Learning how to cut Shadow Foam – “Teaching the Apprentice” part 1

We are working on a new “Teaching the Apprentice” series, and this is the first part. So we thought we should start at the beginning!  Here we go with teaching our apprentice Dylan how to cut Shadow Foam using our Shadow Foam cutting kit.

Introducing Dylan to how to cut Shadow Foam

Dylan and Jonathan are all smiles during filming of cutting shadow foam inserts while teaching the apprentice how to cut shadow foam using a Shadow Foam cutting kit.
How to cut Shadow Foam – new apprentice Dylan under the expert guidance of Jonathan, in part 1 of Teaching the Apprentice

Dylan has been with us around a month now, so we thought it was about time to get him initiated properly .  Cutting foam is actually quite a good job for an apprentice; lots of us found when we were apprentices, there were times when we were kicking around with nothing to do.  So what better way of filling your time than being able to sort your tools out!?

We wanted to get some modular tool cases kitted out and organised.  For Dylan we gave him the Dewalt T-Stak to kit out with a drill and some other bits and pieces. And to demonstrate, Jonathan worked with a Makita Makpac which he wanted to house an impact gun.  Both boxes are roughly a similar size and we make custom-sized foam liners for both, plus many many more

Proper planning prevents poor performance!

So at the start of his first Shadow Foam cutting lesson we look at arguably the most difficult part… planning the lay out! Important things to consider are not having the items too close together. You want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck in terms of fitting the optimum amount of tools in the space.  But without overcrowding. We also decided that we didn’t have to be worried about the height, given both boxes are quite deep. So they would still work perfectly well if the tools sat a little proud from the inserts.

Another consideration is keeping all the parts and accessories you need for the tool together with it. This is key to helping you work more efficiently.  So for Dylan’s combi drill he will have lots of little drill bits, battery, charger etc to add in too.  Dylan slyly tried to hide the pump grips that were planned to go in the box. Seems he was put off by the size and awkwardness of the shape. Jona spotted this though and wasn’t going to let him get away with that!

The next all important tip is to get your David Bailey on. Always take a photograph once you have come up with the layout you like.  This is just a visual reference to help you remember how you want to position everything after you’ve started cutting. 

Staying safe!

And then on to THE most important part of the process for newbies like Dylan and experienced cutters alike… safety!  You can get cutting kits from our website very cost-effectively and these contain everything you may need. A scalpel, five blades, even a fantastic elastic repair glue so if you make a mistake you can repair . Importantly here though is the pair of anti-cut gloves that comes in the Shadow Foam Cutting Kit.  Cutting gloves always should be worn whenever you’re cutting the foam or handling blades, so you don’t nick or cut your fingers.

Our apprentice Dylan fully kitted out in ppe for cutting Shadow Foam when in reality all he needed was a pair of cutting gloves!
Perhaps we went a little too far with Dylan’s PPE for cutting Shadow
Foam with his Shadow Foam cutting kit!

Get cutting… use a Shadow Foam cutting kit.

When you’re all safe and ready to start cutting, pick your starting item.  For Dylan we suggested starting with the drill since that’s the biggest item.  Take everything else away and just wok with the drill using your photograph for reference.  Then, start cutting!

Jona showed Dylan the importance of  the blade 90 degrees perpendicular to the foam when cutting.  Inadvertently cutting in at an angle is one of the most common mistakes that people make.  The reason we use scalpels rather than bigger blade holders is so we can get really close to the tool and keep the profile true.  To start with, we don’t cut deep at all, just trace the outline as if you were using a pencil.  Pushing down on the foam once you’ve done the trace cut then nicely reveals the cut you’ve created.  So from there it’s easy to slide the blade back in and continue cutting around down to the depth you need.   

Dylan was shown the importance of making sure his very sharp scalpel didn’t go out of the lines he had just cut. Again this is easy to do, so make sure you only deepen the cut when you know you are cutting in exactly the right place. 

Peeling the foam

Then it’s time to peel.  For this if your blade is away it’s usually easier to do this after removing your cutting gloves. We always recommend you start by just peeling back the top layer.  This makes things much easier than trying to remove a big chunk of foam all in one go.  The method we teach is to use your index finger at one edge where you want to begin tearing, and push the finger down into the foam. Then proceed by pulling the foam towards you as you go.   Important to remember that this does take a bit of effort! This is intentional so that the foam can’t delaminate and start to peel away on it’s own over time.  So just slowly persist with the process peeling back the layers until you reach the desired depth. 

When he first started peeling, Dylan did encounter a fairly common issue where two layers begin to peel off and then that flattens off into a single layer. This is easy to fix as it often just means that you haven’t cut down deep enough in that area. So just re-cut that part and peel again.

…and what if you make a mistake!?

When using 50mm foam inserts as we did, we wouldn’t usually want to cut all the way through. Try to limit the cuts to 40mm depth so you can see the colour of the foam showing through in the reveal. Then the tool can sit nicely on that 10mm cushion at the bottom.  Using the side of the blade as a reference works well to manage the depth you cut to.

Mistakes can happen though! We also looked at why it’s important to be careful when cutting the depth of larger tools into the foam.  Dylan did go down slightly too far on one part but not all the way around so the foam was still going to sit nicely at the bottom. But it did make it harder to tear the foam away.  When this happens we recommend picking up the insert and holding it from both sides so you can get a real good grip on it. Hold the base layer in place so you can peel the layer away without tearing off where you cut through. 

Once you’ve cut and peeled your first item, it’s time to test fit by placing the tool in the hole you’ve created.  Once you’re happy with that you can repeat the process with your other items. 

Tricks of the trade

Jonathan wanted to incorporate finger pulls into the design of his tool kit. So it was time to impart some of his insider knowledge. He demonstrated how you can keep these nice and consistent by using a socket (or something similar) as a template to cut around.  The trick with this is not to go over halfway with it. ie you want less than a semi-circle rather than over, to prevent it looking like a random mis-placed circle cut out.

The red and black insert is really impactful in the teal of the Makita Makpac, showing off Jonathan's great cutting work and finger pulls.
Expert Jona showed Dylan some tricks of the trade with how to create finger pulls with your Shadow Foam cutting kit

So, did he learn how to cut Shadow Foam?!

Overall we were really pleased with what Dylan managed to create for his first cut tool insert.  Jona felt his own cutting was neater! But we know that’s the benefit of age and experience, having been cutting foam for 12 years. But Dylan made a really tidy job for his first attempt cutting Shadow Foam.

Look out for more Teaching the Apprentice news and updates coming soon!

Dylan and Jonathan are all smiles before they start cutting shadow foam inserts while teaching the apprentice how to cut shadow foam using a Shadow Foam cutting kit.
Does Dylan now know how to cut Shadow Foam?! We think so! Great work.
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