Foam: both our dearest friend and our greatest adversary. It does a fantastic job of keeping our guns nice, but it can be an absolute pain to get cut the way we like it.
You can always choose a case with pick-and-pluck foam, but you’ll never get as perfect of a fit, and in my experience, the remaining form doesn’t have the same structural strength or durability over time as solid foam.
The best ways to cut foam in a gun case aren’t necessarily intuitive, but having the right tool for the job makes a huge difference.
How Do You Cut Foam for a Gun Case?
Once you have your case, lay out everything on top of the foam the way you want it, then trace everything with a marker. Remove the items and cut out the shapes, going as deep as necessary so that the top of each item is flush with the foam.
The tool you use to cut is up to you, but the tool that will allow you to get the cleanest job the fastest is actually an electric turkey carver. A razor blade or even a sharp pocket knife will do the job, but razor blades don’t go very deep, and foam will squish instead of cut, even against a very sharp pocket knife.
How to Cut Foam for a Gun Case: A Detailed, Step-By-Step Breakdown
Ideally, you should start this process before even selecting which case you are going to buy. Having bought a case that was too small because I didn’t do step 1 first, I highly recommend doing your due diligence before purchasing.
Also, the steps don’t really change much depending on the type of foam you are working with. Polyethylene foam will be stiffer and easier to cut, but polyester or polyurethane foam will also work.
Step 1: Lay Your Gun and Accessories Out On a Table
Your objective here is to lay out everything you intend to carry using your case in the basic size and shape of the cases you are looking at. You’ll want to keep everything as tight as you can, but I would not recommend having less than an inch of gap between each item since the foam won’t be as protective if it’s thinner than that.
Once you’ve laid everything out to your liking, measure how much space it takes up on the table in both the X and Y directions, and write it down. If you haven’t looked up gun cases yet and aren’t familiar with them, look up a few to ensure that you’ve got your things laid out in the correct proportions.
Step 2: Buy the Right Case
Every case you buy will have its dimensions listed in the product description. They’ll give you a length, width, and depth measurement. Make sure the case is big enough in every dimension for the items you’ll be putting inside, and buy one that is the right size based on how you laid things out in step 1.
There’s not much point in buying an oversized case, and I would advise you to go as small as possible while being 100% sure everything will fit. The weight difference between a larger and smaller case is often noticeable, and the bulkier a case is, the more annoying it is to transport.
Checkout the article on how to clean a gun by Hunting Mark.
Step 3: Lay Things Out on Top of the Foam and Trace
Once you’ve received your case, you’ll want to open it up and lay your items out on top of the foam exactly the way you did on the table before buying the case. If for some reason, the layout you had before won’t work, you may need to get creative to get everything to fit.
Use a marker to trace around the items once they’re all where they need to be. Trace by holding the marker straight up as you run it alongside each item. You may want to be careful about touching the items with the marker tip.
The outline on the foam will quickly make it clear if you’ve got two items too close together. Again, you want to ensure you have a full inch between each gap. If you don’t, then you need to shift things around somehow. In a perfect world, you’d be able to have more than an inch, but you really don’t want to go less.
Black marker usually shows up fine on the foam, but if you’ve got a darker gray or deep black foam that you’re working with, you may want to choose a lighter color of marker. You want the line to be clearly visible while you cut.
Step 4: Remove Things and Cut
As soon as you’re satisfied with how the outlines are laid out and you’re ready to commit to your design, move your firearm and accessories out of the way and begin to cut.
You can use a razor blade or utility knife to cut the foam, and it will work fine as long as you’re fine with making more than one pass. Most rifles and some handguns will be thick enough that a razor blade won’t cut deeply enough into the foam on the first go-around.
Another option is to use a sharp pocket knife. If you want to go that route, I would recommend the sharpest pocket knife in your home. Speaking from experience, I can say that foam doesn’t really like to be cut – it would much rather squish together. A sharp knife can help a lot with that problem.
Either way, even with a razor blade, be prepared to saw back and forth. You’re most likely not going to be able to just push and cut the way you could with butter, cheese, or something like that.
The single best way that I’ve found is an electric turkey carving knife. The blade goes back and forth like a jigsaw but doesn’t travel much, so it’s easier to stop it from cutting too deep. You’ll get bits of foam everywhere, but that will likely happen anyway, and they’re easy to vacuum up when you’re done.
You can always use the straight blades if you don’t have access to an electric turkey carver. A lot of kitchen knives can work, but the same caveat applies: make sure it’s the sharpest one in the house.
The Cutting Process
Pick a place to start and begin cutting straight up and down as you follow the outlines you traced with the marker. Try very hard to keep your knife or carver straight up and not at an angle. Cutting at an angle will mess up your final product.
Step 5: Test Fit and Modify As Needed
Once you’re done cutting, try to put all the items in their spots and see if you run into any issues. There’s not much you can do if you took off too much; just hope that you didn’t take off too much that the case is no longer functional. If you took off too little, the solution is simple enough: just cut off some more.
It can be a little harder to get precise cuts when you’ve already cut out big chunks of foam, so don’t be afraid to get a pair of pliers to hold the foam in place while you cut. Just be careful not to hit the pliers with the carver if you do that. That’s a good way to ruin a blade.
That’s it! You should be done at this point. Cutting the foam in a gun case is not particularly complicated.
What About Pick-And-Pluck?
Some cases will come with foam that has been pre-cut into cubes that are only held together by the corners. If that’s the kind of case that you bought, you shouldn’t have to worry about cutting the foam at all. The idea is that you can just tear out the cubes that you need to make room for each item.
This can be easier and quicker than foam that has to be cut, but the cubes don’t seem to have nearly the same structural integrity as solid foam does. You’ll need at least 3-4 cubes worth of space between each item instead of only an inch.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Cutting Foam for a Gun Case
- More customizable than a pre-cut case
- More structural strength than a pick-and-pluck
- Can fit more than a pick-and-pluck (since you don’t need as much space between items to stay strong)
- Protects your gun and its accessories
- Many (but not all) of these cases are watertight and safe for air travel
- Makes a bigger mess than pick-and-pluck
- Takes more time than either a pre-cut case or a pick-and-pluck
- If you cut out too much, there’s not much you can do about it
- It’s weirdly hard to find replacement foam in the right size and shape if you want to start from scratch
Most cases designed specifically for guns will have polyethylene (or PE) foam. PE foam is much stiffer, making it more appropriate for items that are both heavy and not particularly fragile. That said, if you’re using a Pelican or Harbor Freight case, it will probably have polyester/polyurethane foam inside.
Yes. Pelican cases will usually come completely full of foam so that you can cut out the portions that make the most sense for the items you’ll be placing in the case. If you have a case with pick-and-pluck foam, you shouldn’t need to cut it; it will tear out fine by hand.
Absolutely. PE foam is a lot easier to cut with an electric knife, but any foam that comes in a hard case should be reasonably easy to cut with an electric knife. In fact, an electric knife is often the preferred method of cutting because it’s faster and gives you better control than a normal knife.
The basic steps to cutting foam in a case are to lay out your gun and accessories before you even buy a case so you know what size you need. Then, buy the case that gives you the space you need, lay the items out on top of the foam, trace them with a marker, and cut along the outlines you drew.
It’s a fairly simple process, and you can make it even easier on yourself by using an electric carving knife. Getting a hard case with foam inserts to transport your firearms is a smart investment. It keeps them protected, and hard cases also often come with ways to lock the case to control who can access them.