I love putting down intricate designs on metal pieces. Sometimes I do it for professional reasons, while mostly I do it to collect my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation I’ve developed over the years. However, the restrictions that tagged along with using plasma cutters were a serious headache.
There was no way of moving the cutter without carrying the not-so-lift-friendly air compressors. I was looking for options whether I could ditch the compressor-buddy. My dreams were materialized when manufacturers decided to take the innovation a step further.
Now, I’ve got some of the plasma cutters that have compressors built in. Thus, the days of carrying around two bulky machines when I needed some air have come to an end.
I think having the best plasma cutter with built-in compressor is a flexibility-fanatic’s dream. However, the sheer amount of options out there now would make even the most stoic customer quiver. That’s why, I decided to shed some light on the products I’ve used and how they’ve been of service.
Also, I intend to share my process of going through each product and choosing the perfect one based on some easy-to-follow steps. Call it a buying guide if you would.
- Best Plasma Cutter with Built-in Compressor – Comparison Chart
- Top-rated Plasma Cutter with Built-in Compressor
Best Plasma Cutter with Built-in Compressor – Comparison Chart
|Name & Brand||Noteable Features||Voltage||Weight||Price |
|Hypertherm 088096 Powermax||AIR T30 torch||120-240 V||35 Pounds|
|Hobart 500564 Airforce||Pressure settings||120V||31 Pounds|
|Forney 317 250 P+||3 LED lights.||120 Volts||40 Pounds|
|Mophorn Plasma Cutter||Advanced Cooling||220V||22.3 Pounds|
|S7 Portable Plasma Cutter||IGBT Inverter ||220V||47.8 Pounds|
Do We Really Need a Compressor with A Plasma Cutter? Why?
This question burns through the hearts of everyone who is looking to get their hands on a plasma cutter. A lot of people think plasma cutters are simple plug-and-play devices. The statement would be true if the machine has a built-in compressor, but it’s not a universal feature.
General cutters don’t come with an air compressor (duh). the machine is an ionized form of gas. Only compressed air or gas has the potential to ionize at extreme temperatures.
Besides, the machine can only dish out a constant arc when the air pressure is intense. The intensity can only be achieved by using compressed gas. Without the air pushing outward relentlessly, there would be no plasma. Also, the heat required to slice through metal would also be insufficient.
Hence, we really do need a compressor. Without the air compressor, the plasma cutter is just an expensive not-too-flashy blowtorch.
However, one should take the induction of built-in compressors to account as well. The days of old when a person had to bear the weight of two bulky machines are long gone.
Carrying a compressor around the workstation is good-cardio but a waste of time. Moving the machine becomes such a hassle that people often keep the cutter stationary altogether.
If you’re looking to get some fresh air while crafting metals, getting a portable compressor-cutter combo is the best or-put-more-bluntly the only solution.
Top-rated Plasma Cutter with Built-in Compressor
Over the years, I’ve used a number of plasma cutters, both with and without a built-in compressor. I decided to highlight 5 cutters that I think deserve their moment in the sun. All these cutters have been up to my expectations even after I set the bar pretty high.
I’m going to outline all the nitty-gritty details for you to scoop through, and you’ll see what each cutter brings to the table.
When I started looking to compressor-packed plasma cutters, I never thought they could live up to their separate-compressor siblings. I kept telling myself that having a separate compressor would naturally allow the cutter to have more oomph per se. However, the Hypertherm Powermax 30 AIR changed my standing once and for all.
As a professional metalsmith, it’s in my nature to be skeptical about built-in combo tools. I’ve seen manufacturers boast about killing two birds with one stone and end up scratching none. So, once I got my hands on the Hypertherm 30 AIR, I took it for a test drive immediately.
I tinkered with it a lot, mostly trying to find out the blemishes because I was so adamant about proving myself right. When I saw the machine performing beyond my expectations, I kept going at it for weeks. I’ve used the standard 1/4 and 3/4 clean metal plates. The cuts were crispy clean.
Believe me, I’ve tried. Yet, this cutter is a bang for the buck. The slags from each cut were minimal, and I could remove most of it with my working gloves. There was one time when I had a load of slag left, but that wasn’t the machine’s fault. I forgot to switch the consumables, that’s on me.
I also tried my hand on 1/2-inch clean metal. Although there are clear instructions not to do it, I wanted to see whether I can push my luck. At maximum power (220V-30Amps), this little device can slice through 1/2-inch. The cut is not as clean as a 1/4 or 3/4, but it’s good enough for practice sessions.
The torch of this plasma cutter is pilot-arc enabled. A lot of people take this feature for granted because they’re not aware of the benefits. A pilot-arc doesn’t need any left-right swings or scratches to kick into gear. In contrast, one has to zip-zap a few times to get the arc running in a non-pilot.
So, the pilot-arc allowed me to get some pretty decent cuts and designs on disjointed metal pieces. The flow was consistent throughout as I didn’t have to restart the arc every time there was a gap. Before I forget, pilot-arc also enabled me to cut through rusted material, something impossible with the non-pilot arc.
The only reason I got a cutter with a built-in compressor was the flexibility it brings. Hypertherm 30 AIR took it a step further by giving me a 15-inch lead. I could move around the device without hesitation because of the extended cord.
Another noteworthy feature is the dual-voltage system. I could either go for 120V or 240V depending on the task at hand. I rarely got the chance to use 240V because I use this plasma cutter mostly for putting down intricate designs on metal sheets. So, I could cut down on electricity bills if need be.
The 35% duty cycle is not something to sleep on either. A consistent 35% is more than what most cutters offer. However, with all the pleasantries of the Hypertherm 30 AIR, the price is the nail in the coffin. The $1900 price point is intimidating for sure.
Still, the performance is incredible, and the built-in compressor doesn’t affect the performance at all.
Overall, even if the price is wallet-slashing, I’d say this is a top contender for being the best plasma cutter with built-in compressor.
I was thoroughly impressed with the Hypertherm, and it took me a while before I decided to get another plasma cutter. However, this time around, I didn’t want to leave my wallet in a sobbing state. After some research, I came across the Hobart Airforce 12ci.
I’d be forthcoming and say that this cutter, while putting on an admirable show, falls short on a few accounts. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the manufacturer for the sub-par quality. Hobart is a reputed brand, after all. The price-range is what causes the decline in quality, not the brand itself.
The plus of getting a Hobart Airforce 12ci is the slashed price. It’s nearly $700 to $800 cheaper than its Hypertherm-brother. So, the performance is not industrial-standard, but that is to be expected from a mid-tier cutter. However, I think this machine will be an excellent fit for a DIY workshop.
Let me break this down a little. Most people often get tempted by the flashy and shiny features that they don’t end up using at all. It has happened to me a lot. So, it would be unwise to discard Hobart’s prowess just because Hypertherm is greater. Plenty of people homeowners won’t even get half the use out of the Hypertherm’s industrial-quality.
So, for small home-projects, the Hobart Airforce 12ci is a perfect fit.
As the name suggests, the maximum this machine can dish out is 12Amps. Again, not as beastly as the first cutter, but more than enough for soft-core projects. There is a dual-voltage option, which is negligible, but worth a mention. I was able to switch between 115-120V, a meager 5V difference.
The Hobart’s strongest suit is dealing with thin materials. I started with 3/16 and worked my way up to 3/8. I’d say the machine holds up nicely without any hiccups. However, anything beyond the 3/8 range doesn’t bode well for this cutter. I was able to brute-force through, but the slags were everywhere.
If you stay between the 3/16 to 3/8 range, there should be no problem with the cuts. The slags are manageable as well. I only had to use my hands to smooth out the out-of-shape edges.
One reason to love this machine is the portability. Although all plasma cutters with air compressors are portable, this little lady is exceptionally light. I could carry it around the house without any strain on my arms.
I thought this plasma cutter wouldn’t hold the arc for long because of the price point. However, the duty cycle is 35%, to my surprise. It’s a nifty benefit to have. I could take it out into the yard, and keep whacking away at metal sheets without a timer set to my arms.
The 5/3/1 warranty may seem confusing, but it does help a user out in a pinch. Overall, Hobart 12ci isn’t exceptional. It’s a mid-tier machine. It gets the job done at a reasonable price point.
As I kept delving deep into the budget territory, the road ahead started getting precarious. Cutting corners while getting a compressor-cutter combo isn’t really the way to go. However, if you’re still hellbent on budget-cutters, I’d say the Forney 317 250 P+ is definitely worth a shot.
When I got this plasma cutter, I wasn’t too excited. I knew what I paid, and my expectations were as grounded as they could be. Still, I’d say the 12Amp machine performed admirably.
The setup process was a breeze- a simple plug-and-play process. All I had to do was connect the cords, fasten the ground clamp on the workpiece, and voila. Once the setup was complete, I noticed the torch system of this plasma cutter. I knew what it was before purchasing, just had to make sure.
It was not the standard pilot-arc. Instead, there was the drag-tech torch. If you’re not aware of what a drag-tech is, let me enlighten you. Let’s look at the pilot-arc first. When it comes to that, I could start the arc by simply pressing the trigger. Even if I took the torch off the workpiece, the arc would still keep kicking.
As the name implies, in a drag-tech torch, I had to keep dragging the lead back and forth to catch a spark. After a few flicks, the arc lights up, and that’s the green signal. Still, it’s difficult and, at times, impossible to cut disjointed metal because the arc dies when there is no constant touch with the surface.
Doesn’t mean people can’t work with a drag-tech lead. I’ve worked with plenty in my time. It’s just an inconvenience, that’s all. The plasma cutter operates at 120V, and there’s no switching between two power options. There’s no need to switch as the 12Amps wouldn’t really necessitate a 220V.
The best I could get out of this plasma cutter was a semi-clean 1/8-inch cut. I mention “Semi-clean” because the slag build-up wasn’t to my liking. Nothing a bench grinder couldn’t fix, though. So, 1/8-inch cut is doable if there’s an accessory to polish the slag.
It does come with a few consumables, so that’s another plus. Besides, the cutter doesn’t munch on consumables like snacks. I got some hefty use from my first set without burning through too much.
Also, the 15 feet cords on the lead, cable, and ground clamp are pretty solid as well. I think they add to the already existing flexibility. With a built-in air compressor and lengthy cords to boot, I was able to move around the workstation freely.
The Forney 317 has a similar 5/3/1 warranty. I do welcome a warranty in any shape or form. I was happy. However, Forney falls short in many departments. The duty cycle is 25%, which is 10% lower than the standard. The torch is drag-tech, and the overall cut quality isn’t anything to write home about.
However, it’s difficult to get a decent plasma cutter (without compressor) under $1000. So, if you really need a cutter-compressor combo, I’d say it’s worth it. Still, pushing the investment a little more and snagging the Hobart 12ci would be a much better alternative.
After a not-so-good run with the Forney 317, I decided to forgo budget cutters altogether. However, the Mophorn 45 Amp caught my attention because it wasn’t the general cutter-compressor pack.
Apparently, the manufacturer decided to up their game by including welding in this machine as well. So, I had to see whether this cutter could hold its ground and stand with the big-shots.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I got the Mophorn due to the prospect of killing two birds with one stone. I am always game for multi-tasking machines. When I say welding, don’t get your hopes up because all welding options aren’t available. What I got from this machine is just stick welding.
However, I am not complaining about the inclusion of stick welding. If anything, I was excited because plasma cutters are mostly dedicated machinery. So, I took a swing with the stick welding, and the results were quite impressive. The beads aren’t as crisp as I’d hope for, but they were satisfactory.
Unlike the Forney 317, this plasma cutter had a non-touch pilot arc to boot. I’ve already professed my love for pilot arcs in earlier descriptions. It was a pleasant experience to simply hold the trigger and get moving instead of scratching the workpiece several times.
The digital readout in front of the cutter was a blessing in disguise. The LCD screen didn’t just make the adjustments a breeze. It also notified me if I was going overboard. I found the overheating notification system helped me keep the machine’s temperature in check.
I got some decent cuts with this plasma cutter. I’d say the sweet spot of this cutter is 1/8. It could take down 1/4-inch mild steels too, but some slags would linger afterward. I tried to sever a 1/2-inch plate, and I was satisfied with the results. I think the cuts are mostly slag-free, and the little that remains is hand-removable.
I tried it on different materials. While it does take down steel (mild and stainless) with relative ease, it does struggle with aluminum. The torch head isn’t really up to the task when it comes to handling the texture of aluminum. So, I’d recommend sticking to steel. Still, you’re free to tinker around as well.
What makes this budget-cutter a beast is the monstrous duty cycle. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t prepared to believe that a machine under $800 could come close to a 60% duty cycle.
Where the likes of Hypertherm tire out after 35%, the Mophorn stands out of the crowd with a stellar 50%. It’s not 60% as the description claims it to be, but I don’t mind at all because 50% is more than enough for a budget-cutter.
I don’t have too many complaints against this thing over here. I believe it has the potential to give the big-guns in the industry a run for their money. So, I’d cap it off by saying that the Mophorn 45 Amp deserves to be the forerunner of being the best plasma cutter with built-in compressor.
While I hit a snag on my budget-journey with the Forney, I was back in full swing with the Mophorn 45. So, I decided to lower the price-bar even further to see whether it gets me anywhere. Trust me, I was doing it all to quench my thirst for experimentation.
Just when I thought plasma cutters with built-in compressors couldn’t get any cheaper, I stumbled upon the S7 50 Amp. It’s a little under $500, and I don’t think a cutter-compressor package could slash the cost any further.
I wondered whether the machine actually had enough oomph to hold up 50Amps. Whereas mid-tier welders with double the price had only 12Amps, the 50Amps coming from the S7 seemed like a stretch. After a lot of tinkering, I realized I was right. The plasma cutter doesn’t come close to a 50-Amp performance. I’d say it’d stand its ground till 40Amps tops.
The cutting thickness is okay-ish. I tried it out on thin metal sheets first. I started out with a 1/16, and the cut was clean and up to the mark. However, the plasma cutter gives out at 1/8. So, I could slice through anything with a lower width, with 1/8th being the max limit.
I got some cutting templates to try my hands with precision cuts, and the results were satisfactory too. The torch-head isn’t going to win any awards, either. I had to be really patient with the drag-tech arc. If you’re not up to speed by now, the drag-arc requires you to brush a few times to get the machine going.
Despite all the downfalls, the consumables held up strong. The plasma cutter didn’t discard consumables like yesterday’s garbage. I got to use the free set for a long time before adding a new pack.
The other stand-alone trait of this cutter is the duty cycle. I was able to work at a constant pace without any overheating issues. I’d even go as far as to say that the duty cycle is this plasma cutter’s strongest suit, and up to premium standards.
Any plasma cutter under the $500 threshold is like to suffer from manufacturer cost-cutting. It’s only natural. That’s why I’m going to hold back my judgment here because this unit is as cheap as they come. As the old saying goes, we get what we pay for.
In reality, getting a no-compressor plasma cutter with a similar budget is no walk in the park. So, if this is the green you’re going to invest, I’d say there’s no beating the S7 50Amp.
Follow My Footsteps if You Want to Do Quality Research
Whenever I scout for a plasma cutter in the midst of all the flashy adverts, I try to keep my head in the game. There are a couple features that’ll help any customer cancel out the uncalled-for sirens in this treacherous path to purchase. So, I’m going to highlight a list of considerations to help you narrow your focus down.
Project Vs. Power Compatibility
I’ve seen people equate power with performance. That’s a mistake most beginners make, and I’d suggest you walk the other way. In general principle, more power means increased efficiency, but it only matters if the entire shindig fits the project at hand.
You need to understand the purpose behind getting a plasma cutter with built-in air compressor before you jump the gun. Why do you need it? Is it a hobby-tool for occasional metal designs? Or are you going to have a full-time DIY work-fest? With a clear purpose in mind, the decision will become much easier.
For instance, it’d be a rash decision to get the Hypertherm 30 Air if you’re only going to reap its benefits once a month. Hypertherm is a beast, no doubt, but the cost is too steep to put it in the hobby-purchase category. Instead of this cutter, the Hobart 12ci would be a better alternative for the weekend-warrior.
Consider Adding a Few Extra Bucks
The amount of green you’re willing to let go is always a major concern. Usually, I put budget-considerations at the pit of the checklist. However, in case of a plasma cutter, the scenario is different. Let’s face it- plasma cutters are not your casual everyday purchase.
Expanding your budget will have a noticeable bearing on the performance you receive. Let’s take the Hypertherm 30 and Hobart 12ci as an example. The difference between the two cutters is nearly $700-$800. The massive shift in price is a reflection of the massive shift in performance too.
Besides, if your budget is low, getting a no-compressor plasma cutter is a safer option. I know you’d have to purchase the compressor separately, but the performance shift wouldn’t be a dealbreaker at least. So, if your wallet isn’t muscular, I’d recommend forgoing a compressor-cutter combo altogether.
Getting the Right Torch Head and Lead Length
There are two variants of torch heads you’ll come across in your quest. I don’t think one type has superiority over the other by a large margin. I prefer the pilot-arc over the drag-tech torch heads. However, a lot of people enjoy using the latter as well.
Still, I think a beginner’s best bet is the pilot-arc. Overcoming the learning curve is relatively easier with a pilot-arc. Also, the opportunity to work with disjointed heads is only present in this torch-type. I’d say if you’re walking into the plasma cutter realm, pilot-arc is the way to go.
The lead length should be to one’s comfort as well. After all, the reason for getting a cutter-compressor together is flexibility. The standard cord length of a cutter is 12-15 inches. It’s not like you can’t work with anything lower than 12-inches, but the flexibility suffers.
The Consumable Lifespan
Having a built-in compressor will negate some extra costs, but it won’t save you from buying consumables. You’ll find a number of attachments to buy, especially in the torch head, that deplete after a period. So, once you see the cutter’s performance dropping, you know where it went wrong.
Most premium plasma cutters have their own exclusive consumables. Doesn’t mean you have to buy the designated set recommended by the manufacturer. You’re always free to tinker around. However, exclusive’s last longer, and there’s no risk of any backfires.
If you want to get the most out of your machine, I’d suggest sticking to the product-specific consumables. This way, you’ll not only get better performance, but the consumables won’t die a premature death.
The Underrated Hero- Duty Cycle
I’ve seen countless instances where people completely overlook the duty cycle ratings. Let me be blunt- it’s bad practice. Duty cycle refers to the duration a cutter will keep functioning before it gives out. When I say “give out,” I don’t mean the machine stops working or falls dead.
I’m poking at the heating issue native to all heavy-duty machinery. Once you start working with the cutter, you’ll see the temperature going bonkers after a while. I
t’s almost impossible to hold the torch when temperatures become extreme. Longer duty cycle ensures better heat-control, and you’ll get to play with your plasma cutter longer before heat ruins your moment.
I think the number to aim for is 35% or above. It’s a solid 3.5-or-longer minutes of operation time for every 10 minutes.
Have Backup – Always
I don’t always tell people to hunt for a warranty. However, a plasma cutter is a hefty investment, and not getting a warranty would be treading in troubled waters.
Thus, whatever the warranty is- whether it’s the 5/3/1-Hobart-signature or a flat 3/1-Hypertherm, having one watching your back will take the load off your chest.
Besides, a warranty is a testament to any manufacturer’s faith in their creation. So, the bigger (or longer) it is- the better it is.
Let’s Put Everything Together
I’ve seen the plasma cutter industry taking massive leaps over the course of time. From simple cutters to intricate design-intensive machines, now compressor-inclusive one’s, they’ve come a long way.
However, getting the top quality plasma cutter with built-in compressor is a wallet-thinning investment. So, the first course of action is to decide what you’re going to do with the machine once it brightens your workstation. Carefully weigh your needs against the features provided to get a clear understanding.
If you’re looking for a semi-industrial performance like me, and want a professional touch from your plasma cutter, then there’s no beating the Hypertherm Powermax 30 AIR.
So, if your priorities are lined up, you’re good to go- ciao.