A plasma cutter with a built-in air compressor is a game changing technology, especially for a small shop.
They’re great for sheet metal and bodywork, even heavy steel for frames.
One drawback to plasma cutters is the need for high-pressure air.
However, some plasma cutters have air compressors built-in.
Let’s look at some great plasma cutters with compressors.
A quick comparison
Hypertherm Powermax 30
Plasma cutter specialists
Only 30 pounds
Easy to start with
Hobart Airforce 12ci
Pilot arc starting
Runs on 120 input
Lincoln Tomahawk 375
Auto settings control
Touch arc start
Forney 250 P Plus
Built-in air dryer
Thermal Dynamics Air Cut 15C
High cutting rate
Runs on 120 power
Best Plasma Cutter with Built in Compressors
Here's a list of the best plasma cutters with a built in air compressor:
1. Hypertherm Powermax 30 Plasma Cutter with Built-in Air Compressor
- Dual 120/240 volt input power
- Lightest in class at 30 pounds
- 3-year warranty
- 15 to 30 amp output
- Cuts up to 3/8-inch steel plate
- Drag cutting arc start
- Continuous pilot arc for grates and mesh
- Heavy duty industrial grade construction
- Certified for America, Russia, Europe
- Built in water separator
- No CNC connection
- Top of the market, not cheap
Because Hypertherm’s entire focus is on cutting technology rather than as another aspect of welding technology, it enjoys a reputation as the industry leader. The Hypertherm Powermax 30 shows this pedigree throughout the entire machine. This is the lightest plasma cutting machine in its class, weighing only 30 pounds but producing 30 amps, enough to cut ⅜-inch steel plate with ease.
The onboard air compressor provides plenty of pressure to clear the cut channel and the Hypertherm Powermax 30 comes with dual 120 and 240 volt power input. Hypertherm’s Drag Cut technology makes for easy arc starts because all you have to do to strike the arc is touch and pull with the torch and it’s off to the races.
Hypertherm intends the PowerMax 30 for small tasks and portability, so it doesn’t include a computer control connection on the Powermax 30 for CNC work. This machine comes with a 3-year warranty on the power supply system. This machine is certified CSA for use in the Americas and Asia (except China) and it can be used for certified work in Russia, the Ukraine and Serbia.
2. Hobart Airforce 12ci 120V Plasma Cutting Machine
- Rated at 12 amps
- 5-year warranty
- 12 foot torch connection
- Fan-On-Demand saves power
- Cuts 3/16-inch steel plate
- Lightweight machine
- Torch is ergonomically designed
- 120 volt input power
- Pilot arc start
- Post flow feature
- Some reports of weak air pressure
- Narrow output range
The Hobart Airforce 12ci plasma cutter is designed for maximum portability. This is a light-duty machine that runs on 120 volts, with just enough power to be able to cut 3/16-inch steel plate, which is plenty good enough for cutting brackets, repair plates and other minor tasks. It’s perfect for HVAC professionals and others that need a plasma cutter they can carry into a house and plug in to the homeowner’s power source.
Even though this is a light duty plasma cutting machine, it does have some advanced professional features. Post flow air control will continue blowing air after the cut is made to cool it faster. Hobart’s Fan-On-Demand will only operate the cooling fan when it’s needed to save power and keep dust and debris from building up inside the Airforce 12ci cabinet. Even beginners will find this plasma cutter easy to use with pilot arc starting and a beautiful Miller ergonomic torch.
Hobart is a leader in the metal working industries. Its machines are seen anywhere there are welders and metal workers. Although small and lightweight, the Hobart Airforce 12ci with a built in air compressor is a serious professional tool backed by a 5-year warranty.
3. Lincoln Electric K2806-1 Tomahawk 375 Air Plasma Cutter
- Continuous Output Control
- Lift-type arc starts
- Rapid Arc Restrike
- Front panel airflow control
- 10-25 amps output
- Cuts up to 3/8-inch steel
- 70 PSI compressor
- Internal or external air supply
- LC25 torch
- Includes regulator
- Needs external air for heavy cuts
- Cannot be computer controlled
The Lincoln Electric K2806-1 Tomahawk 375 Air Plasma Cutter offers up to 25 amps of cutting power. Built to industrial standards, this machine is aimed at DIY fabricators rather than professionals doing daily high volume work. Its compressor is rated 70 PSI average work pressure, which in real life means it operates from 50 to 80 PSI. Some owners recommend an external air source for heavy cuts near the 1/4-inch maximum, where you might need more like 100 PSI.
Lincoln says the K2806-1 Tomahawk 375 Air Plasma Cutter ships ready to cut quickly, right out of the box. The bottom end at 10 amps lets you cut sheet metal, but you’ll need to move fast to avoid blowing edges off when cutting thin stuff. Dialing up to 25 amps will get you through 1/4-inch steel in a single pass to cut trailer frames and pipe fencing.
The Lincoln K2806-1 Tomahawk 375 Air Plasma Cutter is designed with all controls on the front panel to speed productivity. The airflow rate can be monitored and adjusted right on the front instead of having to lean around back like some other designs.
4. Forney 250 P Plus Plasma Cutter with Built In Air Compressor
- Easy to use controls
- 120 volt input
- 12 amp output power
- 15 foot power cable
- 3-year warranty
- Drag torch arc starting
- Generator friendly
- Has a consumables storage area
- Cuts up to 1/8-inch steel
- 15 foot torch connection
- Not suited for high-volume work
- Light-duty work 1/8-inch and under
The Forney 250P Plus with the built-in air compressor is a lightweight plasma cutter for DIY workshop use and light duty jobs. Because it runs on 120 volt input, it can be plugged in to household current. It’s potentially useful for professionals making housecalls for appliance work or HVAC ducting repairs.
Equipped with drag torch arc starting, it’s easy to start and use but does have a delay time that makes it a problem for high-volume cutting. Once you pull the trigger, it takes a few seconds for the arc to start, then a few more seconds before it’s hot enough to start cutting. For separate cuts performed some time apart, this isn’t a huge concern, but the Forney 250P Plus isn’t suitable for frequent, fast cuts. However, it is designed to operate on so-called “dirty” generator power, so it can be used in remote locations.
Forney integrates an air dryer and pressure regulator right into the machine and this cutter is completely automatic with no controls to set up. At 43 pounds, it’s light enough to carry around and 12 amps will cut ⅛-inch steel plate. Forney designed a storage compartment for consumables into the case and backs the 250P Plus with a 3-year warranty.
5. Thermal Dynamics Air Cut 15C Plasma Cutter with Onboard Compressor
- 120 volt input power
- 15 amp output
- 25 percent faster cut speed
- 1-year warranty
- Low power use
- 20-foot torch connection
- Lightweight at 29 pounds
- Cuts up to 3/16-inch steel
- 35 percent duty cycle at 15 amps
- Made for ESAB by HyperTherm
- Pricey for the power rating
- Only runs on 120 inputa
Thermal Dynamics is a Hypertherm brand sold by ESAB, meaning these machines are industrial quality, aimed at professionals. That’s reflected in both the higher price range and the relatively conservative output rating. The AirCut 15C only weighs 29 pounds, exceptionally lightweight for a machine with a built-in air compressor on board. In fact, that’s about 50 percent of the average weight for a 15 amp plasma cutter. Thermal Dynamics claims a 25 percent higher cutting rate than any other plasma cutter in its class.
The Thermal Dynamics AirCut 15C will go right through 3/16-inch plate steel. The higher work capability, superior build quality and ESAB 1-year warranty justify the higher price range for professionals. This machine is rated with a 35 percent duty cycle at 15 amps. With a high cutting rate and a 50 percent duty cycle at 12 amps, a pro could really do a lot of cutting.
With its lightweight and 120 volt power source, the Thermal Dynamics AirCut 15C is suitable for professional craftsmen needing to work inside a customer’s home to do their job.
Plasma Cutters With Compressors – Buying Guide
When you buy a plasma cutter with a built-in compressor, you’re actually buying two heavy-duty tools. One of the most important requirements for a quality cut when using a plasma cutter is sufficient air pressure to blast the plasma out of the cut. That means you need a quality air compressor as well as a quality plasma cutter, both inside the same cabinet. Therefore, price ranges are higher for machines with an air compressor on board than for equivalent machines using external air sources.
If you’re going to be using this plasma cutter in a home workshop or to perform work in or around customer homes, most lightweight machines run on 120 volt power. A plasma cutter that uses dual 120 and 240 volt input power is more versatile but will weigh more than a 120-powered machine. If the 240 input isn’t needed, the same money will buy a machine with 120-only input with a nicer compressor. You’re able to use up to 15 amps on 120 volt household current. That’s enough to cut up to 3/16-inch steel.
You need a plasma cutter that can be productive throughout the day without too much waiting for the machine to cool down. Consider the duty cycle of the machine you’re looking at and think about how long you’ll actually go with one continuous cut. 35 percent might not sound like much, but that’s over 3 minutes of steady cutting before a plasma cutter needs to cool off. How often do you actually cut on anything with a torch for 3 straight minutes?
Hopefully, you’ll never need to test a manufacturer’s customer service because of a warranty claim. However, a longer warranty period is a demonstration by the maker of its confidence in the quality of a machine. 3 years is a long time in the life of a plasma cutter. That’s potentially dozens of hours per week spent heating, blasting and cooling.
The air compressor adds even more heat, electric demand and moving parts into the equation. Given the fact that plasma cutters with built in compressors cost more to begin with, it might be worth it to spend the extra money on top to get the machine with the longer warranty period. You may also want to consider the extended warranty that’s optional from some makers at extra cost.
Some features can really make your cutting chores a lot easier. Drag cutting technology lets you literally drag the torch itself across the surface of the metal to start the arc and continue the cut. Without this feature, many torches have to be maintained at a certain distance above the metal, and that can be difficult if you’re not in an optimal physical position or getting tired at the end of the day.
Automatic settings are getting more common these days. Some machines have no control settings at all, sensing the material and adapting automatically. Others simply output a single rating and run at max amperage no matter what thickness of metal you’re cutting.
Light weight can also be a benefit of high technology power sources like inverter technology. A lighter machine is easier to store, to move and easier to position when you’re in an awkward location.
Other Plasma Cutting Guides
The Winner Is…
Given the criteria we’ve laid out here, staying loyal to the true meaning of the phrase “Best Plasma Cutter,” we’ve selected the Hypertherm Powermax 30 as our Best Selection overall in this guide. It’s made by the undisputed industry leader, offers dual voltage input capability along with amazingly light weight and Hypertherm backs this incredible machine with a 3-year warranty. You really can’t do better.
If you just can’t justify that level of expense, we’d go with the Hobart AirForce 12ci as the Best Value. It offers a 5-year warranty and cuts 3/16-inch plate. It’s a great choice for professional results on a tight budget.
The Lincoln Tomahawk 375 offers the option of either onboard or external air supply, useful when cutting the heavier stuff. The front panel airflow control and touch-lift arc starting make this machine very easy to work with.