Plasma cutting technology offers the ability to cut metal twice as fast as with oxy. It gives you more precision and less heat damage to the metal you are working on. Additionally, you can use them with pretty much any metal types such as stainless steel, and carbon steel as well as non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, copper, brass and cast iron.
I was about 14 when I was first introduced to a plasma cutter. I was doing summer work for a shop that repurposed Greyhound busses into luxury RV coaches. The plasma cutter was an essential tool for the custom bodywork we were doing. It offered faster cuts, the ability to cut unique designs, and provided a clean cut that needed very little prep before welding.
Even at my “young” age, running the cutter was pretty simple. Somedays, that was all I did so the older guys could weld.
As with welders, these cutters can get expensive. I have a review of the best plasma cutters, and in that one, I discuss some of the pricier options (which includes some of the high-end brands like the Hypertherm).
For this article, I’m discussing some of the best budget plasma cutters with a targeted price point of around $500.
Don’t Forget Your Air Compressor!
Plasma cutting requires an air source. If you have too little air, the arc will sputter, and you’ll have a hard time maintaining a clean cut.
While you can probably save money and get away with a pancake compressor, I highly recommend using a 20-gallon tank. The larger tank guarantees adequate air pressure so you can keep working uninterrupted.
You’ll need at least 4 CFM at 60 PSI. So it doesn’t have as demanding of air requirements as an impact wrench.
I did some reviews on 20-gallon air compressors if you want to take a look. Best 30 Gallon Air Compressors
Best Cheap Plasma Cutters
The Lotos is rapidly becoming one of the favorite metalworking tools of DIY-ers. They create a wide array of affordable tools for almost every type of metal.
One of my favorite options is their all-in-one TIG/Plasma Cutter models (reviewed below).
However, if you are going to do more than 5 hours of metal cutting in a year, I think you should invest in a dedicated cutting machine. This LTP5000D is my top pick.
The heavy-duty, 55 amp plasma cutter allows for a cutting thickness up to 1-inch when using the 220v input voltage.
The non-touch pilot arc feature is extremely nice. It not only helps to get you started faster and more consistently with each cut, but it also reduces the number of consumables that you have to use.
One of the downsides of this machine is that the consumables are very specific. You can only use the PCS22 or the PCS33 set, and no third-party sets are compatible.
This one will need at least a 20-gallon air compressor. Bigger is always better, but you can do pretty well even at this smaller size.
As a dual-voltage machine, it also runs on either 110v or 220v circuits. Remember to put your plasma cutter and your air compressor on different circuits to keep from tripping a breaker while you work.
The PABST cooling fan does a good job. It has a 60% duty cycle at 50amps, so let it rest for every 4 minutes out of 10 minutes of working time.
Your ideal cut thickness is going to be 1/2,” and it can go all the way up to a severance cut thickness of 3/4″.
This is a surprisingly accurate and dare I say “deft” machine. It’s my top choice for following stencils and doing intricate work.
It only has a 1-year warranty [Click Here], and you need to submit the registration form that they have on their website to take advantage of it. You will also likely pay return shipping fees and warranty repair fees. [Click Here ]
Hobart 500564 Airforce Plasma Cutter
This Hobart is way more expensive than most of my readers want to invest in. However, it has a hidden secret that greatly increases its value.
So if you are looking for the cheapest option, skip on down to some of the other options.
However, those of you who have had bad experiences with some of these imported machines will appreciate an assembled in-the-USA option backed by a trusted customer support team.
Additionally, many of you already have some experience working with the Hobart brand in your day job and want a tool that will replicate that level of performance.
This model does not disappoint.
The cutting torch feels great in your hand and is quick to get going on your metal cutting project.
The big differentiator with the Hobart is that it has a built-in Air compressor. This not only saves you money in having to buy a separate compressor, but it allows the plasma cutting machine to have precise control over the gas flow.
This means that you get a more precise flow of plasma.
A lot of people worry about the loudness of the built-in compressor. It’s really not that loud and only about as annoying as a hairdryer.
The reduce slag and high-quality finish is worth it.
Additionally, you can carry this unit from job to job with one hand. This cuts down on setup time.
As a 50-amp unit, it should be able to cut about 1/2-inch thick metal. However, it is an extremely power-hungry model and is going to need the 220v power supply to unlock the full potential.
With a one year warranty, this is one of the top ones to consider.
Lotos LTPDC2000D 3-in-1 Tig/Cutter
This is a perfect option for the hobbyist who wants to be able to do more than just cut metal. It is a multi-purpose machine that also allows you to tig weld and stick weld.
This means that you can work with a variety of steels and irons to fix and create with metal.
You’ll need an air compressor to power the plasma stream, and then the tig side will require an argon gas bottle. Or, you can just use the stick welder to patch up small projects.
Otherwise, this kit has everything else you need, including the various welding and cutting heads.
And, this little tool does not lack power. The 50amp rating allows you to make a 3/4-inch severance cut or a 1/2 inch clean cut in mild steel. Whether you are punching holes in steel or trying to put it back together, this one is going to fit the bill.
For the craftsman on a budget, this is an ideal choice.
Amico Cut-50 Plasma Cutting Machine
The Amico has gone to great lengths to take the frustration out of their tool.
It is a dual voltage, 110v/220v model, just like the others on this list. However, this one has auto-switching technology built into it and includes the plug for both types of outlets.
They market this as having a severance cut the thickness of up to 1-inch. I personally think that is quite audacious, as you would have to be extremely patient with the thickest metals. That said, it can cut with ease through 1/2-inch thick material, making it a favorite of users.
Unlike the two pilot arc models above, this one uses a scratch start (as do the rest of the models below). However, the scratch start is a tried and true method. It’s also much easier on a tool like this than it is on something like a Mig welder.
You get the torch kit and the ground clamp. I’d go ahead and pick the air regulator and any hoses that you need as well as a package of consumables.
One of my biggest frustrations with this industry is how little after-purchase support there is. Amico Power fills that gap by offering a concise, 1-year warranty on their products. [Click Here]
This puts the Amico Cut-50 into the perfect “sweet spot” of quality and price.
Zeny Cut 50 DC Inverter Plasma Cutter
One of the neat things about this model is that it uses standard consumable sizes. This means that you can buy replacement ceramic cups and so forth from multiple vendors, which will save you even more money over the life of the machine, and guarantees that you can get parts for it locally.
This is another dual-voltage machine that lets it use both 110v and 220v supplies. With the 220v supply, it can cut up to 1/2-inch thick metal, thanks to the 50 amperage design.
At only 22 pounds, this offers excellent portability. You could carry this is in one hand while you wheel your compressor in the other. It makes it easy to move around the shop and get the job done.
The really nice feature of this model is that it has a 60% duty cycle. This means that it can run for 6 out of every 10 minutes before it needs a break. That allows you enough time to make some of the longer cuts without worrying about overheating the machine.
This once uses scratch start to get your initial arc going.
The downside with this unit is the limited support for repairs. As with the Lotos, this one offers a 30-day return guarantee and a 1-year warranty [Click Here]. However, there are some indications that the company may not have the most robust customer support team.
This little home-use hobbyist device brings the power of plasma cutting technology home to your doorstep for a fraction of what you would expect it to cost.
This is another IGBT machine, which uses inverter technology to offer better control over your cut and, hopefully, a longer lifespan.
You can use either 110v or 220v input voltage with this machine. If you have access to a 220v power source, this offers the ability to cut up to 1/2-inch thick. Ideally, 3/8-inches of thickness seems to be the sweet spot for this model.
As with all of these machines, it is recommended to have an air dryer on your pneumatic line to keep moisture from corroding the plasma tip.
What you will love is that this is an extremely easy-to-use machine. Even if you have never used one before, you’ll be able to pick it up and start creating things right away.
This one does have a limited warranty [Click Here], but it is written in poor English. This lack of professionalism does give one pause, but at this price point, it is still worth the risk.
Sunco Cut-50 Plasma Cutter
Very similar to the brand above, this air plasma cutter offers enough power to cut 1/2-inch thick metal.
It offers a scratch start plasma torch and is a basic, low-cost option for home users.
As with the previous three models, this one struggles in the warranty and customer support department. I could find no customer service line, and many of the previous models that they made have been discontinued.
What Is A Pilot Arc Plasma Cutter?
The pilot arc allows you to start your cut without touching the tip to the metal. This provides a cleaner start, requires less finesse, and uses fewer consumables.
Sometimes you will see it referred to as an HF pilot arc in that it uses high-frequency electricity to create the initial arc — just like a spark plug would.
The other option is a drag tip, where you touch the tip to the surface briefly to get the arc started.
Often, you can purchase an upgraded plasma torch that has this feature.
What is A Severance Cut Thickness?
The severance cut thickness is how thick a plasma cutter can cut if it has an edge to start on. You may need to cut more slowly, and if you are using a dual-voltage machine, it will require you to be connected to the higher voltage.
Is Inverter Better Than Transformer?
For many years, internal transformers were the only option for plasma cutters. These transformers are what takes your regular wall current and converts it into an arc.
More recently, we are seeing the IGBT inverters taking their place. This provides a cheaper, more lightweight option that runs cooler, offers a longer duty cycle, and, ideally, a longer lifespan.
Most of the models on this list use this new technology.