The Right Tool


The first thing we did be­fore start­ing this project was to do plenty of re­search on­line and by ask­ing those who have done a job like this be­fore. We heard plenty of sug­ges­tions on which tools to use to cut hard case foam in­serts. We de­cided that we’d try the top four sug­ges­tions for our­selves and the fol­low­ing is what we ob­served.

1. Chicago Pneu­matic Heavy Duty Hot Knife


We ini­tially thought the hot knife was a great idea—that is, un­til we used it. The knife has a tem­per­a­ture con­trol knob that al­lows you to ad­just it from a heat set­ting of 1 to 5. We ini­tially switched it on 1 and grad­u­ally went up in tem­per­a­ture un­til the knife be­gan to cut the foam. We switched it up to 3.5 but it still wasn’t cut­ting. When we went to set­ting num­ber 4, it went through like but­ter, but it also left burn marks, as you can see. With the blade be­ing as wide as it is, it also cre­ated a ton of smoke that made it hard to see and breathe.


Gen­er­ated too many fumes. If you do opt to use this tool, we sug­gest us­ing it out­doors with a fan po­si­tioned so that it blows the un­doubt­edly toxic smoke away from you.

2. GOCHANGE Foam Cut­ter Elec­tric Cut­ting Ma­chine Pen


We were ex­cited about this elec­tric pen op­tion. It is light­weight and very easy to con­trol. How­ever, an un­for­tu­nate de­tail is that its tem­per­a­ture out­put can­not be con­trolled: It’s ei­ther on or it’s off. Also, ac­cord­ing to its in­struc­tions, it is not meant to be ac­tive for more than 30 min­utes at a time. Like the hot knife we used be­fore it, it uses heat to essen­tially melt the foam to cut it. Melt­ing foam means toxic fumes. We thought that com­pared to the hot knife, the pen’s small sur­face area should cre­ate a lot less smoke. Wrong. This puppy be­gan to smoke the in­stant it touched foam, al­most as much smoke as the hot knife. We also no­ticed as we pushed through the foam its cut­ting power less­ened and we were forced to let the pen rest be­fore push­ing into the foam fur­ther. You’ll no­tice that this left us with some burn marks as well.


We like this tool’s con­trol­la­bil­ity, but its lack of heat ad­just­ment took it out of con­tention for our project.

3. Black & Decker 9-inch Elec­tric Carv­ing Knife


This is one of the most com­monly used types of tools to cut hard case foam, and after try­ing it out, we can see why. It does an ef­fec­tive job and cre­ates no toxic fumes when you use it. The blade is wide how­ever, mak­ing de­tailed or curv­ing cuts dif­fi­cult. It is also a chal­lenge to hold the foam and knife in a man­ner that gives you per­fectly 90-de­gree cuts.


The carv­ing knife was our choice to use for this project due to its ease of use, quick­ness of use, and the fact that it didn’t pro­duce any toxic smoke.

4. Wood­land Scen­ics Hot Wire Foam Cut­ter with Foam Cut­ter Bow & Guide


A time-hon­ored method of cut­ting any kind of foam is by us­ing a ta­ble-mounted hot wire. Us­ing one ef­fec­tively does take time and pa­tience, but it can prob­a­bly yield the most pro­fes­sional re­sults of all the meth­ods we tried. That said, our hand­held hot wire was a no-go from the get-go. The wire was hard to make taught on the tool, so that the cuts it made be­came wavy. Also, be­ing hand held, it was near im­pos­si­ble to make clean 90-de­gree cuts, even with the op­tional bow and guide that we in­stalled on the tool.


We like the hot wire con­cept and can see why many peo­ple use it to cut foam. It gen­er­ated very lit­tle smoke, which can’t be said of the other two foam melt­ing tools we tried, and the thin wire of­fered ul­tra con­trol­la­bil­ity for pre­ci­sion cuts. The hand­held ver­sion was un­wieldy to use, but we imag­ine a table­top hot wire would lead to fan­tas­tic re­sults.

From left to right, th­ese are the tools that we tested: Chicago Pneu­matic Heavy Duty Hot Knife; GOCHANGE Foam Cut­ter Elec­tric Cut­ting Ma­chine Pen; Black & Decker 9-inch Elec­tric Carv­ing Knife; and Wood­land Scen­ics Hot Wire Foam Cut­ter with Foam Cut­ter...

We cut wedges into a piece of foam to see what kind of cuts each tool made. From left to right, th­ese are our re­sults.

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