How to Choose a Plasma Cutter
Plasma cutters provide a simple, clean, and efficient way to safely cut metal. They are particularly popular with large cutting operations because they don’t require a pre-heating cycle, cut a wide variety of metals, and cut with a small kerf (the name for the area that is cut) that doesn’t warp or damage the metal. Perhaps the biggest drawback to a plasma cutter is the up front cost that ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. This means you’ll need to carefully plan your purchase, making sure you make the best choice possible.
Image Source: Renaissance Ronin
When purchasing a plasma cutter, take the following details into consideration:
Where Will You Use Your Plasma Cutter?
This basic question will make a significant difference right off the bat if you’re shopping for a plasma cutter. Portable units that can be moved around by hand range in weight from 45 to 18 pounds, while units designed for your shop or garage will need to be moved around on a cart or table with wheels. Make sure you purchase a plasma cutter that fits the uses you’re planning for it.
There’s no reason to purchase a very convenient tool that you can’t take where you need it!
How Long Will You Use Your Plasma Cutter?
While you clearly want your plasma cutter to last a long time, this question refers to the amount of time you expect to spend using your plasma cutter each time you cut with it. Making a few cuts for small home projects is quite different from a high capacity metal cutting operation that continuously uses its plasma cutters all day to cut large pieces of metal.
The duty cycle of a plasma cutter will tell you how long you can use a plasma cutter within a ten minute cycle before you need to stop to let it cool off. Keep in mind that the numbers listed for a machine’s duty cycle take into account the unit’s maximum output. Using a plasma cutter at a lower power will mean that you can cut for longer than specified by the duty cycle. Also take note that the temperature of your environment can either enhance or take away from the length of your duty cycle.
How Much Power Do You Need?
The type of metal and its thickness will determine what kind of plasma cutter you’ll purchase. Thinner metals can be cut at fast speeds, while thick metals will be cut at a much slower rate. The amount of power you need depends on the metal’s thickness, which is determined on an Inch Per Minute ratio based on cutting 10 inches per minute manually.
Miller offers the following example for its typical home workshop and hobbyist model: “Miller Electric's Spectrum® X-TREME 375 has a cut rating of 3/8-in. Rated cutting capacity is the speed at which an operator achieves a smooth, steady cut at 10 inches per minute (IPM). At 6 IPM, the Spectrum 375 X-TREME can cut 1/2-in. mild steel.”
A plasma cutter’s IPM ratio will determine how fast you’re able to work, and therefore if speed is a priority, learn more about the IPM rating that will work best for your projects.
What Else Do You Need to Consider for a Plasma Cutter?
Make sure your plasma cutter has a torch that is strong enough to withstand the tough work involved with plasma cutting. Also make sure you frequently check on and replace your cutting tip and electrode since the quality of your cuts will diminish as they wear out.
Learn More About Plasma Cutting
- About Plasma Cutting
- Tips for Improving the Quality of Your Plasma Cutting
- Plasma Cutting Overview and Tips