Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter Detailed Build – Parallel Port Version

posted in: CNC, Hot Wire | 30

My new CNC Foam Cutter design uses a USB interface so check this out first as it may be more suited to your requirements. https://www.rckeith.co.uk/how-to-build-a-usb-cnc-hot-wire-foam-cutter/

The new design can still use the parallel port if you prefer and the details are in the ebook. Parallel ports on are now obsolete but you can still get a PCI card to fit in a PC plenty on eBay or Amazon. Or use an old PC that you have gathering dust

This page has links to all the resources you’ll need with the eBook, 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 parts list 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.

Main Contents

Build Details

The full build details are in the eBook which you can download here

To save yourself time and some expense take the cutting list to your 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.

Affiliate Disclaimer

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 little commission.  My build is based on these parts with a couple of options for the controller hardware.

Parts List

QtyImageDescriptionLinks
1Nema23 Breakot Board and TB6560 drivers4 Axis TB6560 Controller Board Amazon US
Amazon UK
eBay US
eBay UK
1CNC-DIY-Parts-4-Axis-Tb6560-Stepper-Driver-4x-Nema23-Motor-Software-LPT-Cable 4 Axis TB6560 Controller Board
All in one with power supply.
Drivers all on one board usually cheaper
Amazon US
Amazon UK
eBay UK
eBay US
4NEMA 23 Stepper Motors 57BYGH56-401A or similar.Amazon US
Amazon UK
eBay US
eBay UK
4nema17NEMA 17 Stepper Motors 0.9Amp x 4Amazon UK
Amazon US
eBay UK
8600mm Drawer Slides x 2 pairs – 4 in total
450mm Drawer Slides x 2 pairs – 4 in total
Purchase from a local DIY store
4CouplersFlexible couplers x 4
M10 x5mm for NEMA17
M10 x 6.35 for NEMA23
eBay UK
eBay US
4tee-nuts for cnc foam cutter10 x 1.5mm T-Nuts x 4eBay US
eBay UK
40cross dowel and barrel nutM6 Cross Dowels Bolts and Barrel Nuts x40eBay US
eBay UK
4threaded rod for CNC foam cutter10 x 1.5mm x 1000mm (cut to size) Threaded Rod x 4Purchase from a local DIY store.
Could get bent if delivered.
Better to check they are straight.
1MDF Sheets12 mm MDF Moisture resistant or paint after the build.Purchase from a local DIY store.

Electronics

This next part covers the electronics I’ve used but I have another post that covers several options for motors and controllers in more detail. Maybe worth a read if you’re unsure.

Stepper Motors

For my original design, I decided to use NEMA 23 motors.  A NEMA 23 stepper motor has a 2.3 x 2.3 inch (58.4 x 58.4 mm) faceplate  There are many options to choose from in this range and generally the longer the motor body the more powerful the motor is.  My new design uses NEMA 17’s which are  1.7×1.7 inches on the faceplate, but NEMA23’s can still be used. The plans have a template drawing for both stepper motors.

The NEMA 23 I used on the original design were rated at 2.8Amps with 175oz/in holding torque.  I’m now using NEMA17’s rated at 0.9Amps with 56oz/in which work really well and are a lot cheaper.

CNC Controllers

Choosing a CNC controller can be a little intimidating if you are new to the subject.  There are several options all with their pro’s and cons.  One of the main factors is the size of stepper motors you decide to use.

The TB6560 all in one board I used is my opinion is a little easier to use because a lot of the wire connections are already made on the board.  If you use separate driver modules each module needs to be wired up making for a lot more wires.  So there’s potential to get more crossed wires.  

If your stepper motors are rated above 2.8Amps then we need to use a controller with stepper drivers rated to handle the current. 

TB6560/TB6600 controller with the parallel port

This controller is used with Mach3 or LinuxCNC which 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 did prefer to use this instead of Mach3 for both my machines. I’m now using the USB version. 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 and LinuxCNC are designed to use the old parallel printer port which is now legacy, which modern PC’s don’t have any more. There are a few options:

  • 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. Plenty on eBay from around £50/$80

Using Mach3 

I use 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.

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. 

Using LinuxCNC

This is a good option and works well I have full details here http://www.rckeith.co.uk/foam-wing-free-cnc-software/ 

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

I 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 .

LinuxCNC 4 axis foam cutter

TB6560 DIP switch setting on my Blue Board

I’ve had a few comments on the website from people struggling to get their machine working correctly. Here’s how I have mine set up.

tb6560 dip switches 4 axis

This is configured for 75% current, fast decay mode and 1/2 micro-stepping. My stepper motors are rated at 2.8 amps and the drive will supply 3 amps at 100% so I reduced this to 75% to give me 2.2 amps and the motors work fine and have run like this for several years.

Alternatives to TB6560 parallel port controller

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 it’s 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 includes a tutorial on how to use Jedicut to generate g-code

30 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/lZ6iWxO
    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. Keith

    Hi Arthur

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

    Keith

  5. Arthur Hendriks

    I forgot to add this link. This set is very cheap and has a different controller board. Do you have any idea if this will work the same?

    http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/biO5D1Mk
    For me, this will be interesting because it ships from the EU.

    Have a great week

    Arthur

  6. Preston Thomas

    Keith, do you have an idea on when the new foam cutter E-Book will be available? I don’t want to start on the free version booklet and then you come out with all the new and improved version (lol). Anyway, thanks for all the info and the great web site.

    • Keith

      Hi Preston
      I think it’s going to be a couple of months before I have it done. I still have some work to do on the design and need to clear off my latest project first. The main structure is going to be similar it’s the electronics and software which is going to be the biggest change. Thank you very much for your donation I’ll send you a free copy when it’s ready.

  7. Javier

    hello Keith.

    I have a little problem here, I am following the foam cutting machine 2.3 pdf that you uploaded this January 2019, with XYZA axxis.

    I am lose in the “text this motor” step. I can not move it, well… the motor is moving but badly and sound very bad. I think that is problem with the TB6560 driver modules and connections or configuration switchs. I tried everything, like move S1 S2 S3 S4 S5 S6 and SW1 SW2 SW3 to the position 01 and nothing. Always the same o worst and only i smoving 1 motor. Could you upload your configuration switchs and wires please? that will be usefull for beginners like me.

  8. Rudy

    Hi Keith,
    I did not see where to drill and sizes of all holes on the MDF parts.

    thanks,

    regards,

    Rudy

    • Keith

      Hi Rudy
      I didn’t put any sizes because not everyone wants to use cross dowels bolts. If you decide to use them the bolt is 6mm and the barrel nut is 10mm. But you can use MDF screws of your choice to connect the parts together and suitable drill for your screws. Using screws is a little simpler but does tend to pull on the MDF fibres apart if you apply to much force on the screws. Hope that answers the question.

  9. Rudy

    Thanks Keith,
    Is there a hole location/dimensions as to where to drill holes on the MDF parts.

    thanks,

    Rudy

    • Keith

      Hi Rudy
      I only put dimensions on for the stepper motor and threaded rod holes because it really depends on how you want to connect the parts. I have a new ebook and plans coming out soon with a updated design and more comprehensive plans. There will be a small charge for this. There will be an instructional video series on how to build the machine. It’s going to be based on 3d printer electronics mostly. Should be out in a couple of months.

      Hope that helps

  10. Alireza Ghasemi

    Dear all
    I kindly need your helps to fix my software controller issue with my hotwire foam cutting machine.
    I used the XproV4 spark concepts controller and the open build opensourse controller software but i donot have the gbrl with customized setting to flash the controller board also if you know any better controller software for this purpose please let me know.
    i have 4 stepper motor ,X and Y in each side ,bith X and both Y works synchronized .
    Thank you

    • Keith

      Hi
      Sorry I have no experience with this controller, maybe you could contact the vendor for help

  11. Javier

    Hello again Keith.

    Thank so much for your replys. I am having a couple problems but for now I only 2 questions that I am trying to solve in my foam cutting XYUA machine.

    1- Where do you connect the emergency stop in your board?

    2- You can not help me with this because I am using differents motor so that it it my problem but I have problems with the step configuration because I can not find the rigth settings. Only the setting for a good sound and moviment of the motors mean moving around 20-30mm when I only want move 5mm…. if I have change the moviment relation the motor loud very bad…

    But for now I want solve the first question first.

    Thanks so much

  12. Javier

    Hello Keith!!

    I am sorry for my delay, the reply website system doenst work fine and not load my messages for you.

    Well.. i will explain better to try solving the problem.

    The problem with the emergency stop is solved. I found a pdf with the pins and conector nunmers.

    But i cant solve the problem with the step configuration. The motors move very bad.

    I have Nema23 with the blue board TB6560 to use to build a 4 axis foam cutting

    I have followed your manual and pictures to Linux CNC step configuration 4 axis. But i have problem with the relation mm/rev.

    If i config your settings the sound of the motor is horrible, very loud and a lot of vibration. I feel like if the motor works too slow and it can’t move with this small speed. The only configuration with a good sound and moviment motor is increase the mm/rev with “Leadscrew” or “motor step per Revolution” setting. But with this configuration if I move 10mm in the test axis linuxCNC, the motor moves 30mm in the real life…

    I have tried everything: increase and decrease the “Motor step..” or “leadscrew” or “driver microstep” and always the same. If i decrease the setting to move 10mm in Linux and the real life, the soun and vibration are strongs.

    Some idea??

    Thanks so much.

  13. Javier

    Link problem…. I tryng reply to you, 1 messgae/day since the last one… but is solve now, NO links to aliexpress 🙂

    • Keith

      Hi Javier
      Is it all OK now? I have to approve comments on the website because I was getting a lot of spam. That’s maybe why you think it isn’t working but I do get to the message as quick as possible

      Keith

  14. Javier

    Hello! No i can not solve the problem yet.

    I re-write the last message to you:

    “….Well.. i will explain better to try solving the problem.

    The problem with the emergency stop is solved. I found a pdf with the pins and conector nunmers.

    But i cant solve the problem with the step configuration. The motors move very bad.

    I have Nema23 with the blue board TB6560 to use to build a 4 axis foam cutting

    I have followed your manual and pictures to Linux CNC step configuration 4 axis. But i have problem with the relation mm/rev.

    If i config your settings the sound of the motor is horrible, very loud and a lot of vibration. I feel like if the motor works too slow and it can’t move with this small speed. The only configuration with a good sound and moviment motor is increase the mm/rev with “Leadscrew” or “motor step per Revolution” setting. But with this configuration if I move 10mm in the test axis linuxCNC, the motor moves 30mm in the real life…

    I have tried everything: increase and decrease the “Motor step..” or “leadscrew” or “driver microstep” and always the same. If i decrease the setting to move 10mm in Linux and the real life, the soun and vibration are strongs.

    Some idea??”

    Thanks so much.

    • Keith

      Hi Javier
      Can you send some pictures of the controller and steppers motors with the model numbers. Send them to [email protected]
      Sometimes it can be incorrect wiring of the stepper motors than make the them sound terrible. Maybe a video would help as well.

      Keith

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