Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter Detailed Build

posted in: CNC, Hot Wire | 10

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 and 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 links below to see what I’ve 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.

4 axis cnc hotwire foam cutter with airfoil

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.

The links below are affiliate links so if you use them to purchase from them thank you very much.  You don’t pay any more but I earn a small commission from eBay or Amazon.

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

Electronics    
QtyDescriptionItemeBayAmazon
1The controller board using separate drivers modules.4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board steppers and power supply – separate driversLatest Price Latest 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 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

I’ve had comments from fellow hobbyist saying AliExpress have a good range of CNC parts and very reasonable prices.  The link will take you to a page where you choose from several different type of controllers and most with free shipping.  Be prepared for a long wait, but they do have some other wharehouses in the EU, UK and USA which may be quicker.  Aliexpress link for 4 axis controllers

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-built

 

hotwire-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 my 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

Mach3/LinuxCNC usingTB6560 controller and the parallel port

Mach3/LinuxCNC 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.

LinuxCNC used to called EMC2 and has been around for some time and I now prefer to use this instead of Mach3 for my both my machines. I have a full post on installing configuring and LinuxCNC here

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/LinuxCNC 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/LinuxCNC 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  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
  3. 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 my article for options https://www.rckeith.co.uk/mach3-parallel-port/

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. I use LinuxCNC on this machine as well.  I have a disk for each and just swap out when I need the other.

My PC was a fresh install  of Windows for Mach3 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. LinuxCNC is documented here.

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

Can I use LinuxCNC

Yes you can and this is now my preferred option now. I have a full details here http://www.rckeith.co.uk/foam-wing-free-cnc-software/ and in my Free eBook.

Check my playlist for a video guide on the installation and configuration with example cuts on both.

LinuxCNC 4 axis foam cutter

The display is much better in my opinion for 4 axis foam cutters, Mach3 can look a little wierd on 4 axis.

I’m now have it working on my OX router as well.   There’s a video on my YouTube channel and an article on this website LinuxCNC .

Software to generate g-code for Mach3 and LinuxCNC

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 used it on my machine and its easy to use and may be all you need   Start with this first..

Another free one is JediCut https://www.jedicut.com/en/ . My video playlist above include a tutorial on how to use Jedicut to generate g-code

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

 

10 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 http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/bvh4wP9m
    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

  4. Arthur Hendriks

    Hi Keith. I really love your initiative to share your knowledge. I starting to build a CNC myself and was diving into the product and material list and noticed there are quit a lot of different kind of 4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board steppers and power supplies. They look very similar and therefore I’m a bit confused. For example, is this set

    https://nl.aliexpress.com/item/Stepper-Motor-4Axis-Nema-23-23HS8610-1A-287oz-in-4-Axis-Driver-Board-TB6560-Printer-CNC/32621743979.html?spm=a2g0z.search0104.3.65.45f171c38B8Nsh&ws_ab_test=searchweb0_0,searchweb201602_2_10152_10151_10065_10344_10068_10342_10343_10340_10341_10696_10084_10083_10618_10304_10307_10820_10821_10301_10843_10059_100031_524_10103_10624_10623_10622_10621_10620,searchweb201603_12,ppcSwitch_5&algo_expid=d034a43f-99a9-4cda-aa33-47957facb22f-10&algo_pvid=d034a43f-99a9-4cda-aa33-47957facb22f&priceBeautifyAB=0

    the same as the set you bought from Amazon?

    Thanks a lot

    Cheers Arthur

    • Keith

      Hi Arthur

      Yes it looks the same, theres lots of them about. The instructions look identical. Should be fine

      Keith

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