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Thread: Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case


    Over the years I have prepared several such Halliburton cases for the photographers I assisted in Hollywood.

    Here are my tips:

    A very sharp knife, used with very short strokes, sharpened with a rough “tooth” is best. An ideal candidate would be a Japanese laminated kitchen knife, such as this one from Lee Valley:,40733,40738

    Lay out the equipment on poster board and cut out with an exacto knife. Then trace the posterboard onto the foam with a Sharpie.

    The purpose of the layers of foam is to be able to center the equipment from case top to case bottom. The bottom layer is obviously never cut. Arrange the other layers to suit the equipment: thicker equipment requires the hole to be cut in more than one layer.

    Arrange the equipment with regard to weight, or the case will be unbalanced.

    Don’t place the equipment too close together or the foam will tear with use. This is where gluing the layers can add strength. But don’t glue multiple layers where you intend to cut through only one.

    Some glue will dissolve some foam. I seem to recall having success with water-based non-flammable contact adhesive.

    Another trick is to glue a layer of leather from Tandy on top of the foam, before cutting. Dyed black, it can be both strong and look quite elegant.

    An alternative source for this sort of foam is:

    Be sure to read the bit about types of foam, so you order the correct material.

    I am about an hour north of you via route 91 in Springfield. If you have a problem, e-mail me for directions and I’ll demonstrate my technique. If you get one of these knives, I can show you how to resharpen it on a Japanese water stone, after you dull it on the foam (out of the box it is like a straight razor).

    Happy slicing!

  2. #12

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Thanks for the suggestions John. However, I don't think I can afford a $50 kitchen knife for cutting foam, considering this isn't something I do very often. I will most likely use a box cutter with disposable razor blades. Thanks for reminding me about balancing the distribution of equipment, the Halliburton cases wouldn't look nearly as sleek if one end was dragging on the ground.

    By any chance do you remember the name of the glue you used?

  3. #13

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    The original knife which was supplied with the case to cut the foam was shaped like a slender dagger, stilleto or fillet knife. A cheap kitchen boning knife has a similar narrow shape. It must be long enough to reach through the foam. Pulled through one of those cheap V-shaped knife sharpeners would put a nice toothy edge on it. Short strokes in a sawing action are the key.

    Another trick I didn't explain well is to glue all but the bottom layers together. Then cut a circle (slightly undersize) for a cylindrical lens, stored vertically. Subtract the length of the lens from the thickness of the foam. Add a half inch to the foam, so the lens will protrude slightly. Cut the plug of foam to this size and re-insert it into the hole. Now you have a round hole in the foam which is the exact depth needed. Friction will hold the foam plug in the bottom of the hole.

    A thick piece of foam from that website would eliminate the need to glue layers together.

    No need to glue the foam to the underside of the case top. Friction will hold it in place as well, as the supplied foam is slightly larger than the inside of the case. This is an excellent place to stash instruction manuals, etc.

    The glue was some very common brand, like Weldwood. Also, check that website for suggestions. Lots more high-tech stuff available these days.

    For neat results it is necessary to keep the knife absolutely vertical. I used a 4x5 100-sheet film box as my square. A block of wood would work just as well. I held it against the knife blade as a guide while cutting, to prevent me from allowing the blade to lean out of plumb. Otherwise my round holes would have come out cone-shaped instead of cylindrical.

  4. #14

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    I bought an inexpensive electric knife just for this purpose. I got clean edges with this thing, although somewhat "textured" edges, because of the serrations in the knife. I would start the knife in the center, first making an incision with a standard knife, so that the screw gizmo that keeps the two blades together didn't tear the foam. Then, work the blade towards the edge.

    I like John's idea of gluing leather onto the top. I wonder, if you use a water based sharpie, if you could clean off the lines later. I also drew corresponding lines on the bottom of the foam, so that I could make sure the knife was straight. John's poster-board idea makes this easy. Turn the poster-board over so as to obtain the reversed template when drawing on the bottom.

    You can look around at foam suppliers and get just what you want. I always preferred hard, dark gray foam that had coarser type holes. (Isn't foam just a collection of holes?)

  5. #15

    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    Hi Daniel
    It was Scotch 77 spray adhesive. Pretty handy stuff.
    One thing about using it though - use it outside! It has a nasty tendency to form a very thin (but very sticky!) layer over everything around where you're working. Just a little overspray goes a lllooonnnggg way ;-)

  6. #16

    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Question about Cutting Foam for Hard Case

    For cutting nice clean circles, an empty aerosol can, can`t be beat. Find an empty can, the appropriate diameter for the lens, etc., that you need, cut the top out of it, dress up the edge of the can with a file , and you have a knive that cuts perfect circles. All you need do is stand it up on the foam and spin it with a little downward pressure.

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