Common (and not so common) Questions & Answers
Frequently Asked Questions about Creative Tips & Tricks
Q: Do you accept Gallery submissions from commercial enterprises?
A: We try to personalize our links by requiring you to submit pictures and words to our Gallery. That way people can get a better idea of who you are and what your talents are. We will gladly include your website address and any other contact information that you give us. It can't look like an ad though! It takes us 1-4 months to update our gallery with freshly submitted material. Please contact us if you would like to submit your project.
Q: Which tool would you suggest to create a large cylinder? We need a cylinder with about a 10" diameter and 8' tall.
A: Making large cylinders can easily be done with two cardboard templates and the Bow Cutter. In your case you will make two 10" circular templates out of poster board and firmly pin them exactly opposite each other on a 2-4 foot long section of foam. Using the Bow Cutter, cut down to the templates and drag the cutting wire around the foam keeping the cutting wire in contact with the cardboard on both sides. Make sure that you keep the Bow and wire as parallel to the foam as possible. If one end of the Bow drifts you will create an indent in your cylinder. If you don't cut in far enough it is easy to go back over and touch it up later. If you are not sure of yourself, start out with an 11" cylinder and then cut it down to 10". This will give you some practice, and you will be able to see your final cut better since it won't be hidden by so much foam. (Also, if you do make perfect cuts you will have a cool 12" diameter tube of scrap foam left over.)
Cut as many out as you need and glue them together. Our Foam Fusion glue is so strong that if you try to break your cylinder at a glue line the foam will break before the glue lets go. Here is a cannon that someone made with the Bow Cutter. They used different diameter templates on each end to make a tapered cylinder. Let us know how yours turns out. It would be great to get some pictures to show future generations of foam cylinder makers.
Q: I need a tool to make a 4" x 4" hole in a block of foam that will be 48" long.
A: Using the Bow Cutter, you can cut the 48" piece in half long ways, make your cut, then glue it back together with the cutout in the middle.
Q: How do I prevent getting "hairs" or "strings" of foam from forming when cutting?
A: If you are getting strings of foam it is probably because you are cutting too fast. If you are cutting a dense foam, like Blueboard or Pinkboard XPS then it is just because there is so much material that it cannot evaporate like the white beaded EPS foam. If you can position your cutting wire or blade so the melted foam drips down then you will get less strings of foam.
Q: I recently purchased some of your tools and ordered a few more today. I watched the DVD that came with the tools. For one Halloween project I need to turn 4x8 foot 1" foam sheets into block or stone walls...stone preferred. Can you provide some advice on the best technique to use? My original thought was to draw the stones on the sheet and use the Engraver to carve/melt the joints between the stones, paint with drylok and flat black latex and then dry brush the stones with gray latex.
A: There are a couple of ways that this is done. Most commonly the Freehand Router tool is used to make wide grout lines. You can use the Sled Guide to control the depth of the grout lines. This is more realistic than the thin lines that the Engraver tool will make. Paint the grout lines and don't worry about getting paint on the stones. Then drybrush or use a paint roller on the stones.
Another fun and simple method is to make a stone puzzle:
1. Draw your stones on a 1" thick sheet of stone just like you want the finished one to look, with the correct grout spacing between the stones.
2. Write numbers on them before you cut them out and draw a map of them with the numbers so you will know where to place them later.
3. After they are cut out do all of your shaping and contouring and painting on the individual stones.
4. Texture and paint a second sheet of foam with the color you want your grout lines.
5. Glue your stone puzzle together and you are finished!
Q: How can I make large sheets of foam?
A: Use the Bow Cutter to slice foam sheets down from a block or thick sheet. The cutting wire is .020" thick, but the cut is always a bit more. The hotter you make the wire and the slower the cut, the wider the cut. It takes some trial and error on small scrap pieces to get it just right. Let the Bow Cutter hang below the cutting table by the cutting wire that is of course above the surface of the table. Adjust the cutting wire higher or lower with shims that I clamp onto the table. Make a slot in the top shim to keep the wire from slipping during the cut. Another set-up that I built years ago had bolts that came up through the table. I could run the nuts up or down the bolt to get a very accurate thickness. The cutting wire hung by the nuts.
Q: I'm a Native American and I make cedar bark hats. I weave on a form mold that takes days to form the mold because it is carved by hand. I can't find someone to carve my hat mold and mine is very old. Can you explain to me how you shape foam in order to make a hat mold using the tools you have? Your tools look like they can carve though foam like butter.
A: If you can make cedar bark hats then carving foam with our tools should be very easy. The best way is to buy 2" EPS foam (Styrofoam used for insulation) from a building supply store. Then cut out a few circles of foam a little bit bigger than the mold you are going to make with one of our Hot Knives. Stack the circles of foam until you get them as high as you want. Skewer the pieces together. The use the Sculpting Tool to carve the stack down to the shape and size that you want. After you get it carved make a line down all the pieces of foam, remove the skewers, then glue the pieces of foam together making sure that the ends of the line you drew touch. Go to this Gallery page and scroll down until you see the pink foam dog in the background that was glued together using this same method.
Q: I have been making Halloween and Christmas villages using the Dept 56 for many years now. I have purchased the Hot Wire Tools and have gotten the hang of most foam landscapes. I am having problems making stairways and steps. What is the best and easiest way to sculpture foam to make it look like the stairways that I see in your gallery?
A: Go to this Gallery page for tips on stairs. This was written before we had the Freehand Router, which is the best tool for making stairs. If an email address is included on one of the Gallery pages that you like, feel free to email the artist directly with your questions.
Another method is to cut out the section where you want stairs, then cut the stairs into the section using the Hot Knife or Sculpting Tool, then place it back where it was originally cut from. This way you also have a perfect stairwell.
Another method is to cut out a whole bunch of little rectangular blocks of foam, then glue them together in a staggered pattern. Our new DVD, Making an Epic Display by Ken Shirley has a section on one method of making stairs.
Q: I am interested in buying the 3D Scroll Table to cut crown molding. I am assuming I would take one of the wires and shape it? Can this be done by wrapping around wood crown molding? Of course, I want it to be a smooth design. Will the molding have ridges in it? I see some in photos, but I can't tell if you would see this still once it is painted. Also will the molding vary from piece to piece as I am doing a room. Is it better to do 4' vs 8' strips? I was also hoping to get some advice as to which foam would be best to simulate wood crown molding.
A: Making smooth molding takes a certain amount of practice, but is easily done with the 3D Scroll Table. The trick is to feed the foam at a very steady speed. If you go too fast the wire will be pushed forward and the cut will be off. If you go fast and then slow down then the wire will get pushed forward and then snap back. Lastly, if you keep stopping while you are cutting you will get a small melt ridge at each stop. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it, and once you've got the feel for it you will get consistent cuts. You can use our Foam Coat to fill in any ridges. The wire will hold its shape from piece to piece. There are two other ways to make moldings besides the 3D Table:
One is to drag the Compound Bow Cutter over your foam. First you will cut 4 foot long rectangular strips. Then you will use pins or small dots of low temp hot glue to adhere a cross sectional template of your molding to each end of the foam. Then you drag the 4ft hot wire long ways over the templates. As long as you keep the Bow Cutter even with both templates you will get an even cut.
The second way is to use the Freehand Router with the Sled Guide. In this case you will need to pin a guide onto the foam to run the edge of the Sled Guide along. Another fun thing to do with the Sled guide and the Freehand Router is to pin a string to the middle of a big square piece of foam and attach the other end to the Sled Guide, and run the Router around in a circle. It makes beautiful circular moldings to go around lights etc.
As for the foam, most artists prefer the readily available 1 pound EPS foam. That's the white foam with the little beads. The Blue Board and Pink Board EPS foams are smooth and very dense, and are used more for small models that require more accuracy. The denser foams take much longer to cut and are much more expensive, but they are stronger.
Q: I have the need to cut foam nearly every day and with much dislike I have to use my band-saw. The shape I need is kind of complicated and hard to cut easily and quickly with the tools I have. Do you have a tool or table that will help me? Imagine a football, cut it in half long ways; put the flat edge on the table and you have the shape I need. But it's not easy with a flat saw blade and sander. Hot wire would be ideal if you have a product that can quickly and accurately cut my foam.
A: This is a tough one. Go to this page on our Gallery to see how one of our artists tackles this. You make one cut in one dimension using a straight cutting wire (suggest Pro Scroll Table, or Pro Knife, or Sculpting Tool), leave the excess foam wrapped around the inner core so you still have flat surfaces with your pattern on two opposing sides, and make the second cut. After that you have to shave it down using the Freehand Router (which has a shapeable blade) or the Sculpting Tool. Your shape can also be achieved by making cross-sectional pieces and then gluing them together. You will still have some sculpting and sanding to smooth out the edges, but much less and much less wasted foam.
Q: I need to cut out 20" wide piece out of 4' x8 'x 3"sheets of Polyiso foam. I think that's too big for your table. I can't freehand it and I've got to make perfectly straight cuts with a guide.
A: You can make long straight cuts very quickly with the Bow Cutter. We can also give you clamps with the Bow Cutter so you can mount it. Many people are using the Sled Guide to make straight or rounded cuts. You will need to pin a straight edge onto the foam for the Sled Guide to slide against.
Q: How do I best make long, straight cuts with the Hot Knife?
A: When you are ripping foam (cutting long straight lines) keep nearly the full length of the blade embedded in the foam by holding the knife at an angle to the foam. It will cut much faster and keep itself running in a straight line. It also eliminates the possibility of bending the blade.
Q: How can I make a cylinder or a curved wall like the Helms Deep castle in your Gallery?
A: To make a circle, put a series of grooves with the Engraving Tool on the inside of a thin piece of foam and curl the foam in toward the grooves. You can see the grooves in one of the pictures. The other way to make a circle is to put a nail in the center of a piece of foam, tie a string from the nail to the Hot Knife tool, pull the Knife taught on the string and spin it around the nail cutting a circle. If you are using foam over an inch thick (2.5cm) you will need the Sled Guide to make an even cut. I don't know where to get such thin foam, so I make it myself. I clamp the bow cutter to a workbench with the wire facing up and slide the foam across the table and into the wire. You can make ultra thin sheets of foam using this technique. If you only need foam slices that are 8-12" (20-30cm) tall (they can be as long as you want) you can use the Scroll Table or 3D Scroll Table with the Fence Guide.
Q: How can I make foam wings for my RC airplane?
A: From your plans, cut out cardboard templates of the cross sections of your wing or fuselage every 6'', or closer where there is a drastic change in shape. Sandwich a 6", or appropriate length block of foam between these cardboard templates. It helps to pin the cardboard to the foam. Then just drag the hotwire around the templates, cutting out each section. You can even cut out the groove for the spar if you notch your cardboard templates in the right place. Glue the pieces together, and sand out any imperfections. Cover the finished wing or fuselage with fiberglass strapping tape and they will outlast the best balsa wood. (Save the rain forests!!!) Save your templates, they take longer to cut out than the foam. We have examples of a similar project, making a 20ft boat mold, using the Scroll Table and a similar technique. Many people are also using the Bow Cutter with its 4ft long wire and just two end templates to cut an entire wing all at once.
Q: What is the best way to make an RC fuselage out of EPP foam?
A: I have made a complete 2 meter RC glider fuselage out of EPP foam (much tougher stuff than EPS) using the Hot Wire Foam Factory tools. I used the Hot Knife to cut out the entire perimeter, and all the cavities for the hardware. The Engraving Tool does a really neat job of grooving for the wiring and control rods. I have a trick for making a recessed cavity that the rods snap into. Cut the length about ¼ inch deep holding the Engraver at an angle to the foam. Then, following the same length, reverse the angle so you have a long cavity. Snap your control rod into this cavity.
Q: We are packing boxes with giant chess pieces and looking to fill voids in the boxes. We may need to cut a dozen or two Styrofoam pieces during each packing session lasting about an hour. The shapes we need to cut are rectangular. Typically, we need to cut a long piece in two, for example, to cut a foot off a 4" x 4" x 36" piece. Or to cut an edge off a flat piece to make it narrower, for example, to cut a 1" x 6" x 24" edge off a 1" x 24" x 24" piece. We had not planned to scoop out shapes, but it would be a plus if we could.
A: There are several tools that would do the job. By far the fastest is the 4 foot Bow Cutter. If you had to make a 3 foot long cut with the Pro 6" Hot Knife, it would take a couple of minutes vs. just a few seconds with the Bow Cutter. On the other hand, if you wanted to plunge cut or make curved cuts you might be better off with the Pro Knife Kit. The power supply that comes with the Pro Knife Kit can also be used later on with the Freehand Router, which is made to scoop out the foam.
Q: I am interested in taking classes on sign making. Are there any classes scheduled in the Southwest?
A: We don't have any classes on sign making, but it is fairly straightforward. Have you looked at the sign making section of our Gallery? The El Palmar sign was made by someone who had never before made a sign or cut foam. You can call us if you need information on gluing, coating, etc or check out these FAQs for some help.
Q: We are new in the hot wire cutting business so we need your help. We would like to cut predominantly foam letter/signs up to 2 inches thick and 15 inches high. Which one of your products will you recommend?
A: Here is what most professional sign makers have bought from us. Either the Pro Scroll Table Kit or the 3D Scroll Table Kit. These are used to cut out letters and logos with precision. You should also consider the Pro 8" Knife Kit. This is used to cut out very large letters and logos and also to cut foam down do where you can fit it onto one of the tables to do your finish cutting.
Q: I just purchased your 3 in 1 kit and I am very excited to try it out! I have a question about how to hang frames made from foam. I am a professional mosaic artist with a specialty in sculptural mirrors and I'd like to try using foam as the base of my mosaic, this will make them lighter but will they be too heavy to hang on the wall and how should I mount hanging hardware into the frame to support the mosaic?
A: I have made several medium sized frames that were foam coated, the largest weighing about 4 pounds. I epoxied regular metal frame mounts to the back directly onto the foam. The larger the surface area you epoxy to, the less chance of the mounts tearing free. Using the Engraving Tool to melt the foam to create a nest for the hanger also seems to help quite a bit in keeping the foam from tearing.
Q: I need to cut out of thin foam various shapes-like dog's paws, tails, heads, ears and so on. My problem is that I can't find anything to cut those forms very precisely and in large quantities (scissors are not a perfect cutting tool, and another manufacturer's hot knife that I tried burns the edges of the foam). Please advise me what would work.
A: The Original Scroll Table Kit would provide you with the most economic and accurate cut. This tool is also available as a Pro Kit with a Pro Power Station and a Fence Kit to provide even more accuracy and speed. Look in the Pro Kits area of our website. The 3D Scroll Kit is even more accurate and has more cutting features than any other hot wire tool in the world, but is the most expensive tool we offer.