How does 40,000 degrees of cutting power in the palm of your hand sound? Exciting?
Welcome to the world of plasma cutters.
Plasma cutters feed a high-speed stream of gas through a negative electrode. This creates a powerful stream of plasma that makes metal-cutting a breeze.
According to a study by Miller, Plasma cutters improve productivity and reduce the cost of cutting. It also requires no preheat, allowing the team to work quickly.
For metals up to 5/8-inch thick, Plasma cutters are generally going to be the faster option. They also require less skill. Heck, I was using one at 13 with about 2 minutes of training.
What I really love about them is that you can cut just about anywhere. You can fit the head of it into tiny spaces, making it great for all types of fabrication work.
For the hobbyist, you aren’t always running to the welding supply store for more argon or acetylene. Just connect it to the compressor and the wall outlet and start cutting.
It’s the closest you will ever be to a lightsaber.
This article focuses on quality plasma cutters. To save more money, look at our line up of entry-level cheap plasma cutters.
Protect Your Investment With An Inline Air Filter!
Air compressors suck in shop air and compress it. While they have filters on their air intake, they can pick up tiny particulate that will damage your plasma cutter.
To protect the internal gas lines, I recommend running an inline air filter. The Motorguard is an affordable option, easy to install, and replacement filters are readily available. With the capability of 45 CFM, you aren’t going to notice any drop of power. Definitely invest in this affordable insurance.
Best Plasma Cutter Reviews
1. Miller Spectrum 625 X-treme
Miller Electric has been in business since 1929, eclipsing all of the other brands on this list. Their longevity is backed by their tools incredible cutting performance. The bright blue Miller Electric welder is found in every welding shop.
Most of Miller’s equipment is too expensive to qualify for the home user, but this Spectrum tool tries to package the Miller quality into a price point that is attractive to the smaller shop.
I would put this tool on par with Hypertherm and a little better than Hobart when it comes to quality. And, Miller backs it with a 1-year warranty and super-responsive customer service.
At 40 amps, it has plenty of power that can handle 5/8-inch mild steel with a rated cut. Additionally, the pilot arc has auto relight that detects when the arc has been lost and automatically regains it for a smoother cut.
At only 21 pounds, this is one of the lightest, most powerful torches on our list.
The only trick for Miller is getting folks to understand why their tools cost a little more. If you’ve used their stuff, you’ll understand.
2. Hypertherm Powermax 45 Plasma Cutter
The Hypertherm Powermax 45 is a professional-grade plasma cutter. It’s one of the best on the market, but more tools than most of my readers are looking for.
That said, when you want to know what the best option is, I think this one has earned its spot. Hypertherm has been in business for over 50 years, creating some of the best fabrication tools.
It offers a lot of power in a small size. At under 40 pounds, it is easy to carry around the shop.
It’s rated for material up to 5/8-inches (16mm) thick of rated cutting ability. This lets you move quickly through even the thickest tasks and to keep up with Oxy-acetylene cutting systems. If you are cutting material that is about 1/4-inches thick, you can cut faster than you can with Oxy.
This one has the CPC connections for connecting to a CNC plasma cutting table. If you are an Etsy store owner looking to get into metalwork, this is the one for you. It uses a very clean, narrow kerf which minimizes waste and delivers fine-cut precision.
This one also has the unique ability to do flush cuts for when you need to remove one side of a 90-degree angle.
It has built-in smart sensors, which automatically adjusts the airflow settings to keep a constant plasma stream at all times.
With this tool, you are going to need a 240-volt power supply. The upside is that you have a 50% duty cycle at 45 amps, giving the ability to work long stretches at a time without stopping. If you are doing commercial work, you can also take it to a 480-volt 3 phase electrical system.
3. Everlast PowerPlasma 62i Plasma Cutter
If you are like me and watch a lot of welding videos on Youtube, you will have seen the Everlast brand featured heavily. It is an excellent choice for those of you who are passionate about welding, but who don’t want to mortgage the farm to buy a plasma cutter.
With the PowerPlasma, you are buying a little better build quality and a heavy-duty machine.
The blowback pilot arc makes it easy to get a cut started even when working on metal with rust and pitting.
Just as with the Lotos, it offers a surprisingly high duty cycle with 60% at 60 amps; however, you are going to need 240-volt power for it.
There are a few features on this tool that Everlast highlights well. For one, it is compatible with CNC platforms. Plug it in and let the computer do the work.
The air regulator on the back is adjustable, but there is also an airflow display on the front that shows the setting. A greenlight/redlight system alerts you when the airflow is too low.
This is a commercially-rated tool and designed to see high volumes of use. The digital IGBT control board is well-proven and builds on the success of their Power Plasma 60s series.
Backed by a five-year warranty on most of the parts, this is one high-quality tool.
4. Hobart Airforce 27i Plasma Cutter
Hobart is a manufacturer based in Appleton, Wisconsin, which manufactures some of the best welding tools in the country. Where they excel is in making their tools affordable for the small business.
When you want extreme durability for the least price, look to Hobart. I’ve seen a lot of folks buy their welders to get started, and then continue to use that same welder for several years in a professional capacity.
With the 27ci model, you are right between the Hobart 12ci and their professional-grade Hobart Airforce 40i.
It offers 15 to 27 amps of power, giving you rated cuts in metals up to 3/8-inches and sever cuts in thicker material up to 5/8-inch. This puts it in the sweet spot where you can easily cut sheet metal, but still handle common materials for auto bodywork.
The Fan on demand keeps from sucking too much dirty shop dust into your cutting machine while keeping everything running cool while you work.
It’s designed to give a 35% duty cycle at 27 amps.
The MVP (multi-voltage plug) lets you switch between 120v and 240 volts. Just plug it into the outlet, and the unit automatically detects the incoming current and adjusts.
If you can afford the Hypertherm, and you have a bunch of work, then go with the Hypertherm.
But the durability and Hobarts 5/3/1 warranty offers some of the best customer support in the business, making them a strong contender for the small shop and mobile welding truck.
5. Hypertherm Powermax 30XP
If you are sold on the durability and ease of use with the Hypertherm, and you just wish that you could find a cheaper option in this brand, take a look at the Powermax 30 XP. They dial back the power a little bit, creating a highly affordable machine.
There are a lot of folks who see the Hypertherm as the gold standard in this industry. Ther Powermax 30 XP is perfect for the user who wants to move quickly.
Hypertherm compares all of their plasma cutters to the speed of oxy-acetylene torches. For example, this one is rated at 3x faster cutting speed when cutting 1/8-inch steel.
It also has that adjustable arc that delivers high power on thick metal or a fine kerf for precise cuts on sheet metal.
When running on 120 volts, it has a duty cycle of 20%, but you can bump that up to 35% with 240 volts.
As with the other Hypertherm products, this one also offers the drag cutting tip to make it easy to get a smooth, clean-cut.
Hypertherm means speed and durability. If you want a tool you can use daily and work quickly, plan on investing a little bit more for that cutting performance. The Powermax30 XP fits that bill.
6. Lincoln Electric Tomahawk K2807-1 Plasma Cutter
Lincoln Electric is another one of those cornerstone brands in American Welding. Founded in 1895, this company has built some of the largest structures in America.
You can often pick up their products at Lowes or your local welding supply store, making parts and repairs easy.
The K2807-1 offers several features found on the other high-end models. To begin with, it has a current output range from 10 amps to 40 amps. This makes it a great tool for cutting everything from thin metal to 1/2-inch steel. You could even do sever cuts up to 3/4-inch.
The continuous output control helps to focus the arc for different material thicknesses, giving you a better cut with more control.
Where this torch shines is in how well it starts and maintains an arc. The non-touch pilot arc uses a high-frequency pulse to easily ignite the plasma. And then the auto-refire technology keeps that lit, even when going over dips in metal where cheaper tools might lose the connection.
With a duty cycle of 60%, this one is going to keep going for a long time.
It’s a professional-grade model that deserves a spot in the fabrication shop. The downside for Lincoln that there are so many competitors in this niche.
7. Lotos LTP5000D Plasma Cutter – Best For Hobbyists
For the farmers, hobbyists, DIYers, and small shops, this Lotos is a hard-to-beat plasma cutter. This is an upgrade of the proven Lotos LT5000D model.
As with the other models, this one will run off of either 120 or 220-volt power. With 50 amps of power, it can cut through a 5/8-inch of steel.
It also advertises a 60% duty cycle, which is surprisingly more aggressive than most others in this category. It’s powered by Mosfet Transistors, which have one of the longest track records.
The non-touch pilot arc makes it easy to get this tool going even if you are a newbie.
At about 26 pounds, this tool weighs about as much as the Hobart. It’s definitely easy to move around the shop and from job to job. You pull it out of the box, attach it to the compressor with the included air pressure regulator, and it’s ready to use.
Downsides of this tool are its durability. For occasional use, it holds up well, and Lotos protects it with a 1-year warranty. But heavy, daily, use might be a tad much for it.
The LTP5000D is a surprising amount of tool and is hands-down the best choice for most of my readers.
8. PrimeWeld CUT50 DP
Rated at 50 amps, the Primeweld is a powerful little tool.
It offers dual voltage 120/240v compatibility making it easy to use this cutting machine anywhere.
At 120 volts, you can get a 60% duty cycle at 35 amps. Switching to a 240v power supply will increase that to a 60% rating at 60 amps.
When running at 60 amps, you can slice 1/2-inch steel like butter and even get great cuts in 5/8-inch steel.
This is an inverter plasma cutter that relies on a digital inverter technology to control the plasma stream. These upgraded internal components give you a better cut while also increasing the longevity of your tool.
Similar to the Lotos, this one uses PAPST cooling fans that look a lot like your computer fans and are designed to move a massive amount of air.
It comes with a 3-year warranty, making it a strong contender against the Lotos. I like the Lotos, but I think a lot of folks will appreciate Primeweld’s build quality and their responsive customer service.
9. Forney Easy Weld 251 Plasma Cutter
I like the Fourney brand. They are based out of Colorado and make an excellent line up of affordable machines for the home shop.
This little plasma cutter offers drag torch technology like the Hypertherm does, letting you keep the torch in contact with the metal as you cut along.
This makes it easier to get accurate cuts. It also has a pilot arc to help easily reignite should you go over a small gap and lose your spark.
As one of the smaller machines on this list, it is only rated for mild steel up to 1/4-inch and aluminum up to 3/16-inch. This makes it perfect for working with sheet metal and other common parts around the farm.
This is only a 110v cutting tool, so you can plug it into the common American household outlet. The smaller voltage also constrains you to a 35% duty cycle. For most users, that is more than enough.
It also only requires 1.5 CFM, letting you power it with a smaller compressor (most pancake compressors could power this one).
There is a surprising amount of power contained in this little tool, making it a super deal for the light-duty user.
10. Ramsond Cut 50DX
The Ramsond Cut 50DX is a digital inverter that prides itself on offering a better-quality tool. For example, they use the Mosfet inverter to bring that name-brand construction to their tool.
It’s a 50 amp tool, putting it in that range where it can easily cut metal over 1/2-inch thick. The 50a rating is more power than most DIY shops will need, giving you that peace of mind that you can cut anything that comes your way. (They claim a 1-inch maximum cutting thickness. I haven’t tested it to that level.)
They offer a 60% duty cycle. Granted, it has the PAPST cooling system like the other tools in this price range, but I’m always a little suspicious at these extremely high duty cycle promises when you have top-tier tools like the Hypertherm saying they are limited to a 35% rating.
I’m not sure these duty cycle comparison is apples to apples.
It comes with an air regulator, a ground clamp, and the plasma torch. As long as you have an air supply and either a 110-volt or 220-volt input power, this one is ready to go.
They also highlight their dual-frequency, which makes it good for both 50 Hz and 60 Hz power frequencies (something that seems pretty standard on all of these tools.)
At only 19 pounds, this is one highly portable plasma cutter.
Plasma Cutter Buying Guide
Whether you are a muffler shop, auto body shop, or simply a hobbyist, a plasma cutter improves your ability to cut intricate shapes into metal.
These are well suited for both professional uses as well as hobby use. Here are the specifications you should consider to make sure you get the right one for your needs.
What Type of Metal Are You Cutting?
Plasma cutters are most commonly used for steel. However, they also work well on alloy steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and copper. It even works with cast iron. Pretty much any conductive metals will work.
What Thickness Of Metal Are You Cutting?
Depending on the size of the plasma cutter, these are excellent options for metals up to about 1-inch thick.
For factory work, a rated cut is where you get a clear, clean-cut all the way through at 10 inches per minute (IPM).
When time is money, you want to buy a tool that is big enough to provide a “rated cut” for the thickness of metal that you plan on cutting.
However, for most of us, portability is a more important buying decision. You can work more slowly, and you’ll probably still get the job done faster and more quickly than if you were using oxy-acetylene.
The industry calls those slower cuts “quality cuts.” The cutter will get the job done; you just have to be patient.
Then, you have “severe cuts.” This is when you are working with metal that is technically thicker than your tool can handle. After repeated passes, you finally get the metal cut, but you can expect to do a lot of cleanup work afterward.
Keep this in mind as you cut. When a tool says it is rated for 1-inch, is it referring to a quality cut or a sever cut? Find that out.
How Much Voltage Is Needed?
Most shops in America have both 120-volt and 220-volt power supply (sometimes referred to as 110-volt and 240-volt, respectively).
If you have the wiring for a 240-volt cutter, you’ll enjoy faster cutting times and a longer duty cycle, letting you get more work done. Most commercial tools use 240-volt.
However, the home user will appreciate the ability to plug their smaller tool into any 120-volt outlet and get the job done.
Many of the tools offer a dual-voltage 120/240v option. You just use an adapter to switch out the cord.
What Duty Cycle Do You Need?
The Duty Cycle is how long a tool can run before it needs a rest. Almost all of these machines have some type of thermal breaker inside that shuts them down if they get too hot.
The Duty Cycle for a plasma cutter is rated in 10-minutes. A 30% duty cycle means the arc can be active for 3 minutes out of every 10-minute cycle. Keep in mind that the duty rate generally decreases when cutting thicker metal, requiring more breaks. Switching to a 240-volt power supply will lengthen the duty cycle.
How Large Of An Air Compressor is Needed?
Most plasma cutters require around 4 CFM at 80 PSI. Ideally, you will want a compressor that can deliver 1.5 times that to guarantee uninterrupted flow. There are several 30 Gallon Air compressors that fit that bill well and are also quite portable.
Advanced Features To Consider:
- CNC or Computer Numerical Control machines are handy for getting precise, intricate cuts. I have a few friends running CNC routers or CNC lasers in their garage and selling the products on eBay. The CNC plasma cutter — like this one — enables you to load complex cutting instructions that the tool then follows while you go work on other tasks. This can let you do the exact same cut, over and over, perfect for fabrication.
- Pilot Arc Start vs. Drag Start determines how easy it is to light the pilot torch. The cheaper models require you to lightly drag the tip across the metal until it ignites. An easier system is offered by the torches that do a high-frequency pilot that self-ignite the plasma torch. That said, after a day of working with the drag start method, you get pretty good at the technique, and most folks don’t care too much.
Not only is the length of warranty important but also the quality of the brand that you are buying from. Are you buying a cheap Chinese tool with no US representation, a phone number that doesn’t answer, and no website?
That’s going to make it much harder to get replacement parts or repairs. So don’t only compare warranty length and what is covered, also look at the brand. For our reviews, we often pick up the phone and call them to at least find out how hard it is to get technical support. This plays heavily into our rankings.
What Gas Do Plasma Cutters Use?
Plasma Cutters need an air source to flow over the spark, which ionizes it and creates the plasma. In most cases, you will use compressed shop air for this.
In high-speed fabrication shops or where extremely high voltage arcs are being used, argon or nitrogen gas is used for plasma cutters.
What Shade Is Needed For Eye Protection When Plasma Cutting
I’ll always point you to the safety tips in your owner’s manual when making these decisions. However, generally speaking, a #3-#6 shade is about the correct darkness for plasma cutting. If you go any darker, you won’t be able to see your work.
Most welding helmets have a lighter mode for grinding and cutting that will meet this need perfectly. These welding safety goggles work great for plasma cutting.
What Plasma Cutter Should I Buy?
Which product is best for most users, and why?