Every now and then, you run into a tool that’s been so streamlined that there’s no room for slop or frills: it does whatever it’s supposed to do, it does it simply, and it does it right. Shovels are like this. Old drill presses are like this. Bridgeport mills are like this. And a $2 hotwire foam cutter I bought in Hong Kong is like this.
What I love about this tool is the minimalism. For the uninitiated, a hotwire cutter runs electrical current through a thin piece of wire, heating it up so that it can melt through plastic foams (like styrofoam or polyurethane insulation foams). A good foamcutter can cut through foam like a knife through butter, giving you a lot of power to quickly sculpt shapes in a cheap, lightweight material. Designers use this all the time to mock up new ideas that they can pick up, hold in their hands, and generally get a feel for a new project they’re working on.
I found this cutter at a corner store in Hong Kong, and I was attracted by its extreme simplicity. There are no moving parts–it’s just molded plastic with a couple metal inserts, but it’s surprisingly sturdy. The cutting wire itself is crimped music wire, and it’s something I can easily replace myself with cheap materials, if it ever breaks. The whole thing is powered by two D-cell batteries.
There are no moving parts–not even a switch or button. It’s extremely simple, I can see what everything does at a glance, and it just works. My kind of tool.