Welders

Plasma Cutter vs. Cutting Torch: Which is Better?

Plasma Cutter vs. Cutting Torch

Photo: chicagotribune.com

While some welders swear by and stick to the more traditional cutting torch for all their projects, many others always choose the plasma cutters. Both tools can cut through metal with ease and are vital for any welding project.

Professional welders have both in the workshop, but most other welders need to pick just one between them. If you are caught in a dilemma of which one to buy, here we help make things easier for you by comparing them side by side.

Overall Findings

Plasma Cutter

Cutting Torch

  • Limited to cutting or gouging
  • Available in contact start & high-frequency design
  • Uses a combination of electricity & shielding gas
  • Can handle materials up to 2 inches
  • Smaller & easy to carry
  • Initial cost is between $800 & $2,000
  • Versatile for various applications
  • Comes in either nozzle mix or injector torch designs
  • Uses propane, acetylene, natural gas, or propylene
  • Cuts materials up to 20 inches thick
  • Bulkier due to large gas tank
  • Initial costs is between $200 & $500

Plasma Cutter

  • Limited to cutting or gouging
  • Available in contact start & high-frequency design
  • Uses a combination of electricity & shielding gas
  • Can handle materials up to 2 inches
  • Smaller & easy to carry
  • Initial cost is between $800 & $2,000

Cutting Torch

  • Versatile for various applications
  • Comes in either nozzle mix or injector torch designs
  • Uses propane, acetylene, natural gas, or propylene
  • Cuts materials up to 20 inches thick
  • Bulkier due to large gas tank
  • Initial costs is between $200 & $500

Plasma Cutter vs. Cutting Torch

1. Applications: Cutting Torches Can Do Much More

Cutting torches, or the oxy-fuel torches as they are better known as can do way much more than then plasma cutters. Besides cutting metal, the torches are handy for other things such as brazing, gouging, soldering, and even welding. These tools are handy for various other professionals besides welders such as automotive and stone workers.

Plasma cutters seem to be more limited when it comes to their application as you cannot use them for much besides cutting and gauging. However, besides welders, these tools can still help with a few other tasks such as plumbing, HVAC, metal fabrication or repair, and demolition jobs.

2. Design: Both Come In Different Designs

Both plasma cutters and cutting torches are available in different designs to ensure potential users have options to choose. The plasma cutters are often classified according to how they start, and here, there are two main designs: contact start and high frequency. However, you can also classify them into either dual or single flow torches.

For the cutting torches, the two main design options are the nozzle mix and injector torches. The nozzle mix torches require mixing the pre-heat oxygen and the fuel gas on the torch's nozzle. Injector models require the mixing to occur in the gas delivery tube or inside the tool's head.

3. Power Source: Gas vs. Electricity            

When using the cutting torch, you need gas fuel as its power source. Depending on the application and the kind of torch you have, the most common gas types are propane, acetylene, natural gas, propylene, and oxygen. The gas fuel you choose is vital as it affects both cut quality and speed.

For the plasma cutters, the power source is a combination of electricity and gas. The machine is powered by electricity, but for the cutting job, you need a shielding gas with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and argon being the most popular options for this.

4. Material and Thickness: Cutting Touches Handle Thicker Materials

The material type and thickness that these tools can cut are other areas where these tools differ significantly. When using the plasma cutters, the process does not entail oxidation, meaning it is ideal for cutting conductive, non-ferrous materials like copper, steel, brass, and aluminum.

Plasma cutters also seem to work best for stacked metals, and they can cut some ferrous metals. However, for the best results, you should keep the metal as thin as possible. On average, these cutters can handle material between 1/4-inch and 1-inch, but some models cut up to 2 inches.

Oxy-fuel torches work best for materials whose oxides have a lower melting point than the actual metal, such as mild steel and low alloys. If you plan to cut ferrous metals with iron as a principal component, a cutting torch is a better tool.

Additionally, the oxy-fuel torches can cut thicker materials than the plasma cutter as typical ones cut between 6 and 12 inches. Better yet, some models can handle mild steel that is up to 20 inches thick.

5. Portability: Plasma Cutters are Easier to Carry Around

Modern plasma cutters use inverter technology that allows them to be smaller and easier to carry. Hence, no matter what model of plasma cutter you have, it is easy to carry around at the back of your truck. However, it is essential to keep in mind that the plasma cutters require electricity, which can be very restrictive.

Cutting torches are relatively bulkier as you often have one or several gas tanks to carry, long hoses, and a wide variety of other fixtures. But, the good news is that in most instances, you can still load and carry the items you need on a truck bed.

6. Cost: Cutting Torches are Inexpensive

If cost is your primary consideration when choosing between these two tools, the cutting torch is a more budget-friendly option for you. On average, you can expect to spend between $200 and $500 for the initial cost when buying a cutting torch. However, the initial cost for a plasma cutter starts at $800 and goes up to $2,000 depending on the model, brand, and capacity.

Conclusion

Both the plasma cutter and cutting roach are convenient tools to have in the workshop. But, if you can only get one, the plasma cutter is the best choice if most of your jobs entail cutting thin, non-ferrous metals. However, if you want a more affordable tool for cutting thicker ferrous metals like mild steel and something more versatile that can do much more than cut metal, the cutting torches are perfect.

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