Sunday 13 September 2009

poor's man CNC hot wire cutter - Updated!

This time I built a computer controlled device that will allow you to cut out shapes from styrofoam boards with great precision.

To make it more fun I tried to build the whole thing by re-purposing scrap parts I found here and there, so I used a couple of scanners, a hanger and a hot wire. The scanners I found them on the trash (officially I will deny that I pick stuff from the trash), the hanger I got it from my cleaning service and the hot wire was 3 euros.

This is the way it works, draw a shape using your favourite drawing software or download one from the internet, just make sure the file is a SVG, because that is what my system understands.

I found myself this nice eagle, which is quite a complex shape as you can see:
And this what you get:

Here is the promised video so you can see the system in action...

Here are some pictures showing details of the CNC


  1. Hello Raul,

    I write for I'd like to do a feature on your hot-wire foam cutter. Can you send me a bit more information on it? Specifically, what is the hardware you are using and how did you build it? I'd love to see any pictures or schematics and hear any description of your experiences in getting everything working. I hope to hear from you!

    -Mike Szczys

  2. I'd love to see more details on the build as well! I'm very tempted to try this myself; it looks great.

  3. Nice project. I have a very similar cnc, scanner parts, but I used php to process the svg files. mega16, usb interface, 3 axis. Maybe we can compare our php and pearl code

  4. very nice.
    Is possible to have your project?
    (my mail is:


    Don't be afraid to say you recycled something!! I love to dumpster dive and have gotten many, many good things from dumpsters. Most recent pull was 3 SMC N routers, new in the box sans their power supplies, which were replaced by the Mfg. free of charge.

  6. very cool :)

    i also salvage parts from trash, my most recent "scrapuisition" was a dead epson all in one printer, complete with working internal scanner, steppers and driver board.

    Interestingly, the optical reader assembly can be repurposed on some printers (the sort using the cheap PM motor) as a fine positioner using some Polymorph/Shapelock.
    Mount the read unit on the scan arm and run the optical tape along the scanner's long axis securing at each end and run the driver off the existing ribbon.

    I also repurposed Zip drive ribbons as laser driver lines for my UV etcher..

  7. Great project.

    I would love to try it myself.
    Would you share the code for it?


  8. Hello Raul

    It is a very interesting project and the result is great looking with what you did, I would love to build, you can
    give more information.
    My email is
    Thank you.


  9. I wrote a silly python program to drive the CNC

  10. I have found everything except the board with the 2h bridges and shift register. Can I buy on of the shelf ? Or can you provide part names and circuit .
    Laurie australia

  11. My e - mail is lauriemattila59@ Perhaps you sell me the board ?

  12. Hi Lozza, thanks for your interest!

    You dont really need those hbridges I build I just used them because I had them around.

    Any arduino shield that helps you move 2 stepper motors will do, this would be the easiest way to build it. You can also use stepper motor drivers that you can buy for $11 from pololu for example, probably that would be easier

    Does this help?

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Hi

    I was hoping you could help me.

    I am looking to cut spray foam off my vaulted ceiling.
    The rafters are 16" apart.
    They sell tools for this but I cannot afford $300 now, I spent it on foam!

    I found a guy that made a hot wire cutter on Youtube with a flashlight and a wire with a coathanger frame.

    I dont know alot but it seems to me that the coat hanger would also conduct electricity and heat up.

    Any suggestions on what materials I could use that wouldnt heat too much and melt my flashlight?
    So far, I have a $3 flashlight that came with 2 D batteries, a plain coat hanger and an old E string from a guitar

  15. Hi TheGoodLife,

    The coat hunger has to be isolated from the steel wire otherwise the current will flow through the hanger and not through the steel wire.

    I would try googling a bit i'm sure there has to be great tutorials out there on how to build such a thing.

    Good Luck!

  16. Hi Raul! Your project is nice! Would it be possible if I want to buy your project. My email:

  17. Hi Raul! Your project is nice! Would it be possible if I want to buy your project. My email:

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