Picking The Winners
When testing and scoring plasma cutters we considered many factors. First tier scoring was based on cutting ability and durability. Second tier scoring was based on parts availability and warranty. Also brand reputation and customer service were considered, but not heavily weighted compared to the machines performance.
1. Hypertherm Powermax 45
The Powermax 45 is a machine that is widely used in the metal fabrication industry and known for it’s durability, performance and brand. If you talk to anyone who works in metal fabrication they will know the name Hypertherm. It’s a tested and trusted brand that makes quality machines and the Powermax 45 is their flagship model.
The reason the Powermax 45 is so popular is because it packs all of the functionality and features that 90% of metal fabricators need in a small package that is well built. To start, the machine does not cut any corners and provides you with the essentials. The essentials being a long power cord (10 ft. long), a long torch cord (20 ft. long), a straight forward interface, and a rugged housing around the machine. The machine can perform drag cutting, extended reach cutting, extended reach gouging, fine feature cutting, flush cutting, marking, max control gouging, mechanized cutting and precision gouging.
Hypertherm also offers three different torch options for this machine from the average 90 degree, a 45 degree, and straight torch for CNC tables. Having all of these options available to you will allow you to grow into your plasma cutter without having to purchase a new unit when you decide to take your work to the next level.
This is really is the ultimate machine for any metal fabricator. Sure, it is a bit more expensive than other options, but it is well worth it. This is a tool that will put a smile on your face when you use it because it is that impressive.
What We Like:
- Rated to cleanly cut 7/8 inch steel
- Rated to sever 1-1/8 inch steel
- 20 ft. Torch Cord
- A variety of torch consumables for drag cutting, extended reach cutting, extended reach gouging, fine feature cutting flush cutting etc.
- Quality built and will hold up to being used in a harsh professional environment
What We Don’t Like:
- Very expensive
2. Hypertherm Powermax 30 XP Building America Edition
The Powermax 30 is another fantastic machine in Hypertherm’s line up that provides a wide variety of features for metal fabricators. The main feature being the ability to use both 110V and 220V. This means that this machine can be plugged into a standard wall socket and cut up to 1/2″ steel! This is incredibly useful for anyone who does not have 220V in their shop at home. If you do decide to run this machine on 220V you simply use the provided cord adapter and plug it in. This will give you access to the machine’s full cutting capacity.
The Powermax 30 is the smallest machine that Hypertherm offers, but you will see that it carries the same build quality as all of their other machines. This is reflected in both the performance and price. This machine is INCREDIBLY impressive for it’s size, but it still carries a hefty price tag. With that being said this machine is worth every penny and it by far the best performing in its class.
What We Like:
- Dual Voltage
- Can make a clean cut on 1/2 inch steel
- Can sever 5/8 inch steel
- 15 foot torch line
- 15 foot work clamp (ground clamp)
- Includes hard shell carrying case, gloves, extra consumables, power adapters, shoulder strap and glasses
- Built well and will withstand a demanding professional work environment
What We Don’t Like:
- Very expensive compared to the “off-brand” competition like the LOTOS or Primeweld
- Hard case can be tough to get torch line tucked into
3. LOTOS LTP5000D
First off, this machine costs 1/3 the price of brand name plasma cutters. This makes it very desirable to anyone with a small budget looking for a machine that won’t break the bank. So, is this thing worth it? Well, out of the box yes it will cut half inch steel, work as advertised and get you going for less money. There is no other plasma cutter on the market currently with pilot-arc that performs as well as the LOTOS for less than $500.
Keep in mind these machines are built with cheaper components and tend to be more prone to break if you abuse them. If you want quality and longevity then get a Hypertherm or Miller. If you want an inexpensive machine that you can use occasionally with good results that won’t break the bank, the LOTOS LTP5000D is a great choice.
What We Like:
- Very low price tag compared to bigger name brand machines like Hypertherm or Miller
- Dual Voltage (110 pigtail adapter sold separately)(Find it here on Amazon.com)
- Includes Pilot-Arc which is very rare in this price range
- Pilot-Arc is very responsive and activates almost immediately
- Air pressure gauge on the front of the machine’s interface
- Torch feels very solid compared to other machines in this price range
What We Don’t Like:
- Torch Consumables are not the best quality and tend to wear out more quickly compared to Hypertherm or Miller consumables
- Cut quality is good, but not as smooth as Hypertherm or Miller
- Pilot-Arc wire that attaches to font of the machine is prone to break. Simple fix, but still an annoyance none the less
Useful Accessories And Safety Gear
Having the right accessories for your machine will allow you to work safer and easier. You absolutely need a proper helmet to shield your eyes and gloves to protect your hands. Without these you can seriously hurt yourself. If you are looking for a helmet check out our article on welding helmets for plasma cutters. We also highly recommend a leather jacket to protect your cloths and skin from sparks. You’ll find that if you don’t wear thick leather all of your clothes will start to develop holes in them. Also a head beanie is a must as it will keep you from burning the top of your head when using the plasma torch above your head. Trust us, the smell of burning hair is not pleasant! Also a cart can be a good option if you’re looking to move your machine around your shop and keep all of your gear with it. I’ve always used a cart and placed all of my protective gear as well as my consumables on the cart for easy access.
The Reason You Should Invest In A Quality Plasma Cutter
When investing in tools for your garage or shop it’s important to remember a few important things. A tool is an investment and should be taken seriously when being purchased. The man who buys cheap tools that barely get the job done are the same ones who STILL have to borrow tools for the next job because his are broken. Buying quality tools can be expensive, but you will save time and money in the long run if you invest properly.
What Can I Do With My Plasma Cutter?
Plasma cutters are one of the most versatile tools someone can own for metal working. The amount of tasks that you can tackle with a plasma cutter and the amount of time you save will be worth every penny of your investment. It is an essential tool for anyone who wishes to build and repair any type of metal project.
Here are some examples of projects that require a plasma cutter…
- Cutting metal sections to repair cracked trailer frames using steel plate
- Cutting metal to specific lengths (like a band saw)
- Cutting steel plate for projects
- Mobile car dismantling
- Custom BBQ building
- Cutting steel to build a welding bench
- Building custom fences
- Metal sculptures
- Removing previously welded attachments on trailers and trucks
- Building trailers
- Cutting sheet metal to build custom tool boxes
- Cutting sheet metal to build custom hydraulic and fuel tanks
- Cutting/fitting tubing for custom roll cages
This list is just simply some of the projects I have used my plasma cutter for over the last year. You will find that having this tool in your garage will allow you to do just about anything in the shop with metal. This is why I nick named my main plasma cutter the “Evil Scientist!”
Are You New To Using A Plasma Cutter?
Do you need a helping hand getting started using a plasma cutter for the first time? Not a problem! Check out our Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide To Plasma Cutting. Here you will find all the information you will need to get started including an introduction to the tool, answers to commonly asked questions, a buyers guide, important safety practices, proper protective gear, and a full step by step tutorial on how to make your first cut safely. Also if you’re looking for feedback from a forum about a future purchase check out the following (weldingweb.com) and (www.fabricationforum.com). You can also visit the fabrication section of Pirate 4×4. There are a lot of good guys there that have experience with a wide variety of metal fabrication tools.
Don’t Have An Air Compressor?
In order to run a plasma cutter you will need an air compressor to supply it with air. Plasma cutters require an external air supply usually between 60-90 psi in order to operate. If you do not have an air compressor in your garage, but would still like to use a plasma cutter you can buy a machine with a built in compressor. Check out our article on the best plasma cutters with built in compressors for more information.