There are a variety of plasma cutters out there: from the bigger, commercial CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines to the regular consumer-oriented portable kind, which is the type we will be addressing here. The portable plasma cutters we are focusing on pertain to those used by artists, small businesses, DIYers and craft makers (for a hobby).
People use plasma cutting machines to cut different kinds of metal with the help of a super-heated ionized gas referred to as plasma. Commercial use of plasma cutters is usually used by businesses like salvage yards, auto shops and construction sites for cutting larger, rougher sheets of metal. Now, it is becoming popular to use plasma cutters for non-commercial use within the home because of the precision and simplicity of using the portable ones.
Notable Features that Your Plasma Cutter Needs
Many things need to be considered when buying the best plasma cutter. The following is an overview of the features needed for an efficient portable plasma cutter:
Built-In Inverter or Not:
Some plasma cutters don’t have a built-in inverter, and the ones that do are a little bit more pricey but worth it when you consider the unit is portable. This direct current (DC) inverter contains a high frequency range from 10 kHz to almost 200 kHz. It can be contained in smaller-sized cutters to accommodate those who offer services requiring them to travel.
Thickness of metal sheets:
A 25-amp cutter can be used for cutting metals up to 1/4-inch thick. A 50-amp cutter is ideal for metals up to ½ inch thick. For metals ¾ inch to 1 inch thick, use a cutter that is at least 80 amps.
The power specs (like voltage and amperage) can have an impact on how much the plasma cutter costs because it specifies the thickness of the metal that you can cut (and specifies how quickly the piece can be cut).
The cutters using the traditional 110/120V wall outlet are highly affordable but limited in the type of cutting they can do. The more expensive cutters are often those with dual-voltage capabilities (able to use 220/240V heavy-duty outlets) that can cut thicker metals.
The cutting arc that plasma cutters create is made by an electrical current. This current is measured in amps (A), and it helps to know how many amps (known as amperage) your cutter is rated as to determine what sizes of metal it can cut.
That way, you will select a plasma cutter that has the right amperage to suit your cutting needs. Just note that most household plasma cutters have an amperage between 40 -50 amps, which is perfect for most cutting projects. Cutters that also function as welders cost a lot more, but they can get up to 200 amps.
Plasma cutters have varying cutting quality. The finer and more precise the cut, the more the plasma cutter will cost. If you need rough cutting, you can save on the cost by getting a cutter with rough cutting quality.
There is a relationship between the cutting speed and the amperage. So, the more amperage a cutter has, the faster it can cut through a piece of metal.
Indicators and Controls:
A power switch and settings adjuster (for kind of material being cut) can be found on all cutters. LED indicators are placed on modern style cutters, and some of the upscale inverters carry very accurate digital controls (though these cost a lot more).
A lot of the newer plasma cutters will have automated functions that influence the cost of the product. Most cutters that don’t have automated features often cost less. Automated cooling fans can be found on some plasma cutters that cut on and off as needed. Most cutters that don’t have automated features like cooling fans often cost less.
The amount of cutting time to cooling off time is called the duty cycle, and it may also determine the cost of the plasma cutter. For instance, a duty cycle of 70% means that in a span of 10 minutes, 7 of those will be used for nonstop cutting and 3 will be used for cooling off.
The housing that some cutters are now containing lets these plasma cutters be used in many situations. However, the inclusion of housing will mean the unit will cost more, but this is well worth the money if you are planning to use the plasma cutter in outdoor situations.
Nozzles and electrodes are often consumables found on plasma cutters. These items will have a life expectancy that the manufacturer will provide. If you plan to use your plasma cutter often, then it may be worth your while to get a higher priced cutter that will have consumables with a longer life expectancy.
Before You Purchase a New Plasma Cutter:
Keep these pointers in mind if you have not decided on which type of plasma cutter you would like to purchase.
Always consider the thickness of the material the unit can cut when the tip is moving at 10 inches per minute (IPM). The cut rating and amperage will be related to one another as already stated, and these specs will be included on the unit’s spec sheet.
Also, get a plasma cutter that is specified to cut the maximum thickness of wood you frequently cut. select a plasma cutter that cuts the metal thickness you will be cutting most often. For instance, there’s no point in getting a heavy-duty unit that cuts through metal ¾ inches thick if you never plan to cut pieces that thick. However, you will find that having a unit that cuts slightly thicker than what you cut appropriate in some instances.
For instance, if the cut is for piercing the metal instead of starting the cut on the edge of the metal, you will need a unit that can cut twice the thickness of what you are cutting so it will go through quickly. That way, you reduce the risk of molten metal splashing on the torch’s tip and significantly shortening the life of the tip. It is recommended to get that DIYers and those doing light duty business projects try the LTP5000D.
Key Point On Air Compressors:
It is rare to find a plasma cutter that does not use an external air compressor unless it is a light-duty model. For the most part, a plasma cutter will need an air compressor to help the cutter function.
Make sure you already own the plasma cutter before purchasing the air compressor because the unit will require a specified air flow. That way, you won’t waste money on an air compressor that does not meet the air flow requirements of the unit, and you will get the most out of your unit. So, make it a point to buy an air compressor that matches the air specs of the unit you need to prevent wasting money on an air compressor that does not match with the type of plasma cutter you need.