This review was written in 2004 by Gary James. Since then the tools have been updated and we have an update review of the Hot Wire Foam Factory Tools written by Andy Slater which can be found at the end of the link.
The Hot Wire Foam Factory produce a wide range of foam cutting tools for craft and professional use.This is a review of the 3-in-1 craft kit, which comprises three tools and a video all housed in a sturdy carry case.My review sample was supplied by The Hot Wire Foam Factory direct: www.hotwirefoamfactory.com
Model: Hot Wire Foam Factory 3-in-1 craft kit.
Capacity: Sculpting tool: adjustable but typically 175mm / 7 inches wide with 4 inch depth of cut.<br /> Hot knife: 4 inch length<br /> Engraver: 3 inch length but just the tip is used (see below)
Power: Mains powered supply 6V / 1500mA with international adaptors. Cord length 70 inches / 1780mm on the power supply, plus a further length on each tool.
This kit comprises three tools which share a single power supply through a plug and socket arrangement. It is easy to switch between tools whilst working on a project.
None of the tools have a switch on the tool itself, power must be controlled by switching the mains supply.
The sculpting tool is the most familiar of the three. The handle is constructed from an acrylic looking block covered with a soft yellow plastic sleeve. Two small bolts attach the cutting arms which are made from curved copper tubing. The wires are attached by twisting them into a slot on each cutting arm (6 are provided with the kit).
The cutting arms can be adjusted to different widths or folded together for storage. This makes the tool quite versatile - you can get a greater depth of cut by closing the arms, or a wider but more shallow depth by opening them out. The manufacturers recommend that the arms should never be less than 5 inches apart.
In use the cutter performed well, slicing though my test 1 inch /25mm dense blue foam cleanly. The wire is quite strong and didn't break in any of my tests.
I found that I had to use a small spanner and screwdriver to tighten the arms of the cutter sufficiently to stop them moving and going slack in use.
The twist wire connection is simple and effective and I didn't have any problems with wires coming loose.
The wire temperature seemed about right, cutting cleanly without excessive fume production. The handle is comfortable to use and the whole tool is light and easy to manipulate.
The hot knife has a cylindrical handle about 4 inches /100mm by 1 inch / 25mm diameter, covered in the same yellow plastic sleeving. A thin, stiff 5 inch / 127mm wire 'blade' protrudes from the handle.
There are no moving parts and the blade is a permanent fixture, not changeable like the hot wire cutter.
The hot knife is sturdy in construction, very light and easy to use.
The hot knife is a very different tool to the normal hot wire cutter. The blade heats up along its entire length, giving you a cutting 'wand'. This cut though the test blue foam easily but more slowly than the hot wire cutter. This is understandable given that the blade is much thicker.
The hot knife comes into its own when you need to cut holes and internal details out of foam. This is a pain to do with a traditional hot wire cutter - you have to make a pilot hole and then disconnect the wire and thread it through, reconnect it and commence cutting.
The hot wire is also free from any depth of cut problems - you can cut a hole right in the centre of a complete sheet of foam if you wish.
The engraving tool is identical in construction to the hot knife, but the cutting 'blade' is a lot thicker (about 1/8 of an inch, 3mm) and a little over 3 inches / 80mm long. The blade is tapered to a blunt point.
The engraving tool is used for detailed work rather than wholesale cutting. When powered only the tip of the tool gets hot enough to melt the foam.
This allows you to use it like a fat pen, 'drawing' on the surface of the foam to engrave or carve out details.
I tested this on blue foam and found that with a little practice I could get quite well controlled surface details into the foam. I imagine it may be trickier with white foam because it is less dense and will melt more quickly.
The kit comes in a sturdy carry case that has space for everything including the instructional video.
I think this is a great feature and it keeps all of your bits and pieces safely and securely in one place.
There is an instruction leaflet with sensible advice, the power supply and an international adaptor if necessary, six spare wires and the instructional video.
I was pleased and surprised to find that the video worked in in my UK video player. It gives a short introduction to the use of each tool and some tips on safety and craft foam modelling. All of the company's tools are covered, not just the ones in this kit.
The international power supply sent to me did not plug straight into my UK mains sockets. It had two round pins which I think are probably used in the rest of Europe but the UK uses power plugs with three rectangular pins. However it will plug into a shaver adaptor. This makes for a rather cumbersome plug arrangement (three blocks plugged together) but it worked fine and the shaver adaptor only costs a few pennies.
The only feature of this kit that I didn't particularly like was the lack of any power switch on the tools themselves. This meant going back and forth to the mains socket to switch the tools on and off. When you do this you have to carry the hot tool with you or put it down somewhere whilst it is still hot.
The manufacturers recommend that you make yourself a simple tool holder, such as this one, to hold the tools and keep the hot wires and blades safely out of harms way.
This is a simple and neat suggestion but it still requires care in use because you have hot tools around the workbench. I found I tended to forget whether the tool was on or off and had to go look at the socket or test the tool with a bit of spare foam.
This gripe aside, I found myself liking this kit. The tools are sturdy, easy to handle and strong in construction. This 3-in-1 combination gives you the key tools for most foam jobs. I liked the ability to swap between tools by plugging and unplugging them from the same power adaptor. The adaptor and tool power leads are good and long, giving plenty of reach and range.
The kit is not cheap (the tools are available separately too) but you are getting a comprehensive set of equipment. It would be well worth clubbing together to share the cost, or buying it for a group or club use.
+ Well constructed
+ Low voltage mains powered system (saves on battery costs)
+ Extra versatility from the hot knife and engraver tools
+ Neat storage box
+ Instructional video
- No on-tool power switching
- Clunky power supply on my model
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