200W Nordstrand Pro Electric Hot Knife Styrofoam Foam Cutter Tool - with Blades & Accessories
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Shape and trim hard foam
Whether you're fitting ceiling tiles or creating an artwork, being able to shape hard foam quickly and accurately can transform your day. The Nordstrand Styrofoam Thermal Cutter requires no special training or skills, and allows you to create straight edges or complex shapes with no mess and no fuss.
No-mess foam cutting solution
The Nordstrand Thermal Cutter cuts cleanly and smoothly. As the heat reacts with the foam, it cuts without leaving the dust and debris common when using a conventional knife. With no dust or polystyrene filings left behind, cleaning up is easy. Designed for commercial and industrial use, it's a popular choice for hard foam modelling, DIY and construction.
Like a hot knife through butter
Reaching cutting temperature in as little as 10 seconds, the Nordstrand cutting system slides through hard foam with little resistance. It's easy to manoeuvre, making it possible to cut freehand shapes or to easily follow a guide. It's ideal for construction work, as it's easy to cut pieces to fit, whether you're trimming a tile or shaping an outlet point.
How to use the Nordstrand Thermal Cutter
The cutter is designed for use on hard foams, including: Styrofoam, Polystyrene (PS), PUR rigid foam, Neopor, Polyurethanes and PU foam. This is a hot knife system, with a blade that can be as hot as 500C (932F). It's therefore critical that you read and fully understand the operating instructions before using the cutter. This set includes power cable, cutter body, carrying case, instruction manual, cleaning equipment and two straight blades (150mm and 200mm)
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Top customer reviews
First, I want to comment on what seems to me to be the usual "falsely western-named Chinese product" issue. I did not actually see anything on this product indicating where it was made. I suppose it is almost certainly made in China, or at least Taiwan. OK, no issue there. But after a lot of online searching, and reviewing industrial manufacturer listings, it appears to me that the "Nordstrand" in this instance is simply a vaguely legitimate sounding "western" name that has probably just been slapped onto this product to make it sell better. I could find no "Nordstrand" company that is in the business of making products of this kind. There is the Nordstrand that operates oil wells, and the Nordstrand that makes guitar pickups, etc. But if there is actually a Nordstrand company behind this product, I could find no evidence of it. I only mention this because I think that most people, when buying a tool that costs more than a "Harbor Freight" price, would like to know who the manufacturer is, especially if they envision perhaps needing to contact that company for warranty support, product questions, parts, etc. If this product fails, I think one could appeal to Amazon, but after a short period past purchase I think there would be no support, no company to contact or appeal to. Just be aware of this. On the other hand, unless I wanted to spend nearly $1000, I saw no better product of this type that was made by a known company. So I pigeon-hole this product as being better than those selling for $20-$30, but less than those selling for a LOT more.
This 'knife' operates much as the good old Weller type soldering guns do, by passing a lot of electrical current through a metal probe (knife blade in this case), which gets hot, and thus cuts cleanly through the EPS foam/Styrofoam (henceforth called "foam" in this review). Although I have not tried it, my experience in making unusual replacement tips for my Weller gun makes me think that I could probably fashion unusually shaped blades that would work on this product, as long as I keep the electrical resistance more or less in the same ballpark as the blades that come with the knife. (Actually, a person can make a pretty decent foam cutter by forming some stiff bare wire into the desired shape and clamping the ends into the fittings on a Weller-type soldering gun, but those guns are not intended for continuous use).
This knife includes the following items:
- Plastic carrying case of 'meh' quality; usable but overall rather flimsy. On mine, the case has a large, color, adhesive label that was put on sloppily and with a large wrinkle, and it is coming off.
- Knife handle (this is the expensive part)
- Two (2) knife blades of different lengths....at least 4" of foam can be cut through (shorter blade extends about 6" from the tool while the longer blade extends about 8")....the case has 3 slots in its internal foam block to hold knife blades, but as supplied only two of those slots have blades in them
- A "T" handle Allen/hex wrench for loosening/tightening the bolts that allow removal/attachment of the blades to the knife handle
- A plastic handled brush with brass wire bristles.....the manual does not describe this, but I suppose it can be used to clean off any plastic residue that might build up on the blade(s), or maybe it is for cleaning the parts of the blade that must make good electrical connection with the knife handle...?
- User Manual
The "user manual" is just a folded-over slip of paper that is mostly filled with the usual cautions about not using this in a bathtub, and not using it to cut the cat's hair, etc. A brief, poorly worded and poorly illustrated set of instructions for attaching the blade(s) and adjusting the thumbwheel take up the rest of the manual. On mine, there was no company contact information provided.
The tool has a generously long power cord, slightly more than 10 feet, with a three-pin 'grounded' type 120V North American style plug. As far as I can tell, there is no way to convert this tool to 240V.
The knife handle has two controls:
- Trigger that turns the tool on and causes the blade to get hot
- Thumbwheel that controls how much current goes through the blade, and thus how hot the blade gets. This is adjusted according to the foam thickness.
In operation, the desired blade is attached to the knife handle using the T handle tool to tighten the four bolts. Then the thumbwheel is adjusted to the middle of its range, and the trigger is pulled and held in. Within about 10 seconds, that blade is hot enough to cut cleanly through the foam. If the blade is not passing easily 'like a hot knife through butter' through the foam, the thumbwheel needs to be adjusted in the HIGH direction. If the blade is turning red hot, or if the blade tends to slide sideways instead of cutting straight, then perhaps it is too hot and the thumbwheel needs to be adjusted in the LOW direction. The blade stays hot for a few seconds after releasing the trigger, and I found that if I release it with several inches of cutting remaining, this works out well.
On the left side of the tool is a red LED that lights when the knife is being energized. Be aware that the blade gets hot enough to damage may things that it might come into contact with; tables, floor surfaces, clothing, skin, work gloves, etc. It cools off pretty quickly after you release the trigger, but remains dangerous for at last 15 seconds. And the blades, even when cool, are dangerous in the way that a dull steak knife is dangerous.....it might not cut anything, bit it can still poke and do damage to soft objects and people.
The tool does have a metal hook near where the power cord comes in, which can be used to hang the tool up instead if sitting it down on a surface, which might be a better option during periods of regular use.
The tool has an embedded aluminum block that has two threaded holes, located immediately behind the fittings where the blade attaches. The purpose of this block is not described in the users manual. My guess is that it might allow attachment of an alternate handle, or perhaps the tool can be mounted to a larger fixture of some kind, maybe even a robotic arm....for automated cutting.
The tool quality seems pretty good. The knife handle is heavy and seems to be made from serious heavy-grade plastic, with lots of screws holding it together (for the curious, the screws have Torx and Frearson/Prince-Reed type heads, and one screw is hidden behind a label). The power cord is reasonably flexible while still being fairly heavy gauge.
The similar Weller type soldering guns generate their high blade current through use of a special transformer built into the the gun body. This tool did not seem to be large enough to have a traditional transformer inside, and the adjustable temperature control makes me think that the current is generated and controlled through a solid-state circuit of some kind. After doing a large foam cutting job over several days, my curiosity git the better of me, and I took the tool apart. It DOES use a physically small (about 1.25" per side cube shaped) transformer with a heavy gauge wire secondary to provide the high current required to heat the blade, but the transformer primary winding is controlled by a solid-state circuit on a printed circuit board. It appears that the incoming AC power is rectified to DC and modulated into a variable signal that energized the primary winding....this is how the tool adjusts temperature. The circuit clearly had some over-temperature sensing built in, and looked to be well designed and fabricated.
It appears that this tool will accept an industry standard style of blade, what should be easy to get whenever replacements may be needed.
As previously mentioned, I think that it is likely that this tool would probably work with modified or home-made blades. For example, you might be able to bend a blade to make a curved cut, or you might be able to make your own odd-shaped blade by cutting it from thin sheet steel. (Note that the blade is not simply a solid piece of sheet metal; it has a slot cut in it that runs down the entire length of the blade except for the vary end at the tip/point....the electrical current must pass down one side of the blade, round the corner at the tip, then back down the other side of the blade.) However, I have not tried this personally with this specific tool, so I am not endorsing or recommending this practice. Also note that if you hold the trigger in for a while with the blade not currently in contact with any foam, it gets very hot and can even become red hot.....when the blade is this hot, it is also rather soft and you could grab it with a pliers and bend it into a desired shape, which it would retain after it cools down somewhat....this might be useful for certain types of cutting.
I just finished using the tool for a project where I had to make Styrofoam blocking to support large odd-shaped items inside shipping boxes. I used the tool extensively over many hours, and it worked fine. This was MUCH better than trying to cut the foam using a knife or saw.....that mess would have been incredible. No mess using this tool, and it is quick. I could cut a line, or stab through, or twist to make a round hole.
I should note that when the foam is cut, smoke, or maybe it is just a vapor, is generated, and this is probably not good to breathe. Having some positive ventilation is probably a good idea, although I did not find the smoke to be an irritant to my eyes or breathing in the large space where I was working. If I were to use this daily, I would certainly investigate getting a more positive ventilation system.
A final note....this product is intended for use ONLY with EPS foam, which is commercially given the trade name "Styrofoam". It is not intended to use on other types of foam or other plastic products, although it would certainly cut through anything that melts at the temperature that the blade gets to. There are a lot of foams out there that people casually refer to as "styrofoam', but which are actually something else. I have read online that construction workers applying foam insulation to buildings are using this tool successfully, although much home insulation board is a non-EPS type foam. I cannot endorse this tool for use on anything other than actual EPS foam. True EPS foam looks and feels like your conventional foam coffee cups, and does not actually even seem much like foam, certainly not with visible bubbles or cells.