Foamcore Cutting

foamcore cutting is harder than it seems

Foamcore is a staple of the design community. It's supposedly easy to cut and build prototypes of ideas rapidly and easily. However, anyone who has actually tried to cut fine detail in foamcore knows that is not easily worked. This project tried to find better methods to cut foamcore through an extensive evolutionary prototyping and ideation process.

Foamcore is an interesting material. It’s one of the few--perhaps the only--material that is available almost anywhere, mechanically stable, and cut-able without complex tools. The only problem with foamcore is that it is hard to cut minute details by hand. Cutting is made difficult by foamcore’s structure. Most commercial foam core cutting devices work on the principle of a sharp blade severing the three layers of material that make up foamcore. However it’s impossible to cut fine details with these devices because they rely on wide blades mounted at acute angles to the foamcore. Subsequently, the width of the blade dictates the smallest cut-able feature.

A study was conducted to try to find a new and better way to cut foam core. Starting from scratch, foamcore was dissected, poked at, cut on, burned, melted, sliced, and diced in an attempt to understand the fundamental nature of the material. From this exercise it was learned that the paper layers on the outside of the foam core must be cut at a different rate than the foam core interior. This makes cutting the material somewhat similar to cutting drywall. If the outer layers of paper are severed, then the inner foam core can be subjected to shear forces, and it breaks.

After learning how to shear foamcore board, a study was conducted to try to figure out the easiest way to cut the polystyrene foam core. Again an extensive investigation of different methods was conducted. It was concluded that displacing the foam with a small needle was the easiest and most effective way to shear the foam. With this new knowledge on cutting foamcore, a device prototype was created.


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