Last updated: August 12, 2021
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A polystyrene cutter, also called a thermal saw, is an electric tool that can cut materials with a low melting point into a suitable shape using a heating wire. The field of application is by no means limited to Styrofoam.

Any material that melts easily and is unsuitable for processing with mechanical saws can be easily shaped with a Styrofoam cutter.

The versatility of the materials that can be cut with a thermal saw is also reflected in the number of different variations in the choice of equipment. Do you need a hand-held device, a hot wire cutter for the table or even an insulation board cutter?

Although these devices can all be called polystyrene cutters, they are very different. Our large polystyrene cutter test 2022 should provide a small overview and help you as a customer to find the tool that best meets your requirements.




Summary

  • Styrofoam cutters are electronic devices that use a heating wire to cut materials with a low melting point.
  • There are three types of Styrofoam cutters: Free-guiding handheld units, tabletop units for more precise work and insulation board cutters for processing larger parts in the construction industry.
  • Styrofoam cutters that run on mains power require a transformer that dims down the voltage of regular household electricity. Most units have an integrated transformer.

The Best Styrofoam Cutter: Our Picks

Styrofoam cutter: buying and evaluation criteria

The term polystyrene cutter is used to describe a variety of tools that come in different sizes and designs depending on the area of application. The decision as to which tool is most suitable for the respective project can be made on the basis of the following criteria.

Since polystyrene is an easy material to work with, the choice of tools is large and the number of restrictions small. Nevertheless, the following criteria should be taken into account to avoid unpleasant surprises at the start of the next project.

Manufacturer

For some this point may seem superfluous, for others essential. What is certain is that a plethora of tool manufacturers design and produce thermal saws. Which brand you ultimately choose depends partly on personal preference.

Thermal saws are electrical devices and must be safe, otherwise you could be stuck with the damage in the event of an accident.

However, every buyer has to pay attention to this: Do not compromise on safety! Thermal saws are electrical devices and must be safe, otherwise you could be left with the damage in the event of an accident.

Dimensions

Large devices are used for the production of large components, but for smaller jobs they are bulky and, in the worst case, even unsuitable for your own project. Foam cutting equipment usually comes in a variety of sizes to suit the application.

Make sure you know which tool best suits your needs by matching the length and depth of cut to the parts you want to cut.

Cutting depth

Thicker material parts can cause problems for smaller thermal saws. To ensure a clean cut, make sure that the cutting depth of the cutter is not less than the thickness of the material to be processed.

Cutting length

If large pieces are to be cut straight into suitable shapes, a long cutting length is essential. Lines can be cut into the material along the cutting wire with lineal precision.

If you need to cut larger pieces of material along straight lines for your job, make sure that the cutting length of the machine is sufficient for your project.

Transformer

Thermal saws require a high amperage (amps) and low voltage (volts) for their heating wire. If the unit is to be operated with regular household current, a transformer must first dim down the voltage.

You should definitely buy a model with a short-circuit-proof transformer to avoid possible accidents. Especially if a higher number of watts of power is to be achieved, safety must not be written in small letters.

A transformer is usually supplied with the luminaire or is already built into the luminaire and should always comply with the standard for "tested safety" (GS).

Styrofoam cutter: Frequently asked questions and answers

The following section will now answer some questions that people often ask when using polystyrene cutters. Rest assured, however, that soft foams are easy to work with and do not require any special expertise.

What is a polystyrene cutter?

A polystyrene cutter, also called a thermal saw, is an electronic device that is capable of cutting materials with a low melting point, such as polystyrene.

styroporschneider-test

Its ease of processing makes Styrofoam a popular building material for modellers. (Image sources: torstensimon / pixabay)

How does a Styrofoam cutter work?

By passing electricity through a thin wire, a thermal blade is created that is able to melt through the material effortlessly and selectively. A low voltage is needed for the wire to heat up.

What types of polystyrene cutters are there?

Styrofoam cutters are used in many areas and are therefore sometimes designed very differently. The following table gives an overview of the three most common types, depending on their field of application.

Type advantages disadvantages
Hand-held device easy handling unsuitable for precision work
Table-top device easy handling not suitable for larger jobs
Insulation board cutter suitable for precision work in the building trade bulky handling, making round cuts not possible with all models

Which type of polystyrene cutter suits you best depends entirely on what kind of work you want to do with it.

For home use, thermal saws are often used, especially in model making. Commercially, even architects can't avoid using polystyrene cutters when creating illustrative models out of polystyrene, and even in the film industry many props are still made out of polystyrene. But thermal saws can also provide useful services in the building trade.

styroporschneider-test

Most new buildings today are fitted with thermal insulation made of polystyrene, among other materials. Styrofoam cutters designed for use on construction sites are adapted to make standardised cuts precisely and quickly. (Image source: Alina Kuptsova / Pixabay)

If you want to use polystyrene boards or similar materials as insulation material for your house, it is advisable to use a large insulation board cutter, as these are designed to quickly cut out exact shapes.

What power supply does a polystyrene cutter need?

The power of the transformer usually depends on the thickness and length of the heating wire, as well as the temperature you want it to reach. If you want to build a polystyrene cutter yourself, a power supply unit with a capacity of 12 volts and 3 amps is sufficient.

If you decide to buy a commercially available device, the power supply is of course already included in the product.

What does a polystyrene cutter cost?

Thermal saws are mass-produced tools and therefore not expensive. The following list gives a selection of inexpensive products for your next project.

Type Price Suitability
Hand tool(cordless) 30 € Model making and handicrafts
Hand tool 20 - 30 € Model making and handicrafts
Hand tool for professionals 60 - 120 € Construction work
Table tool 70 - 90 € Model making(true to scale)
Insulation board cutter 800 - 600 € Construction work

It doesn't always have to be the most expensive tool that performs the best. A good price-performance ratio is always directly linked to your individual purpose.

Remember: Large machines can easily make flawless cuts in a matter of minutes, but they also have their price. In principle, the smaller the job, the smaller the tool needed, the smaller the price.

What fumes are produced when cutting styrofoam?

Styrene and carbon monoxide are two toxic substances that can be produced when Styrofoam is burnt. Usually, however, no fumes should be produced when cutting ordinary styrofoam; reaching the melting point of the material is usually quite sufficient for effective processing.

Should fumes nevertheless arise, it is advisable to dim the power of the machine a little.

Where can I buy/rent a polystyrene cutter?

Thermal saws are standard tools within the building and handicraft trades and should be available in every good DIY store.

What alternatives are there to a polystyrene cutter?

In principle, anything that generates heat can shape Styrofoam. Mechanical processing with sawing tools is also possible, but does not produce such fine results because the material is often porous and brittle. The following table lists a number of tools that can be used as alternatives.

Alternative Description
Soldering iron Electrical device used to process metals with a low melting point.
Soldering gun A pistol-shaped variant of the soldering iron. Only suitable for coarser work.
DIY Styrofoam cutter Styrofoam cutters can also be home-made. However, this is not recommended for beginners in electrical engineering.

Keep in mind that all of these alternatives are only suitable to a limited extent. So if you don't have any specific requirements, but simply want to cut polystyrene several times and with consistent quality, it is also worth buying an appropriate cutter.

What additional parts are there for polystyrene cutters?

The most important part of a thermal saw, the heating wire, is of course available separately as a spare part. In addition, there are various shapes for different cuts for handheld devices.

Conclusion

Styrofoam cutters are basically simple tools for easy-to-use materials. You don't need complex training or a fat wallet to make your projects in Styrofoam or other meltable plastics.

As you have now learned, when it comes to polystyrene cutters, a lot depends on what you need your tool for. Ultimately, this abundance of different tools for working with the same material only speaks to the versatility of this material.

We hope that you can also benefit from this and wish you every success for your next project.

Picture source: 123rf / Norasit Kaewsai

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