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.
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)