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Inexpensive Plasma Cutters

I think you’ll find this short video interesting if you’ve never seen a plasma cutter in operation.  I found it while helping a friend look for a plasma cutter he can afford.  Of course, now I want one, which is not surprising considering my new son-in-law is a welder and we’d both like to have a well-equipped metal fabrication shop.  I’m also currently taking a MIG welding class and I’m obviously interested in machining and metalworking.  But I’m not sure if I can afford one right now.  My wife probably thinks a LCD TV would be a better use of our money and so would a new snow blower.  Hell is also freezing over soon and I’m going to have to buy my brother a wedding present.

Here are the machines I’ve researched so far and what I think of them.

Harbor Freight 240v plasma cutter with digital display

This unit is frequently on sale for $600.  It gets good reviews but some say it eats up consumables (cups, rings, tips, electrodes) pretty quickly and they’re expensive to buy.  It also runs on 220/240-volts and I’d prefer to get a dual-voltage machine that can also run on 110-volts.  It also has a fairly short (10-foot) hose and ground cable.  It comes with a 1-year warranty and you can also get an inexpensive 2-year extended warranty for it, which would eliminate most concerns about its durability.  Harbor Freight has a very good reputation for replacing products that break under warranty.

Hobart “Airforce” plasma cutters

Plasma cutters need compressed air to operate.  Hobart sells a line of plasma cutters with built-in air compressors, which I think is a really nice feature.  The 250ci, which runs on 115-volts, sells for about $800 and their dual-voltage (115/230v) model 500ci goes for about $1300.  The 115-volt machine can cut up to 1/4-inch thick steel.  That’s probably more than enough for most home shops, but I’d like to have the dual-voltage machine’s ability to cut steel up to 5/8-inch thick.  Unfortunately, the Hobart 500ci is way out of my price range.

Hobart is a trusted name in welding.  So getting service, parts and supplies is not going to be a problem.  Their plasma cutters come with a 1-year warranty but I’m a little concerned about the cost of getting one of these machines fixed if it breaks after the warranty expires.

I’d like to consider buying a new Miller, Lincoln or ESAB cutter but they’re even further out of my price range.  I often buy used equipment and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a good used plasma cutter if  I knew that they were generally reliable and durable.  But I don’t know if they are.  I don’t want to buy a used machine without a warranty and then have it stop working a few months later and find out it will cost me hundreds to get it fixed.

Plasma cutters manufactured by the Wenzhou Chiry company in China

The Cut 50 that you see in the video was made by Chiry.  Their plasma cutters are imported and sold under various names like Simadre, Longevity, Parker, Ramsond and many others.  They make two machines I’m interested in.  One is a dual-voltage (110/220v) plasma cutter that you can buy for as little as $370 (and maybe less) with free shipping on eBay.  They also have a dual-voltage 3-in-1 machine that is a plasma cutter, TIG welder and arc welder for $580 on eBay with free shipping and a free foot pedal control.  The other companies charge more, although not that much, but they often have better service and support and longer warranties.

I’ve read a lot of reviews and they’re pretty good, and many of them are very good.  But there seems to be a significant number of buyers who have received machines that were dead on arrival.  I find that a bit worrisome.  Also, if the machine breaks while under warranty you’re going to have to ship it back to the seller and hope that they’re still in business and will honor their promises.  By the way, most sellers offer a 1-year warranty and some offer a 3- or 5-year warranty.

There’s definitely some risk involved in buying one of these machines, especially if you buy one on eBay.  Even so, I’ve been very tempted the last few days to just roll the dice and order one, which is very unusual for me.

Here are some more reasons why I’m considering one of these machines:

  • I’d really like to have a dual-voltage machine and I can’t afford the one Hobart sells.  One reason is that I don’t have a 220-volt outlet in my garage yet, although that will probably change soon.  I’d also like to be able to take it and use it at a friend or relative’s house.  These plasma cutters are small and light (~20 pounds) and a 110-volt 20-amp outlet will provide enough power to cut most things.The Chiry machines will automatically adjust themselves to the voltage they’re plugged into, just like the Hobart will.  They don’t come with a power plug installed because they leave it up to you to install one for either a 110 or 220v outlet.  I’d put a 220v plug on it and then make up an adapter so it can be plugged into a 110v outlet.  That’s how I think Hobart does it.
  • The 3-in-1 machine doesn’t cost much more than just the plasma cutter.  I don’t care that it can arc weld, but I’d love to be able to do TIG welding.  One advantage of TIG is that it can weld more kinds of metals than the other welding processes.  However, the less expensive Chiry 3-in-1 machines can not weld aluminum because they’re DC only machines, not AC/DC.   Which I think is a good reason to get a better TIG welder instead. TIG can also create very small, clean and neat looking welds.  It also doesn’t produce any sparks, spatter, slag, smoke or fumes.  It’s also slower, requires more skill and you’ll also have to buy or rent a tank because it uses argon gas.

We obviously don’t have a lot of experience with plasma cutters.  So my friend and I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment if you have some advice or other suggestions for us.

Addendum

I’ve learned that there are two ways to start a plasma flame.  The least expensive torches use “high-frequency” or “contact” start that can interfere with computer or electrical equipment (CNC!).  They require you to touch the torch to bare metal to start the plasma flame.  More expensive torches usually use a pilot arc to start the flame, which will allow you to begin cutting before you come into contact with the metal.

Everlast sells a pilot arc plasma cutter (SuperCut 50P) for $650 (currently on sale $550) and Longevity sells a similar unit (ForceCut LP-50D) for $550.  They both come with free shipping and a five-year warranty.

14 comments to Inexpensive Plasma Cutters

  • PJ
    October 19, 2010 at 4:31 PM | Reply

    Not particular to plasma cutters, but:

    In general I look at auctions to find industrial tools for super cheap prices – this has two upsides 1) I didn’t pay much for it so if it costs a little more to make it workable, I just count that as additional purchase price and still come out ahead 2) sometimes I can pick up >1 machine at a time – one to use for spare parts. Downside: It’s often very time-consuming to sift through auctions and catalogs.

    Just a thought.

  • Robert Kinsman
    December 17, 2010 at 8:05 PM | Reply

    I have a Chiry Plasma cutter 40A and I don’t have a manual and there is a switch at the bottom it is 50 S and 10S and I don’t know what the switch is for. I bought it used and he did not have a manual. can you help me Bob Kinsman 248-797-9724 bbkinsman@wowway.com

  • Rob
    December 19, 2010 at 9:28 PM | Reply

    Bob, Do you have a combo machine (plasma, TIG and ARC)? And is it on the front panel near the bottom? If so, it may be to turn the optional foot pedal on and off. Also, check Everlast and Longevity’s web sites. They may have a manual for a machine that’s very similar to yours.

  • NHProEquip
    May 16, 2011 at 4:04 PM | Reply

    Just our $.2 – as a dealer in business for over 35 years, we are partial to longevity plasma cutters which uses pilot arc, as you’ve stated above. They are great, most of them maintain 100% continuous pilot arc, which makes the process so much easier and are really not that expensive. Rob is right, there may be a comparable manual on Longevity’s website.

    • Chase Allen
      December 17, 2014 at 8:19 AM | Reply

      I disagree with this. AVOID plasma cutters that have electrodes that screw in. The consumables screw in to the plasma torch tip and that’s a bad design due to all of the expansion of the metal due to the heat. The consumables of the Longevity cutter burn up very fast. Also, the company does not back their own warranty. I had a Longevity 42i and threw it away after only one year! BUYER BEWARE I recommend the Hypertherm Powermax 30 XP…a great torch and for the records, I don’t sell torches, I just use them daily.

  • Clive T
    June 26, 2011 at 11:58 PM | Reply

    I have just purchased one of the chiry 40 amp plasmasin Australia,but the manual does not specify any psi,cfm required just 0.45 mpa operating pressure. Does anybody know what size air compressors these machines need to run?

  • Rob
    June 27, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Reply

    If I’m not mistaken, .45 mpa is about 65 PSI, which most compressors can provide. But getting enough volume (CFM) might be a problem. I’d visit the Longevity or Everlast web sites and see which of their machines are the same or similar to yours. Then I’d ask them how much air they require.

    Since writing this post I’ve acquired a Miller Spectrum 375. The manual says it requires 4.5 CFM at 90 PSI, which is a lot of air. Yet the manual also says it’ll run on 60 PSI and the owner of a Miller dealership says it will run on a small pancake type compressor. So I’m confused about just how much air it needs. I suspect it depends on the thickness of the metal you’re cutting.

    Mine works fine with the 110-volt 2.5 HP 21-gallon Harbor Freight compressor I have in my workshop. But someday I may want to take and use it someplace that has a smaller compressor.

    BTW, make sure you get an air dryer or water remover. Plasma cutters need dry air.

  • Phonce
    November 21, 2011 at 3:45 PM | Reply

    Be very careful when buying the Chinese Everlast cutter. I read a post which this guy said his machine popped a Mosfet and he had a devil of a time getting his money back.

  • Clark Heintz
    February 5, 2012 at 6:24 PM | Reply

    Longevity is a great brand. Eastwood is too, and you can get the Tig Welder combo unit for a low price. Incidentally our shop bench tests anything that leaves from our shop before it is packaged and shipped, a good way for any shop to do business to ensure their customers get a properly functioning machine.

  • Mark
    November 26, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Reply

    The latest news I see on Longevity web site shows they have stopped the 5 year warranty and switched suppliers. They sell extended warranties that are costly.

    I am investigating the Eastwood dual voltage plasma due to the fact that it remains warrantied at a full 3yrs.

  • g molnar
    August 3, 2013 at 7:09 AM | Reply

    As a professional welder/fabricator I would urge you to stay away from any off brand machine especially those made in chi na…the quality of manufacturjng just isnt there..after reading what your looking for I would suggest the hobart 115 volt machine.as f ar as cutting thicker material up to 5/8 inch use a good old fashioned torch…for you to buy a plas that will cut material that thick cleanly youd be looking at a 480v machine that costs upwards of 10k ….and you have to consider the availibility of consumables hobart and esab are the easiest to find when you need them

  • Jason
    May 29, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Reply

    I know this is an old thread, but I have to speak to one the first commenter, PJ, said. Auctions are the way to go with finding the best plasma cutters used. You can get like new models for sometimes 1/10 the price. Craigslist and a quick search online are great ways to find the auctions. Save your $$$.

  • John
    December 5, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Reply

    I agree with G Molnar. I picked up a Chinese model a year or so ago. It worked for about a month. Then it basically just shut down. I’ve since gone to a Hobart AirForce 500i. I’ve had no issues whatsoever. Lesson to take away is that you get what you pay for with tools.

  • Chase Allen
    December 17, 2014 at 8:12 AM | Reply

    I have been a professional metal artist for 14 years. I loved my Lincoln pro-cut 25 that I had for 12 years but it finally died. I then bought the Longevity plasma cutter torch 42i and was immediately disappointed in the cutting ability. The consumables don’t last 1/3 as long as the pro-cut 25. After one month, the consumable electrode got stuck in the torch and I had to send it in. Beside the loss of production time, the company did not stand by the warranty of the torch. One year later the machine broke and I sent it in to be fixed. They again did not warranty the plasma cutter. I went and bought a Hypertherm powermac 30 Xp and am very pleased with how it cuts. It’s smaller but as powerful as the Longevity torch. The consumables last 3 times as long and there is no screwing the consumables in(which should never be an option because of the extreme heat of the torch). You place the consumables in the tip and crew on the top and your ready to cut. It’s strong and durable!! AVOID LONGEVITY PRODUCTS

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