Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter Detailed Build

posted in: CNC, Hot Wire | 11

To build a Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter machine just follow this post measure twice and cut once and you will have your own machine. 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 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. All my dimensions are in inches but you can convert to millimetres if you prefer

Updates coming for 2019

I’m working on a updated design . The goals for the this are:-

  • To run the foam cutter from modern computers/laptops using the USB interface
  • Use NEMA17 stepper motors
  • Improved accuracy with Anit-Backlash nuts
  • Reduce the costs by using 3d-printer controllers and stepper motors and a more lightweight design
  • Include improvement from several years of foam cutting
  • Installing, configuring firmware and software with sample g-code

There will be a new eBook with more detailed and comprehensive plans. Full-size plans for key components and a new video series. There will be a small charge for the new eBook which will contain the plans. The current ebook remains free, but if you’d like to support the website and ebook you can donate here

Main Contents

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/

Tools 

A pillar drill is very useful and ensures holes are drilled straight. I used M6 cross dowels with socket/Allen key heads to join the major parts, which are available at most DIY stores.   These are great because you can take the machine apart very easily if you need too, without having to wonder which size screw did I use on this part.  

For the mechanical part of the build you need anything fancy just screwdrivers, pliers, measuring tools and a few clamps.

Electrical Wiring

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. If you have lots of space then you can wire it directly.  Another benefit is that I can swap it over on to my CNC router using the same CNC controller.  I just use colour coded cables on the connections.

Build the mechanical side first

I suggest you 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 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.

Mechanical Parts

Affilate 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

US Parts List with links to eBay and Amazon

Electronics    
QtyDescriptionItemeBayAmazon
1The controller board using separate drivers modules.4 Axis TB6600 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 PriceLatest Prices
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 Prices
4NEMA 17 Stepper MotorsUse these if your build is a more lightweight designLatest PricesLatest Prices
4NEMA 23 Stepper Motors57BYGH56-401A stepper motors NEMA 23 or similar just make sure the current is suitable for the driver board. I use theseLatest PricesLatest Prices
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 Lists

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 cnc plan
X/A Mach3 X/U LinuxCNC
X-Axis Parts
X-Axis Parts – the two little triangles are missing from the photo

The drawer slides for the Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter are the 24″ (600mm) ones set 1” (25mm) 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 your 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 or U/V 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

hotwire cnc plan

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

Y/Z Mach3  Y/V LinuxCNC
Y-Axis Parts
Y-Axis Parts

The drawer slides on the Y and Z axis are the 18″ (450mm) 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 miss 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 an M10 thread. I’ve used T nuts and some aluminium blocks. I had the blocks kicking around so I drilled and tapped them with an 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 but 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.

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

This needs to be 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 threaded 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.

hotwire CNC plan
One Tower Built

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

hotwire cnc foam cutter
Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter Assembled

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

Stepper Motors

For this design I decided to use NEMA 23 motors.   A NEMA 23 stepper motor is a stepper motor with 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 powerfull the motor is.  NEMA 17’s are also an option and these are smaller and used commonly in 3d printers.  The 17 means 1.7×1.7 inches on the faceplate.

You could use NEMA 17’s but this design is fairly heavy, so I’d recommend 23’s.  A lighter design would be fine with NEMA 17’s

The NEMA 23 I used are rated a 2.8Amps at 175oz/in holding torque.  You can also use these 23HS6620 which only consume 2.0Amps and are rated at 185oz/in.   This gives us couple more options for CNC controllers

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 con’s.  One of the main factors is the size of stepper motors you decide to use.

If your stepper motors are rated above 2.0Amps then we need to use controller with stepper drivers rated to handle the current.  Using NEMA 17’s or the 23HS6620 as mentioned above we can use 3d printer style controllers such as a Arduino Mega 2650 and a RAMPS 1.4 shield.  The controller software becomes a little bit more tricky.  I will have a full post on this soon

TB6560/TB6600 controller with the parallel port

This controller is usually used with Mach3 or LinuxCNC  which is the software that interprets the g-codes and via the controller board moves the stepper motor.  This is what I currently use.

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 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 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/

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 now my preferred option now. I have full details here http://www.rckeith.co.uk/foam-wing-free-cnc-software/ and in my eBook.

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

Alternatives to TB6560 parallel port controller

  • 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
  • Arduino Mega 2650 USB check my post out here 

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

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.

11 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. 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. John & Fiona Ryland

    Hi
    Is there a particular reason for using M10 threaded rod, rather than a lead-screw? Is it simply cost or is the 1.5mm thread pitch critical?
    Kind Regards
    John & Fiona

    • Keith

      Hi John & Fiona
      Purely cost, lead screws would be fine. The pitch isn’t critical it just needs to be set correctly in the software so you get the correct travel.
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Keith

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