volt circuit. It also only outputs 15 amps of power, which means that you are going to be stuck with thinner cuts. You get a clean cut on 1/8-inch thick material, and your cutting capacity is up to 1/4-inch as long as you are ok with a sever and some rough edges on the thicker metals.
As with most of the tools on this list, this one requires you to drag the torch on the material to get the arc started. You get used to it pretty quickly since only the extremely expensive machines offer pilot arc starting. Be patient with it, as it takes about 3 seconds to get an arc started.
This isn’t going to be one of the fastest tools, and you’ll need to be patient getting your cuts done. However, it is still a little faster than using a gas torch, and the ease of using a plasma system instead of a gas setup is worth it.
The one-year full-coverage warranty from the manufacturer means that you get more support for this machine than you would if you bought the cheapest Chinese import available.
Thermal Arc 1-1110-1 Air Cut 15C Plasma Cutter With Built-in Air Compressor
This one has a max cutting thickness of 1/8-inch. That is about 1/3 of the Hobart 12ci. There is such a thing as having too much power. If you are mostly working with thin sheet metal, you might find that you enjoy having a smaller plasma cutting machine to work with.
Additionally, smaller units require less power, and there is a lower chance of tripping a breaker. It is a smaller 15 amperage machine, which means that while it won’t cut the thicker material, it also requires a smaller load on the power circuits. This makes it ideal for working in shops with old circuitry or when running on a smaller generator.
One of the nice features of this one is the pilot arc start. Instead of needing to do a little “drag” or “scratch start” to get the arc started, the pilot arc kicks it right off without hesitation. This makes it a little easier for less experienced fabricators to get a good arc on the first try.
The pilot arc feature is also helpful when you are trying to get an arc started on painted and rusted metals. The Thermal Arc 1-1110-1 is also handy for cutting mild steel, aluminum, copper and other alloys.
The other nice feature is the 20-foot long torch lead. This lets you access all parts of a vehicle or can let you get deep inside that semi-truck or RV to do your job. It does offer more durability at the lower voltage, allowing for a 30% duty cycle. The company also boasts that their tool does plasma cutting 25% faster than the competition.
It only has a 1-year warranty but comes in as an excellent alternative to working with Oxyacetylene torches. The Thermal Arc is best for when you need fast plasma cutting of thin material, and don’t mind paying a little extra to get that speed.
S7 50 Amp IGBT Plasma SYStem With Built-in Compressor
Speaking of those super-cheap Chinese-made plasma cutters, I was lucky enough to find one for this list.
I’ve seen this tool come and go under different names. My guess is that there is one supplier in China that makes this model, and then the different brands buy it with their label on it. The Mophorn is the model that I think I’ve seen the most in 2019/2020.
With this little tool, you get a full set of consumables included with it. A short lead gives you enough room to work at a workbench near the cutter. However, it is fairly light, and you can move it with one hand from job to job.
It has all of the basic safety features that the other tools have, such as thermal overload protection to protect the internals from overheating. There is also internal overpressure protection that controls the compressor. It has ample fans and vents that do a pretty good job keeping the tool cool while you work.
It is advertised as a 50-amp cutter that is designed for 220-volt input power. This lets you plug it into any 220v single-phase power supply and get to work. Because fo the higher 50 amp rating, it is cutting material up to 22 MM thick with a duty cycle of 60-80%, making it one of the highest on this list.
Frankly, I think this would be a great tool for the DIY individual who thinks that they are going to be cutting material that is too thick for the Forney to handle, but who don’t plan to use their plasma cutter every day.
For most of my readers, the Forney is going to be a more reliable tool.
Plasma Cutting System Buying Guide
Here is a quick overview of what to look for in a plasma cutter.
The duty cycle of a tool describes how long the tool can run before it needs to take a break. Most duty cycles are represented as a percentage of a 10-minute window. A plasma cutter with a higher amperage rating is generally going to offer a longer duty cycle.
Additionally, you can lengthen the duty cycle by cutting thinner material. If you are working on sheet metal with a plasma torch that is designed to cut through 1/4-inch metal, then the tool is under a lighter load, is drawing fewer amps, and can run longer between breaks.
If you are running the tool at it’s maximum, you will not get precise cuts, and it will need frequent breaks to keep the thermal overload protection from shutting down the tool.
All of the cutters on this list are able to run on 110-volt electricity. In America, these 110v circuits are the most common. The inverter power supply will ramp the amperage up and down properly to create the output that you need.
However, many of them can be plugged into a 220v circuit, which allows the tool to deliver a higher amperage and offers a better duty cycle. Commercial users should consider creating a dedicated, 220v circuit.
Depending on the thickness of the material and the quality of the tool, the plasma cutter can perform cuts at a rate of 5 inches per minute, on up to 300 inches per minute on the very thin material.
One of the big reasons that users choose a plasma cutter over an oxy-fuel torch is that plasma cutting is faster on material that is less than one-inch thick.
There are two methods that you can use to start the arc: contact or high frequency.
If you can afford a cutting tool with a high-frequency pilot arc, this allows the tool to automatically get the arc started.
Most of the welders on this list will require you to use a drag or contact start method for getting the arc started.
When it comes to durability, one of the key things is to choose a reliable brand with a good warranty. This helps guarantee that replacement parts will be available when you need them.
For our hobbyists, a lot of money can be saved by choosing a separate plasma cutter with an external air tank.
Can You Weld With A Plasma Cutter?
There are a few multi-process welders that allow you to unplug the tig power cable and plug in a plasma torch. This lets you do plasma cutting with a tig welder.
However, these devices are the exception and not the norm. They also are mostly designed for light-duty use.