Scrappy Hot Wire Cutter




This is my first instructable so it's also kind of scrappy, messy, not really refined. It just had to be made.

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Step 1: Gather Materials

After seeing a few Instructables on hot wire cutters and wanting to spend nearly nothing on one, I gathered the following parts and made one.


  1. (1) 10x32 x3" machine bolt
  2. (3) 10x32 x2" machine bolt
  3. (1) 10x32 x1" machine bolt
  4. (7) 10x32 nut
  5. (1) heavy solid core wire 12", like 20 amp Romex.
  6. (1) wood scrap for table, 10" x 5"
  7. (1) scrap of wood for feet
  8. (1) spool of nichrome wire
  9. (1) auto fuse, 6 amp.
  10. (2) female spade connectors
  11. (1) power supply 12v 2 Amp
  12. (1) 1" PVC pipe cap
  13. (1) 1" PVC ell
  14. (1) 1" PVC pipe, 12 inches.
  15. (1) 18 gauge wire for power
  16. (1) wire nut or solder.
  17. zip ties, electrical tape, connectors of your choosing.


  1. Hand Saw
  2. Drill
  3. Crimper
  4. Wire cutter
  5. Wire stripper
  6. Needle nose pliers

Optional but recommended:

  1. Soldering iron and solder.
  2. Heat shrink tubing.
  3. High amp DC connectors.

Step 2: The Table

Creating the table is easy. Here I'm just holding the parts to get an idea of the final shape.

Drill a hole in the wood and the cap where you want the mast to be, centered near the back. Use a 10x20 nut and bolt to secure the PVC cap to the table.

The PVC mast needs some holes drilled for holding the nichrome wire and stiff wire extension. Two at the stubby end, one at the long end, and one at the elbow. I found that it was easier to drill the PVC elbow from each side instead of straight through to make a better alignment.

Assemble the mast and table but don't glue anything, it's easier to adjust and put away if you can disassemble it.

To create the stiff wire extension, bend the heavy solid core wire as shown into a hook and loop.

The hook end goes in one hole, the loop is firmly attached with a 2 inch 10x30 machine bolt.

Check that the heavy wire extension is long enough before trimming. Leave enough wire to form a hook above where the nichrome will go through the table. The heavy wire extension also protects the PVC from the heat, it is important to not have the nichrome wire touch anything that melts.

Step 3: Test Assembly

Use some string to test routing of the nichrome wire path and find the point on the table where the wire will be vertical. It's a good idea to try and center stuff as much as possible. When you have found where the wire should go through the table, drill a hole there. Note how the nichrome is held away from the PVC mast.

Step 4: Bottom Attatchment

For the bottom I decided against wood screws, being too long and such. So instead I used a 1" machine bolt and countersunk it. Again I made a hook in the heavy wire but left enough wire after the hook to act as a handle for adjustment later.

Step 5: The Fuse

You should really use a fuse when dealing with high current DC devices, and they are easy to inline, just get two spade connectors, a fuse, and a crimper. If there is stress from the wires, zip tie them together.

Step 6: Wiring

The wiring is very easy. From power positive to fuse to nichrome wire back to power negative. The alligator clamp is to change resistance if needed. Here the feet have been glued on, one of the feet has a hole drilled to manage the return wire. I've soldered the return wire (ground, to power negative) to the heavy gauge wire but a wire nut could be used I suppose.

Step 7: Final Assembly

The pipe behind the nichrome is just so you can see the wire.

When winding the nichrome wire, keep the following in mind:

  1. The wire should be vertical.
  2. The wire should be under tension.

This is actually pretty easy, just tie the nichome to the bottom, pull the top tight and tighten the nut securing the wire, and then adjust the heavy Romex wires. Note the heavy Romex wire is bent down from tension. It isn't very much since the heavy Romex extension acts as the spring, so it's only a little tension, enough to make the wire straight.

Step 8: Measuring Resistance

Before attaching a power source, you should measure the resistance with a multimeter. I measured 11 ohms without using the alligator clip, and 6 ohms when attached at the top hook. This meant that 1 to 2 amps would be going through a 12 volt dc source. This seemed reasonable. Power is volts times amps, so again with a little fudging, 12 watts to 24 watts.

Step 9: Test Cut

The first test cut worked. Amazing. Also the released gasses are very nasty so do this outside! A test of closed cell foam also worked. I decided to try a small project.

Step 10: First Project

I decided to make an Instructables Robot out of closed cell foam and a printout.

I printed out the Instructables Robot and went over it a few times with a marker to try and transfer it to the closed cell foam. I then drew directly on the foam to create a path to cut. I then cut it out, printed a color version of the robot, cut that out, and glued them together. Not bad for a first try.

When cutting very narrow pieces, you could see the individual cell strands.


This final shot shows the alligator clamp at an intermediate position on the nichrome wire, as I needed a little more power.

So there you have it, it's time to make a hot wire foam cutter.

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    14 Discussions


    11 months ago

    WHAT YOU MEAN SCRAPPY? It does the job right, forget PWM, mosfets, this applies here, KISS, I just made one, used PVC like you, powered by 12V AC 3AMP center tapped transformer, connect 6 volts for regular styrofoam, 12 volts for dense insulation styrofoam, works like a charm, as someone once said "it don't have to look pretty as long as it works".

    2 replies

    Reply 11 months ago

    That looks like a nice version, with guides and a proper copper fitting at the bottom.


    2 years ago

    Mosfet regulation with a common lead battery charger.
    With a panel that shows the current.
    N channel mosfet being regulated with a frequeny between 2khz and 6khz, with a ne555 ic electronic scheme wll handle the current.
    Mosfet cooled with heatsink.
    Now you control the heat in the nichrome wire.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    That would be much more efficient than moving an alligator clip along the nichrome. However, this project is devoid of electronics, soldering is optional. I love the 555 and use a few as flip flops. My mosfets are still in China but I may add a PWM controller later.


    2 years ago

    Awesome! I have an old Tyco Type 1 AC/DC model train transformer that I used to use. Your improvised design is the best! That is way creative and resourcefully innovative! Thanks for sharing!

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    According to my calculations, a 1 amp 5 volt connection, say from a USB charger, should be enough to run at least 5 inches of 32 gauge nichrome. 12 volts was plenty and when I ran it full tilt the wire glowed red so that is probably too much. Thank you for your kind comments.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Good call. The table top "scroll saw" (or that is the term that is coming to mind to me) type hot wire cutters are new to me. I used to have a hanging or held in my hand 2"x2" 3' long piece of wood with two 1/8" holes drilled in the end perpendicular to the length at a slight outward to the 3' length angle and about 6" of 1/8" metal rod (I forget if was spring steel, piano wire or what from the hobby shop) that was inserted into the holes with maybe 1/2" protruding through the inner angled side. that is where I attached the transformer. I want to say I used a car battery charger even, though I don't recall exactly and am thinking that was for testing faster heating and wasn't controlled enough. The other side used the nichrome or I think I even used piano wire with hook bends at the two ends if not loops for the nichrome wire. I think I even put little notches on the 1/8" 6" length pieces maybe 1/16" off the outer angled side bottoms for the wire to seat better. This was for cutting longer length segments of foam for model airplane wings or fuselages. Thanks for bringing back the memories and inspiring for a new build. Your design is really effective.


    2 years ago

    That's cool that you are able to adjust the power (resistance) just by moving the position of the alligator clamp. I never knew hot wire cutters were so dead-simple.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks! I also added a switch and that has been super useful.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Don't forget to smash that "I made this button" when you do!


    2 years ago

    That's a neat setup! Great first instructable, your photos and instructions are clear and easy to follow. :)

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you for the encouraging message.