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Thread: Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

  1. #1

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Seeing that I will be heading off to college half way across the country in the next couple of months, and since my family has decided to fly instead of drive, I need to start making some preperatioins for shipping all of my camera gear (some 3-4 35mm SLRs and assorted lenses, 1 Bronica Etrs-i and lenses, my precious Sinar F-1 and lenses, and my tripod.)

    Luckily I have had the good fortune of being given 2 nice Halliburton hard cases from a retired photographer for free. The bad news is that the foam which was in them was from the 70's and has since then turned into a nice black tar like goo. Now that I have cleaned out the cases I am about to order new foam for them from B&H, however I have no idea how I am going to cut it, and at about $40 a set I can't afford to experiment. Is there any proven method for cutting foam inserts? Is there some sort of professional I should be bringing the foam to so that they cameras are fitted right? And if so, where the hell do I find one?

    I was also wondering if there were any other things I might need to think about before shipping my equipment, of course I will need to insure them both for shipping and while I have them at school. Although I doubt they will be stolen on the metal cases are locked and chained to my bed.

    Thank you all in advance.

  2. #2
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Foam that is made for cases often comes pre-perforated in about 1" squares, so it can essentially be (gently) torn apart where needed. If it's solid, I'd just mark out where you want the cuts, and use a sharp kitchen knife with a sawing-like movement, keeping the blade fairly vertical. I've found serrated bread knives to be particularly good at cutting foam.

  3. #3
    MIke Sherck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Elkhart, IN

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    For what you're wanting to do, foam comes in two classes: hard and soft. Harder foam can be easily cut using a *very* sharp knife, such as a utility knife with the razor-sharp blades, a hobby knife (such as Xacto,) or a single-edged razor blade. A sawing motion may help cut but it won't produce the smoothest edge. The previous poster was correct: if you have a *very* sharp serrated bread knife it will probably do well. The emphasis here is on sharp, as in 'sharp like a new, unused razor blade.' Really, really sharp. Please don't slice a finger!

    Soft foam can be more of a problem, but the same tools can work well if you're patient. If it's thin enough you can probably cut it with one pass, if not two careful passes may be needed. If the foam "balls up" in front of your knife, the knife isn't sharp enough. Your knife must be extremely sharp to get a clean cut and most kitchen knives aren't nearly sharp enough. If you have a trained chef around their knives are probably good tools for this; unfortunately, as personal history will attest, they are extremely protective of their tools and tend to go ballistic if you even think of using their knives for cutting mundane things like foam. Now that I think about it, forget I even mentioned professional chef's knives. Clear the idea from your thoughts. Bad idea: BAD!

    For some types of very hard foam (such as styrofoam,) what's called a "hot knife" produces excellent results, but since you are asking I assume that you don't know what one of these is and, without practice, you'd probably be better off with a razor knife. Note that home improvement stores sell inexpensive utility knives with razor-sharp blades for a couple of dollars: one of these will probably do your project.
    Politically, aerodynamically, and fashionably incorrect.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Buffalo, NY

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Daniel, Ralph has the ticket for cutting your foam. I don't know how those cases look on the outside, but a Haliburton case screams out "Expensive camera inside, steal me" If your can, grundge them up on the outside with gaffers tape magic marker, black tape and whatever else you can find. When you ship them, ship them inside another cardboard box and send them UPS or Fed Ex, DON'T send them as baggage on the plane. Also, when you cut the foam, don't get too exact with the cut holes as the equipment that you put in your cases will change over time, make them generous in size and use some of what you cut to pack them tighter. Where are you from and where are you going to school? What will you sudy at school? In any event, Good Luck!!

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Harbor City, California

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    An electric carving knife works well on some foams.

  6. #6

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Years ago I found the ultimate foam cutting secret. Check with gramps or an antique shop and find an old fashioned folding straight razor. Or ask a barber. These nasty things are hollow ground, with a fat back edge. You sharpen them with the back edge in contact with the stone, insuring a perfect angle. Use a fine Arkansas stone and strop on leather if desired. Properly sharpened, these will go full camera depth in one pass and give a perfect and untorn surface. Obviously, use extreme care!

  7. #7

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case


    When I was cutting foam for my Mamiya kit, I found that it helped very much to freeze the foam before cutting it. The softer the foam, the better this works. I used a good serrated knife afterwards.

    Use a sharpie marker to plot out where you're gonna cut will make for a nice, tight fit. Make your measurements beforehand, and cut it smaller rather than larger, making any adjustments once the camera is inside the case.

    Good luck,

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Apr 2000

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    I'm with Marco and Ralph, but with a twist. Soak the foam in water, wring it out and then freeze it. Then a sharp bread knife. While I'm certain a straight razor will work, all of those blood stains will really detract from the appearance.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Hi Daniel,
    I use these kits quite a bit. They are fabulous!
    The foam you will get from B&H is likely to arrive in 2 or 3 or 4 layers. The very first thing you want to do is glue these layers into one solid block. This makes removing the cubes much easier and much more accurate.
    I used a spray adhesive (Scotch adhesive, sorry I don't recall the exact product name) to glue all the layers together.
    Then, carefully lay out your gear on top of the foam. Mark the corners/bends with a few needles. Only after you have double checked everything, begin removing the cubes. Try to remove them in entire sections, or blocks, section by section. You will have to trial and error the fitting for each piece as you go. Unless you already think in 3-d. LOL.
    And, as already mentioned, these type of cases seem to naturally attract the bad guys. Don't let them out of your sight!
    Good luck in your education!

  10. #10

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Thanks everyone for your advice, I think I am going to buy a new serratted knife and try freezing the foam before cutting it.

    Robert ----
    The Halliburton cases were well used and already have strips of electrical and gaffers tape on them, along with plenty of dents and scuff marks, but it is a really good idea to ship them in seperate boxes which I will certainly do.

    I am from Stratford CT, its about 15min outside of New Haven, I am going to Washington University in St. Louis to study Fine Arts and hopefully much more. Maybe a second major in Philosophy? Theology? Maybe even a science, it all seems too interesting to decide. But I will certainly be doing plenty of art, I am looking forward to doing some rigorous drawing, painting, and printmaking because I have been focusing on photography for a while.

    Joe ----
    Looking at the foam sets for the Halliburton cases on B&H they don't look like they are pre-cut into cubes, but I will see when I get them. Thanks for the tip about the spray adhesive, I was wondering what to use. What do you use to glue the top peice of foam to inside of the top cover?

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