What’s the best plasma cutter? This article covers a range of great plasma cutters, many of which are also TIG and Stick welders. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of all the technical information so we’ve made this plasma cutter buying guide with you in mind. We review some great models in a variety of price ranges to meet your budget, whatever it is. Not everybody needs the top-of-the line plasma cutter.
We hope you find this guide helpful on your search for the best plasma cutter.
Table of Contents...
- 1 Best Plasma Cutter | Reviews
- 1.1 How a Plasma Cutter Works
- 1.2 Choosing the Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.3 Lotos LT5000D / Lotos LTP5000D
- 1.4 Lotos LTP5000D | Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.5 Lotos LTPDC2000D | Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.6 Hobart 500564 AirForce 12i / 500565 AirForce 27i
- 1.7 Zeny CUT-50 | Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.8 Primeweld Ct520d | Plasma Cutter
- 1.9 Lotos CT520D | Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.10 Forney 302 —
- 1.11 Forney 317 —
- 1.12 Forney 303 —
- 1.13 Lotos LTP8000
- 1.14 Conclusion | Best Plasma Cutter
- 1.15 Inverters and Plasma Cutters
- 1.16 Plasma Cutter Safety
Best Plasma Cutter | Reviews
When plasma cutters first came onto the scene in the 1960s, no one would have thought they would be accessible to the general public. Even in the 1980s, when they became more popular, plasma cutters still remained equipment that was used in metal fabrication workshops and factories. A lot has changed since then and modern technology has made it possible for even hobby metal workers to own one.
So, if you’re still using cutting discs, it’s about time that you got with the program. Plasma cutting makes the job safer, easier, faster, and you’re able to work with complete accuracy, even when cutting complex shapes.
If you compare plasma cutters to oxy-fuel cutters that also use high temperature to melt through metal, there are several advantages to using an inverter arc over a gas fueled flame. A plasma cutter will work much faster and cut with greater precision. The concentrated cutting arc reduces heat dispersion, so you don’t have the problem of the metal warping. They are much easier to use too, there’s no need to adjust gas settings to control the flame and the metal does not need to be preheated before you start cutting.
High frequency inverter technology | Ramsond CUT 50DX
If you want a professional plasma cutter then you’ll love the Ramsond CUT 50DX. The reason why it’s great is because it’s an inverter plasma cutter.
Automatic Dual Voltage/Dual Frequency (110/220v 50/60Hz) // Integrated Digital Display of Current (Amps) and Pressure Gauge.
Digital amp display and integrated pressure gauge.
How a Plasma Cutter Works
Plasma cutters use inverters to create an arc, making them relatively small, light and affordable. Just as MIG welders use an electric arc and inert gasses to melt metal, a plasma cutter does the same – only with the opposite effect. Instead of feeding metal wire into the arc to weld metal, the cutter uses compressed air to blow away the molten metal, leaving a perfectly cut edge.
If you’re used to using a cutting disc to cut metal, you’ll be used to all the complications and safety hazards associated with this method of cutting. Firstly, you have to contend with shavings of super-heated metal flying across your work are, creating a serious safety hazard. Then there’s that jamming that happens when the sheet moves causing your cut to pinch the disc and the machine jams or kicks back – not a pleasant experience and quite dangerous at times. A plasma cutter does away with these hazards and your safety precautions are simpler and the risks more predictable. Later in the article, we’ll discuss the safety precautions that you should take when using a plasma cutter.
Where the plasma cutter comes into its own, is when you’re cutting curves and detailed shapes. It quite literally cuts like a hot knife through butter. When you’re cutting curved shapes with a disc, you have to make a series of straight cuts in a rough form around the curve and then grind and file the metal to form the curve. This always takes up a lot of your time and a fair amount of skill and patience is involved. With a plasma cutter, you move the arc along any line, pretty much like tracing a line with a pencil. The end result is a perfect cut with no jagged edges or burrs. Any shape is left with a clean and finished edge.
Choosing the Best Plasma Cutter
What you need to decide on is the power of the machine. Obviously, a more powerful plasma cutter is going to be more expensive. Powerful handheld plasma cutters can cut through metal up to 1.5” in thickness. This is probably way in excess of what most home users and smaller metal fabricators will require. You’ll probably find that a machine capable of around ½” is more what you’re looking for and cutters of this caliber are in a more reasonable price range.
So let’s take a look at some of the best plasma cutters that meet will meet the expectations of the small workshop owner or metalworking hobbyist.
Lotos LT5000D / Lotos LTP5000D
- 50 Amp digital inverter air plasma cutter
- Automatic dual voltage/dual frequency (110/220-Volt 50/60 Hz)
- PAPST advanced German cooling system
- Cuts any kind of clean metal, including aluminum
- Max cut thickness: 1/2 in.
- Max severance thickness: 3/4 in.
- Compatible consumables are Lotos LCON only.
- Includes: Plasma cutting torch CL133 (13ft long, 3 prong connection); Ground cable & clamp (6ft long); Air hose (6ft long); 4 air hose clips and 2 air hose connections; Air filter gauge AR01; Mounting bracket for air filter AR01; Air filter AR01 and user Manual.
Both the Lotos 5000 models have a capacity of 10A-50A giving them the ability to cut through stainless steel, alloy steel, mild steel, copper, and aluminum up to ½” thickness for a clean cut and ¾” severance (duty cycle is 60% at 50A)
They make use of a MOSFET transistor inverter with electronic Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) to give a high power current with a high level of control over the arc. The switch power inverter system makes them incredibly light for a plasma cutter with this amount of power, weighing 22.5LBS. The design is compact and very portable with a sturdy carrying handle. Dimensions are Height: 12”; Length: 15” and Width: 6”.
The German designed PAPST cooling system is about the best available. The superior cooling to the inverter allows for longer working times without overheating and better durability of the machine itself.
Controls are well laid out and simple to use. It has an on/off switch, current selection dial, and an over-current warning light. There’s no need for any expert knowledge when it comes to figuring out the operation of this machine. These plasma cutters are able to run on an 110V 60HZ AC power supply or 240V 50HZ AC supply (for use outside of the USA), the supply voltage is automatically detected.
The kit comes with a 10 feet gas pipe and control lead, cutting torch with push-button activation, and a grounding cable with a heavy-duty clamp. The connectors for the ground cable and gas pipe are easy twist-lock fittings. You also get brass nipples and tightening clamps for the gas cylinder connections.
Lotos LTP5000D | Best Plasma Cutter
Features (Lotos LTP5000D):
- Compact plasma cutter has a handle for portability and uses non-hazardous compressed air to cut stainless steel, alloy steel, mild steel, copper, and aluminum
- Pilot arc torch efficiently cuts though rough, painted, and rusty surfaces and produces minimal slag
- MOSFET transistor produces a uniform output to enable cutting of thin metal and can reach high power output for cutting thick metal
- Dual voltage capability allows the machine to run directly on 220V 50/60 Hz power, or on 110V 50/60 Hz with the use of a pigtail (sold separately)
- 50 Amp Digital Inverter Air Plasma Cutter
- Automatic Dual Voltage / Dual Frequency (110/220V 50/60Hz)
- Robust Infineon (By Siemens) IGBT Power Drive Matrix with Pilot arc Function integrated
- PAPST Advanced German Cooling System
- Max Severance Thickness: 3/4″
- Max Cut Thickness: 1/2″
- Includes a plasma torch, ground clamp and cable, air regulator, air hose, and air hose connections
While these two plasma cutters are the same in most aspects, the Lotos LTP5000D has an advancement on the less sophisticated Lotos LT5000D. The LTP5000D has an IGBT power drive matrix supplied by Siemens, they call it Robust Infineon. Apart from the increased durability provided by the use of IGBT technology, the main advantage of this is a pilot arc.
There’s no need for any contact with the metal to initiate the arc. This means that the Lotos LTP5000D is able to cut metal that has not been cleaned, has a painted surface or has rust. If you’re using the simpler LT5000D, the metal will have to be properly cleaned and all rust and paint need to be removed before you can begin cutting.
Both these plasma cutters offer excellent power, 50A is probably more than many will require. The superior design of the inverter on the Lotos LTP5000D is certainly a big advantage and I can see why many will be willing to pay extra for this technology. A 1-year warranty is offered for both.
Lotos LTPDC2000D | Best Plasma Cutter
- 50-amp digital inverter air plasma cutters
- Automatic dual voltage / dual frequency (110/220-volt 50/60Hz)
- PAPST advanced German cooling system
- Suitable for Stainless Steel, Alloy Steel, Mild Steel, Copper, Aluminum and other metal materials
If you’re using a plasma cutter, you’re almost certainly using a welder as well, the two tend to go hand in hand. Since inverter welders and plasma cutters use much of the same technology, it makes sense to combine them into one unit. This means a cheaper outlay (you’re getting two machines in one) and the convenience of having both your welder and cutter in one portable unit. Lotos has put this logic into practice in the form of the Lotos LTPDC2000D. It’s a 50A plasma cutter combined with a 200A TIG welder that also functions as an MMA (stick) welder.
The plasma cutting features are the same as the Lotos LTP5000D. It provides up to 50A of cutting power for cuts up to ½” in thickness and ¾” severance. It also has the advanced inverter design that allows for a pilot arc and is, therefore, able to cut through rough, painted or rusted metal.
It also has the ability to perform TIG welding tasks with current settings from 15A-200A. Among the great welding features you also have the option of a foot pedal control, so can control your arc as you weld. The third added benefit comes in the form of an MMA welder with up to 200A of power. All these added features increase the weight considerably to 44.5 LBS. While the weight is almost doubled, the machine is still quite portable, measuring 17” X 8” X 12.5” and it has the same design as the other two Lotos plasma cutters that we’ve looked at with a carrying handle at the top.
The kit that comes with the machine provides everything you’ll need to use it as a plasma cutter or welder. So you get all the gas connections and regulators, industrial strength ground cable and clamp and the guns for TIG welding and plasma cutting as well as a stick welding fitting.
The control panel has more operations than the Lotos plasma cutters to allow for the multiple operations. The single current control dial is calibrated for both low amperage settings for cutting (up to 50A) and high amperage welding (up to 200A). A three-way toggle switch allows the user to select between the plasma cutter, TIG welding, and MMA welding options.
It has a time delay switch that can be set for either 2.5 sec or 5 sec. A third toggle switch allows for it to alternate between machine or pedal control and there’s a digital display for current output. This machine will also adjust between 120V/60Hz and 240V/50Hz AC input voltage automatically. The 15 FT cutting torch cable length is another great advantage, giving you a lot of room to move when working on larger jobs.
The Lotos LTPDC2000D is more expensive than other plasma cutters but when you compare the cost of buying a TIG/MMA welder as a separate unit, the price makes perfect sense. It’s cheaper than buying all these items separately and you won’t have to store or transport two units for cutting and welding. It’s the perfect all in one solution for people who need to cut and weld a variety of metal types. Like the other two Lotos models, this one also has a 1-year warranty and 30-day money back guarantee. I’m very impressed with the concept of this design.
Hobart 500564 AirForce 12i / 500565 AirForce 27i
- Built in Air Compressor
- Cuts faster than oxy fuel
- Smaller heat-affected zone for less warping
- No gas pressure settings for flame tuning needed
- More precise cut, thinner kerf, less slag to clean up
Both these plasma cutters are small lightweight units, designed for portability. Taking a glance at the specs and comparing the price of these Hobart cutters to the Lotos machines may leave some wondering why you would want to pay more for either of the Hobart models when they don’t have nearly as much cutting power.
The reason why many may prefer the Hobart models goes beyond their stellar reputation for robust quality. The technology used on the Hobart plasma cutters is far superior to any of the cheaper options. A notable advantage of the Hobart AirForce 27i is the power factor correction which reduces the input current demand by up to 30%. This means that it draws considerably less current than most others in this power range.
A lower mains amperage is required and it can run off a generator rated for 6 kW and upwards. Both the smaller AirForce 12i and the Airforce 27i have line voltage compensation which stabilizes the voltage supplied to the cutting torch with compensation of up to 15%. You end up with a much more reliable arc when the input voltage fluctuates giving a more even and cleaner cut.
They both have post flow cooling. A jet of air continues to blow onto the cutting tip after the trigger is released which helps to cool it down, extending the life of the tip and consumables. The air on demand cooling system uses a thermostatic control so that the cooling fan only runs when needed, reducing the power consumption.
So let’s take a look at the performance and general specifications of each model.
The Hobart AirForce 12i is the smallest of the two, weighing only 26.7 LBS. It is designed to operate with normal 120V AC mains power with an input current rating of 20A. Output is limited to cutting metal with a thickness of ⅛” and a severance of ¼”. This is due to a lower output current of 12A at 110VDC for a 30% duty cycle.
It has a built-in air compressor and thermal overload protection. Both the torch and ground cables are 12 FT in length, giving good working capabilities. It’s very simple to use with a basic on/off switch and the necessary warning lights on the control panel. The XT 12R torch is designed for user comfort, improved cooling and easy operation with a safety trigger and economical cutting tips.
The Hobart AirForce 27i is a larger more powerful unit, weighing slightly more at 27.8LBs. The dual input voltage of either 120V or 240V AC gives one the versatility of a Multi-Voltage Plug (MPV) for either normal household power or the option of using 240V which will increase the cutting power.
Your output power using a 240V power supply is 27A at 92VDC for a 35% duty cycle. If you’re using a 120V 20A input, a 27A cutting current at 92VDC will reduce your duty cycle to 20%, a 35% duty cycle at 120V 15A input will reduce your cutting power to 20A at 88VDC, ultimately reducing your cutting thickness capabilities. At 27A you’re able to cut through metal of a ¼” at 25 IPM and ⅜” thickness at 14 IPM. It also has 12 FT cables and the XT30R cutting torch on this model has the same benefits as on the smaller one.
Buying Hobart equipment comes with a certain amount of confidence especially when it comes to their 5/3/1 warranty. Though with plasma cutters you’re looking at a 3-year warranty for most of the components and 1 year for the cutting torch. Most people who are familiar with Hobart technology are willing to pay extra for the peace of mind that comes with buying their products. A longstanding reputation for quality and one of the best warranty agreements is part of the Hobart legacy.
500565 AirForce 27i | Best Plasma Cutter
Features (500565 AirForce 27i):
- New ergonomic plasma torch design – reduces operator fatigue and provides a full 27 amps of cutting power.
- Compatible with Engine-Driven Welders – Complete cutting capability when powered by an engine-driven welder with a 240 V generator power outlet of 6 kW or more.
- Multi-Voltage Plug (MVP) – Allows you to connect to common 120 or 230 V power receptacles without the use of any tools – simply choose the plug that fits the receptacle.
- Post-flow Air Cooling – Cools the torch and tip after cutting, extending life of replaceable tip and electrode.
- Fan-On-Demand – Runs only when needed reducing dust/debris pulled into unit.
- Wind Tunnel Technology – Prevents abrasive dust and particles from damaging internal components.
- Thermal Overload Protection – Built to withstand tough working environments. Rated for 35% duty cycle at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Duty cycle will increase as environmental temperature decreases.
- Cable Management Strap – Secures torch, work cable and power cord to make transporting easy and convenient.
- Line Voltage Compensation (LVC) – Provides peak performance power under variable input voltage conditions (±15%) for steady and cleaner ending cuts.
Zeny CUT-50 | Best Plasma Cutter
- Voltage:110/220V, 60HZ — 3.5/4.8KVA
- Duty cycle : 60%: Efficiency : 85%
- Max cutting thickness : 1-12mm
- Main Fuse:16/22A
- Current range : 20-50A
- Protection class : IP21S — Insulation class : F
I must admit that I don’t have any previous experience with this brand and when I looked at the price, I was rather skeptical. It’s exceptionally cheap for a 50A plasma cutter with a rated 60% duty cycle. Though, one has to keep an open mind and remain objective. To help inform you about the product, I took a long look at what customers have to say about the Zeny CUT-50 and it seems that people love it.
Though, most users have said it’s a great machine for its price. This kind of says to me that you get what you pay for. Without exception, people who have used it feel that it lives up to its power rating and so you can compare it to the Lotos 50A plasma cutters in terms of cutting thickness and duty cycle. Up to around ½” with a 60% duty cycle – definitely good for its price.
As far as quality goes, it seems this is a case of you get what you pay for. The hoses and cutting torch don’t seem to be of the highest quality standards and some people have replaced the standard hose with heavy-duty aftermarket products. When all’s said and done, it’s a good machine for those who are not going to work it too hard. It’s very portable and weighs only 24.4LBs, dimensions are 18.5” X 13.5” X 11”.
Video | See the Zeny CUT-50 in Action
The controls are very easy and it has a digital display for current readings. The current control knob is calibrated from 20A-50A and it has a 2.5 sec or 5 sec time setting. It can run on either 120V or 240V. If you’re going to use it on thicker metals with a decent duty cycle, you’ll need a 240V AC supply. It comes with all the fittings and regulators to get you started and they even include a chipping hammer and hand-held welding mask.
I’d recommend the Zeny CUT-50 to hobbyist metal workers who are going to use it occasionally and can’t justify paying extra for a more sophisticated machine. If you’re working with it on a daily basis, it probably won’t hold up as well as the more expensive options. So, I’ll agree with the majority opinion that it’s a very good option for its price.
- 1pc x cutting torch LG-40
- 1pc x earth clamp
- 1pc x AIR Regulator
- 2pcs x Plasma Tip
- 1pcs x PG Head
- 2pcs x gas pipe clasper
- 2pcs x hoop
- 1pc x English Manual
- Chipping Hammer/ Wire Brush
- Welding Face Mask
- 1pc x Pressure reducing valve
- 1pc x Goggles
Primeweld Ct520d | Plasma Cutter
- Combines plasma cutting, TIG/stick and arc welding functions in 1
- Input power frequency: 50Hz / 60Hz
- Power efficiency: 85%
- Built in Air Guage 3 year Warranty
The Primeweld is a budget alternative to the Lotos LTPDC2000D. It is a plasma cutter with a 50A rating combined with a 200A TIG/stick welder. Your working capabilities are identical to the Lotos model, being able to cut through metal up to ½” with a duty cycle of 60%. You also get the same welder combination.
Where the Primeweld falls short in comparison to the more expensive Lotos machine is in its inverter design. This one uses parallel MOSFET transistors without the advantage of IGBT technology. This means there’s no pilot arc and you, therefore, forego the advantage of cutting painted, rusted or rough surfaces. IGBT technology also has the benefit of being more reliable. Later on in this article, we will compare these technologies.
The control panel on the Primeweld Ct520d is very impressive. Apart from all the controls that one would normally get, like those on the Lotos combination plasma cutter and welder, you also get a control for gas flow on the machine making this one more convenient to use. In addition to the digital current display, it also has an analog air pressure gauge. This is definitely a very user-friendly machine. Like the Lotos model, this one also has a foot pedal control.
Portability is great and it weighs 32 LBS. It is able to run on dual voltage 115V/230V AC input power, adding to its versatility.
As a budget welder cutter combo, the Primeweld Ct520d is a fantastic deal. In terms of quality, it fares well and the only disadvantage to this machine is its less sophisticated inverter.
Lotos CT520D | Best Plasma Cutter
- [Plasma Cutter] 50AMP Plasma Cutter Current Output; Max Ideal Cut Thickness: 1/2″ ; Max Severance Thickness: 3/4″; Compact Plasma Cutter Has a Handle for Portability and Uses Non-Hazardous Compressed Air to Cut Stainless Steel, Alloy Steel, Mild steel, Copper, and Aluminum;
- [TIG Welder] 15-200AMP DC TIG Electric Current Output. Quality TIG welding on Stainless or Steel and Precise Welding of Thinner-gauge Materials;HF; Both HF start hand torch control and Support Precise Foot Pedal Welding Heat Control(Foot Pedal NOT Include).
- [Stick/MMA Welder] 15-200AMP DC Stick/MMA Electric Current Output; Easy ARC Start,Stable Welding Arc,Deep Weld Pool and Beautiful Welding Shape; Adjustable Hot Striking Arc Current which Can Greatly Improve the Arc-Starting Function; Suitable for Welding with Different Kinds of Acid or Basic Electrode
- [Dual Voltage] Automatic Dual Voltage / Dual Frequency (110/220V 50/60Hz); Dual Voltage Capability Allows the Machine to Run Directly on 220V 50/60 Hz Power, or on 110V 50/60 Hz with the Use of a Pigtail (sold separately)
- Combines plasma cutting, TIG/stick and arc welding functions in 1 machine
Input power frequency: 50 Hz / 60 Hz (better performance at 60 Hz)
- Power efficiency: 85%
- Larger TIG welding torch (with long and short caps) (12 ft. x 4 in.)
- Air filter/regulator with accessories and brackets included
- Cuts all types of metal up to 1/2 in. with 50 Amp plasma cutting function
- Hand carrying weight at 32 lbs.
If you put the Lotos CT520D next to the Lotos LTPDC2000D, you’ll wonder what the difference is. They look exactly same. It took me a while to figure out what the difference actually is and why this one costs less. The difference lies in the inverter, this one is pretty much the same as the Primeweld Ct520D, it doesn’t have the IGBT setup and therefore doesn’t have a pilot arc. It weighs slightly less than the other Lotos model (38.55 LBS) but for the rest, the specs are the same, so I won’t bore you by repeating them.
Your next question may be, what’s the difference between the Lotos CT520D and the Primeweld CT520D? The model numbers are exactly the same and so is functionality. Basically, there is no difference, though the Lotos is slightly more expensive.
If I were to choose, I’d be more inclined toward to the Lotos, simply because I’m more familiar with the brand. This is no indication as to which is actually a better buy and is merely an opinion based brand familiarity. In fact, the Primeweld has a much better control panel design with all your controls and gauges in one convenient place. So, based on this, many would prefer the Primeweld.
This is a decision that will have to be left up to the individual. With the question being, is the Lotos brand really worth paying more for?
Package Includes : TIG welding torch TT135 (13 ft long, 3 pin connection); TIG accessory kit TA01(includes 3 pieces shield cups, 3 collets and 1 collet body); Plasma cutting torch CL135 (13ft long, 3 pin connection); Stick welding electrode holder (6ft long); Ground clamp (6ft long); Air hose (6ft long); 4 air hose clips & 2 air hose connections; Argon regulator AR02 and user Manual.
Forney Plasma Cutter Models:
I would place Forney in very much the same category as Hobart when it comes to the brand. Both of these manufacturers are at the higher end of the market, aimed at professional workshops and the more serious DIY user. Forney is a brand that is associated with high-quality welding equipment and for this, they charge a premium.
Forney 302 —
Features (Forney 302):
- Integrated consumable storage area air pressure regulator and dryer
- High duty cycle and cutting capacity and runs off standard 120-Volt household power
- 15 ft. power cable ground cable and torch for large working envelope
- Cutting thickness recommended: 1/4 in. up to 3/8 in. dimensions
As someone who’s serious about tools and recognizes the value of top brands (through many years of experience), I’m always willing to pay more for a brand that I’ve come to trust. You just need to look at the cutting torch, gas pipe and cables on these Forney models to see that they are serious about quality and maintaining their brand integrity.
Unfortunately, they don’t provide a big range of specs on their website, so we’re only able to look at the basics. I suppose they don’t feel too much need to brag about their products. All you really need to know is that it’s a Forney, so you can be assured of the highest levels of design and robust build. For the rest, you’ll only be looking at what the cutting capabilities are in terms of amps and duty cycle.
Let’s start by taking a look at the junior model in the Forney plasma cutter range. The Forney 302 115V 20A 325P is perfect for cutting metal from ¼” (clean cut) up to ¾” severance. The output of 10A-20A places it in the same output range as most of the smaller units in this review. Being small, it is equally portable, weighing 30 LBS and measuring 17” X 8” X 15.5”. There’s a very nice little storage compartment built into the machine which is great for keeping all your tips and small consumables together, this can be of great value for people who move it about regularly.
The drag cut ability of all the Forney plasma cutters that we’re looking into is fantastic for those who want to work with extra precision and accuracy. It allows you to drag the tip along the metal surface keeping it in contact with the piece that you’re cutting at all times.
The control panel is neatly laid out and simple to use. There’s a control knob for adjusting amp output and three LED warning lights. It has a very well designed carrying handle with a hanger to coil up the 15 FT work cable and gun connection. This plasma cutter runs off a regular 115V 20A household power outlet, excellent for home users.
Forney 317 —
Features (Forney 317):
- Uses electrical arc and compressed air to cut steel, aluminum and other conductive metals
- Drag torch technology allows you to move torch directly across the metal surface for precise cuts
- Easy to use and operate
- Comes with a built-in air compressor and lightweight inverter power supply
- Thermal overload protection
Moving up the price range and we’re looking at the Forney 317 115FI. It has the same power output as the previous Forney that we just looked at, peaking at 20A. This machine costs a bit extra because it has a built-in compressor, so there’s no need for an external compressor or gas cylinders, making it ideal for people who rate portability as important. The compressor has built-in filters and water extraction. The compressor adds some extra weight, taking it up to 38.9 LBS, which is still easy enough to carry about. It is very similar to the Hobart AirForce 12i which also has a built-in compressor and the same power output.
Forney 303 —
Features (Forney 303):
- Dual voltage inputs along with removable torch and ground cable for convenience and versatility
- Large storage area for cables consumables and tools
- Integrated air pressure regulator and dryer
- Dual input 230V (50A) or 120V (20A) High output of 40A max Improved design: Integrated consumable storage
- Integrated air pressure regulator and dryer
- Removable torch, ground cable and clamp for easy repairs
- Torch wrap for storage Drag torch technology
- Larger work envelope: 15′ power cable, ground cable and torch lead
- Versatility: Portable and generator friendly 2 consumable kits for either maximum performance or maximum versatility
- Rated Output: 20A – 40A
- Plate Thickness Range: Cutting thickness recommended: 1/2″ and up to 3/4″
- Dimensions: 19″9.5″x16.5″
If you’re looking for a Forney plasma cutter that will allow you to work on thicker materials, the Forney 303 40A model will definitely be of interest to you. It has dual voltage capabilities with an adapter plug for either 215V or 230V AC power supply. Using a 230V 50A AC power supply, it will deliver 40A power output or 20A at 115V. At maximum power, you’ll be able to cut through material that is ½” thick and sever up to ¾”.
Being a bigger machine, it weighs 49.3 LBS with dimensions of 19” X 9.5” X 16.5”. It has the same drag cut ability as the other Forney models and also has 15 FT working cables.
The Forney range of plasma cutters are among the best. They are Italian designed and built machines with an outstanding reputation for precision working and durability. Forney offers a 5/3/1 warranty, very much the same as Hobart does. These plasma cutters are my personal favorite, I like to feel that I’m investing my hard earned cash in something that’s going to last forever and give me ultimate performance.
- 80-Amp pilot arc plasma cutter
- Automatic dual frequency (50/60Hz)
- High frequency start and contact start hand torch
- Suitable for stainless steel, alloy steel, mild steel, copper and aluminum, etc.
- Max Rated Clean Cut Thickness: 1″.
- Max Severance Thickness: 1 1/2″. PAPST advanced German cooling system
- 60% duty cycle at 80A output & 100% duty cycle at 60A output.
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Lotos LTP8000.
For those few who need maximum cutting power, the Lotos LTP8000 is a very affordable high-powered plasma cutter. It has a maximum power output of 80A (60% duty cycle). This means that you are able to cut through a thickness of 1” and it has severance rating of 1½” inches. This is pretty much as powerful as gets with portable plasma cutters.
Like the other premium Lotos plasma cutters, this one also has the pilot arc. It’s ideal for cutting metal that is rusted, painted or has a rough surface. For a machine this powerful, you’re going to need a high current 240V AC supply. It is also larger than the others with quite a hefty weight – 45 LBS with dimensions of Height: 12”; Length: 19” and Width: 8”.
The control panel is similar to those found on other Lotos cutters. It has a dial for current settings and digital display for output current. A single warning LED will ignite if there are any problems and it has a switch to choose between normal and automatic operation. You get all the accessories that you need, including a gas regulator and filter, cutting torch and grounding cable with a durable clamp. The large machine is made easy to move with two strong carrying handles at the top.
The Lotos LTP8000 offers an economical solution for people doing heavy-duty metal fabrication. It is a quality item with a 1-year warranty.
Conclusion | Best Plasma Cutter
For most people reading this, plasma cutters with a current rating of around 20A should be quite sufficient. Cutting sheet metal body panels for cars or putting together a barbecue or some garden furniture won’t require you to cut through seriously thick metals. The level of accuracy required for most auto-body and DIY jobs also don’t require a very high level of cutting accuracy and so the cheaper models will be fine for this type of work.
If you need to cut through thicker materials, you’ll need a more powerful cutter (40-50A or even 80A in some cases). People cutting steel or iron for construction may well need something that is able to cut through heavy I-beams and other thick items. Likewise, cutting through heavy duty mountings on cars and trucks will require a machine that produces a higher current.
When it comes to the more expensive machines that provide improved accuracy, there are certain instances where this will be important. If you fabricate custom parts for cars or motorcycles, you’ll understand why this level of accuracy is important. Though I don’t know much about metal sculpture, there are many people who use plasma cutters for this purpose. I would think that if you’re a metal artist doing fine, detailed cutting, a plasma cutter with a more sophisticated inverter will be your better option.
Inverters and Plasma Cutters
In the early days, all plasma cutters used MOSFET technology in their inverters. These transistors use an electric field to control the current. The problem with MOSFET inverters is that they use several transistors in parallel. This means that if one transistor fails, the inverter no longer functions as it should. Subsequent advancements in electrical engineering have seen the development IGBT technology which does not have the same problem.
IGBT technology has the added benefit of greater electronic control. A CPU can monitor and control the inverter to compensate for voltage and current fluctuations in the supply voltage. The result is a very stable arc with constant length and stable current. This gives the user greater accuracy and the cutter is smoother and easier to use.
Plasma cutters with IGBT technology are preferred by metal fabricators who require a greater level of accuracy.
Plasma cutters with a built-in compressor are very handy. They all use high-pressure air or inert gasses for some metal types. This will require a compressor or gas/air cylinders to be connected. A built-in compressor means that you don’t need the external compressor or air cylinder for most metal types, making it simpler to use and much easier to transport – less equipment is needed.
Plasma Cutter Safety
Using a plasma cutter is similar to welding and the same safety precautions apply. You want to protect yourself from falling molten metal and for this, leather gloves and safety boots are essential. Protecting your eyes and skin from UV radiation is of utmost importance. This requires that you wear long sleeves and long pants at all times and wear eye protection. Here’s a list of what grade of eye protection is necessary for the type of plasma cutter that you are using.
- Below 20A: #4
- 20-40A: #5
- 40-60A: #6
- 60-80A: #8
Electrical safety is also very important. Apart from all the regular safety precautions that you would take when using a machine that is connected to mains power, you need to be aware of the DC output power of a plasma cutter. Open circuit output voltage produced by a plasma cutter can exceed 300 VDC. Remember that this power can melt metal, so just think what it can do to you.
Always route the ground cable so that it won’t be exposed to heat or falling molten metal. Use your cutting torch carefully and be mindful of the power cable and gas line connected to your cutting torch. If the insulation on any of the power cables is damaged, replace it before you attempt any other work. Replacement cables must be approved by the manufacturer, these are high-temperature cables designed for this type of application. Never use electrical insulation tape to patch damaged cables, you could be risking your life if you do.
Paying attention to electrical safety when working with plasma cutters is critical and you should never underestimate the power of high-current, high-voltage DC equipment.