Things Learned From Hot Wire Cutting a Droid’s Body

One of [Bithead]’s passions is making Star Wars droids, and in the process of building the outer shell for one of them he decided to use hot wire foam cutting and make his own tools. Having the necessary parts on hand and having seen some YouTube videos demonstrating the technique, [Bithead] dove right in. Things didn’t go exactly to plan but happily he decided to share what did and didn’t work, and in the end the results were serviceable.

[Bithead] built two hot wire cutters with nichrome wire. The first was small, but the second was larger and incorporated some design refinements. He also got an important safety reminder when he first powered on with his power supply turned up too high; the wire instantly turned red and snapped with an audible bang. He belatedly realized he was foolishly wearing neither gloves nor eye protection.

When it came to use his self-made tools, one of the biggest discoveries was that not all foam is equal in the eyes of a hot wire cutter. This is one of those things that’s common knowledge to experienced people, but isn’t necessarily obvious to a newcomer. A hot wire cutter that made clean and effortless cuts in styrofoam did no such thing with the foam he was using to cast his droid’s outer shell. Still, he powered through it and got serviceable results. [Bithead]’s blog post may not have anything new to people who have worked with foam and hot wire cutters before, but if you’re new to such things you can use it to learn from his experiences. And speaking of improving experiences, [Bithead] most recently snazzed up the presentation of his R2-D2 build by getting tricky with how he hides his remote control.

Piles Of Foam With A Hot Wire Slicer

foam

There are a million things you can do with foam, from some very impressive RC airplanes, all the way up to full-scale planes you can fly off into the wild blue yonder. Cutting foam, though, that’s a problem, and your best option is usually a hot wire foam cutter. [Darcy] put up some plans for a very nice bow cutter, but there’s also some experimentation for a foam slicer – a hot wire machine that takes a foam part and slices it like a smokehouse ham.

The bow-style cutter features laser cut parts, a pair of 1/4-20 bolts, a power supply, and about a foot of nichrome wire. It’s the bare minimum for cutting foam, but it seems to work really, really well.

The hot wire foam slicer is a much more interesting contraption, capable of making multiple thin sheets out of foam. Basically, it’s a laser cut tray with a bolt hole pattern running along the sides. Put two bolts along the side, loop some nichrome wire around the screw flights, and you have a way to cut foam in thicknesses of about 1/20th of an inch. Great if you’re trying to skin a model in very thin depron, or you just can’t find the right thickness of foam for your project.

CNC hot wire cutter from scanners

hot-wire-cutter-from-scanners

[Raul] built a CNC hot wire cutter that he uses for cutting shapes out of foam. His device uses two flat bed scanners to provide two planes of motion. One scanner arm has the foam mounted on it and provides the Y-axis movement. The other scanner has the hot wire mounted on it and provides the X-axis movement. The cutting wire is mounted on a flexed bow made from heavy gauge coat hanger wire.

He tapped into the logic board of one scanner to gain access to the motor movements. The other is connected through a couple of H-bridges. Both are controlled by an Atmel AVR ATmega128 which in turn takes its commands from a connection with a computer printer port. A python program uses vector graphic files in SVG format and traces the outline for cutting.

We’ve got a video of this in action after the break. At our request, [Raul] took some time to post a set of pictures and make comments on them. Thanks for the hard work and great job! Continue reading “CNC hot wire cutter from scanners”