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Which Inexpensive Plasma Cutter?

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  • Which Inexpensive Plasma Cutter?

    I am a home welder, who works medium size projects. My current beginning project is a front end loader on a small tractor. Mostly to cut 3/16 and 1/4 inch mild steel, with some small pieces of 3/8.I don't need an industrial grade plasma cutter, or a CNC certified cutter. An El Cheapo Chinese cutter will do fine. Of course, if all the cheap ones are evil junk, I'll stay with my cutting torch.

    In evaluating cheap ($160 - $200) plasma cutters, what do I look for? What would cause one to stand out from another?

    Due to the "brushing"* scam, one can no longer trust "customer ratings" on the vendor sites.


    *"brushing" A vendor steals a few identities, and sends a product, unsolicited, to members of the buying service. The buyer's card gets charged for it, sometimes. The vendor then writes a glowing review, in the "buyer's" userid, and posts it. Readers will see "verified purchaser" next to the review, and so believe it's good. If the "buyer's" credit card is charged, the money is irretrievably gone, as it was bought under the buyer's userid. The credit company will deny the contest claim.

  • #2
    I bought a Herocut Cut55 from amazon a couple years ago and am pretty happy with it. My decision was based on the torch design. I wanted a pilot arc start not high frequency start, as I wanted the option to build a CNC table at some point in the future (it has a CNC port also). The dual voltage option was also pretty nice, and not something often found on other cheap models. I use it on 240v at home, but have taken it to work a couple times and run it off 120v. It's easier for me to get full sheets delivered to work, and chop them up to bring home, so that was a big plus.

    The one thing I was ignorant on was that the torch is not a drag tip. It's not a big deal depending on what you're doing, and you CAN buy drag tips for an ipt-60 torch, but the stock tips that come with it are meant to be used with a non conducting stand off (included). The only plasma cutters I'd used prior to purchase was an ESAB and Hypertherm, both were drag tips and I thought they were ALL like that. The stock torch tip and stand off it pretty big and awkward to use with templates if that something you foresee doing. Something to consider.

    I know that didn't really guide you towards one brand or another, just outlined some choices I made when picking mine. I just looked on amazon now while typing this and there are so many more options now than there was 2 years ago. I don't have any specific brand advice advice other than to say they're fun to use . They're probably all pretty similar in construction and function now. Pick one that matches the colour of your welding gear and go for it .

    I was probably one of the first buyers of the cut55 on Amazon as there were no reviews at the time and they had very limited stock. Normally I research stuff to death, but I rolled the dice and gambled. I was pretty close to buying a Hypertherm, and after missing out on a used 45xp for $1000 I pulled the trigger on the import one and haven't regretted the decision. Almost bought an Everlast too, but it was twice as much money. If I used it everyday I might sing a different tune, but for the once every few months I fire it up my limited shop budget could be better spent elsewhere.

    I felt compelled to leave a review on amazon, and was the first to do so for that item. I've bought many things off amazon over the years, and one of the best things about it is the reviews although I've never left one before that (or since).

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    • #3
      Yes, so many choices. I guess one criterion could be a brand that has been around for awhile. I have never heard of Vevor, or EMZ. I have heard of Evergreen, Lotos, Esab, Miller, and Lincoln, but they have become too pricey. As you mentioned, once every couple of months.

      Drag tip or pilot arc tip. Looks like I need to learn a little more. Thanx.

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      • #4
        I'm reading reviews where there are 50+ reviews. One or two are totally lies. Too hard to fabricate 50+.

        One issue seems to be that 50 amps almost chokes on 3/8. The ads state 9/16. 60 amp, the price rises dramatically. 80 amp is just too much.

        Another issue is cheapo ground clamp, drier that leaks, and very short ground cable.

        An alarming issue seems to be DOA. Dead on arrival. A significant number. Scary.

        OK. If YOU had to buy a 50 amp plasma cutter, what would YOU look for? Are they all pretty much the same?

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        • #5
          I have a harbor freight plasma, older one, 40 amp. A friend bought a CUT50 off ebay a year or so ago, somewhere around $200. When he got it he brought it over to my shop to show/try. I was totally amazed at how that thing cut !!! We started with some 1/4 just to see if it worked and then kept going thicker, it cut 1/2 with no problem at all !! I was amazed, my 40A harbor freight unit struggles to do 3/8, must be Chinese amps are not all the same LOL Now its been over a year and my friend uses that CUT50 a lot and its still going strong with no complaints.

          Of course, import stuff like this keeps changing and its hard to tell one version from another even if they have the same model number.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Sparky_NY View Post
            I have a harbor freight plasma, older one, 40 amp. A friend bought a CUT50 off ebay a year or so ago, somewhere around $200. When he got it he brought it over to my shop to show/try. I was totally amazed at how that thing cut !!! We started with some 1/4 just to see if it worked and then kept going thicker, it cut 1/2 with no problem at all !! I was amazed, my 40A harbor freight unit struggles to do 3/8, must be Chinese amps are not all the same LOL Now its been over a year and my friend uses that CUT50 a lot and its still going strong with no complaints.

            Of course, import stuff like this keeps changing and its hard to tell one version from another even if they have the same model number.
            (big grin) So... quality control is an oxymoron? Ya pays ya money and ya take ya chance.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by John Buffum View Post

              (big grin) So... quality control is an oxymoron? Ya pays ya money and ya take ya chance.
              sadly, import stuff is pretty much that way. Good thing with ebay though, if its DOA or some other issues on arrival, they will refund you.

              I recently bought a $650 tig welder (AHP) that is a import, it is fantastic ! A comparable miller would cost $4K Same warranty. Many have reported their miller had a board fail, just out of warranty and the replacement was close to $1000, so is it worth the risk? Up to the individual in the end.

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              • #8
                I've had good luck with Miller, but my 210 MIG was bought in 2002, and my Econotig was bought used. The stick portion of the Econotig is very good. But, yes, Miller is expensive. That's like Dewalt, Milwaukee, and Ridgid cost way more then Craftsman and Ryobi. Pro vs homeowner. I paid $1,400 for the 210. Look at what a Lotos or Simadre MIG costs. You could buy five for what I paid in 2002 dollars.

                OK. Chit/chat over. In evaluating these plasma cutters, how can I tell the good from the bad and the ugly?

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                • #9
                  The Prime Weld Cut 60 gets good reviews. The bottom of the market is full of offers that have various issues based on reviews. Remember you need to buy consumables for what ever torch like object they include in their package. And you need to have a stock of them. I recently heard a marketing example of a customer that had gone over to the Hypertherm Powermax from a competitor and they were now using half the consumables they were prior with the same air. Hypertherm is the standard all others compare themselves to. They also invented the blow back torch plasma.
                  Mike
                  Central Ohio, USA

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                  • #10
                    AHA! Thank you! Usable information. OK. Forget 50 amp. Go 60 amp. Spend more up front but pay less in consumables. Check Hypertherm.

                    Now for some research. Oooh! Miller and Lincoln price levels, or am I looking in the wrong place?

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                    • #11
                      Amps don't mean the same from machine to machine either. A quality machine like a 45A hypertherm is probably as effective as a 50-60A cheapo from China. If I was in your shoes I'd first look for a 2nd hand hypertherm.

                      I still ended up with a 70A chinese made machine though, was in a hurry and the 2nd hand market here was dry. But the german reseller had a 7 year warranty and has been known to honor it so I figured worth a try.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by DennisCA View Post
                        Amps don't mean the same from machine to machine either. A quality machine like a 45A hypertherm is probably as effective as a 50-60A cheapo from China. If I was in your shoes I'd first look for a 2nd hand hypertherm.

                        I still ended up with a 70A chinese made machine though, was in a hurry and the 2nd hand market here was dry. But the german reseller had a 7 year warranty and has been known to honor it so I figured worth a try.
                        How did the Chinese junk work out for you?

                        My next door neighbor's son has a Chinese machine that also does stick welding. Brand name AMP. You can't buy that brand, anymore. They've never cut with it. It's one of those 110/220 machines. They weld with 220.

                        Eager to hear about your Chinese machine.

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                        • #13
                          Well it worked for the cuts I needed to make, I've used it perhaps three times in total since July so I can't say I've put it through it's paces, it was able to cut 25mm or 1" material though when I tested it. I then used it to cut 10mm plate (~3/8s) for a project. This is a 3 phase machine. I'm putting together a gas cutting rig as well.







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                          • #14
                            I bought a LOTOS plasma off Amazon about a year ago and I'm happy with it so far. it has a few more features and is more expensive than the low end units but being able to do interrupted cuts and through paint is worth it to me.
                            https://www.amazon.com/Lotos-LTP5000.../dp/B0052OX876

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                            • #15
                              Check out Amico. May exceed your 100-200 a bit but they stock and ship from the US. I bought one of their 130A flux welders (120/240) last month and have was pleased with their customer service.

                              As for Amazon customer ratings (and others), I find the 4, 3, and 2 star ratings more realistic / helpful.

                              Let us know what you end up with and how it works.

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