I’ve always been jealous of those high priced tool chests with matching tools laid out neatly in foam inserts, but not jealous enough to spend thousands of dollars to buy one.
I’ve tried all kinds of products, such as different wrench organizers and socket racks to try and tame the mess in my tool boxes, but when it comes to keeping tools visible, accessible, and perfectly in place, it’s hard to beat custom foam inserts.
There are a number of companies who sell tool foam, which you can cut to fit your tools, and a few that will cut the foam for you, at added cost of course, if you send them your tools.
I decided to give FastCap’s Kaizen foam a try. It’s not quite the same as the foam liners you’ll see in higher-end automotive, industrial, and military toolboxes, but it seemed like a reasonable compromise.
Kaizen foam is actually a stack of thin layers of open cell foam that are fused together into thicker slabs. After you cut the tool outline, you can peel the foam away in layers, which makes it easy to remove just the right depth of foam.
This layered construction makes FastCap Kaizen foam simpler to use for creating your own customized tool inserts.
Plus, it better allows mixing of tools, such as if you want to mix precision screwdrivers and full-sized drivers in the same drawer. Sure, you could do this with traditional tool foam drawer inserts, but going the DIY-cutting route would require additional steps to build up the height for the smaller tool.
FastCap Kaien foam is sold in 2′ x 4′ sheets, which you could of course cut down to fit your drawers, and is available in 3 thicknesses: 20mm (7/8″), 30mm (1-1/8″), and 57mm (2-1/4″).
If you order from FastCap, you can get it in black, white, or white with a 5mm layer of black foam glued on top. The contrasting layers make it really easy to tell when a tool is removed from the toolbox but not replaced.
Using Kaizen Foam
I had always thought that the foam layers were glued together with a weak glue. Then, when you cut into the foam you could just separate the glued layers and pull out the cutout shape. After actually using the foam, I found that to remove the cutout you actually rip one of the foam layers apart. The fused junctions are tougher than the foam itself.
I also found that, if you’re not careful, the foam cutouts don’t come out very cleanly — you don’t just rip out the foam. There’s a technique to ripping the foam that involves you hooking your finger under the cutout and separating the layers with your finger as you lift the foam out. It’s easier to see in this FastCap video:
Kaizen Foam Defect
A while ago I visited Rockler to pick up some of the 30mm Kaizen foam. They only had the 57mm sheets, so I only purchased one. When I opened the box and looked at the foam, I discovered that five layers down (or 8 if you go from the other side) my foam wasn’t fused together correctly. This allowed me to separate the foam into two different thickness pieces.
After digging around online I couldn’t find any mention of this “feature,” but in the process I discovered that my sheet of 57mm foam only has 13 layers, while in the official photos, the 57mm foam has 15 layers.
I emailed FastCap customer support about theses two issues, and someone replied to me quickly. About the discrepancy in the layer count I got this response:
There could be a slight variance in the thickness of the layers, causing there to be 13-15 layers depending on the sheet.
It took a few tries to explain about the unfused layers, and it ultimately took sending the above photo before they understood what I was talking about. It turns out that this was a defect in my sheet that they had never seen before. They assured me that this was not normal. I guess it’s a lucky defect for me! I basically got three thicknesses in one sheet.
Cutting and Fitting Kaizen Foam
My first project was to organize my pliers and wire stripper drawer in my electronics toolbox. I measured the inside of the drawer and cut a piece out of the foam using a knife and a straight edge. This didn’t make a very clean cut. Later, I noticed on the website that they show using a table saw and miter saw to cut the foam — I have yet to try that.
I split the thicker sheet I had cut out into two thinner sheets (again, it was only a defect in my sheet that allowed for this), and laid out my pliers and strippers out on the thinner sheet. Then, one tool at a time, I traced out the outline of a single tool with a Dixon long nose marker, and cut about halfway into the foam.
I had a difficult time removing the foam in the pocket — it wasn’t coming out in clean layers. With a little patience, the foam tool insert turned out well. Later when I went back to the FastCap site I discovered I had been removing the cutout foam incorrectly.
Here’s a picture of the finished organizer in place. I didn’t take any pictures of the intermediate steps because this was the first time I tried this and I didn’t expect it to turn out so well.
After I tried the first insert and discovered the correct procedure, I wanted to try another foam tool insert. This time I wanted to try something a little different. I had purchased some thin foam for another project at Ax-Man Surplus and I decided to try to make a more fancy looking insert.
I used the thicker piece of foam that I had left over from the pliers drawer and cut it to a size that matched the front part of the drawer under my bench. This is where I keep some of my most used layout tools.
I used spray adhesive to attach a thin piece of green foam to the top of the Kaizen Foam. I thought that the green foam would look better as a top layer than the black Kaizen foam, and that the green cutouts could be used at the bottom of the Kaizen foam recesses, to make them nice and flat.
I laid out the tools on top of the foam to perfect the positioning. Then I started tracing and cutting out each tool one by one again. I suppose I could have just traced out all the tools at once so I didn’t have to reposition them every time, but I since I was doing something new again I was more interested in my technique than doing it efficiently.
Above, I’m using an X-Acto hobby knife to cut out the foam. I had tried a snap blade knife, similar to the Kaizen knife that FastCap sells, but I found I had more control with the X-Acto knife. Of course the X-Acto knife wouldn’t work well if I needed to cut most of the way through the entire 57mm of foam.
Sometimes the spray adhesive didn’t hold after I had cut out a shape, so I used super glue to replace pieces of green foam that fell off or that started to lift away from the Kaizen foam.
Another cool feature about Kaizen foam is that if the tool isn’t flat, you can design the pocket with different layers, so the tool will sit correctly in the foam. Notice the deeper recess for the base of the Delve square.
There’s something really satisfying about cutting out a tool outline and digging in the Kaizen foam. And once you’ve finished the pocket and you put the tool in its place, it feels like it belongs there.
It can be a little time consuming to organize your tools this way. It’s part elbow grease, part art, and part obsessive compulsive disorder. The results you can achieve with just a little effort and practically no skill are really stunning though. FastCap’s site and YouTube channel has advanced tips and techniques, such as how to make finger holes using a heated copper stub-out pipe.
In the two drawers that I’ve made inserts for, I’ve found that I’m putting those tools away more than I did before, and I’m wasting less time looking for them. Part of that is good organizational skills, but at least part of that is knowing exactly where a tool is, and avoiding the empty feeling you get when you open a drawer only to find that the tool you need isn’t there.
I initially balked at paying so much for a product that I would have to invest so much time in to organize my tools, but after looking at some of the other organization methods, both store bought and DIY, I find that the price doesn’t seem like such a barrier anymore. I’d recommend giving a sheet of Kaizen Foam a try to anybody that wants organize their tools.
If you buy directly from FastCap, a 2×4 sheet of the 20mm Kaizen foam runs $11, a 30mm sheet runs $14, and a 57mm sheet runs $22. You can also get the foam in black white, and white with a black top layer. It looks like if you order $100 or more they’ll give you free shipping.
Rockler only carries the black Kaizen foam in the 1-1/8″ and 2-1/4″ sizes, and they charge $14 and $23 respectively. But you can usually find a code for free shipping over $35 or pick it up in store, just make sure to check if it’s in stock first.
Stuart’s Note: Just buying FastCap Kaizen foam isn’t enough. I have a few sheets that I ordered (from Rockler) for a toolbox organizational project, and have yet to get started. Start small! A little progress is better than putting things off over and over again.
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Buy Now (via Rockler)
Activate Rockler Free Shipping (Usually on $35+ orders, when valid. Rockler doesn’t offer free shipping every month.)
Another cool way to get Kaizen foam is to buy it pre-cut to fit your toolbox. Kaizen Foam Inserts sells custom made inserts for Festool, Dewalt Bosch, Kreg, Ridgid, Milwaukee, Makita, and Plano tool boxes and organizers.
For example, a Kaizen Foam insert for a Festool T-Loc Systainer will run you $10. They have free shipping on orders over $25 in the US.
There are other retailers who cut Kaizen to fit other brands’ of tool boxes, such as Pelican cases.
Buy Now (via Kaizen Foam Inserts)
Nice. I cam specifically to mention Kaizen Foam Inserts. Brian is a really good follow on IG as well. He does a great job of sharing lean techniques, tools, and ingenious new uses of Kaizen Foam.
Seems like a lot work but super satisfying when completed. I wonder if it would be cheaper to use a non layered foam and use a router to cut out the inserts. You would have to trace the tools on the foam somehow and have a steady router hand. Maybe invest in one of those hand held router CNC machines lol.
Foam seems good if you don’t have a lot of tools, or have enough drawers to make it work, but seems like a huge waste of space otherwise.
That image showing only 10 small pliers in a Craftsman 3-drawer portable chest is a good example. You could probably fit 20-30 pairs, or more, without the foam. Yeah, it wouldn’t look as nice, but you can fit a good bit more tools in the toolbox, which is usually the idea having drawers that are that deep.
Maybe try making foam layers on top of one another so you can have two layers of the thinner tools in each drawer, with a hole or something to pull the top layer of foam out with the tools to access the bottom layer. Then you could have neat organized tools but also better use of available space.
You have a point, you definitely can’t fit as many tools in the same space, but having a bunch of tools packed in a drawer can be an inefficient use of time.
I like the idea of multiple layers in some cases (maybe like a tool case with accessories), but it kind of defeats the purpose of quick access if you have to open a drawer and then pull a layer off.
With the drawer as it is I know immediately that either the pliers is where it should be or it’s not. I don’t have to search through the toolbox. Knowing a tool isn’t where it should be can be a huge time saver to — how many times have you dug through the drawers of your toolbox looking for a tool that you swore was there?
This also gives me the ability to work out of the toolbox, Need the tool: grab it, use it, and put it back. Better than: “where did I put that pliers now?” and wasting time searching on the bench.
I acknowledge that foam inserts like this aren’t for all people or all situations, but when you want this kind of organization it seems like a pretty good solution.
There is something to be said for organizing tools so you can see precisely where everything is – what might be missing – and be able to grab a tool without moving anything else around. In a production environment, one can see how this approach can be part of a Lean Manufacturing program – helping to eliminated wasted motion.
As you point out, however, all this nice organization may come at the price of not being able to store as much in a given toolbox. Your idea of layering is a good one. It is something old master carpenter’s often did when building their tool chests that included lift-out tills or tool storage trays – that nested down in the larger chest. The only issue – is that – unless you have a list or x-ray vision – you need to remember what’s stored on the lower layers.
It should be noted, that Kaizen Foam is a by product of the Lean manufacturing system created by Toyota, which is aimed at efficiency.
The word Kaizen itself is directly pulled from the lean system, meaning “continuous improvement”.
The whole concept of using the foam is in a production setting, every tool or item having a dedicated place is paramount to the speed and efficiency of the operation.
What you sacrifice in space, you reap multiple times over in convenience.
A drawer piled full of pliers does no good when you have to dig for the single set that is needed.
I definitely agree that the foam is a great way to organize tools in a drawer – and it’s also a great way to keep tools from rattling around when you move something like a portable toolbox, I just mentioned the stacking since it seems like it might be the best way to take advantage of the drawer height while still using the foam.
Really, what we need is tool boxes and chests with even shallower drawers. One inch high drawers instead of two inch high drawers would make a lot more sense when laying out tools like pliers and wrenches completely flat.
Outlined and custom fit tool liners are great for critical applications where you have to quickly prove you didn’t leave a tool in the airplane or race car.
For most of the rest of us, drawer space is critical, and higher storage density cannot be found unless you lay tools together at an angle (or on edge for deeper drawers). If done well, tools can still be identified quickly.
One thing that bugs me about Kaizen foam is the lack of colors. Most of us will likely turn white foam grey pretty quickly, and there are certainly enough black bags, drawers, cubbies, trunks, boxes and holes that I seriously try to avoid more.
I do like adding the colored layer though, that’s good.
Even though using the foam results in lots of Even though using the foam results in lots of wasted space, I think it’s well used in the small drawers in the photo. The drawers are quite small and there’s just not a good way to bring organization to them to let you fit a lot more tools.
It’s the use of foam in the larger drawers that confuses me. In a 3″ deep drawer I can stand many pliers vertically, packing them in and organizing them. It baffles me to see foam used in these drawers to store such things flat.
Kaizen Foam doesn’t have to be limited to storing items flat. You can store items any way you want ultimate, which is the beauty of it. You can store items at varying depth, or as you said, on edge tightly together.
I like this Pliers rack, holds them on edge and doesn’t allow them to fall down when removing the one next to it. It’s not as nice of layout but does allow for a greater density in the drawer.
I wonder how many of the other field guys’ jaws are hanging open when considering how “workshop guys” have millions of tools that need to be organized according to the Dewey Decimal System.
I’m further wondering if more or less tequila will bring me closer to an equilibrium.
Looks like a good use for this would be to form compartments for multiple items that are related by type of tool or type of project.
I inherited old tools (mostly) automotive and then then some I have no idea what rhee are for and some very rusted alon with a large tool box with rusted wdraweres with rusted bottoms, all very hard or if impossible to open and of course some of of their
EMILIO E GONZALEZ
Great product. I use foam mostly for delicate instruments and gages and like someone already mentioned, the foam can take up valuable space. There are pro’s and con’s here but the there is no reason this foam cannot be used for one or two drawers only.
I’ve been using a foam called L-200, which is a strong, tough but soft foam. (not sure of its’ Durometer). I use it for my Etalon micrometers. I will check out this Kaizen foam for it’s layer system for a few drawers in my tool chests. I own too many tools to use a foam cut out system for every drawer.
This foam can also be used to replace old ratty foam that came with your original tool cases and boxes. Will this foam break down over time? Does it affect the metal on some tools? Is this a urethane foam? I use a lot of felt in my tool drawers because it absorbs moisture. Maybe I’ll combine the two? (real OCD 🙂 )
I’ve mostly used the foam for specialty tools I drag around to make sure they don’t get forgotten. I found that a Dremel on a base works pretty well vs. the X-Acto. I’ve not tried a bushing as a follower. I’ve had the same issue with the layers, can be tricky to only pull up the layers you want.
LOL, when I was in the US Army, they were not as finicky as the Air Force, I don’t remember foam in any tool set. That said, I did find a pair of pliers once in the belly of a UH-1. We all knew who had left them there as they had been asking about the pliers, but it was too late to see anything done about it.
Thanks for the review! I’m going to buy a few sheets of the Kaizen foam and 5S (a reference to Lean continuous improvement) some of my Bosch L-BOXX containers. They definitely need it.
I’ve used this for a few tool drawers, as well as building up layers to store a quadcopter in a less expensive bin (versus buying a Pelican).
When you’re cutting the sheets to size, a bandsaw goes through this stuff like a hot knife through butter. If you’ve got enough resaw height, you can also break down a thick sheet into thinner layers.
I wish FastCap sold a long-nose marker that was more visible on the grey foam than the black one, though. It’s hard to see the marks unless you make multiple passes or get really good raking light.