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Styrofoam is a great material and can be used for many things like prototyping, prop making and even RC airplanes. Cutting styrofoam can be very tricky though. The best tool for this is a hot wire foam cutter. I wanted to be able to recycle styrofoam for future projects, so I decided to make my own.

A hot wire foam cutter is fairly easy to make and many people have done so already. I didn't want to just copy someone else's design, so I designed my own with the best features I could think of. I tried to make it look cool as well and also added laser engravings to the table!

This project was designed to be cut on a CNC router, but can definitely be made by hand! I have included all of the design files, so you can make your own. Let's get started!

Warning
Always cut styrofoam in a well ventilated area, you don't want to breath in the fumes. The wire is HOT, don't touch it!

Step 1: Design and Features

Design

Because I wanted to use my CNC router to make all the parts for this project, I had to make a 'complete' drawing in Solidworks. This project is fairly simple, but I wanted to make it look good as well. As you can see I added a lot of curves and other features to the parts that are mainly aesthetic. It looks kinda like a spaceship (with enough imagination..), which I think is pretty cool! I exported all the parts as DXF files (see next step), so I could create the toolpaths for the CNC router. I have included the drawings I made below.

Features

  • Cut capacity
    This foam cutter can cut a maximum height of 200mm and 200mm wide.
  • Fence
    It features an adjustable fence that allows you to make accurate straight cuts
  • Laser engraved table
    Laser engraved markings on the table allow you to set the fence at an accurate distance from the cutting wire. The table also has an Instructables logo on it :)!
  • Metal table protector
    A removable metal washer, protects the table from accidental burnings.
  • Spring tensioner
    Nichrome wire expands when it heats up. Without a tensioner the wire would become loose when you heat up the cutter. The spring in the upper attachment point keeps the wire straight.
  • Banana plugs
    The machine can be easily plugged into a benchtop power supply with some banana cables (test leads).
  • Easy to assemble
    I added pockets to all of the pieces, which help to align them when assembling the machine.
  • Looks kinda cool!

Step 2: Tools and Materials

This project was made with things I had lying around. If you need to purchase all of the components, it will probably cost around 20-30 dollars (excluding the power supply). I used a variable benchtop power supply, because this allows you to change the temperature of the wire.

Materials

Tools

Step 3: Cutting

With a CNC router
This project was designed to be cut out on a CNC router. I used CamBam to convert all the DXF files into tool paths for the machine. CamBam is a very easy to use program and works very well for simple 2D pieces. I have included all the DXF files down below.

Feeds and speeds:
- 1200 rpm
- 1500 mm/min
- 3 mm depth per pass

Downcut Spiral End mill
For this project I used a special carbide downcut spiral end mill. This end mill does not pull the chips up, but pushes them down. This type of end mill (see picture) works very well in plywood. I have found that normal end mills can leave a very rough edge, because they pull up the top layer of veneer. The downcut end mill leaves a very clean edge! The main advantage for me is that I don't have to use tabs to hold the pieces in place. Because the saw dust gets pushed in between the workpiece and the scrap piece the pieces are held in place firmly enough to cut all the way through. For plywood I always use carbide end mills. The glue in the plywood really dulls HSS end mills very fast. The one I used can be found here.

By hand
If you don't have a CNC router, you can definitely still make this project. You can print out the DXF files as templates and glue them onto the plywood. A bandsaw, jigsaw or even a scroll saw, should work well to cut out all the pieces. Note that all of the curves and the holes in the arm are purely aesthetic. You can leave all the pieces square if you want. The pockets in the table and base, are there for extra support and to align te pieces, but are not completely necessary.

Step 4: Drilling

I used the CNC to pre drill all the hole positions. On the drill press I drilled them to their final size. All the screw holes get countersunk and the base gets a larger hole on the bottom for the nut and washer of the eye bolt. The arm receives a 8 mm hole for the bronze bushings. I also drilled holes to install some female banana plugs. These will be used to provide power to the cutter.

Next I installed the table and transferred the hole locations to the support pieces. I then pre drilled these holes, so the wood won't split when you drive in the screws later.

Step 5: Sanding and Fitting

Now comes everyones favorite part of the whole project, sanding... It's easier to sand the pieces now, then when it's all assembled. I used a pad sander for the surfaces and rounded over the corners by hand.

The plywood I used ended up being a little bit thicker than I had planned. I should have measured this beforehand, because now the pockets where a little bit too small. I used a sharp box cutter and chisels to widen the slots slightly.

Step 6: Laser Engraving the Table

About a year ago, I received a Shapeoko CNC machine from Instructables. Because I already have a homemade CNC router, I decided to convert it into a small laser engraver.

I wanted to add some 1 cm markings to the table. This allows you to precisely set the fence a certain distance from the wire. While I was at it, I also put the Instructables robot on there, to make it more awesome :)!

As you can probably see in the picture, I originally messed up the numbering of the lines... I should have started at 0 instead of 1, so I had to sand them off and redo the numbers.

Step 7: Glueing

Now that all the pieces are finished, it's time to glue everything together. Make sure all the pieces are square when they are glued up. The table is only screwed down, this allows you to remove it to access the eye bolt.

Step 8: Finishing

I used some furniture oil to finish all of the pieces. I don't think it's really necessary for this machine, but it does make it look a little better and will protect it from greasy fingers.

Step 9: Installing the Nichrome Wire

Step 1: Connect the wire terminals to the wires and install the bottom eye bolt with two washers and two nuts.

Step 2: Put the nichrome wire through the eye bolt and twist it around itself to secure it.

Step 3: Install the table and thread the wire through the table and the washer.

Step 4: Temporarily clamp the arm to the base, it's position will be adjusted later.

Step 5: Install the bronze bushings

Step 6: Install the top eye bolt with the spring and wire attached (see picture).

Step 7: Push the top eye bolt all the way down and connect the wire in the same way as on the bottom eye bolt.

Step 8: Check if the wire is square to the table and adjust the arm position accordingly.

Step 9: Secure the arm in place with some screws. I also added an extra bolt through the base and the arm to make the connection even stronger.

Step 10: Installing the Fence

The two carriage bolts slide in the slots of the table, the square parts under the head prevent them from turning.

Step 11: Wiring

I installed two female banana plugs on the base to easily connect the cutter to a benchtop power supply with some test leads. The cables are connected to these plugs and secured with cable ties to the arm.

Step 12: Watts, Amps, Volts?

I used this nichrome wire calculator to select the correct voltage and amperage. The bench top power supply I used has an adjustable current limit. For me 3 volts and 2.2 Amps worked well. You want to cut styrofoam at around 200 degrees Celsius.

Note if you don't have an adjustable power supply, you can try to find a power supply with the correct wattage.

Step 13: Test Cut

In the pictures above, you can see a couple of test pieces I made. I used a template for the reindeer, which can be found here.

Step 14: Conclusion

As you can see in the previous step, the cutter works very well! I really like how it turned out and it will be a great tool to use in the future. The fence and laser engravings turned out to be very handy for preparing styrofoam blanks.

I hoped you enjoyed reading this Instructable and would love to hear your ideas and suggestions about this project in the comments. If you you have any questions feel free to ask!

Benne is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon(.com, .co.uk, .ca etc) and any other website that may be affiliated with Amazon Service LLC Associates Program.

<p>Hi nice Job any chance you could find time to post a DXF or nc code for</p><p>the laser engraving?.</p><p>Sorry if you already have and I missed it but I have been through all of the files I think.</p>
<p>Love that!</p><p>I worked in Styrofoam industry for a while and your design is just awsome! </p><p>Thx for sharing!</p>
<p>Nice job! I'm thinking of making one for my students to use. Concerning the power supply, what sort of current and voltage do you typically use? I'm wondering if the one I have currently (no pun intended ) will be adequate.</p>
<p>Look up nichrome wire transformer calculator on the internet, it will let you calculate the power supply based on the thickness and length of the wire your using</p>
haha, see step 12
<p>Thanks, should have read through the whole thing first.</p>
<p>Very nice work pretty sure you could sell quite a few of the wood cutouts as kits and just provide a BOM for the remaining parts. Seeing projects like this really make me want to build a CNC.</p>
<p>Good professional piece of work! You got my vote.</p>
<p>I know a lot of cosplayers that would love to have this!</p>
<p>This is an almost perfect machine.<br>The only thing I can think about to improve it is a way to tilt the arm holding the wire or the table, whatever is easier.</p><p>Do you have any idea how to adapt this design to allow for these changes ?</p>
<p>This is really great, cant believe this hasn't been thought of before,awesome</p>
<p>sadly, it has been done, there is an original reference at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2n_EbRzZ0g (7 months ago)</p>
<p>oh right, im sad to say this has passed me by lol still a great write up, cheers for sharing </p>
Well as I set in my intro, a hot wire foam cutter is nothing new. I focused on a great design and a lot of added features and that's what makes this Instructable original and hopefully inspiring.
<p>yes, thanks, benne! I was clarifying to Jedi_zombie85 about that sentence :D </p>
<p>Thank you!</p>
<p>I would love to know if you would make a kit of just the wood parts that I could buy from you????? You did such a great job on it. I know that I couldn't do it like that because I don't have the tools for it. I build styrofoam radio control planes and this would be great! Just let me know. </p><p>thanks Paul</p>
<p>Hi Paul, I send you a PM. Shipping to the US is expensive though. If more people are interested in a kit, just send me a PM.</p>
Do you know what it would cost to ship it?
<p>i think &quot;sexy&quot; is the right term people are throwing around; i thought the same thing.</p><p>i wonder if you should add a simple spring to connect the wire to the eye-bolt? Experience tells me with these things when you rely on the arm to keep the wire straight it tends to not happen and goes slack after a few cycles of heat/electricity. Sometimes in the middle of a cut.</p><p>Spring(s) tend to help this problem...</p><p>TFP!</p>
haha thanks, but did you see the spring on top of the arm? the upper eye bolt can slide through the bronze bushings and the spring pulls the string tight.
<p>OoOoOo. I read it cover-to-cover (might try it with my students) but missed that part... ty</p>
<p>Could you use a model train power supply for this project?</p>
<p>Excellent. Thanks for your effort</p>
<p>nice job, I will definately build one for myself! I rigged up a simple cutter awhile back to cut a few pieces of foam but a dedicated platform would definitely make things easier! thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>Thanks! A stable platform with a fence is indeed very handy :).</p>
Awesome foam cutter! It looks very well built! Was it hard to cut that deer?
<p>Thanks, It was definitely easier than I expected :). You just draw the template on two faces of a rectangular block. Cut out one side, keep all the pieces together, cut out the other side and you have a baby deer.</p>
I have made one, the fence your add it's a nice touch probably I gonna add one to mine thanks for sharing
<p>Nice! This is so cool... Ummm... Hot!</p><p>I've been wanting to make myself one for quite a long time, and I really like the idea for the fence. I think I might make something similar to mine! :)</p>
<p>Thank you! I have seen some of your other projects and I definitely think it will turn out great if you decide to make one.</p>
<p><em>Wait a second...</em></p><p>I forgot that I don't even have room for storing one, and since it isn't a tools that I probably won't use <em>very</em> often, If I don't find a way to make it &quot;flat pack&quot;, I'll have to make it handheld, like <a href="http://www.mossfoam.com/images/SixGun.jpg">this one</a>. </p>
<p>Wow a really brilliant idea, nice work</p>
<p>Thanks! :)</p>
<p>Its actually an attractive piece to have on a workbench, very talented!</p>
<p>Thank you very much!</p>
<p>Types of foam</p><p>Yes you used poly expanded beads, but what about poly extruded, &amp; Iso?</p>
This is a truly professional looking product. By far one of the nicest things I have seen on this site!
<p>Thank you, it is greatly appreciated!</p>
<p>What a great design. Could it be used for foam rubber as well? Is there a density limit?</p>
<p>Thanks! I'm not sure about the foam rubber though. Foam rubber is usually made from polyurethane and I don't think that it's suitable for hot wire cutting. You can adjust the wire temperature if you want to cut denser foams, but I haven't tested yet if there is a limit.</p>
<p>I don't know if one can/ should say this about a hot wire foam cutter, but this one sure is sexy looking! ☺</p>
<p>Hahaha, mission accomplished :).</p>

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