People are attracted to buying things that they perceive to be of high value, despite their high price. This principle works the same for welders, but it’s not always the best decision.
A cheap plasma cutter can save practical welders a lot of money, but the experienced ones also see low value associated with the low price, which prevents them from buying it. As a welder, you can relate to these common and valid reasons.
The lifespan of a cheap plasma cutter is one of the primary concerns for both home hobbyists and professionals. Low-cost means the cutting equipment is assembled using substandard components and will wear out quickly when used frequently.
Associated with the substandard quality of the cheap plasma cutting machine is the worry it may not work as it's expected to. If you ever felt that irrational fear of a cutting machine exploding in front of your welding helmet as soon as you flip the switch, you're not alone. It's a perceived risk due to the lack of reliability associated with the cheap machines.
Another common reason that repels many welders from cheap cutting rigs is that they may not produce quality and smooth cuts as the branded, expensive ones. They are low-priced, so the machine must not have specifications that can compete with the mid or high-priced, branded ones, with sub-par functionality.
To know whether our reasons for avoiding budget plasma cutting machines are serving us well, we have to look at its characteristics and compare it with the one that carries a popular brand. This way, we can find out how wide the gap is between a branded machine and a cheap, generic one.
|Characteristics||Plasma Cutter (Cheap)||Plasma Cutter (Branded)|
|Dimensions||16.9 x 13.7 x 11.6 inches||18.1 x 7.9 x 12.6 inches|
|Weight||20.8 pounds||22 pounds|
|Voltage||110/220V at 50/60Hz||110/240V at 50/60Hz|
|Rated Duty Cycle||60% -50A100%- 40A||40% - 40A 100% - 20 A|
|Clean Cut||10 milimeters||12 millimeters|
|Severance Cut||14 milimeters||25 millimeters|
The cheap one wins this, hands down. The sample above reflects close to what most generic plasma machines cost—around $150–200 for a package that includes the machine and other accessories. The price of the cheap machine is very competitive versus the branded one, which is usually nine times more expensive.
A portable plasma cutter is common today. The size will be small enough you would mistake it for the small briefcase. This is true with two of the comparison machines above. Both the generic and branded cutters fall within the comfortable range for portability, but in terms of bulkiness and weight, the cheap one is smaller and lighter to carry around your workshop than the branded ones.
Both the sample generic and branded machines are neck a neck when it comes to specification. However, there are a lot of similarities with a few characteristics where either one wins. For example, the dual voltage and the output current range are almost the same.
In terms of cutting capacity—the most valued characteristic of any plasma cutter—the branded one closes the deal with a maximum of 1-inch thick metal cutting capacity. On the other hand, the generic plasma cutter is very close. This is notable, especially for casual cutting activities.
The functionality of the cheap machine doesn't differ as much from branded, expensive ones. In addition, it also extends a lot of practical advantages to the prospective welder if they buy one. Some of the highlights of a cheap plasma unit are stated below.
Anything that is taken care of can lasts long, and that includes the best budget plasma cutter available. But let's say you've been busy using the low-cost cutting machine and you forget to check it for damages, and one of its essential parts gets broken—the cutting torch. You can easily replace the torch with the same generic brand because it didn't cost you that much to buy the whole package. Time-wise, the replacement option would be more practical rather than spending effort repairing the torch.
On the flip side, a branded torch is harder to replace because it costs more. Buying one cutting torch will cost you as much as a whole cheap plasma cutting machine package, with the cables and consumables. You'll be better off buying a cheap one and selling your pre-loved branded cutter for welders with money to burn.
An inexpensive plasma cutter doesn't require much in terms of consumables. You can easily get a spare at most shops. That's because the consumables are made of basic materials and designed with only the essential technology needed.
Branded cutters manufacture their own high-quality, long-lasting consumables, but they are still replaceable. It's also more expensive to buy them. The branded consumables are advantageous to welders who are looking for a longer duration and frequency of use. So if you're using your cutter for occasional projects or work, you'll gain a leg up with a budget plasma cutter.
Cheap cutters don't cut as deep as high-priced ones. But that doesn't mean it can't cut thick metals at all. Most cheap plasma cutters can cut through half an inch of metal with ease—just the right thickness for most everyday welding and cutting. So if the majority of your work involves tearing apart metals of the same or lesser thickness, a cheap cutter will do just fine.
One pain point with branded welding and cutting products is that they tend to fit only the manufacturer's components. The bundling and unbundling strategy make a lot of sense from a business standpoint, but not to a wise welder who's pinching pennies.
The beauty of cheap cutters is that they’re generic. Parts and components can be bought from another generic manufacturer or even a branded one. As long as it fits the machine when you plug it, you'll be set. On the other hand, we advise you to limit this to accessories that can be attached, like the leads, cables, hoses, and torches. Please check the similarities of the components you're going to substitute before plugging it in. And we advise you to still get the internal machine components from the manufacturer or its authorized dealer even if another generic manufacturer offers the same exact component.
Welders are often inclined to buy the best cutting rig for the first time. This is a wise practice, especially if they're still in the learning and experimenting stage. But that doesn't always have to be the decision once the expensive plasma cutter has lived out its usefulness. It's good to have the courage to try something new, something cheap but practical. So go for the cheap cutter, and it may be the only one you'll keep buying for the rest of your welding career.