The build of the Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter machine isn’t difficult just measure twice and cut once as the saying goes. This page has the build instructions, plans you’ll need as well as the cutting lists. The controller board and the stepper I’d recommend you buy as a kit including the power supply. Loads on eBay or Amazon, check the table below to see what I used and recommendations.  I’ve included all the details of my machine so if you follow this you can build your own. All my dimensions are in inches but you can convert to millimeters if you prefer.

If you don’t want to do all the cutting and sourcing the parts check Vortec-RC they have a very nice build and can supply a kit ready for assembly http://www.vortex-rc.com/product/4-axis-diy-hot-wire-cnc-for-rc-hobbyists-aeromodellers-and-designers/

If you have a pillar drill its very useful and ensures holes are drilled straight. I used cross dowels to join the major parts and these are available at most DIY stores. I used M6 cross dowels with socket/Allen key heads.

For my Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter I used RJ-45 sockets and cables to connect the TB6560. This is optional but allows me to disassemble the machine very easily when not in use. It you have lots of space then you can wire it directly

You may wish to build the mechanical parts of the Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter before getting the electronics and motors. To save yourself time and some expense take the cutting list to local diy store and get them to cut all the parts. My local store does this and you only pay for what you need and you’ll get them cut to the correct size with nice square cuts.

Amazon seem to have a wider range and better prices in the USA and has most of the items come from China but ship worldwide.  So you may do better ordering from Amazon USA

US Parts List with links to eBay and Amazon

Electronics    
QtyDescriptionItemeBayAmazon
1The controller board using separate drivers modules.4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board steppers and power supply – separate driversLatest PricesLatest Price
orThe all in one controller board. The one I use4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board and power supply – drivers one board usually cheaperLatest PricesLatest Price
4Stepper Motors57BYGH56-401A stepper motors NEMA 23 or similar just make sure the current is suitable for the driver boardLatest PricesLatest Price
Hardware    
4Connect to steppers via couplers to drive the towersM10 x 1000mm Threaded RodLatest PriceLatest Price
2Drawer slides for the X and A axis24" (600mm) Drawer Slide 4 required usually come in pairsLatest PricesLatest Price
2Drawer slides for Y and Z axis18" (450mm) Drawer Slide 4 required usually come in pairsLatest PricesLatest Price
4Threaded rod use these to drive the towersM10 4 Prong Tee NutsLatest PriceLatest Price
4Connects steppers to threaded rod6.35 x 10mm D25mm L30mm Flexible CouplingLatest PriceLatest Price
4Optional. Allows me to use my controller on my CNC router and well as the foam cutterRJ45 Wall SocketsLatest PriceLatest Price
4Optional. Allows me to use my controller on my CNC router and well as the foam cutterCat5 patch cable length to suite your layoutLatest PriceLatest Price
13/4” or 18 mm MDF Sheetprobably 1/2 a sheet.Local DIY Store
30Used to easily join MDF partsM6 Cross dowels and Allen Head BoltLatest PriceLatest Price

UK Parts List with links to eBay and Amazon

Amazon prices in the UK for some of the controllers and stepper motors are not the best and in some case don’t have them.  I recommend eBay for the UK.

Electronics    
QtyDescriptionItemeBayAmazon
1The controller board using separate drivers modules.4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board steppers and power supply – separate driversLatest PriceUse eBay in UK
orThe all in one controller board. The one I use4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board and power supply – drivers one board usually cheaperLatest PricesUse eBay in UK
4Stepper Motors57BYGH56-401A stepper motors NEMA 23 or similar just make sure the current is suitable for the driver boardLatest PricesUse eBay in UK
Hardware    
4Connect to steppers via couplers to drive the towersM10 x 1000mm Threaded RodLatest PriceLatest Price
2Drawer slides for the X and A axis24"(600mm) Drawer Slide 4 required usually come in pairsLatest PricesLatest Price
2Drawer slides for Y and Z axis18" (450mm) Drawer Slide 4 required usually come in pairsLatest PricesLatest Price
4Threaded rod use these to drive the towersM10 4 Prong Tee NutsLatest PricesLatest Price
4Connects steppers to threaded rod6.35 x 10mm D25mm L30mm Flexible CouplingLatest PricesLatest Price
4Optional. Allows me to use my controller on my CNC router and well as the foam cutterRJ45 Wall SocketsLatest PricesLatest Price
4Optional. Allows me to use my controller on my CNC router and well as the foam cutterCat5 patch cable length to suite your layoutLatest PricesLatest Price
1¾ inch or 18 mm MDF Sheetprobably 1/2 a sheet.Local DIY Store
30Used to easily join MDF partsM6 Cross dowels and Allen Head BoltLatest PricesLatest Price

Cutting List X and A axis

QTY Name Inches
2 Part A 32 x 8
2 Part B 6 x 6
4 Part C 3 x 3

X and A axis

hotwire-z-a
X and A Axis Parts

 

The drawer slides for the Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter are the 24″ ones set 1” from the edge and butted up against the triangle pieces. The hole for the stepper motor needs to be 1 1/2” in diameter. Just check you motors first as there is usually a raised section on the mounting end that fits into the hole. Make sure the drawer slides are set parallel to each other so that the X-A axis when attached will run freely. I used a spacer between them to make this was correct.

.

You’ll need to make two of these

You'll need to make two of these
You’ll need to make two of these

 

Cutting List Y and Z axis

QTY Name Inches
2 Part D 19 x 6
2 Part E 6 x 3
2 Part F 2 x 2
2 Part G 8 x 6
2 Part H 15 x 5 1/4
2 Part I 6 x 4

Y and Z axis

hotwire-x-y
Y and Z Axis Plan details

 

The drawer slides on the Y and Z axis are the 18″ and are set flush along and bottom edge. Do this first so you can get them set parallel to each other, much easier before you attach the other parts. Attach the 6″ x 6” Part I to the drawer slides.

With the slides attached offer Part I so its flush with the end of the slides at the bottom and make some marks on the slides and Part I, used a fine Sharpie for this. Now to attach Part I to the slides, you’ll have to take the slides apart to attach Part I from the back. Put the slides back together and check the slides move very freely. If they are tight it’s probably the slides are out of alignment on Part I. Adjust the slide on Part I until it moves very smoothly. If it binds the steppers may struggle and loose steps.

Now attach Part H the gusset as shown in the diagrams below to Part D in the centre and flush the bottom, then attach Part G, the wider edge (8″) is attached to the upright Part D see diagrams below.

Now cut a 1 1/2″ hole in Part E the stepper mount. Set the triangle piece Part F flush and centred on the opposite end to the stepper. Now mount this on top of Part D and centred. The triangle piece gives this extra support.

The threaded rod needs to attach to Part I so you’ll need something with a M10 thread. I’ve used T nuts and some aluminium blocks. I had the blocks kicking around so I drilled and tapped them with a M10 thread. You can see my configuration on this page http://www.rckeith.co.uk/cnc-hot-wire-foam-cutter/ I used the T-Nuts on the Z and A axis.

I initially used rubber hose and clamps to attach the steppers to the threaded rod and these worked OK for a while bit I found that sometimes the Y and Z axis would drop off due to its pulling against gravity, the X and A were OK. So, I decided to purchase some couplers which fitted the steppers and the M10 threaded rods perfectly. These have some flex in as well which will allow for small misalignment, no issues since I swapped to these.

hotwire-x-y-builthotwire-z-a-built1

Attaching the X/A to the Y/Z axis on the Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter

This needs to done the same way as joining Part I to the smaller slides. Just make sure it all runs very smooth again. To allow me to get the thread rod aligned correctly going into the upright tower I made the hole in Part H larger than required and then attached a T-nut to a small block of wood which then attached to part H. This allows for some adjustment if the rod feels to bind up. See mi picture on the main page.

One tower built
One tower built

 

Make sure you assemble a left and right or you’ll have a strange looking Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter

hot wire cnc assembled
Hot wire is attached via a spring to allow towers to move independently for tapered wings

 

If you made it this far congratulations on your Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter build . Won’t be long before you are making some wings and other foam projects

Mach 3/TB6560 and the printer port

Mach3 is the software that interprets the g-codes and via the controller board moves the stepper motor. G-code is the language CNC machines use to tell the hardware what to do, such as move the X axis 1 inch. There are many codes and they usually start with the letter “G” or “M”. Fortunately, we don’t need to learn these but understanding a few of the most common ones can help with understanding how the machine works.

Mach 3 has been around for a while and is extremely well documented with some good tutorial videos on their website. Although not specifically for a hot wire machine they are worth watching. I’ve watched them several times http://www.machsupport.com/help-learning/videos-tutorials/

Mach3 is designed to use the old parallel printer port which is now legacy, which modern PC’s don’t have any more. There are few options:

  1. Get hold of an older PC with a printer port. Mach3 doesn’t need a high-performance PC so most older PC’s will work just fine. This is what I have done and I have a few spare ones as well.
  2. Install a printer port add-on card. The link below shows how to get Mach 3 working with card.

http://www.jcopro.net/2012/07/10/use-a-pci-parallel-port-with-a-tb6560-cnc-control-board/

This one on Amazon has good reviews http://amzn.to/2fTsJIY

  1. Use a USB or Ethernet motion controller board. This with the driver software will configure Mach3 to use either your USB or Ethernet port. The TB6560 then plugs into the motion controller. Check out this video by Peter of Cncnutz, he explains it very clearly

I used an old Dell GX 620 ussf running Windows XP with 2GB of RAM. Mach3 will only work on a 32-bit version of Windows. You can use a laptop ArtSoft doesn’t recommend it due to the power saving features used on laptops, which may cause missed steps.

My PC was a fresh install and nothing else on it. It’s not connected to the internet so I have no need for anti-virus and updates. I’ve even switched lots of unnecessary services off. I get the g-code on by USB memory sticks.

Dell GX620 usff

That completes the main build for the configuration of Mach3 with the TB6560 and all my setting go to this page http://www.rckeith.co.uk/4-axis-cnc-hot-wire-configuration-for-tb6560-and-mach3/ includes setting home and limit switches. If you have any question first check the FAQ page http://www.rckeith.co.uk/hot-wire-cnc-faq/ and if that doesn’t answer it then contact me from the contact page on this site. Good luck with your build, its a real buzz when you see it it all working. If I can do it then anyone can.

Alternatives to TB6560 and Mach 3

As parallel printer ports are now obsolete, it may become more difficult to use Mach 3 and the TB6560. With the recent developments in 3D printers more controllers and software are becoming available. I’ve not used any of these listed below but they will all use the g-code from Profili2 and DevFus Foam. Checkout the links for more information

  • Planet CNC USB have 4 Axis controllers and seem to get very good reviews. Pricing is around £100 and comes with their software.
  • TinyG controller which is also USB and usually run with Chilipeppr software

LinuxCNC

I did briefly try to get LinuxCNC working on my CNC foam cutter but had a couple of issues that made me switch to Mach3. The issues weren’t major but I wasn’t very experienced in CNC back then and was keen to get my machine working. There was a good tutorial on Mach3 configuring a 4 axis foam cutter on YouTube , so I followed that and got my machine running.  The best thing about LinuxCNC is there is no cost its Open Source, as most thing are in Linux.  But it always bugged me because I almost had LinuxCNC working and vowed to revisit it when I had some spare time.  Well I retired from work in Dec 2017 and now have the time.  I’m now have it working form my OX router which I’m making a video from my YouTube channel and article for the website.  Then I’ll do the same for the foam cutter.  It should be much easier now , keeping checking back shouldn’t be too long before I have it done.

Software to generate g-code for Mach 3

Profili2 Pro http://www.profili2.com/ is very good for generating the code for wings and has a massive database of airfoils. A new version is now available called DevWing Foam http://www.devcad.com/eng/devwingfoam.asp

DevFus Foam will generate the g-code to produce the fuselage sections. Both are available in Demo versions that are fully working apart from not being able to save the g-code. www.devcad.com See my Hawker Hurricane build on the website

Here is a free g-code generator that will generate the code for you http://swarfer.co.za/rc/wire/index.php I’ve not actually used it on my machine but should be enough to get you going for simple wings.

Another free one is JediCut which I haven’t tried yet but seems to have good support https://www.jedicut.com/en/

This one cost a few dollars but I haven’t used it either NCGen http://www.foamcasualty.com/products/ncgen-2 It’s a plugin for Sketchup http://www.sketchup.com/ . SketchUp is very good and the plans I’ve produced on the build section were all produced with Sketchup

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6 Responses

  1. Antonio Sacramento

    Hi Keith
    First of all congratulations on your hot wire cnc.
    Nevertheless I have two comments to make.
    1 – You don’t need NEMA 23 motors. For this simple cnc which has no need for heavy power NEMA 17 motor are more than enough and a lot more cheaper.
    2 – Regarding brakout USB boards you can get a very reliable one for Hongbang Motor Co., Ltd.which works perfectly with Mach3 for just a little more than 30€. I have one working on my cnc and I can cut metal wood and even produce pcb. the link for Aliexpress is https://pt.aliexpress.com/store/product/mach3-4-Axis-USB-CNC-Smooth-Stepper-Motion-Controller-card-MACH3-100KHz-24V/323452_32317951517.html?spm=a2g03.12010612.0.0.fTAAnF.
    Hope those comments help in anyway

    • Keith

      Hi Antonio
      Thank you its been about 5 years now since I built the machine and I’ve had a lot of feedback and been able to help others.
      You are probably right about NEMA 17 but when I bought mine NEMA23 they came as part of a CNC bundle with the controller board. My machine is simple but quite heavy being made from MDF and drawer runners so I’ve always suggested people use NEMA23 just to be on the safe side. If they were to build a lighter machine maybe from metal then I’d see no problem in using NEMA 17, but not having tried them I can’t confirm that.
      The breakout board in the link doesn’t look like it has any stepper drivers, unless I’m wrong. So if you add them as well in may be more money. My TB6560 has the stepper drivers and breakout board all on the same board. Which could be an issue if one goes faulty, then I’d need to replace the whole board. There seems to be a lot more choice now than 5 years ago , so I would probably do things a bit different now.
      Thanks all comments are welcome.

  2. Yves

    Hello Keith,

    Thanks for that nice building instructions.
    What about the hot wire heating ? How do you manage it ?

    Did you use a hotwire PWM controlled device to manage the wire heat during cutting, and if yes, do you know where it would be possible to buy such a device?

    I know there is existing plans to build such a device on IPL5X site, but I not very confident about my soldering and electronics board building skills…

    Yves

  3. Yves

    Hi Keith,

    Thanks a lot for you answer. I did’nt understand what was your way of heating the wire, but now it’s OK.

    Unfortunately, since I am also an RC plane pilot, I already have several battery chargers, but not with that interesting hot wire feature. Therefore I will rather build the IPL5X hotwire module :
    http://5xproject.dyndns.org/5XProject/tiki-index.php?page=Module%20Chauffe
    The advantage, apart the cost, will be that I’ll be able to drive it using an arduino PWM signal, or an IPL5X board (I started one 6 years ago, but never finished 🙁 ) which manage the heat during the cutting process, depending of the material you cut.

    Thanks again for your reply, and for sharing informations about you machine build !

    Regards.

    Yves.

    • Keith

      Hi Yves
      That looks very interesting perhaps when you have it built you can send some pictures or better still a video of it working.
      Thanks

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