Electrical Power

Battery Power

If you’ve been considering the electrical theories at play, a battery is a fixed voltage power supply which is very similar to the solid-state fixed voltage power supplies (like computer battery chargers, etc). You can use this same process when retrofitting a steady-state fixed voltage power supply to your circuit.

Generally speaking, I would not normally recommend attempting to retrofit the supply to match the circuit... BUT when dealing with batteries you have to alter your circuit’s resistance to account for the fixed voltage if you wish to maintain battery life.

I doubt that many of you would actually require a battery to supply the power your foam cutters, as most of you are going to be indoors where a wall sockets are available. But if you have an application where it may be outdoors, at a remote location, or at a demonstration, you might think about using a battery as your source of power.

Before we proceed, you need to know I’m not talking about hooking up a pair of AA batteries. To realistically gain any longevity with foam cutting, the battery supplies need to be physically larger, with a higher capacity, and be between 6-12 volts. Check out the purchasing section for more information.

Using the calculator, you need to have the Length radio button selected because the calculator will determine the necessary circuit resistance and/or NiChrome wire length. While the overall length IS helpful, should the provided length be longer than your desired cutter, you’ll need to add resistance to the circuit by other means. Check out the Resistance Section for more information.

These are the three variables that you need to alter, but you need to perform these steps first. 

Select the temperature, which should be no less than 600°F
By changing this slider you will notice that it affects the amperage requirement at the bottom
Next determine the gauge of wire you wish to use for your cutting device
By changing this slider you will notice that it affects the amperage requirement at the bottom

Once these two variables are selected, you will need to look at the Current Requirement at the bottom. If the current rating in the calculator is higher than the current rating of your power supply, then you will not be able to use this power supply for your currently selected temperature or gauge. But if the current rating of the power supply is higher than the current rating on the calculator, you may proceed to the next step

Now move the Voltage slider to what is the rated voltage on the power supply or battery
You will notice that the Length of wire is calculated

If the calculated wire length is too long for your cutter, then you can counteract this by placing a resistor in series with your cutting device. By increasing the resistance of a circuit with a resistor, it is the same as increasing the over all length. See the Adding Resistance Section for more information.

If you change the radio button and highlight Temperature,  you will be able to see what will happen if you alter your wire's length. 
By decreasing the calculated length you will increase your temperature as well as increase your amperage requirement. 
By increasing the calculated length you will decrease your temperature and decrease your amperage requirement

As you may well know, in reading from our Electrical Theory Discussion Page, power supplies put out a constant voltage while the current drawn is dependent upon wire resistance. Batteries are no exception to this rule.

Just to recap the information listed above (incase you got lost), all batteries have a rated capacity which is essentially how long a battery can run based upon how much current is drawn from the battery. It would also be proper to state that this rating pertains to the duration and intensity of the battery power output.

This capacity rating is given as  Amp-Hours (Ah)

A battery rated at 10Ah may theoretically provide 10 amps for 1 hour, or 1 amp for 10 hours.

When it comes to choosing a high power battery, there are basically two voltage rating to choose from but a ton of different capacities. Your options in fixed voltage are typically 6 volts & 12 volts.

Most applications only require 6 volts, but 12 volts will give you much more length on your cutting wire if your design demands it. But if you use 12 volts and intend on switching between devices, just mind the applied voltage to the circuit’s resistance. You may need to add resistance to your shorter cutting devices to account for this higher voltage. Visit the Adding Resistance Page for more information.

Here is an example ::

6V / 12Ah

This battery can supply a constant output of 6 volts

The output amperage will depend upon the resistance of your circuit, but the battery can theoretically supply :

12 amps for 1 hour


1 amp for 12 hours


2 amps for 6 hours


Please note that 1 amp = 1000mA

So a battery rated at 700mAh is really only 0.7Ah

26 Gauge NiChrome Wire Chromel C

Battery Selection

Because we know that voltage is constant, temperature is dependent upon amperage, and amperage is dependent upon resistance, I have outlined the necessary circuit resistance to obtain a variety of temperatures for the two more common wire gauges.

Scroll down to use the Jacobs Online Calculator and manually calculate your own requirements.

Most any straight line hot wire foam cutter
Any rigid wire hot wire foam cutter

6.3 Amps

5.1 Amps

7.6 Amps

Required Circuit Resistance

20 Gauge NiChrome Wire Chromel C



600°F / 316°C



800°F / 427°C

1000°F / 538°C

6 Volt

12 Volt

1.9 Ohms

1.2 Ohms

2.4 Ohms

0.79 Ohms

1.6 Ohms

0.95 Ohms

0.6592 Ohms / Foot

2.67 Ohms / Foot

What if you want a 26 gauge wire at 600°F, on a 6 volt battery, and only 10 inches (0.8 feet)?

Required Length

6 Volt

12 Volt

2.9 Feet

1.8 Feet

3.6 Feet

1.2 Feet

2.4 Feet

1.4 Feet

2.6 Amps

2.1 Amps

3.2 Amps

Required Circuit Resistance



600°F / 316°C



800°F / 427°C

1000°F / 538°C

6 Volt

12 Volt

4.6 Ohms

2.9 Ohms

5.7 Ohms

1.9 Ohms

3.8 Ohms

2.3 Ohms

Required Length

6 Volt

12 Volt

1.7 Feet

1.1 Feet

2.1 Feet

0.7 Feet

1.4 Feet

0.9 Feet

I hope that by looking at these calculated values, you were able to appreciate that if you want a higher wire temperature you need more less resistance or less wire length. Whereas if you want a cooler temperature you need a higher resistance or a longer wire length.

Well you know that in order to achieve 600°F you need 2.1 amps, and because the battery is a 6 volt supply, you NEED to have 2.9 ohms. But a 26 gauge wire, at 2.67 ohms per foot, at 0.8 feet is only 2.1 ohms. This means that you have to account for 0.8 ohms...

If you do not provide 0.8 ohms, there is less resistance in your circuit, which means a higher amperage, which in turn creates a higher temperature (close to 700°F)

All-in-all this higher temperature may not mean a lot when cutting foam, but because you are not drawing a higher amperage, you will decrease the duration that your battery can supply power.

Remember Amp-hours...

Retrofitting a Supply

Personally, I use this calculator to determine the necessary resistance which is located in the lower right hand corner. From here I determine the resistance of my cutting device, then subtract the two numbers to determine the necessary resistance of my resistor / rheostat to ensure a proper temperature. See the Adding Resistance Section for more information._ResistanceCalc.html_ResistanceCalc.htmlshapeimage_13_link_0shapeimage_13_link_1

It is possible to place some of these batteries in series and others in parallel.

Remember these two key points...

Placing batteries in parallel,

the voltage remains the same but capacity is added

Placing batteries in series,

the capacity remains the same but voltage is added

Please visit this help page for more explanation of this calculator.

Electrical Considerations

Batteries are an excellent source of storable, and easily accessible electrical power. Each single unit of a battery is called a cell, and battery is a combination of cells joined together.  Each cell will have a characteristic voltage range between charged and discharged states which are set by the electrochemical nature of the internal metals. Simply put, the chemistry determines the voltage of a cell and the number of cells determines the voltage of a battery.

Within each battery is a set of chemical reactions that occur at the anode and cathode which drive electrons and ultimately the electrical gradient from which a direct current of power is derived.

Some non-rechargeable batteries contain chemicals to absorb waste materials and byproducts from the chemical reaction. Should the byproducts build up, they will ultimately poison the cells.

Alkaline batteries contain other chemicals to absorb waste byproducts from this reaction which allows them to last longer than most other batteries. But once discharged, these batteries cannot be recharged. In fact attempting to recharge can be quite dangerous.

Rechargeable batteries function the same as any other battery, but when charged the flow of electrons is forced backwards against the anode and cathodes to reverse the electrochemical reactions.

Now here is were things get fun!

All batteries and cells have an internal resistance and a capacity for electrical energy. The internal resistance determines how many amperes the battery can reliably provide in service. And the capacity (measured in Amp-Hours) is the number of amps the battery can deliver as a function of time.

Large Cell Batteries

Many large cell batteries (like car batteries) can produce large amounts of output amperage, but also can therefore be quite dangerous. In fact, a car battery can produce up to 300 amps if it is short circuited!

One caveat to car batteries though is that while they have enough capacity to electrocute a human many times over, it does not have enough voltage to penetrate dry (and even damp) human skin. It takes about 48 volts to puncture the dry skin resistance of the human body. Still, one should be careful when handling any high capacity electrical power circuit regardless of its voltage.

Many large cell batteries are rated in Cold Cranking Amps or Reserve Capacity. CCA is approximately equal to the RC of a battery times five.

Amp-Hours = (RC / 2) + 16

Battery Maintenance

Battery Charging

Battery charges are usually straight forward devices that has a transformer and a few large diodes. Some of them have circuit breakers and amp meters. While others allow manual control of both amperage and voltage.

Proper battery charging demands that you apply a voltage that causes current to flow at 1/10th the amp-hour rating of the battery to a maximum of about 1/4th the amp-hour rating of the battery.

Exercising Batteries

All lead/acid batteries should be completely discharged at 1/10th to 1/4th of their amp-hour rating. Once the battery is loaded, monitor the voltage output on the battery. When the voltage drops below rated voltage, it is ready for recharge. For reference a 12.6v battery will be ready to recharge when the voltage drops below 11 volts while loaded.

Reference ::

You can certainly discharge a battery at a higher amperage rating than this, but do not expect it to be able to maintain a mathematically consistent time frame. The higher current demand will cause extra losses, and the internal resistance of the battery will then increase. When the internal resistance goes up, it decreases the output voltage and ultimately decreased capacity.

Many will note that when a battery is discharged at a higher rate than it is designed for the more power that is lost as heat. In some circumstances the battery will become dangerously hot and may explode.

While the 1/10th rule is a safe estimate, as good rule of thumb some say to divide a battery's amp-hour rating by 4 to estimate the maximum current the battery can deliver and still have a reasonable life expectancy before it is fully discharged.

For the maximum capacity of a battery, do not pull more amperes than 1/10th of its amp-hour rating.

20 amp-hour should not supply more than 2 amps for maximum capacity

A battery that is rated as 5 amp-hours can theoretically supply 5 amps for 1 hour, or 1 amp for 5 hours. Sometime the capacity may be rated as miliamp-hours, which is the same concept just a different measurement of amperage.

1 amp = 1000 miliamps

“Retrofitting a power supply” is when you already have your cutter built, and you wish to hook up a solid-state fixed voltage power supply and do not want to damage that power supply if the output amperage is higher than its safety rating.
VRLA Sealed Batteries
Go to the__Battery.htmlshapeimage_32_link_0
Supplies Section__Battery.htmlshapeimage_33_link_0

Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batters are also known as Sealed Batteries which is a lead-acid rechargeable battery. A subclass of VRLA batteries are known as AGM or Absorbed Glass Mat batteries.

These batteries typically supply 6 or 12 volts, and have a wide selection of capacities. Most are available through local retailers, but you can also search them online.

Please follow the provided link to the Battery Supply Section for further recommendations on styles and suppliers.