If you’re here reading this article chances are you’re looking for a plasma cutter to add to your garage to do some metal work, but don’t want to spend a fortune. There are many people who want a plasma for some small projects and are not looking for a professional grade system. People in this category are typically looking to spend $500 or less. So today, I am going to provide you with all the information you need know to pick out the best cheap plasma cutter under $500 and give you our top recommendations for this price range.
Plasma cutters made in China are really the only units you will find in the $500 price range. They’re often times sold online and the brands of the units are considered an “off brand” since they are not Hypertherm, Miller, Hobart etc. If you want an American made name brand machine then you’re looking at $1000+ (We recommend the Hypertherm Powermax30 on Amazon.com). For a machine made in China there a lot of options, some that have a decent track record and others that are not so great. Being that these machines are “off brands” there is a chance that buying consumables for your torch say 2-3 years from now can be tricky. Sometimes these Chinese brands disappear randomly and finding consumables can be a pain. This is why buying the most popular Chinese brand is important for part availability.
1st Place: Lotos LTP5000D 50amp Pilot Arc
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Cutting Capability: 1/2 Inch Voltage: 110V or 220V
The best performing and built machine you will find under $500.
Non touch Pilot-Arc system that allows for easier operation and reduced wear on torch consumables.
Comes with drag spacer allowing you to make clean straight cuts using a straight edge.
Lotos is one of the most trusted Chinese plasma cutter manufactures.
Cutting torch and torch line are higher quality and more resilient then other machines in this price range.
Consumables are widely available and very inexpensive. (Very important!)
We have followed along with many different Chinese made plasma cutters over the years and Lotos is the one brand that has been around the longest and continues to provide good support for their products. Hands down it has been the best cheap plasma cutter under $500. These machines have been very popular and their success in the market has shown itself in Lotos’s ability to continue to be one of the top selling machines in this price bracket.
What we like about the Lotos is that even though they are building a budget machine they don’t skimp out on certain areas that are crucial to its operation. For example the torch line, which is protected by a sleeve and mated with a heavy duty torch handle that is built to take some abuse. Lotos has been in the game long enough to know if you don’t give customers a strong torch then they are bound to break it out in the shop and the customer will not be happy. With Lotos being around so long they have been able to find the weak points of their machines and correct them with stronger parts resulting in a more durable product. We like that.
As for performance the Lotos is the strongest you’ll find in this category. The pilot-arc system will make using the machine easy and it’s cutting ability is as advertised. You can expect to cut 1/2″ steel at a slow to moderate pace without a problem. The interface on the machine is easy to use and straight forward and the built in air pressure gauge is surprisingly useful if you have a smaller compressor.
Overall this is the best machine you can get under $500 without question. For the price, you are getting a durable machine that works as advertised and can hold up to a workshop environment. You are also getting a popular machine that has been around for a long time meaning you have access to torch consumables for many years to come, which is very important. Without a doubt this is your best buy under $500.
2nd Place: CUT50 – Super Deal DC Inverter
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Cutting Capability: 1/2 Inch Voltage: 110V/220V
Around $250. Amazing value for its capability.
Comes with all the equipment you need to get started.
Cuts up to 1/2 inch steel with a 220V connection.
Can be configured to used a 110V connection.
Non Pilot-Arc (You have to touch the tip of the torch to the metal to get the arc started).
Comes from the factory with no plug end. You must purchase the correct plug that fits your outlet (you can use a 110V plug or 220V depending on what type of power you have access to).
If you’re looking for the absolute lowest price machine you can find then the CUT50 is going to get you started for the lowest price possible. What’s great about this machine is that it comes with all of the accessories and components you need to get started straight out of the box. The only component not included is the power plug. This is because every shop runs a different style of plug for 220V power and they leave it up to you to purchase the right plug that you need. This is not a big deal because it only takes about 10 minutes to fit a plug on the machine and it will only cost you about $15. The last thing we recommend if you purchase this machine is to get a new plasma cutting helmet or glasses. The one included is made to hold with your hand and it very inconvenient. For safety purposes as well as productivity it’s best to purchase a proper helmet. This can be picked up fairly cheap and is worth the investment.
As far as the machine goes it’s as simple as it can get. You’re getting bare bones functionality here. This is a non pilot arc machine meaning you will have to touch the end of the nozzle to the metal to get the arc started. While this is not desirable, it helps reduce the cost of the machine. If you wanted a pilot arc machine (arc starts without touching the plasma tip to the metal) you are looking to spend an extra couple hundred dollars. That being said, a non pilot arc machine is fine for anyone who is not looking to use their machine professionally.
As for the voltage you can choose to wire it in either a 110V or 220V configuration. If you wire it in 220V you will have the ability to use the machine at maximum output. The CUT50 is rated to make a clean cut on 1/2″ steel, however to get a really clean cut you will have to go slow. For smaller metal you can go a lot faster and not have a problem. If you run this machine in a 110V configuration expect your cutting power to be about 40% less. Still very useful for some projects, but you really need that 220V to cut anything over 1/4″ steel effectively.
With all of that said this is a machine that has a lot of capability for a very low price. You can’t beat this deal if it fits your budget. As always we recommend purchasing from Amazon and taking advantage of their return policy if you have any issues with your machine straight out of the box. They will take good care of you if you experience any issues.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cheap Plasma Cutters
How Well Do Plasma Cutters Under $500 Perform and How Reliable Are They?
These cheaper machines do in fact cut metal and will get the job done. However, the capability of the machines is often exaggerated by the companies who sell them. For example, a unit that advertises a perfect clean cut on 3/8″ steel will often times only be able to produce a clean cut on 1/4″ steel at a reasonable pace. So keep this in mind when purchasing a machine. Buying a bigger machine is always a benefit for plasma cutters. The bigger the machine the easier and faster it is to complete a job. So really it boils down to what you can afford. As a rule of thumb I would say never buy a machine and expect to cut the max thickness it advertises. Always buy something just a bit bigger.
In terms of the machines reliability this is where you have to be very careful. These Chinese machines are not the most durable. They’re built with cheap materials and will NOT last as long as say a Miller or Hypertherm. However, there are hundreds of people who have owned these machine for 8+ years without any problems. The trick is to buy your machine, use it a lot while it is still under warranty and make sure there are no failures upfront. Chances are if they don’t fail within the first 10-15 times of use then the machine shouldn’t have problems. If you find any issues upfront immediately return it and get a replacement.
Where Should I Buy A Plasma Cutter Under $500 With Good Customer Service/Returns?
We highly recommend buying Plasma Cutters on Amazon.com. They have a fantastic return policy and from my experience have always been great to their customers. They also have some of the lowest prices you can find. For us personally, we would avoid Ebay and purchase on Amazon.com instead. We find that Ebay sellers are often reluctant to offer fast returns on machines that have failed out of the box. You really want to buy from Amazon because you can count on them to make sure you end up with a working unit in a timely manner.
Should I Just Get A More Expensive Machine Instead?
I know after reading all of this you’re thinking to yourself “There are a lot of things to look out for when buying these Chinese machines.” This is exactly why we wrote this article. We recommend you think about how often you will use your machine. If you only plan to use it three times a month than you’ll be fine with a Chinese machine. It will do everything you need as long as you purchase the appropriate size. If you plan on using it 2-3 times a week than we highly recommend you purchase something like the Hypertherm Powermax30 or the Miller Spectrum 375 X-Treme. Not only will you have a more reliable machine out of the box, but you will also get better performance.
Will Consumables Always Be Available For My Machine In The Future?
One of the biggest problems you will encounter with off brand plasma cutters is the lack of support for parts 5-10 years from now. We have seen instances in the past where companies disappear after a few years and torch consumables for their machines become hard to find. As an owner of a machine you want to be sure to have access to parts as you need them. This is one of the reasons why the Lotos LTP5000D made our number 1 spot. Although it is a lower cost unit it has been around for many years and consumables have been widely available. If you do decide to purchase an off brand machine make sure you purchase a reasonable amount of consumables up front just in case. They are typically very cheap and you can easily get enough to last you the life of the machine. Better safe then sorry.