The Right Tool for the Job
Not long ago plasma cutters were priced right out of the range of the average shop worker or hobbyist. The technology has advanced so rapidly these last few years that you can find plasma cutters for less than a few hundred dollars. On top of this price drop, plasma cutter distributors and manufacturers have moved most of their sales out of shops and onto the internet, making the purchase of a plasma cutter even cheaper and easier.
The major factor in buying a plasma cutter is not the price, but first choosing the category that best suits your specific needs, and then shopping around the different brands and reviews to find the best price and quality match that suits you from that category.
Below is a brief guide to finding the right category of plasma cutter for you.
Duty cycle: the longer the cutter is in continuous use, the higher the cut rating based on the amperage needs to be. Cutters cannot continuously cut at their ideal rating for extended periods, so you need to buy a higher rating if you plan to use it for long periods.
Input power: All cutters require a lot of power; most are rated for either 110 or 220 volts. The cutter you buy needs to have a minimum voltage that can be run by the outlets where you will use it. Do not forget that any other equipment running on the same outlet will reduce the output of the cutter.
Cutting speed: Cutting speed is one of the most important factors. Most cutters will have three cutting values: rated cut, quality cut, and sever cut. These values determine the speed and cleanliness of the cut at the different thickness values, with rated being the fastest and cleanest, and sever being the slowest and messiest. Choose the highest values that you will need the matching quality cuts for.
Start: All cutters have a contact start and a high-frequency start. A high-frequency start can interfere with the electronics in your shop.
Air supply: All cutters require an air supply. Some will use different gases and others will have built in air supplies. The built in air supplies can increase the price significantly.
Environment: Depending on the environment where the cutter will be used, you need to decide if you need to purchase a built-in fan. Cutters used in dirty environments without a fan will have a much shorter life and will require more maintenance.
Control Panel: Be sure that you can understand and interact with the model's control panel. Some advanced models can be quite technical, and the inexperienced user will find it difficult to use.
Built-In Inverter: Some plasma cutters come with built-in power inverters for use in places without proper power. This feature adds extra portability, but can be very expensive.
Portability: Some users will rarely move their cutters, while others will carry them to different jobs regularly. Cutters come in all shapes and sizes, and the more portable models will have significant extra costs.
Determine Your Category, Find a Price
Now that you have figured out exactly which features you want and do not want, it is time to start comparing prices and reading the reviews online. The price for most of the cutters in the same category will vary so even after narrowing the field it is still worth taking the time to shop around for the right price and quality combination. Good luck!