I’ve got a good friend that is a model railroad buff. I can’t begin to tell you how much money he’s spent on accessories for his diorama, because it is absolutely huge, but I think I’ve bought cars for less money.
He uses styrofoam block to make his buildings, bridges, etc. and until recently, had gone the old school route and hacked away at the blocks with a razor knife, or a long serrated electric knife for carving meats.
This becomes difficult with thicker pieces, or those with curves required, and, because styrofoam is an expanded plastic, makes a real mess with all the small beads and debris when you cut it.
All this changed when he broke down and bought a heated wire cutter designed for use in dioramas, modeling, general crafting, and other applications. No mess, no fuss, clean edges, and much-improved results for accuracy and time spent on his projects, and they work on many other materials in addition to styrofoam.
In this review, we’re going to take a look at five different heated wire cutters for styrofoam. We’ve compiled important information into a concise table, including a link to the Amazon site page, and we will also give you a detailed review of each cutter, a buyer’s guide, and a list of frequently asked questions.
This set gives you pretty much everything you need from a cutter, right down to a blue pen to mark your cutting lines. It will cut through a variety of materials and heats up virtually instantly. It works equally well for cutting and carving. The needles and bow are easily cleaned with a damp cloth to prevent discoloration and fouling.
Usage and Technical Details
Eighteen watts of power deliver temperatures up to 300 degrees in as little as ten seconds. The bow has a .25mm stainless steel wire radius for extra strength, and the needles are 2mm diameter, and also stainless steel. Just over ten yards of replacement wire is included for the bow, and the transformer is also included.
An on-off switch makes for convenient usage, and the heat generated will cut through styrofoam and other materials quickly, and seal the edges for a better finish and reduced crumbling. It’s a top-three seller in craft shears.
Highly rated cutter overall, and also specifically for light weight, ease of use, and durability
Easy swapping of cutting tools, just pull out and push in
Cutter works best with lower density materials; not as effective with high-density foams
The combination of a budget-price and high customer ratings make this electric cutter an excellent value. The kit contains everything needed to get started with your craftwork.
This hot wire cutter is designed for free-hand cutting in styrofoam and other materials. It has an almost eight-inch throat depth so it can be used on wider panels. The variable cutting temperature control system gives precision results on multiple materials.
Usage and Technical Details
The wire included with the kit can be easily bent into specific configurations to give precise, repetitive contoured cuts. Temperatures are adjustable from 300o – 600o F. The kit comes with additional nickel-chrome wire replacements. A transformer must be purchased separately to use this cutter.
The trigger-finger on-off switch and easy temperature adjustment make this a great tool for styrofoam cutting. It has a deep throat to cut well into extra-wide panels, and the wire can be bent into any shape or form for identical repeat cuts.
Variable diameter wires can be used in the tool for additional cutting flexibility
Fast heating and cooling of the cutter
Requirement to purchase separate transformer makes this a fairly expensive cutter
This cutter is very flexible in use, with adjustable temperatures and the ability to custom-bend the wire for your application needs. If you do a lot of free-form cutting, this is an excellent tool for you.
This cutter set features a wire cutter, a long wand tool, and a short engraving tip, allowing you to work at various levels of detail on your projects. It has a long, comfortable handle, and an on-off switch for continuous use. The attachments change easily and heat up quickly when turned on – under ten seconds for all three implements.
Usage and Technical Details
The wire cutter is made from stainless steel with nickel-chrome wire for good conductivity and heat transfer. The engraving tools have a copper tip for fast, efficient heating with no fouling. It comes with a little over a yard of extra wire and features a lifetime money-back warranty and 24/7 customer support. A transformer is included, and a six-foot cord gives you plenty of flexibility in where you use the cutter.
With a six-volt adapter, you get fast heat-up of the cutting utensils, and it also has overheating protection. The long handle makes for comfortable use of the cutting tool, and the warranty makes this a good investment for the crafter.
Excellent warranty and support
Highly rated tool, especially for light weight, ease of use, and maneuverability; #4 seller in craft shears
No heat specifications are given; some complaints about larger wand not heating properly
If your definition of value is a good price, good performance, and a well-backed product, this cutter is the right one. It has good customer reviews and ratings and an excellent money-back warranty and customer service.
This is a different style of hot knife cutter, using heated blades to cut through styrofoam and many other materials. With this pistol-style tool, you can cut at variable angles to get the exact details you are looking for in your craft. In addition to craft use, it is also suitable for industrial and commercial applications.
Usage and Technical Details
The 200-watt cutter has adjustable temperatures ranging up to almost 1000o F. In addition to the cutter, you get a 6” and 8” blade, wrench, cleaning brush, and carrying case. The blades heat quickly for their size, in as little as ten seconds. It has a spring-loaded trigger and a ten-foot cord for a wide working range.
This is a heavy-duty tool that can be used in a variety of craft and even industrial applications. The eight-inch blade gives you the capacity to cut through even thick materials, and the adjustable temperature range will let you find that “sweet spot” for smooth, precise cutting. This is the #6 rated hot knife cutter in craft shears.
Highly rated overall, and specifically for value, temperature control, and durability
Fifteen different heat graduations to get the exact temperature needed
Primarily a cutting tool, so if you are looking for engraving or detail capability, this is not a good style for you
With a reasonable selling price and excellent reviews, this cutting knife could be an excellent addition to anyone’s tool chest. It would have dozens of uses around the home and could make short work of larger craft projects. The wide heat range makes it an excellent tool for a large variety of materials.
If you are a model builder, you know that precise, square cuts are necessary for assembling parts. This tabletop hot wire cutter is the perfect tool to give you a stable work surface to provide that level of precision. Modeled like a tabletop jig saw or band saw, the graduated top and laminated aluminum surface will give you the accuracy you need.
Usage and technical details
The cutting wire heats almost instantly to 360o F, and the 15” x 11” table gives you a large working area, supplemented by the almost 14” deep throat. The cutter comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty. An additional roll of wire is included, and the system even supports mitered cuts.
The table fence gives you precise control for repetitive cuts. The grid design and protractor on the laminated table help you set your material properly for accurate cutting. The aluminum working surface makes it easy to slide materials across the table.
Very highly rated, especially for value, ease of use, and accuracy
Adjustable fence for improved cutting accuracy on straight lines
Several complaints about quality of the user’s manual and assembly instructions
If you need a hot wire cutter with a high level of precision, this is the tool for you. The fixed wire and table fence will give you repeated, precisely square cuts. The large throat depth will let you work with larger sheets of foam, and the graduated table and protractor make it perfect for model builders.
The buyer’s guide section of this review is provided to give you additional insight into some of the key terms, features, application information, and specifications that are important in selecting the proper hot wire cutter for your application. In addition to the information provided here, we also encourage you to check the manufacturer’s web sites, or other craft web sites, to get more detailed information, reviews, and recommendations.
Many of these wire cutters come with different tools that serve different functions, such as hole boring, engraving, shaping and edging, etc. If you anticipate changing tools often, it’s good to look for a set that allows for easy removal and replacement of tools. Some of these sets are simple pull out – plug in changes, while others have different set-ups requiring a wrench to change the tips. In all cases, make sure that the tool being used has cooled completely before removing it.
Without getting too technical here, let’s talk a quick look at the level of power you should look for when buying a hot wire cutter. The power requirements will be determined by the length of the wire you need to heat, the resistance of the wire (a function of length and thickness), and the cutting temperature required. In general terms, one watt of power is needed for each inch of length for a standard nickel-chrome wire. Remember that significantly more power will be needed to heat the blade-type models such as the one in 3.4 above because of their larger surface area.
Temperature Range and Adjustment
Temperature Range and Adjustment
If you will be working with a lot of different materials, choosing a hot wire cutter with adjustable temperatures is probably best for your application. While a fixed temperature cutter would likely work, you may have issues with the time it takes to cut through certain materials or burning if the heat is at too high a temperature. It’s also much easier to find the “sweet spot” with an adjustable cutter – that combination of the temperature and speed the cutter moves through the material.
Maximum Temperature vs. Operating Temperature
Maximum Temperature vs. Operating Temperature
In most cases, the temperatures shown will be given in non-operating circumstances. In other words, the cutting edge will reach a higher temperature in the air than when it is cutting styrofoam, as the foam will absorb the heat. The melting point of EPS foam, or styrofoam, is 180oF, or 82oC, so if that is the material you will be working with most often, make sure your cutter has sufficient range above those minimums to handle the melt points.
The hot wire cutters reviewed here use nickel-chrome wire, and you should make sure that any replacement wire purchased is the same type and quality. Using a wire with less resistance may cause it to overheat and start a fire in the wiring of the cutter. A higher resistance wire might not generate enough heat to cut the material. Remember also that a larger diameter wire will have more resistance than a smaller diameter wire, making it harder to heat. The larger diameter will, however, also be stronger, so your trade-off is strength vs. temperature.
There does not appear to be much availability of additional tools and accessories for these hot wire foam cutters. For the most part, what you get in the original kit is all that is available, other than replacement parts such as wire. Some additional items that could be purchased include small wire brushes for cleaning residual materials off your tools, and a good quality, retractable razor knife for non-detailed trimming or starting center holes.
1) Which temperature is required for hot wire styrofoam cutter?
For the actual cutter itself, we recommend trying a unit with adjustable temperature settings. This will give you much more flexibility in working with different materials with different melt points. As far as styrofoam itself, the melting point is 180oF, so your cutter must be capable of at least that as a minimum temperature. Also to be noted – the temperature capabilities you see listed for hot wire cutters are almost always measured in the open air. Because styrofoam and other materials will absorb heat from the wire faster than air, the actual operating temperatures will be significantly lower than the listed temperatures. Higher temperatures will also allow you to move the cutter through the material faster than if the wire is at a lower temperature.
2) Is it safe to use a homemade styrofoam cutter?
Unless you are a trained or skilled electrician, we would recommend against making and using a homemade hot wire styrofoam cutter. Bottom line, there are just too many things that could go wrong, potentially resulting in electric shock, burns, or even fire. Choosing the wrong wire, for instance, could result in a fire if the resistance is too low. If the resistance is too high, you won’t be able to heat it enough to melt the styrofoam. One loose wire could give you a bad electrical shock. If you do feel the need to try building your own, we would recommend looking to a battery-powered unit, rather than an electrical one. In addition, with the prices for a basic hot wire cutter starting at under $30, it’s doubtful you would even save any money building your own.
3) What is the best hot styrofoam cutter for plane craft?
Depending on the scale you are working with on your model planes, there really is no single “best” styrofoam hot wire cutter. The diversity of the size of the parts in a model plane makes it very difficult to use a single tool for everything. Items like the cockpit, wheels, and landing gear require small, intricate, highly detailed cutting. For this, a small wand would likely work best. A wand is also a good choice for items requiring inside cuts; think in terms of the cut-outs on a steering wheel. From there, you move into larger items, such as the wings, fuselage, and tail fins. These could be cut with a free-hand, looped hot wire cutter, but the detail of those cuts will only be as good as the steadiness of your hand. Items that have multiple curves, or require sophisticated joinery are probably best served with a tabletop wire cutter.
4) How does a styrofoam cutter work?
In its most basic form, a hot wire cutter is made of a metal frame, with a single wire tightly strung across the frame. The wire is typically made from a nickel-chrome alloy, and an electric current is passed through the wire, heating it to temperatures in excess of 300oF; in some cases, temperatures can reach 900oF. Contrary to popular belief, the wire is not performing the actual cutting operation. The heat generated from the wire is actually vaporizing the styrofoam just slightly ahead of and around it and then continuing to pass through that line until the styrofoam is fully cut.
5) Can a tabletop hot wire cutter (such as #3.5 in our review) make inside cuts in styrofoam?
The simple answer is “yes,” but there are a few steps involved. An inside cut involves the removal of some of the styrofoam, but still having a solid outer piece. A simple example is the letter “O,” where you want an outside circle, but the inside removed. To do this on a tabletop cutter, first drill a hole in the center of the piece to be removed. Disconnect the wire from the tool, then feed it through the hole in your piece. Reattach the wire to the tool. Moving from the center hole, cut away the inside until you reach your cut line. Try to blend in the start and end of the cut smoothly. When completed, turn off the tool and let the wire cool. Disconnect it from the tool again, remove the piece by feeding the wire through it, and then either reconnect the wire to the tool or start again with another piece. This task is better completed with a wand, blade, or boring tool, as you don’t have to keep taking the tool apart.
6) How do you cut foam board smoothly?
The simplest way to get a smooth cut through foam board is to use one of the wire cutters featured in this review. As the heated blade vaporizes and separates the material in front of it, it also super-heats and seals the edges of the cut, leaving a smooth finish. Cutting with a razor knife, while an option, will likely leave a very rough edge, and a splintered cut line on the top and bottom of the material you are using. If it is a one-time project, you can clean up the rough edges and splinters by covering them with a thin layer of spackling compound. Once it has dried completely, you can sand it lightly and end up with a smooth finish. Of course, this step adds a lot of time and effort to the project. For small jobs, waxed dental floss is a decent alternative. So, if you are doing craft projects regularly, we recommend that you invest in a suitable hot wire cutter.
7) What maintenance is required with a hot wire foam cutter?
Fortunately, hot wire foam cutters are a relatively maintenance-free product. Following each use, it’s good practice to wipe down the blade, attachment, or wand with a damp cloth to remove any residual materials or film. Of course, this should only be done after the equipment has fully cooled and has been unplugged. Pre-use inspections should look for loose wires in the frame, effectively working on-off switches, no loose electrical wires, and any foreign materials on the tool. If there are electrical issues, the tool should not be used to avoid the risks of electrical shock or fire.
8) Can I use my hot wire foam cutter anywhere?
If you are going to be using your hot wire cutter indoors, as most will, try to pick a room with adequate ventilation. As polystyrene burns, it can emit noxious fumes in the form of styrene gas; while they are not particularly noticeable, they are nonetheless still there. While there are no short-term, or acute effects, longer-term exposures can trigger an effect on the nervous system such as headaches and nausea. Avoid direct inhalation of the fumes, and a small fan can be used to disperse them.
As my friend the model railroad enthusiast has discovered, having the right tools can greatly increase your enjoyment and performance in designing and building craft projects. Crafts can be a great way to focus on only one thing, with all your concentration, ignoring all the distractions and pressures from everyday life. But not getting the results you want can be extremely frustrating, and quickly drain the enjoyment of crafting.
In this article, we’ve given you a look at five different options for hot wire foam cutting tools. Even though primarily designed for cutting styrofoam, these cutters can also handle trimming and shaping a wide variety of plastics, and other low-density foamed materials. For a relatively minor investment, they will make your crafting more enjoyable, and maybe even more profitable.
We hope this information has been valuable to you and will make it easier for you to choose the absolutely right foam cutter for your craft needs.