Using a cnc foam cutter is a great way to cut foam as opposed to doing it by hand with a hot wire. A cnc foam cutter can accurately cut any sort of shape, even complex ones using a 5 axis cnc cutter for foam.
I have a lot of experience with getting normal as well as high density foam cut with a foam cutter. Of course, there are two main ways of doing it with a cnc machine. One is with a hot wire cnc foam cutter, and the other uses simple router tooling parts, similar to those on a drill.
So you have two options at the beginning, do it by hand, build a machine diy or outsource the foam cutting.
Outsourcing foam cutting with a cnc machine
As with all outsourcing, here are a few guidelines I really recommend you follow when outsourcing the work:
1. Communicate early. Cnc places normally have a big project list and because of this have a lead time (the waiting time before they will start on your project). If you get in earlier, then they will be able to slot you into a time that better suits you.
2. Have a finished (or almost finished) cad file where the cnc operator can easily import into their cad/cam cnc software to see just how much time it will take to cnc cut the project and how much it will cost.
3. Think about separating the parts and gluing it all back together. This may save you money as you may be able to cut your foam using a 3 axis cnc machine instead of a 5 axis cnc machine, which of course, is a lot more costly to run and produce projects.
4. Make sure you settle on an appropriate deadline. Contractors are notorious for taking their time or not delivering on time. Get this nailed down and keep an eye on things. The biggest mistake you can make is just to simply hand off a project and hope for the best. Always make sure you know what you will be getting and when.
5. See if the cnc place will be able to cut or router out your particular type of foam. Remember there are different densities of foam. Also check to see if they can etch or drill holes in your foam if that is something you need to do (for pre-preg with composites).
Best hot wire cnc foam cutter for sale
Hotwire Direct – Based out of Washington, this company has a solid range of cnc and specialty foam cutters. Their 8700 cnc has a huge cutting capacity of 106″ x 51″ x 105″, the wire being 105″ long. This can also be used as a cnc foam wing cutter to cut and produce different wing profiles, but for more sophisticated wing shapes, you may need a cnc foam router with another axis.
FoamLinx – Based in California, this company also has a solid range of cnc foam cutters, with their largest FCX848 being able to cut blocks of 100″ x 50″ x 100″ which at that size is a three block machine, can be assembled in less than an hour and comes in at $25,000 USD.
Of course, FoamLinx have small, mid and large scale cnc hot wire foam cutter machines that come in wide range of formats and prices. I would definitely check these guys out, and their site is pretty informative too.
Top Cnc foam router
You could use just about any 4-5 axis cnc machines to router foam, but I would go for a more specialist machine. Check out Frogmill. Their 4th axis cnc foam router gives you the capabilities for creating full 3d parts and carvings in a single piece. Obviously with this machine, you can mill a whole bunch of other things. Check it out here.
For more information on other routers that can do complex shapes. Check out this article I did a little while back on 5 axis cnc machines (but be prepared to spend a lot of cash).
Top diy cnc foam cutter plans
Below are some great resources with plans to get you started:
Instructables.com has a solid guide right here on how to make a diy cnc hot wire foam cutter. Here’s the post.
RCfoamcutter.com has some cheap plans that you can buy and the packages there come with materials for the build already. Here they are.
8linx has a great step by step guide on how to make a home built cnc foam wire cutter located right here, which may or may not have been ripped off of instructables.com, Check it out here.
Cnc foam cutter software – Free and Paid
GMFC – Free software for creating wing profiles for cnc foam cutting with a cnc hotwire foam cutter.
Jedicut – Free cnc software for cnc foam cutting. This software allows you to cut wing shapes as well as fuselages.
Tjzoide – Developed by a hobbyist that I found on the cnczone forum to use with your foam cutter cnc machine.
Remember that every cnc router or hot wire foam cutter has its advantages and disadvantages. Start by looking at the models and software above and narrow down on what will ultimately be the best foam cnc cutter for your individual project needs.
I used to do all this stuff by hand, but with cnc routers and cnc hot wire cutters, you have an awesome choice to pick from out there to make the job a whole lot easier.