What to Look for When Considering a Plasma Cutter
One of the first factors you need to determine is the thickness of metal most frequently cut. Plasma cutters are most often rated by their cutting ability and amperage. Consequently, if say ¼-inch-thick material is the most common maximum thickness of what you'll normally be cutting, you might consider a machine in the lower amperage range.

If you think you'll possibly be cutting metal that is ½-inch thick, look for a higher-amperage machine. Even though a smaller machine may be able to cut through a given thickness of metal, it may not produce a quality cut. Instead, you may get a sever cut, which barely makes it through the plate and leaves behind ragged edges and lumps of slag. Every unit has an optimal range of thickness – make sure it matches up with what you need. In general, a ¼-inch-rated machine has approximately 25 amps of output, a ½-inch-rated machine has a 50-60-amp output, while a 1-inch-rated machine has 80 amps output.

The plasma cutter that I've chosen for my shop is the Versa-Cut 60 from The Eastwood Company. In my opinion, the Versa-Cut was, dollar for dollar, the best all-around choice I could have made for a machine that's capable of making quick, clean cuts in steel, stainless, or aluminum as thin as 24-gauge or as thick as a whopping 7⁄8 inch. The VC 60 is a heck of a lot faster than mechanical cutting and makes curved and intricate cuts much easier and more precise than any saw or cut-off wheel can. Another of the things that make the VC 60 perfect for our restoration needs is its built-in pilot arc system, which allows for easy instant arc striking when cutting less than pristine and/or rusty metal. It is also equipped with an internal moisture separator that helps to ensure clean, dry air at the torch for clean consistent cutting.

Eastwood's VC 60 is a 220-volt unit with a compressed air requirement of 5 to 7 cfm at 20 to 60 psi and has an output range of 20 to 60 amps with an output voltage of 104 volts and a 60-percent duty cycle at 60 amps. For those unfamiliar, duty cycle refers to the amount of cutting (or welding) a machine can do in a specific amount of time. Most often that amount of time is measured in 10-minute blocks with the duty cycle being a percentage of that time frame. In other words, cutting at 60 amps with a 60-percent duty cycle, you can cut for six minutes out of 10 with a four-minute cooling-off period. Personally, I can't see any situation where I'd need six full minutes of continuous cutting in a classic truck restoration situation, but it is satisfying to know that I'm able to accomplish nearly any chore without fear of running up against a duty cycle cut-off.