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How to Cut Foam Board

Updated on October 2, 2012

Cutting Foam Board Insulation

Foam is lightweight, fairly cheap to buy, and has a multitude of uses: packaging materials, house insulation, foam sculptures... and lots of fun uses.. just ask model railroaders, table-top wargamers, or diorama makers!

I use foam for a rather boring purpose. I buy large sheets of styrofoam board and cut it up to protect items I ship. Sometimes this means reinforcing box walls, or just protecting fragile items.

I've tried using a variety of tools to cut foam: box cutters, a hot knife, soldering iron, woodburner tool.... Here's what I've found out about how to cut foam board...

Above photo Creative Commons licensed for use: Photo is by Mark Olsen

The Best Hot Wire Cutter for Foam - Ideal for craft projects, architects, and for any other job that requires PRECISION

Proxxon 37080 Hot Wire Cutter THERMOCUT
Proxxon 37080 Hot Wire Cutter THERMOCUT

This hotwire cutter looks like the best deal. It has all positive reviews and even customer pictures of their final foam sculpture!

I haven't tried this one, but I thought that I would first recommend the tool that seems to be best for making exact, measured cuts. (Something I haven't been able to do with a box cutter or hot knife.)

 

Utility Knife (Box Cutter) does the job, but causes a bit of a mess! - (Not recommended for precision.)

Sparco PVC Grip Knife, Stainless Steel Chamber, Yellow/Black (SPR15851)
Sparco PVC Grip Knife, Stainless Steel Chamber, Yellow/Black (SPR15851)

This type of construction knife does a good job because the blade can slide out as long as you need it. It you cut the foam slowly, at an angle, you might manage to do it with minimal mess.... but I usually end up with the floor covered with white dots, AND the edge of what I cut is ragged :(

 

A Hot Knife is Another Tool for Cutting Foam - Not for making small cuts, but great for big projects.

Electric Hot Knife Styrene Foam Cutter - 5.4in. Blade, 120V/130 Watt Power Input
Electric Hot Knife Styrene Foam Cutter - 5.4in. Blade, 120V/130 Watt Power Input

I've used this one, but the "knife" is much thicker than a wire, so it doesn't make small cuts in the foam. This knife would probably work best for cutting large pieces of foam, or for making holes or cavities in it. Check out the below video, which does a good job of showing how it works.

I wouldn't recommend this one for jobs that require precise cuts.

The main advantage over using a utility knife is that you don't get all of the tiny foam pieces breaking off and going all over. The disadvantage is that the melted foam smells, and so you'll need ventilation.

 

Is the Hot Knife right for your project? - Watch this video to find out.

You can also use a soldering iron or a woodworking tool - A cheap tool for cutting or making holes in styrofoam

Dremel 1550 T2 Versa Tip Multipurpose Tool  Kit
Dremel 1550 T2 Versa Tip Multipurpose Tool Kit

We have used a tool like this one to make holes in foam and cut it.

Product Description:

"Multipurpose tool for wood burning, soldering, hot knife cutting of styrofoam and plastics, cutting and fusing rope. By simply switching tips, the tool can be used for wood burning, leather crafting, stencil cutting, soldering, or hot-knife cutting of foam, plastics and rope. "

 

Your Comments:

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    • BubblesRFun profile image

      BubblesRFun 4 years ago

      GREAT Lens! I think I'm going to try the Heat knife for my project:)

    • bluelily lm profile image

      bluelily lm 4 years ago

      Cutting these foam boards is really a tedious job and also you don't get satisfactory results but I think the tools that you have mentioned here is certainly going to help.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Huestis makes a computer driven 3d foam cutter.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @hotbrain: use a lennox diamond holesaw bit.. very smooth and cuts perfect holes

    • hotbrain profile image
      Author

      hotbrain 6 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      @kraptain: Good question... I haven't found anything that will do a 2" diameter. The largest I found was 1/2", using this machine: http://www.thewebcutter.com/RX-80HA.html

    • profile image

      kraptain 6 years ago

      I need to cut / burn a whole bunch of 2" holes for my aquaponic system rafts.This would be going thru 2" Dow Blue Board. I have used hole saws in reverse, (so-so results, no smooth edge) and even tried heating up an empty can heated over charcoal. Work well (perfect holes, clean edges) but could only do a few holes before re heating or switching to another can.

      Is there a way to make a hot knife that cuts round plugs?

      Thanks for your help!

    • MelissaInTheSky profile image

      MelissaInTheSky 6 years ago

      I use foamcore often. Very helpful info. Thanks!