Hot Wire CNC Foam Cutter Detailed Build – Parallel Port Version

posted in: CNC, Hot Wire | 29

The full build details are now in the eBook which you can download from this website. It’s based on using a computer with a parallel port. Which are obsolete now but can still plentiful on eBay. This page has links to all the resources you’ll need with the eBook containing 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. r

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
  • 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 plans. The ebook will be 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 Details

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

 You may want to build the mechanical side first 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
X-Axis Parts
X-Axis Parts – the two little triangles are missing from the photo
Y-Axis Parts
Y-Axis Parts

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 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 powerful 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 a 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 cons.  One of the main factors is the size of stepper motors you decide to use.

The TB6560 all in one board I use 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 2.0Amps then we need to use a 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 an 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 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 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 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

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 a 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

  • Planet CNC USB has 4 Axis controllers and seems 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

https://www.jedicut.com/en/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 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, it’s a real buzz when you see it all working. If I can do it then anyone can.

29 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. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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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