Few things annoy me more than opening a drawer and watching everything slide around. So much for organization, right?
Foam inserts are nothing new. People have been using them for years. I first used them to hold and transport painted miniature figures back when I played Dungeons & Dragons with my friends.
It’s an awesome idea but I never thought to use it for tool storage.
I should have, and so should you.
What is Kaizen foam?
Kaizen foam is made by a company called FastCap. While all foam products will help keep your tools organized and accessible, the idea behind Kaizen foam is that the foam is stacked in layers that you can peel away to get the right depth so your tool sits flush with the top of the tool drawer.
FastCap originally started on an idea for peel & stick covers for screws. Since then they’ve branched out to other adhesive products and organization tools, but they have a number of Lean Products as well, designed to increase efficiency.
If you’ve had business classes back in college, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Kaizen’ before. It’s a Japanese word describing a philosophy for “continuous improvement” at every level of an organization and finding efficiencies wherever you can.
Keep that concept of finding efficiencies in mind as you read the rest of this article.
Kaizen foam alternatives
FastCap doesn’t make the only tool organization foam.
A couple of the more popular alternatives are Shadow Foam and Kaizen Inserts. I’ll explain a little about each and why I went with Kaizen Foam from FastCap.
Shadow Foam is based out of the UK, but ships worldwide, so didn’t really bother me. What I liked about them is that they have several different color options (blue, red, black, grey, purple, green, orange and yellow), so if you’re going for a certain color scheme in your garage, you can keep that going even in your tool drawers.
While the colors are cool, I’m going for a more subtle look in my garage. Also, they didn’t have the same kind of layered foam that FastCap does, so Shadow Foam looked like a bit harder to use than Kaizen Foam.
Kaizen Inserts looks to use the same foam that FastCap does, but I included them on the list because they have some really cool tools like the Kaizen Holester that helps to cut symmetric finger holes in your foam sheets. Their combined “Kaizen Cut Kit” seems too expensive for what you get, but the Holester seems like a great idea.
Tips and tricks (aka learn from my mistakes)
I like to keep it honest here. There are a lot of home improvement projects that are a lot of fun. This isn’t one of those projects.
- Always buy more than you need. You’re going to have wasted pieces or you’ll find other places that you want to use it.
- Their long tip marker is actually worth it.
- Their knife is ONLY worth it if you don’t have another thin utility knife, preferably with snap-off blades. Box cutters or utility knives are horrible for this.
- Take pictures of a couple different layouts. Its a great reference tool while you’re cutting, but it also lets you try out different options side-by-side.
- You’re never going to cut a straight line all the way through so you better have a sharp blade.
- Hold the marker straight up and down. If you hold it at an angle, you’ll cut too small a hole and your tool won’t fit.
- Always make small adjustments. don’t cut too much at once.
- When you’re pulling up the foam after you cut, try to keep the first plough intact. It’s easier to pull up in one big chunk, and…
- You can filet the cut foam and use it as a base if you want a smooth bottom to the tool cavity.
- All those videos showing you how easy it is to cut the foam are complete BS. Keep in mind, those videos are showing people who do this for a living and have done it hundreds of times before. You’re going to struggle.
Before you buy…
Alright. There’s some pre-work that needs to be done.
Kaizen foam comes in large 2′ x 4′ sheets that need to be cut to size. The only difference is in the depth of the sheets and the color.
There are only two color options: solid grey and grey with white foam underneath. The grey\white foam will look grey on the surface, and the white will show through when a tool is missing.
Personally, I went with the grey foam, but I’d probably choose the grey\white combination if I had to do it again. Not only does it make it easier to instantly see when a tool is missing, but the white shows less imperfections than the grey.
You want to choose the width of foam that matches the width of your tool drawer. If you have a different size, it’s possible to kind of filet the foam to trim off the excess, but it’s not that easy (or neat) a process.
I know this because I ordered the wrong size and had to trim it down. It worked and you can’t tell once the foam is in the drawer, but it was messy.
Tools you’ll need
I hate the “””specialized tools””” that companies want you to buy with their product. They’re usually nothing more than a cash grab to add some high-margin accessory on to your purchase.
This time, they’re actually really useful.
The knife is a standard utility knife with a snap-off blade that extends several inches outside of the handle. It’s basically identical to the same utility knife you have in your toolbox now.
The only requirement for your knife is that you need to have a blade that extends out farther than the height of the tool your cutting a hole for. That usually means at least an inch to an inch and a half.
If you DON’T have a good utility knife with an extending blade, or you have an old knife with a dull blade, then this is a good, inexpensive alternative.
The long nose marker is a must-have though.
It’s available in black, silver and gold. I’d go with the silver because it shows up better on the grey foam than black. Don’t worry about how it will look once your finished. The marker can easily wipe off with a damp cloth after your finished cutting.
The marker is double-sided although you’re really never going to use it. The long-nose side extends out 1 1/8th inch past the marker so you can press it right up against the tool.
I definitely recommend the marker. It’ll make your job so much easier. You can find it on Amazon for around $8.
How to cut Kaizen foam
By this point you’ve picked the right depth of foam. It’s arrived and you’ve got your tools ready.
Time to start!
Step 1: Measure your drawer
Since Kaizen foam comes in long sheets, you’ll need to cut the foam to fit your drawer.
If you’ve already got a rubberized mat on the bottom of your drawer, remove it. The foam will be sitting flush on the bottom of the drawer so you don’t need it anymore.
Since my Gladiator Premier GearDrawer didn’t have 24″ drawers, I had to make two cuts in the foam (already there’s wasted pieces).
No big deal, just extra work on the first step. I’d be surprised if your tool case wasn’t the same way.
Step 2: Cut the Kaizen foam to fit
To make the cuts, measure off the width of the inside of your tool drawer. Then make two marks on the Kaizen foam at those lengths – on on each side. Then take a long level or ruler and trace a straight line between the two.
When you make your cut, the first thought is to make a shallow cut at first, just to be sure you’ve got the line straight.
Don’t do that. Trust that the line you’ve drawn is straight (you used a straightedge after all) and just go for it. Cut the whole way through the foam.
The reason for that is that you’ll get a much cleaner cut if you cut all the way through the foam once instead of trying to saw your way through it bit by bit.
This is where the extending blade comes in handy. This is also where I learned not to use a utility knife with a dull blade. Yup…that edge is going at the back of the drawer.
Step 2.5: Test fit the foam in the drawer
This isn’t a step by itself, but you’ll want to test fit the Kaizen foam in the drawer before you put all the work into cutting around your tools.
The foam should fit snugly in the drawer, and not overlap anywhere.
Step 3: Trace your first tool
I recommend starting at one of the corners and with as simple a tool as possible. Leave the screwdrivers, wrenches and ratchets for later, once you’ve gotten the hang of how to make your cuts.
I chose to start with a small Craftsman level, which is almost completely rectangular, except for the sloped edges.
When drawing your outline, be sure to hold the marker completely straight up and down to get as tight a shape as possible.
Step 4: Make your first cut
Here’s another place where the extending blade comes in handy. You’ll want to cut just as deep as it takes to let the tool sit flush with the top of the foam.
I found that a good way to do that is to lay the tool on its side and extend the knife blade out out as far as I need it.
This lets me cut right to the blade guard and get a consistent depth all the way around.
Be sure to cut inside the lines so that there’s a tight fit.
Step 5: Pull out the excess foam
The big selling point to Kaizen foam over anyone else is the layered foam that makes this step easier.
You want to dig your fingers straight down as deep as you’ve made your cuts. from there, you’re not actually pulling the layers out individually so much as all at once.
Once the foam starts to separate it’s really easy to pull out the entire piece. In the entire drawer I didn’t have any pieces that broke apart somewhere other than where I cut it.
Once the main piece is pulled out, take a moment to check the edges and clean up any lines and stray pieces of foam in the bottom of the hole.
Step 6: Clean up
The FastCap marker is easy to clean up with a damp cloth. You can use the markers as much as you need and still make it look perfect.
Step 7: Repeat…
Cutting the perfect spot for that one one tool took about 15 minutes from start to finish. More intricate tools will obviously take longer, but there’s no arguing how cool it looks when you’re done.
I’m really happy with my Kaizen foam drawer. The tools are much more organized than they were before and they don’t slide around when I open and close the drawer, either.
It’s easy to see when a tool is missing, although I think the grey\white foam would be even easier. If I had the choice again, I’d probably go that route instead.
The process isn’t as easy as all the videos on YouTube make it seem, but remember that those people have been doing this dozens or hundreds of times.
Even though it may not be as easy as advertised, it’s an incredible way to keep your tools organized. I highly recommend Kaizen foam for anyone, not just tool guys.
If you want to pick up some Kaizen foam, you can get it at Amazon for around $40 for a 2′ x 4′ sheet.