Quick Builds #1

7th May 2021

Making Things Woodworking Electronics Foamsmithing

Not to beat a dead horse, but everyone should know by now that I love making things! I also love sharing and showing off what I made. Recently, some of my making projects haven't really been worth writing a full article about. So I decided to dedicate this article to a few of them. I plan to keep this format going with short and sweet updates on some of my work.


I recently made a hotwire cutter, a laptop stand and a vertical wood store! You can see some images here.

Laptop Stand

Laptop stand showing floating back.

Since the start of COVID lockdown, I have been working 100% remote. Very quickly I noticed that where my laptop sits nicely on my desk, it also get really hot and the fan runs at max speed almost all the time. Aside from being annoying, this also obviously isn't ideal for the laptop. The first solution was to lift the laptop up a bit on a book. This worked pretty well, the fan was now open to the air and it cooled a bit better. However, the underside of the laptop where the processor was would still get super hot. The ideal solution would be something with a small footprint that would sit neatly on my desk, support the laptop from the edges to allow air flow and allow the fan intake to float in the air.

The design is straight forward but really effective. The laptop sits neatly in it, it's nice and cool and the fan doesn't constantly run now which is a win! The build was also very straight forward, cut out 4 pieces of plywood with my jigsaw then glued and nail them together with my nail gun. Job done!

Laptop stand in place.

For reference, this is a 13" MacBook Pro, if you would like to make one of these yourself. You can find the plans here.

Hotwire Cutter

Hotwire cutter with insulation foam.

NOTE: These devices can be dangerous in terms of high temperatures and relatively high currents that can be involved. This is not an instruction guide, I am not telling anyone to replicate this device. I am an electronic engineer who understands these kind of systems. For your own safety, please do not attempt to replicate this device unless you know what you are doing.

My current workspace is a new space for me. The shed was previously only ever used for storage and never as a workshop. As far as most sheds go, it's pretty damn good. It has a decent footprint, concrete floor and walls and a mostly fully sealed corrugated galvanised steel roof. Aside from needing to clear out some junk from it and do some reorganising, it's become a very good working space for me.

I mentioned above that the roof is mostly sealed, the biggest problem with the shed as a workspace and storage space for tools was a whole bunch of gaps in the roof where the corrugated steel roof meets the wooden roof trusses. This allowed wind, rain and all kinds of spiders into the shed!! I had a few ideas of how to seal it up, my first thought was expanding foam. However, I don't really like the stuff and it's super messy.

While trying to think of a solution, my Dad recommended cutting foam to fit the gap and wedging it in. He also happened to have a pile of old packing foam blocks that would be perfect for the job. He kindly dropped over the blocks and left the rest to me. The difficult part now was how best to cut the foam to fit the curves of the roof. I tried several tools but nothing gave me a nice finish. I knew a hotwire cutter would do the job, but I didn't have one... So I built one!

The construction was straight forward, cut, glued and nailed a few pieces of wood together and the frame was done. The electrics were a little more work, but it's a simple enough circuit with a switch, power LED, power supply and a length of nichrome wire under tension wired into short circuit. When the switch is turned on, the LED lights and the wire heats up more or less instantly. I have about 200mm of nichrome with 9V over it and my variable power supply is just about able to handle the current requirements.

If I was building this again or planning to use it more often, I would add a variable power supply or a PMW controller with a nob for adjusting the temperature of the wire. I would also add a spring system for self tensioning the wire. This would caught me by surprise, but in hindsight it's obvious. I wired in my length of nichrome and pulled it drum tight. You could pluck it like a guitar string and get a tone out of it, however when you turned it on, the metal expands due to the heat and the tension lets off 🤦‍♂️, seems so obvious... and yet! The wire being little slack means the cuts aren't as neat as they could be. Future improvement, stick a spring in there somewhere!!

Corrugated roof with cut insulation foam.

I'm pretty happy with how this worked out in the end. Honestly, I'm not sure when the cutter will get used again, but it was pretty fun to build and it worked perfectly for this job. Also, the shed is now nicely sealed up, no more wind and rain... Still a few spiders though!

Firewood Store

Vertical firewood store.

This was a fun and simple one. I put a solid days work into cleaning up some space in my shed. There was an old wood store and coal store in this corner of the shed. It lay flat on the ground on an old shipping pallet to keep the fuel off the floor. This was fine, except it was a waste of precious floor space! I spent a day stripping it out, cleaning up the shed, breaking up the pallet and building the shelving unit.

I am a big fan of this kind of project, it involves cleaning and organising a space, breaking stuff apart and the best part, making something new out of something old! If you haven't done it before, I highly recommend breaking up a pallet and using the wood to make something. Final word of warning, I pulled a massive amount of rusty nails out of this pallet, so be careful and wear gloves. Pallet wood is also usually rough cut, so watch out for nasty splinters!

What's Next?

There are a few projects coming up soon, I have plans to build out some more workbench space in my shed which should be modular. I also plan to build a couple of carts with wheels for organising some stuff under my workbench. The biggest thing coming up is a rewiring project for the shed!

Keep on making things!
- Ian
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