An invaluable tool for professional fabricators and hobbyists alike, a plasma cutter uses an electrical arc and superheated plasma to cut through metal efficiently and safely. Compared to other methods of cutting such metal, such as oxy-fuel, a plasma cutter is going to require a larger investment upfront. However, the low cost of operation and the high speed at which a plasma cutter can cut metal make it a smart choice for anyone who has many jobs lined up for it. If you’re looking for a plasma cutter, check out the guide below for help picking the best one for your needs.
What to Know Before Buying a Plasma Cutter
In the review above, we have seen ten of the best plasma cutters under $500. These ten products are the best you can buy right now, and choosing any of them will be a great choice. By providing this list, we have helped narrow your options and make it easier for you to choose the right one. Before choosing the best cheap plasma cutter under $500, there are some factors to consider. Some of these factors have been discussed in the mini buyer’s guide. We will consider them in detail, along with other vital factors. Read on to find out more.
The amount of power used by the plasma cutter is a vital factor to consider. Power usage affects the performance of the plasma cutter. Without sufficient power, your plasma cutter will not be able to cut cleanly and efficiently.
The plasma cutters that make up our list of the best plasma cutters under $500 usually come rated as 110 volts or 220 volts input power. As can be seen from the plasma cutters above, they are either dual-voltage units or single-voltage units.
The dual-voltage units can use either 110 volts or 220 volts outlets. On the other hand, the single-voltage units are stuck with using either 110V or 220V.
Aside from the outlets, power is also affected by the purpose of the cutter. If the metal to be cut is thick, you will require a high power output plasma cutter. The power output affects so many other things. It determines how clean the cut will be, the duty cycle (which will be discussed later in the guide), the cutting speed, and so on.
You should note that power output is directly proportional to input power. Thus, before choosing the plasma cutter, you should know the type of power you have in your home or workshop. If it isn’t powerful enough, you might need to hire an electrician to adjust the wiring. The thicker the material to be cut, the more power you will require.
The amount of time in one hour that the plasma cutter can safely operate is the duty cycle. On your plasma cutter, this value is usually represented as a percentage. The primary factor that determines the duty cycle is the amount of amperage drawn by the cutter. It is vital to note this factor because it can stress the cutter’s power generation system and lead to damage if you exceed the duty cycle. The larger the amount of power needed by a plasma cutter, the higher the duty cycle.
Type of Plasma Cutter
As with various appliances, plasma cutters come in different types. These cutters are divided into three types. Although others might have different classifications, these are the main ones: semi-portable plasma cutter, heavy-duty plasma cutters, and inverter-type cutters.
Semi-Portable Plasma Cutters
These plasma cutters usually weigh less than 100 pounds. As a result, they can be moved, albeit with some difficulty. If you have a simple project that doesn’t require cutting over 1” thickness, the semi-portable plasma cutters are a great choice.
Heavy-Duty Plasma Cutters
These cutters are meant for heavy-duty, professional applications. They are very powerful and cut through metal surfaces greater than 1” with ease. They are found on industrial sites. While choosing a plasma cutter, if you do not need to cut significantly thick metal surfaces, getting the heavy-duty plasma cutters might be the wrong choice. They can cut up to 1.5” thick metal surfaces.
Inverter-Type Plasma Cutter
Inverter-Type Plasma Cutters are increasingly common among the latest plasma cutters. If you work on a remote site or are somewhere without any power outlets, these plasma cutters come in handy. They have, as the name implies, built-in inverters. They can take DC power and feed this power through the inverter. They come at a steep price, but they are often worth it. They deliver impressive performance and are the most portable types of plasma cutters. They usually come in a compact, portable housing.
Ease of Use
The control panel of a plasma cutter is what allows the welder to use the equipment. When looking for the best plasma cutter, it is vital to consider how easy to use it is. It would be pointless buying the most powerful plasma cutter to find it impossible or difficult to use. The control panel of the plasma cutter should come with easy to read and understand instructions. This way, even if you have no skills or experience using the plasma cutter, it will still be easy to use.
An easy to use control panel is essential, and especially so to the beginner.
To efficiently and safely run a plasma cutter, you need an air or gas supply. There are several gases used to power the plasma cutter. Let’s look at some of them.
This is the most common type of gas used in plasma cutters. It works efficiently for most kinds of metal. It helps you cut metals of up to 1” thickness. Compressed air is used for lower current plasma cutting and plasma gouging.
If you want to cut metals up to 3” thick, then nitrogen is the best fuel for your plasma cutter. It is used for higher current plasma cutters and delivers excellent results on various types of metal surfaces.
Argon and Hydrogen
This mixture serves as fuel for cutting through stainless steel and aluminum. Many folks have misgivings about using plasma cutters on aluminum surfaces, but this can be done effectively when using an argon/hydrogen mixture. If the metal thickness exceeds 3”, this is the go-to gas. While compressed air can be used for plasma gouging on carbon steel, this mixture can be used for gouging on virtually all types of materials.
When you’re attempting high-quality cuts on carbon steel and metal materials to 1” thick, oxygen is the gas you need.
To provide air to the plasma cutter, you need an air compressor. When choosing the right plasma cutter, you need to identify if the plasma cutter has an in-built air compressor or if you will need to get an external one to serve you.
A Filtration System
Proper filtration should be considered when getting a plasma cutter. Moisture, dust, and other debris can affect the performance of your cutter. A decent filtration system will eliminate any of these particles and moisture before entering the plasma cutter’s torch.
As the name implies, consumables are the parts of the plasma cutter that are used up during operation. Due to use, these parts will wear out. They include the nozzle, the electrode, the inner and outer retaining cap, the swirl ring, and the shield.
If you hope to use your plasma cutter for a long time, you have to oversee these parts. The nozzle and electrode are usually the first consumables to be “consumed” during operations. Once used up, they need to be replaced. The best plasma cutters do not use up their consumables quickly. While the best plasma cutters might be expensive, in the end, they usually end up cheaper than cutters that cost less initially. This is because these cutters slowly use up consumables; hence, you do not have to keep spending money replacing them. Over time, the total cost of consumables can even triple the price of your “bargain” plasma cutter.
Plasma cutters usually weigh between 60 to 100 pounds. Some of those on our list of the best plasma cutters under $500 even weigh less! A portable plasma cutter is an excellent tool because it can be moved from spot to spot quite easily.
Therefore, when choosing a plasma cutter, you should consider if you will be moving it from place to place or have it stationed in one location.
There are quite a lot of features to consider when choosing the best plasma cutters under $500. This guide and review will help you to choose the right plasma cutter.