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Make a Hot Wire Foam Cutter - dual purpose -handheld and table top

This is an easy hot wire foam cutter project and it is also quite unique in that it is two tools in one.

It is a hand hel d cutter and you can slide that hand held unit into the base and it becomes a table top cutter.

The template for this project with all the plans and dimensions is right here: Hot Wire Foam Cutter Plans

I also have a video tutorial for this project at the bottom of the page.

Will has a youtube channel with over 700 videos on projects you can make. Check it out right here


Making detail cuts with the foam cutter


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These next two pictures show you the unique thing about this hot wire cutter. The first picture shows the handle installed in the unit. You can use it as a table top cutter.

The hot wire table unit

And in this next picture the handle has been removed and you can use it as a hand-held cutter.

The hot wire hand held unit


In this tutorial I give you the complete plans for making all the wood parts of this project. And I show you how to wire it up. I also give you a parts list.

And there are a few different ways you can power up the hot wire so I will show you how I did it and I will give you some alternatives.

We will also look at hot wire, how it works and how you can improvise any kind of hot wire cutter that you want. You will have an understanding of the wire and how it works so you can adjust things as you want them.

Parts List

  • 26 Gauge NiChrome Wire, at least six inches Woodland Scenics Hot Wire Replacement Wire 4
  • 1/4 inch plywood pieces
  • some wood glue
  • 1 push button switch, normally open. You have to depress and hold for it to be on
  • Wire: Several feet of wire at 18 gauge or thicker
  • 2 Bolts: 6-32 x 3/4 inch long
  • 4 nuts: 6-32
  • 8 washers: #8
  • Some kind of power supply, up to 2 amps (For this wire cutter and size wire we only go up to 1 amp in current.
  • The template


The Template

The template with all the plans and dimensions is right here.

How a Hot Wire Foam Cutter Works

The concept is very simple. When you pass electricity through a wire it gets hot. And some types of metals are very good at this and very predictable. A type of wire called NiChrome is perfect for this. In the first picture here we see nichrome wire hooked up to a power supply. In the second picture we have applied a current to it. Looks great. It is very hot and it will slice through foam very easily.

cool nichrome wire Hot nichrome wire

And nichrome wire is very reliable and very predictable. And it has pretty good strength. So it will last and it is very useful for a hot wire foam cutter.


The taut wire gap

So, we can use this wire tautly across a gap and put electricity through it and we have a nice hot wire foam cutter.


The hand held unit


What voltage and current should you use?

The power supply

The important thing is the current (amperage) that flows through the wire. This is what heats it up. And for our hot wire foam cutter with a four inch length of wire a good amperage is .90 amps. With this current the wire gets to a good temperature for cutting all types of foam. To achieve this current we are applying 4.4 volts to the wire.







With this current the wire gets to a good temperature for cutting all types of foam.

In the above picture you see various types of foam that I have cut. The white foam is styrofoam and it is very easy to cut. We can consequently lower the voltage and current for it. We want to use a minimum of current while still cutting very smoothly and cleanly. This will extend the life of the hot wire.

For cutting white styrofoam I have reduced the current to .80 amps. It takes 3.9 volts to get this.










Okay! Let's build it (continue)


Video Tutorial:



This is the nichrome wire that I use in this project. It is 26 Gauge wire (26 AWG)

Woodland Scenics Hot Wire Replacement Wire 4'


This is the power supply that I purchased and use for this project:


Tekpower Variable DC Power Supply, 0-18 Volts, @ 0-3 Amps

For sale is a brand new, professional DC regulated power supply from Mastech, Model number HY1803D. This is a highly stable, high quality linear power supply with its output continuously adjustable at 0-18V DC and 0-3A. The unit comes with 2 LCD displays, providing accurate readout for the voltage and current values.




Hot wire foam cutterHot Wire Foam Cutter

(This is the exact one that Will uses) The Hot Wire Foam Cutter has adjustable collars allowing for clean, accurate cuts in foam. Woodland Scenics recommends using only on SubTerrain white foam which emits no toxic fumes. Use only special nichrome replacement wire. The throat of the Hot Wire Foam Cutter is 4.5" wide by 5.5" deep. Input: 120VAC and Output: 9VAC, 1300mA.



Proxxon 37080 Hot Wire Cutter THERMOCUT

Proxxon Hot Wire Cutter THERMOCUT. The large table with 15 11/32" x 11" (390 x 280 mm) and working surface of Alu Cobond compound ensures smooth and easy movement of the work piece. The printed grid and protractor assist with division and cutting. The solid aluminum over arm has a 13 3/4" (350 mm) throat and offers 5" (140 mm) in height. The 5 1/2" holder and wire coil (98 ft, 0.008" diameter is included) may be shifted and adjusted along the overarm to enable miter cutting. An LED indicates operation and helps prevent burnt fingers (the cutting wire heats to the maximum temperature in less than 1 second). Note:The correct temperature, being dependent on material and thickness, is learnt from experience. Optimum profiles are cut at lower temperatures and while applying less cutting force.