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Picture of Hot wire foam cutter
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Cheap ($30+-) and easy to build hot wire foam cutter made from commonly available parts. Cuts styrofoam for surfboards, model plane wings, sculpture, model train or tabletop wargame terrain, 3D sign letters, mold models for lost foam casting, etc.

5/17/2007, Important note! Please be sure to read the comments that other users have left below. There's a LOT of good info there. Check out the links that folks have posted and study what they've said here and you will be able to build a cutter thats suited to your budget and the materials you have access to. There are a lot of alternatives listed or linked below for the frame, the transformer, the wire, the enclosure, and the heat control. Don't underestimate the power of comments! :)
 
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Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts
The parts should be pretty easy to find.

1. 12 foot, 16 guage extension cord, about $2 at Home Depot

2. 2 wooden yard sticks from the Home Depot paint department, $.97 each

3. 4 #10-24 x 1.25" machine screws with nuts, $1 at Home Depot

4. 10 #10 washers, $1 at Home Depot

5. About 12 feet of strong, low-stretch string. I used 200 lb dacron kite line.

6. A single-pole dimmer switch. About $10 at Home Depot.

7. A 25 volt, 2 amp transformer, $10.49 from Radio Shack.

8. An electric guitar string, about .10 - .16 size. I think around $1? You can get these individually at a music store or you can use either of the 2 smallest strings from a packaged set. You should keep a spare handy because they can burn out or break from too much tension.

9. A length of two conductor electrical wire with a regular plug on the end. I salvaged mine, but you could use another extention cord if you like.

10. A piece of wooden dowel or stiff plastic rod about one foot long (not shown). I used a bamboo skewer.

11. Optional: 4 regular-thickness CD cases. These are for the box that holds the transformer and dimmer switch, but you would be much better off with something like a "project box" from Radio Shack.
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bandrews11720 days ago

this is an extremely smart idea good job!

ascardina2 months ago

I'm in the HVAC field and purchased a 50va 24v transformer for about 20 bucks, with the added bonus of a built in circuit breaker, this would be the best type to use if you can find one.

MichaelL193 months ago

Another site suggested using a PC power supply instead of a dimmer switch, etc. I went that route and connected one of the 12V outputs of the power supply to a length of nichrome wire salvaged from an electric heater. It worked quite well. The wire did not turn red, but was quite hot enough to make a nice cut through 6 inch foam blocks.

screwitdoit5 months ago
I use an old AAA battery charger, 120AC in -> 12DC 1A out and nichrome wire (#30 AWG) over 12" - no dimmers or pots, no probs,heat just right Han transformer doesn't even get warm. I also use same xformer and wire on a vertical machine and a horizontal machine and it works perfectly.

Tips - use nichrome wire, 26 - 30 gauge. Its heat tolerant properties are mentioned a lot but is not is its resistance qualities. On a machine where a guitar string would overheat, nichrome of similar gauge often barely gets warm. All around easier to work with and its dirt cheap in100ft spools at Amazon.

As already suggested, put a small lamp in series. Both a pwer indicator and (if you select a bulb rated between target output and transformer rating you've got a poor mans fuse as a bonus.

For power shoot for the 12 - 24 watt range (I have good luck at >7VDC. A trickle/slow charger for 12Vcar batteries (cheap at WAlmart12VDC/6VDC at 2A is effective). You can also find the wall type cheap at goodwill.

Unless you require a lot of fast and heavy stock removal you'll get better results at just enough heat to cut and you'll generated much less nasty toxic smoke. The trick is to learn by doing what force and power yield what results in smoothest most accurate cutting.

To calculate the variables ref the Jacobs calculator already mentioned.

Good luck!
karanpanchal6 months ago

I want to cut a lead block by using the hot wire process. The melting point of lead is 330 degrees celcius.
Can this be attained by using this process.

KaranP6 months ago

Hi, I am from india. We have 240V AC powersupply here.

I am having a 240V AC to 24 V AC transformer. I have connected the Dimmer switch and also a 3A fuse.

My circuit is not working. Please help!!!

degen111 months ago
I made a similar hot wire cutter, but I put mine in a Tupperware container. I also added a fuse for safety.
temp_-1739955696.jpgtemp_788461401.jpg

Did your Tupperware box, hold up to the heat generated by the transformer? Did you put any holes in it for air exchange?

darins8 months ago

When I was younger I used to cut foam for model airplane wings. Used a bow just like this one, except I used nichrome wire. Tip for making templates, I used 1/8" aircraft plywood, sanded edge and applied copper foil tape (the kind made for stained glass, to keep the wire from hanging up.

CRSSY_CLVR9 months ago

This instructable worked beautifully. When we first turned it on (with fingers crossed) we were careful to turn the dial up in very small increments, and discovered that you can feel the tool vibrate just ever so slightly when it becomes hot enough to slice. It also cools down pretty quickly. This will be used to carve up massive 8x4x2' blocks of EPS. Excellent!

tb17mccoy5 years ago
I did everything in your instructions except I made my frame out of 1/2 ' pvc but everything else I did as you instructed including the crappy plastic box. I couldn't  find a 120v 25 with only 2 amps so I used a 120 24v 40 va transformer and put a 3 amp fuse on the hot side between the dimmer switch and the transformer. I tested it in my Garage and all worked well. I cut a test piece of foam cut like butter. Thanks you saved me about $ 140.00

Actually, a 24volt 40VA is LESS than two amps. Glad it works. May I suggest you post it as an instructable?

jwhitten1 year ago
I'm surprised no one has suggested putting a small low-wattage light bulb in series with your hot-wire to act as a current-limiting device. That would sure save a lot of blown transformers and dimmers.
lloydrmc jwhitten9 months ago

That IS an excellent suggestion. Also, as another commenter suggested, a fuse for safety/protection of the transformer.

colinmcc3 years ago
There are several reasons that folk may be be burning out transformers.


The resistance of the cutting wire may be so low that the transformer is trying to supply more amps than it's own wire can carry, and so, just like the cutting wire the windings in the transformer heat up/melt.

Transformers are AC devices, they like a nice rounded (sinusoidal) waveform as input. Some cheap (expensive as well as cheap ones) dimmers can output a very square waveform and effectively put pulses of DC into the transformer's coil.

Dimmers probably use a triac, which controls the conduction angle of the input sine wave. The output waveform is not sinusoidal, unless the dimmer is turned all the way up. The net effect is to produce high frequency components along with the low frequency line voltage. If the high frequency portion contributes to core heating, then this could have an effect on frying the transformer. But I think there is simply too much current. The only way to know for sure is to take some AC voltage and current measurements and find the power in and out.
lloydrmc bclamore9 months ago

Would it be possible to use the dimmer on the OUTPUT of the transformer? It's still AC, and I can't imagine that the triac, etc. would care

rblythe841 year ago
Great article! Can I use my soldering gun as the power source? I read of some people who use their soldering gun and use a dimmer to control the heat. Is this feasible?

Actually, that should work fine.

naopak_lik1 year ago

I am sure I wired all things like on diagram but it is not working at all. There was no smoke, nothing. I have voltage before transformer but nothing after. Can it be because I am using electonic transformer.

By "electronic transformer" do you mean a "wall wart" power supply or "brick" power supply? If that's the case, you cannot use the dimmer. The dimmer requires an old school, iron transformer such as what is specified

mithun14310 months ago

my hot wire cutter is not working

armorer24310 months ago
For a power supply, I just used an old ATX power supply from a dead Dell PC. Using NiChrome wire and this calculator : http://www.jacobs-online.biz/nichrome/NichromeCalc.html

I was able to get very close using the calculations alone and fine tuned it from there. I am using 10.4 inches of wire at 5vdc and it hits 620F along the length of the wire. Perfect cutting temp on everything from 1/8" sheets to 8" blocks. Consumes a touch over 2A, which is well within the 27A the PSU is rated for on the 5v rail.
rongterlee11 months ago

May be we can choose professional hot wire cutter from manufacturer .(robertlee@rongter.com)

Rongter company concentrates on developing and
producing the various
Heat Cutter, Hot Wire Cutter, 3D Cutter
for chemical,
textile, construction material. With 10 year experience, we can supply customer
with the various good quality heat cutter to meet indoor,
outdoor and in-plant cutting needs

Our
electric heat cutter including Hand-held tool, Bow cutting tool,
Table cutting tool, Hot wire cutting tool, 3Dcutting tool.

Applications

1.Expanded plastic: EPS,SIPs ICF,
EIFS, Sponge, Foam etc.

2.Wires cable, Rubber, PVC tube,
Nylon rope, Non-metallic belt, Aluminum foil, Metallized film, BOPP film etc.

3.Textile, Fabric, Leather, Carpet,

4.Packaging material, Thermal
insulation material, Inflating film, HDEP. Cushioning material etc.

In
order to expand our business line, we would like cooperate with you and supply
you hot cutter in best price and good quality.

Thanks & best regards

Robert (robertlee@rongter.com)

Hot Sales Cutter.jpgHot sales cutting tool.jpg
j_remmi1 year ago
Hey. You're not kidding about turning that dimmer slowly. I found out that if you get impatient and crank that sucker quick, you hear a "pop", then it no work no more.

I friendly reminder from one of the foolish. :D
gargamal1 year ago
what if you wanted to cut a tree stump ? I want to build one that could burn though a tree stump in a hour . I am guessing I would need a full 110 volts and 10 Ohms resistance on the nichrome wire. I don't know ifs even possible but am looking forward to trying
stowie1 year ago
here is my simple design: Was given 32 awg nichrome wire from a friend (cheap on ebay), wood (furring strip 8') fashioned into a "C" shape - I strung the wire at the end across the opening, hardware to attach the wire to the supply voltage (drilled through the wood and tightened the hardware to it), used the following power adapter from Lowes:
http://www.lowes.com/pd_168261-74985-57040_0__?productId=3354788&Ntt=transformer&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Dtransformer&facetInfo=

Which is essentially a step down transformer from 120VAC to 24VAC with a constant current output. Initially the wire secured across the opening was 2'8" long. The wire did heat up and did cut foam but at a slow rate. I realized that the wire would get hotter if i shortened the wire. The opening was shortened to just under 2' which made the wire the shorter. Now the wire heats up to a hotter temp and cuts much easier and at a faster rate. The setup should only cost between 25 to 35 bucks considering that one has the hardware (nuts, bolts, washers, and lugs) instead of having to purchase large expensive packages of hardware that is generally sold today instead of individually. Built this for a friend. He says it works great.
Aiyion2 years ago
I really like this simple cutter-tutorial. But is there a way to find a well working combination of wirelength, thickness and a not exploding transformer? ( try'n'error seems to be a little expenseive :D ) I want to build something like a cnc-foam-cutter for my 3D-Box and do not want to spent that much money on useless "pooof"s. If someone is interested in getting and sharing ideas about foam cutters he would be welcome on my Blog: http://3d-box.blogspot.de/
kalexander82 years ago
I have a pair of 120/12V 4A transformers. 4A is not enough current. Does anyone know if they can be used together to get more amps through a single wire?
If they are identical, you can parallel them to increase the current output. (hook each of the two imputs to its companion, and likewise the outputs.) If they aren't identical, I wouldn't try it.
aaastikae2 years ago
i've tried but my transformer blew up. i've founded that hot wire foam cutting technique is not safe anymore. if any one have suggestion here please feel free to comment. it will be much better if you give me the process how to hot wire not blowing anything.
In order to help fellow constructors and my friends please check this helpfull page about DIY hot wire styrofoam cutter
mperry074 years ago
I made the hot wire foam cutter, it works great, for about a minute or 2, then there is a pop and a puff of smoke from the transformer. I've blown (2) Radio Shack 25 volt, 2 amp transformers. Dimmer switch is set to 1/3 or no more that 1/2 open. Does anyone have a solution? No more transformers left at Radio Shack.
social mperry072 years ago
In order to help fellow constructors and my friends please check this helpfull page about hot wire styrofoam cutter
I am using the same setup and experiencing the same issue with the tramsformer burning out. Were you able to find a solution? I've blown 2 so far.

Any idea what I might be doing wrong?

Thanks in advance.
nitroeh, what type of wire and diameter are you using?
swskamp nitroeh3 years ago
Your wire may be a little too thick. I had great results with a very thin wire like a guitar string. I could cut all day. Used some .035" Mig Welder steel wire and didn't cut 5 minutes before I burnt the transformer up. I'm currently looking for a transformer with 5 amps output to be able to heat up the larger wire.
leea9 mperry074 years ago
That would be only 50 watts. 50 watts does not sound like enough this size. I am trying to make a 3 foot cutter. It takes 3-4 amps. That much would blow a 2 amp transformer.

My problem is that when I cut I have strands of plastic trailing off of the cut edge. Why do I get those?
The temperature of the hot wire affects if you get a clean cut or a furry coating that has to be sanded off.
social2 years ago
In order to help fellow constructors and my friends please check this helpfull page about hot wire styrofoam cutter
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