The Best Plasma Cutters of 2018 – Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Step Up Your Metalworking Game

Are you a shop owner or serious metal working hobbyist looking for the best plasma cutter on the market? Nowadays, high-performance cutters are becoming available at prices that will fit any budget, but the wide selection available can make finding the right cutter a chore. Read on to save both time and money in your search for the best plasma cutter.

Hypertherm Powermax 65 Plasma Cutter

What Can a Plasma Cutter Do for You? 

If you are a first-time buyer in the plasma cutter space, here is a brief primer: These power tools use electrical current and super heated ionized gas to blow cuts through any type of conductive metal. With their ability to make precise, fast cuts in the heaviest materials plasma cutters have revolutionized metalworking. When computer numerical control (CNC) technology is used, a plasma torch can produce and reproduce highly accurate cut patterns so cleanly that very little finish work will be needed.

Formerly very expensive tools used mostly in heavy industry and professional shop applications, modern plasma torches are easily within the price range of small shop owners and hobbyists. If you do a lot of welding, metal fabrication, or decorative metalwork, a plasma torch will be of great service to you. 

9 Best Plasma Cutters - Comparisons 

Choosing the Best Plasma Cutter for the Job

While the two types of plasma cutting systems, manual and mechanized, use the same basic process to cut metal, they have very different applications and setup requirements. Mechanized cutting systems are large, with many components and high power demands. They are commonly found in heavy industry and manufacturing. 

On the other hand, manual systems use small power supplies and handheld cutters. They are typically used for working with light metals, for example in auto repair shops, factory and farm maintenance applications, and for doing artistic and decorative metalwork. 

In this review, we focus on the best manual cutters that come in at price points accessible to the small shop owner, DIY handyman, and hobbyist.

9 Best Plasma Cutters - Reviews

1. Hypertherm Powermax 65 Plasma Cutter

Hypertherm Powermax 65 Plasma Cutter

The Hypertherm Powermax 65 comes in at a high-end price point, but considering the capabilities of this tool, it is actually quite reasonably priced.

With a 200-400 Volt power supply and clean oxygen or nitrogen, this machine can handle just about any metal-cutting job you throw at it, including tough max metal removal gouging work. On the 65-amp setting, this cutter will go through 1/2 inch stainless steel at 32 inches per minute. Running on 240 Volts at the 65-amp setting, the duty cycle for this system is 50%, offering plenty of run time even in the heaviest use conditions.

The Powermax 65 can be set up for a wide range of applications including X-Y table cutting, robotic and mechanized cutting, pipe cutting, and more. At the same time, it can also make fine precision cuts when set up with the proper torch and tips.

Even though this plasma cutter is going to be overkill for most non-professional users, we wanted to take a look at a higher-end machine to show the possibilities. The main advantage the 65 offers besides its ability to blast through a 1-inch steel plate in seconds is adaptability. It gives a longer life for consumables and can take 7 different configurations of torch, several of which can be used in mechanized or automated applications.

This is a powerful cutter designed for the experienced or professional user, yet the digital readout and simple dial controls make it easy to operate and the Smart Sense technology handles air pressure control—we were able to make nearly perfect drag cuts along a straight edge after only a couple of practice attempts, and when cutting at speed it was clear that the Powermax 65 is a serious industrial tool. For tough applications, this is one of the best values for the money in a plasma cutter.

What we liked

  • Industrial-grade at a low price
  • Extremely powerful
  • Versatile
  • Handles a wide range of input voltage

What we didn't like

  • Weighs over 60 pounds
  • Requires a 200-Volt plus power supply
  • Requires a heavy-duty air compressor

2. HyperthermPowermax 30 XP Plasma Cutter

HyperthermPowermax 30 XP Plasma Cutter

The Hypertherm Powermax 30 XP is an ideal entry point into plasma cutting because it comes with everything you need to start work quickly.

This compact portable cutter weighs only 42 pounds and measures 14 x 11.5 x 5.5 inches. The cutter comes with a carry case, shoulder strap, eye protection, gloves, and a set of basic consumables including electrodes and nozzles, swirl ring, shield, and a retaining cap. A 15-foot lead provides plenty of working room for small shop and craft applications, and the Duramax LT torch combines comfortable ergonomics with durability.

This cutter offers a two-in-one design that allows for cutting thick metal at a high-power setting or making fine, clean cuts on thin metal. Although a 30-amp machine is not the fastest for constant work with thick material, the 30 XP can cut 1/2 inch material at 3 inches per minute on the 25-amp setting. The Powermax 30 XP can handle drag cutting, extended reach cutting, extended reach gouging, and fine-feature cutting. 

This is an easy cutter for beginners to pick up and play with, as decent straight-edge rough cuts are possible right out of the box. We found the Powermax 30 XP running through thin materials as fast as we could move the torch, and it does not need too much air pressure to do so. On thicker materials, making a clean cut is going to take some practice and experience along with a steady hand. The drag cutting tip helps you keep the torch steady and straight, but if you lift it off the material it cuts a lot faster.

This versatile cutter has plenty of power for the home user, and Hyper therm has a well-established reputation in the world of welding. We recommend the 30 XP as the best starter machine among the high-end cutters.

What we liked

  • Comes as a complete kit including safety gear
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Dual-voltage capable

What we didn't like

  • Not suitable for heavy-duty work
  • Takes some practice to produce precision work

3. Hobart Airforce 40i Plasma Cutter

Hobart Airforce 40i Plasma Cutter

The AirForce 40i plasma cutter brings the Hobart reputation of quality to the table. The power supply is among the best in this review, and their warranty covers industrial use.

The AirForce takes a compressed air supply and 240 Volts and turns them into the power to clean-cut 5/8 inch steel and make sever cuts through 7/8 inch material with a 50% duty cycle at 40 amps. It is a simple machine with single-knob adjustment, and its power is combined with maximum portability at only 31 pounds.

The details on this cutter show the depth of Hobart’s experience with metalwork. The Auto-Refire feature lets you work with painted or coated surfaces and perforated metals without having to constantly pull the trigger on the torch. A post-flow delay system that brings the temperature of the torch and tip down after cutting extends the life of the tip and electrode. The power supply fan only runs when needed to cut down on the amount of dust pulled in to the unit.

The AirForce is a nice little machine that bridges the gap between extreme portability and industrial durability. By using an inverter, Hobart is able to get a lot of cutting power out of a unit that weighs half as much as its predecessor. We found it to be user-friendly for cutting designs out of light material, and it ran rough cuts through ¼ inch plate like the metal was butter. Hobart rates the 40i for automated cutting and industrial applications, so you know it is a tough tool.

The only downsides we found were the requirement for 240 Volt input and the length of the power cable—the 10-foot power cable will require an extension cord in many shop applications. However, the overall quality of the cutter makes up for these shortfalls, and all in all, the 40i is an excellent cutter.

What we liked

  • Hobart reputation and quality
  • Very lightweight
  • User-friendly setup 

What we didn't like

  • Lead and power cord are on the short side
  • Limited by power supply requirements

4. Miller Electric Spectrum 375 Plasma Cutter

Miller Electric Spectrum 375 Plasma Cutter

Miller stands with Hobart in terms of reputation for making workhorse welding gear, and the Spectrum 375 offers high power and performance at a significantly lower weight than most other cutters in this class. 

This 30-amp, professional-grade cutter rated to cut 3/8 inch stainless or mild steel at 15 inches per minute. It offers a 35% duty cycle at full power and 104 degrees Fahrenheit—impressive power for a plasma cutter that weighs only 19 pounds and is barely bigger than a kitchen toaster. This dual-voltage unit comes in its own heavy-duty carry case, and the basic kit includes a set of all necessary consumables and power plug adapters. Other features like Fan-On-Demand and the Auto-Refire technology further improve performance and durability, and mark the Spectrum 375 as a top-in-class cutter.

The first thing we noticed about this Miller cutter was that the XT30 handheld torch has an effective ergonomic design and feels very solid in the hand. Everything about this torch and the accessories gives the impression of quality appropriate to its price point. The carrying case is a serious toolbox, and the heavy-duty 12-foot ground clamp and torch cables are fine for a machine this size. However, we would like to see more than 10 feet of power cord.

When cutting with 110 volt input power, this tool runs straight cuts through 3/8 stock with no hesitation, and clean cuts are easy to pull off. Plugging in to 220 Volts would probably give a boost in speed. We also noticed that performance dropped a bit when the air pressure fell much below 90 psi, so it is safe to assume that the automatic air regulation feature does not work properly on lower pressures. Miller’s reputation for service put the Spectrum 375 at the top among the mid-range plasma cutters.

What we liked

  • Very lightweight
  • Dual voltage capable
  • CNC-adaptable

What we didn't like

  • Expensive consumables
  • High price point

5. AHP AlphaCut 60 Plasma Cutter

AHP AlphaCut 60 Plasma Cutter

The AlphaCut 60 offers professional-grade 60-amp cutting power at a mid-range price. 

It is a 50-pound cutter that is rated for a 60% duty cycle when running at full power in 5/8 inch steel. AHP welding designed this machine to reach users who will be cutting on a regular basis but do not want to sink a huge investment into a plasma cutter—by using consumables that are common to many other cutter brands, the cost of operation is kept low.

The unit is designed to run well with a lower CFP air compressor than many other models, bringing in another possible source of savings. The AlphaCut 60 still has high-grade features like dual voltage capability, pilot arc, and post-flow cooling delay settings. A full control panel with an air pressure adjustment knob makes the unit easy to operate.

This is a solid cutter for the price, and once we plugged into 220 Volts of input power, it showed plenty of capability in thicker materials. We found that 110 Volts would not give a strong arc, but once the machine had the power it needs, we laid out smooth cuts with every pass.

The AlphaCut also performs well for fine cutting, but the torch handle has rather indifferent ergonomics which makes it a bit hard to get a steady hand on it. The continuous arc kept the torch running fine over painted sections, and cutting perforated mesh was also easy—if anything, the power is more than adequate and has to be monitored carefully when working with thin materials.

Although it does not appear to have industrial-grade durability, the Alpha Cut 60 is a strong contender for daily use in small shop settings and will do a good job around the farm or home without breaking the bank.

What we liked

  • Mid-range price point
  • Powerful
  • Low-cost consumables

What we didn't like

  • Poor torch ergonomics 
  • Does not run well on 110 Volts
  • Short power cable

6. Hobart Airforce 12ci Plasma Cutter

Hobart Airforce 12ci Plasma Cutter

Hobart uses inverter technology to chop the weight of its plasma cutters in half and create machines like the Airforce 12ci.

This dynamo packs 12 amps of cutting power into only 27 pounds, and that includes the weight of the torch. But the real portability factor here is the built-in piston-driven air compressor—we wanted to get a look at a plasma cutter that requires no external air compressor, and the AirForce 12ci fits the bill perfectly. This plasma cutter runs on 110 Volt DC current and can take on any job in sheet metal, mesh, aluminum, and steel up to 1/8 inch with a 35% duty cycle at full power.

It also has many of the features offered by its larger cousins including an ergonomic torch with built-in tip cooling, fan-on-demand, an LED system status display, and thermal overload protection. The main focus of this machine is portability, not power, so we did not expect it to blow through plate steel like the Hobart 40i. When making cuts at the stated 1/8 inch limit, we found that slag built up due to the lack of sufficient air pressure, making it difficult to get any kind of clean edge.

That said, the 12ci is not made to be run at its limit for long, straight cuts—where it excels is in making trim cuts, punching holes, and working with thin, delicate stock. We found it easy to cut nice edges and figures out of thin copper and aluminum sheets, and it cuts fine bolt holes into fender material and corrugated steel.

What we did not like about it was the 7-foot power cord and the tiny feel of the torch in hand. The price point is also high, but that is in comparison to Chinese products that have nowhere near the quality and warranty protection of a Hobart.

This is an ideal cutter for plumbing or sheet metal applications, light automotive work, and hobbies and crafts. The ability to crawl up into the duct work with it or throw it in the car and go are the big pluses here. If you are in the market for an ultra-portable cutter, the 12ci is definitely the way to go.

What we liked

  • All-in-one portability
  • Dual voltage

What we didn't like

  • Does not cut clean in heavy stock
  • Short power cord
  • High price point

7. Everlast SuperCut51P Plasma Cutter

Everlast SuperCut51P Plasma Cutter

The Everlast SuperCut 51P is an easy-to-use plasma cutter priced in the budget range and marketed as a starter or occasional-use cutter.

It is light at 24 pounds, and has some neat features like the MOSFET inverter technology and high frequency arc starting that reduces start delays and provides a pilot arc when needed. The dual-voltage unit has 50 amps of power and will work fine with materials in the 1/4 to 3/8 inch range, where it is rated to produce clean cuts at 15-20 inches per minute on a 240 Volt power supply.

The 51P comes as a kit with a torch, air pressure regulator, work clamp on a 10 foot cable, and a 6 foot power cord with plug. Build quality on this cutter is nowhere near the high-end units, but it is definitely above the standards of the lowest-priced models.

One feature that makes the SuperCut51P a good beginner’s cutter is the control panel that includes a digital readout and an air pressure gauge along with the amperage-setting knob and the power switch—this makes it easy to monitor operations and maintain the recommended 65 PSI cutting air pressure, an important factor on a cutter like this one with no low air pressure shutdown feature.

The cutter is simple to set up and start, and it runs through cuts in thinner material with ease. Maxing it out on 3/8 inch steel with 110 volt input made it harder to produce clean cuts, and the machine shut down for cooling after about 18 inches of cutting. The 51P is clearly not built for industrial use, but it should work fine in the home shop or for doing hobby work.

What we liked

  • Budget-priced
  • Dual voltage capable
  • Compact form factor
  • Low current draw

What we didn't like

  • Very short power cord
  • Unproven durability

8. Lotos CT520D 3 in 1 Combo Plasma Cutter

Lotos CT520D 3 In 1 Combo Plasma Cutter

We included the Lotos CT520D as our choice for a bargain-price do-it-all cutter. This is a combination unit that can plasma cut, TIG weld, and stick weld. While the quality and power are nowhere near something like a Hypertherm, you can plug this machine into 110 or 220 Volts, hook up an air compressor, and it will take on almost any job that comes up.

The plasma cutter rating is 1/2 inch thick material at 50 amps. The TIG Welder puts out 15-200 amps and lets you work on stainless steel or thin materials. An optional foot pedal control can be attached to make work easier. For stick welding, the unit runs at 15-200 amps and features an adjustable striking arc. The Lotos comes as a full package with all accessories including an Air Filter and Regulator, an Argon Regulator, plasma torch, and all cables, connectors, and tips.

If you just need the occasional ability to cut or weld metal and don’t want to make a major investment in equipment, the CT520D is worth considering. It is a highly portable unit that weighs in at only 32 pounds. We did not care for the cheap look of the cables and accessories, and the ground cable is way too short, but not having to run out and buy a lot of consumables is nice.

Overall setup is quick and easy, and we found that the Lotos plasma cutter could easily get the job done. It makes clean cuts through 1/2 inch stock with no problem, although long, straight cuts in such heavy material are slow going. It has a 60% duty cycle when cutting heavy material.

A downside here was the lack of a pilot arc on the torch. The TIG welding function works well, although the torch feels a bit flimsy in the hand. All in all, we have to say the Lotos is a pretty amazing machine for its extremely low price point. And besides its usability as a shop tool, the CT520D is a great tool for learning 3 metal working skills with minimal investment.

What we liked

  • Highly versatile do-it-all machine
  • Very portable
  • Comes complete

What we didn't like

  • Cheap feel to the cables and torches
  • Expensive consumables
  • Durability is questionable

9. F2C 50 AMP Plasma Cutter

F2C 50 AMP Plasma Cutter

Plasma cutters do not come much cheaper than the F2C 50. If you are looking for an introduction to cutting and would like to get a complete package for minimal expense, this is a tool you need to consider.

This machine runs at 50 amps which lets it cut material up to about ½ inch with a 60% duty cycle. Controls and setup are simple, and the unit has a digital readout—something many higher-priced models do not offer. This cutter is dual-voltage 110/220 V capable, and it weighs only 24 pounds so it is a good traveler.

The F2C 50 shocked us with its low price and compact, light form. It is actually smaller than many desktop computers. The unit comes with all the required accessories and consumables, even a welding mask and chipping tool, and we rate them as hobby-grade all the way. 

This is certainly not a rough-duty unit, but it could work quite well as a bench top cutter for doing arts and crafts type metal work—it cuts fine in light material, and it plows through heavy plate with a fairly clean cut as long as you take your time. The delay switch on the unit that lets you set a cooling break between cuts was an unexpected quality detail.

This 50-amp plasma cutter might be just the thing for the garage workshop or the hobby metalworker. The basic power supply is quite functional, and it would be a simple matter to upgrade some of the accessories over time—it gets our vote as a low-cost leader.

What we liked

  • Super-low price
  • Very portable
  • Comes as a complete kit
  • 60% duty cycle

What we didn't like

  • Cheap and flimsy accessories
  • Very light-duty power supply
  • Durability is questionable

Cutting to the Chase 

What’s the best plasma cutter for you? As you can see, prices, power levels, and quality run the gamut and it can be difficult to know how a cutter really performs until you get it in the shop.

For anyone except the dedicated small-materials hobbyist, we recommend spending a little more to get professional-grade power and build durability—it is far better to have extra capability and not need it than to be under powered when facing heavy-gauge material. We hope that our review of some of the best home shop-grade plasma cutters on the market helps you find the best cutter for your work.

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