Foam materials such as polystyrene and polythene foam are usually cut and shaped by heat, and most foam cutting tools can reach up to 399 degrees Celsius. Since most foam materials are essentially plastic products, the heat of cutting tools melts the foam material along the cut line, allowing for an even cut. Some foam cutting tools are hand-held, and some hand-held foam cutting tools have interchangeable cutting heads. There are also foam cutting tables for cutting foam sheets.
Hot Knife Foam Cutting Tools
Foam cutting tools referred to as "hot knife" tools are hand-held tools for cutting foam. A hot knife tool generally has a plastic handle similar to a hand-held scroll saw or electric drill. The foam cutting knife is a length of steel between 4 and 6 inches long that is heated by electric power. Some foam cutting knife tools have a hot knife that is shaped more like a traditional knife with a sharp edge, and some hot knives are thin round steel bars. Most hot knife tools are powered by a cord, though some cordless tools are available from speciality retailers.
Hot Wire Foam Cutting Tools
Foam materials can also be cut with hot wires. In hot wire foam cutting tools, the wire is thin enough to make an even cut and hot enough to melt the foam material. Some hot wire foam cutting tools use a thin round wire, and some use flat wires. There are a variety of hand-held hot wire cutting tools in various shapes. Some hot wire tools are shaped like a bow with the wire held between two arms, and others are shaped like a "Y" with the wire held between the two short arms of the tool.
Foam Cutting Tables
A foam cutting table is constructed like a scroll saw or band saw. A hot wire is suspended from an arm above the table, which is connected to a heating element under the table. Sheet foam material is laid flat on the table and manipulated by the user. The sheet foam is slid over the table, and the hot wire cuts straight or curved lines through the sheet foam.
Foam Cutting Tools for Sculpting
Some hot foam cutting tools are made for carving the foam material into shapes. Hot knife tools can also be used for sculpting foam, and hot knives with wider blades are preferred for this application. Sculpting tools using hot wires generally have a short wire, and some may have flat wires in a fixed shape.
Foam Cutting Tools for Engraving
Engraving tools for foam materials are similar to foam cutting tools in that most foam engraving tools use hot steel to cut indentations or hollows into the foam. Often, tools used for engraving foam use hot wires because the wire is flexible enough to be bent into the desired shape while cool and then drawn through the foam when heated to cut the indentation into the foam. Hot tools with a metal plate in a fixed shape are also available for engraving grooves into sheet foam.