Polystyrene foam, commonly known by the name brand "styrofoam," is used to manufacture everything from insulated coffee cups to architectural mouldings. Foam can be cut to shape with a variety of tools from box cutters to power tools and hot wires. The best method for cutting foam depends on the type of cutting being done.
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Foam insulation panels range from 1/2-inch accordion fold, used for installation under vinyl siding, to 2-by-4-by-8-foot sheets. Such panels are typically cut to fit onsite and installed one piece at a time. Use a box cutter to cut thin sheets to size; score thicker sheets along the desired cut with a box cutter or other knife and snap the foam along the score line. For bulk cuts of the same size, set a table saw to the desired width and make your cuts all at once.
Foam is used to manufacture both interior and exterior architectural mouldings from baseboard to crown moulding. Foam mouldings are best cut using methods similar to the methods used for wood mouldings; a power mitre saw is the best tool for the job. Measure, mark and cut your mouldings to the correct mitre angles and length as you would for wood mouldings. Measure and mark baseboard along its top edge, crown moulding along its bottom edge, and door and window casing along the inside edge.
Cutting foam pieces for craft projects and faux-finishing using a hot wire or power tools. Hotwire cutters use an electric current to heat a wire used to melt through foam; handheld hotwire cutters can be used to cut sheets or blocks of foam up to 12 inches thick. Hotwire cutters can also be shaped to cut profiles through foam. Use a jigsaw to cut larger foam sheets, or a table saw for bulk cutting, as you would for insulation; a band saw is good for more intricate cuts.
Large blocks of foam can be sculpted into almost any shape. An electric chainsaw works well for rough cutting the basic shape into the foam; use rasps and files for the next level of detail, and a router or other rotary tool for the fine details. Power sanders can be used to smooth large surfaces. Small hotwire cutters are also useful for shaping foam sculptures.
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