The average DIY’r doesn’t need a super expensive plasma cutter, but rather a cheaper machine that can tackle a wide variety of projects. For less than $500 you can buy a very capable machine that can cut up to 1/2″ mild steel which is more than enough power for most DIY applications.

Today we’ll breakdown the different options you have when choosing a plasma cutter for DIY projects and explain what features are “must haves” and which features you can live without.

How Much Should I Spend On A Good DIY Plasma Cutter?

A good plasma cutter like the Primeweld CUT50D (Amaon.com) that has a 1/2″ mild steel cutting capacity can be purchased for around $300. It’s amazing how well these cheaper machines work for the price and they can be a fantastic value for DIY projects at home.

For around $400 you can get a Primeweld CUT50DP (Amazon.com), which includes a very useful feature known as pilot arc. Pilot arc allows you to start your cutting torch with out touching the tip of the torch to metal. This makes the whole cutting process a lot easier. If $400 fits your budget we recommend you spring for getting a machine with pilot arc as you’ll find it to be very useful when trying to make nice cleans cuts.

If you need a cutting capacity above 1/2″ than we highly recommend the Primeweld CUT60 (Amazon.com). This machine’s 60 amps of power will allow you to produce nice clean cuts on up to 3/4″ mild steel. The CUT60 has pilot arc and coming in at $650 it is a lot of machine for the money. Compared to name brands like Hypertherm or Miller, this machine costs nearly a third the price for the same cutting capacity.

Here is a full list of the plasma cutters we recommend at different price ranges: Best Plasma Cutters Under $300, $500, $700, $1000, $1500 and $2000

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Primeweld CUT50D 50 Amp Plasma Cutter

The CUT50D is one of the most popular machines that DIY users buy because of its price to performance ratio. Coming in at around $300 you get a 50 amp dual voltage machine that is capable of cutting 1/2″ mild steel on 220V and 1/4″ mild steel on 110V. Pair this with Primeweld’s unmatched 3 year warranty, it’s clear why it’s so popular. You’ll be very happy with this machine for the price and it will tackle any DIY project you throw at it.

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What Features Should My DIY Plasma Cutter Have?

Buying a machine with the right features can make or break your plasma cutter experience, so it’s important to get the right machine the first time. Luckily there are only a few features on plasma cutters that you will have to choose between, so let’s take a look at them now.

Pilot Arc

Pilot arc is a feature that allows you to start the arc of your torch before you touch the piece of metal you’re cutting. This makes the cutting process a lot easier and more straight forward for most users as it prevents blow back of hot sparks when starting cuts. It can also be very useful when cutting metal like expanded steel as it will continue cutting even when the tip of the torch is not directly touching the metal.

Overall we really recommend pilot arc and if your budget allows you to spend the extra $100 on the Primeweld CUT50DP (has pilot arc) over the Primeweld CUT50D (no pilot arc), you’ll be very happy you did. Here is a forum post you can read on Pirate 4×4 forum about other’s experience with pilot arc machines.

Dual Voltage (110V/220V)

Having a machine that is dual voltage can add a lot of flexibility to your work environment and location. If you’re someone who will be moving your machine around to different locations to complete projects than a dual voltage machine is a great idea as you can plug it into a standard 110V wall outlet when needed. For the best cutting results you’ll want to use your machine on 220V, but the 110V is still nice to have available.

In terms of performance you can expect to cut 1/4″ mild steel on 110V at 20 amps. On a 220V connection you can expect to cut the maximum rating of your machine which is usually 1/2″ or 3/4″ depending on which plasma cutter you purchase.

In order to use a machine on both 110V and 220V you will need an adapter. Most Primeweld machines include this adapter from the factory, so there is no need to buy one. These adapters usually run around $40.

Built-In Air Compressor

Some plasma cutters include a built in compressor, so they do not require an external compressor to run. While this is a great feature to have for making your machine incredibly portable there are a few drawbacks to built-in compressors. Plasma cutters with built in compressors are a lot more expensive (nearly quadruple the price) and often times have much lower cutting capacities.

In most cases, you’re better off buying a regular plasma and an external air compressor¬†instead. Even when having to purchase both, you often times will still spend less money than buying a plasma with a built in compressor. You will also gain the benefit of having a compressor in your shop that can be used for many other tools, which is very valuable for an active DIY’r.

If you want to learn more, check out our article on finding the right air compressor for your plasma cutter.

You can also check out our article on the best plasma cutters with built in compressors here.

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Hypertherm Powermax30 AIR

If you decide to invest in the plasma cutter with a built in compressor we highly recommend going with the Powermax30 AIR. This machine is one of the few machines that provides onboard air without sacrificing cutting capacity or duty cycle. This machine is expensive, but Hypertherm makes professional grade onboard air machines that are unmatched by any other competitor.

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Additional Resources

If you have never used a plasma cutter before be sure to read our comprehensive beginner’s plasma cutting guide. This will help walk you through the entire process of getting your machine hooked up correctly and making cuts safely.

If you are looking for help finding a new machine be sure to check out our list of the best plasma cutters that we recommend.