Making Your Own Foam Trays for Tanks and Other Large Models

You may have already read Thor’s tutorial on making your own foam trays.  If you haven’t, you should check it out.  It’s the same method I use to make all of my infantry trays.  It’s great for small models, but can be awkward for larger models such as monstrous creatures and tanks.

You need to start with a thick slab and getting a straight cut through all that foam is difficult.  The sides on mine came out very uneven.  It’s also a waste of foam.  You’ll probably pay more for thicker foam just to throw most of it away.

So, I came up with a variation that is cleaner, easier and cheaper.

Materials

To start with, I’m using the same foam as Thor mentions in his tutorial, ordered from http://www.foamorder.com/packing.html.  We’re not getting any kickbacks from them for this endorsement, so feel free to use another source if you prefer, but we’ve both had pretty good luck with this company.

Let’s start with materials.

As in Thor’s tutorial, I’m using CD100 in 1/4 inch thick sheets for the bottom of the tray.  My trays are 7.5 inch by 14 inch so they fit the Sabol cases, but you can make yours to fit whatever container you’re using.

There is a minimum cost per piece when ordering from www.foamorder.com, so I buy a larger sheet and cut to size, so I can get the best price per tray.  For glue I’m using Elmers Glue All because it’s cheap, easy to find, and works well for this application.

Here’s the major difference with this method vs. cutting from a slab.  For the side walls I’m using 1/2 inch thick by 3 inch wide strips of Y37ch foam.  The next time I order I’ll probably get the firmer CD100 for this, but the Y37ch is good enough.  I bought a couple of long rolls like this:

Foam Strips

I also happen to have a cardboard tray that is just the right size to hold one of my foam trays.  I use this as a form while building my vehicle tray.  You could build your own form from cardboard, wood, or whatever. This could be done without a form, but I found it much easier with than without.

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Cutting the Pieces

I use scissors to cut the lengths of foam that will be the outside perimeter of the tray and set them into the form.  Then I put the models I want to transport inside and cut more lengths of foam to become the dividers.

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Now that I have the pieces cut to the right length, I use a marker to mark where the pieces need to join.  Then I pull everything out of the box and reassemble the tray inside the foam adding glue as I go.

I put the models back in as well to help hold the pieces in place while the glue dries, just be careful not to get the glue all over your models!

Finally I run a line of glue across the top edge of the walls, press the tray bottom onto this, and add a couple of books to hold it down while it’s drying.  After a few hours you can pull it all out and see how the tray looks.

You can see I had a point where the dividers didn’t bond as well as I’d like.  It could probably have been avoided by not staggering the divider but that’s how I wanted them.  This is fixed easily enough by adding some glue and pressing, propping, or pinning the join together until the glue sets.

With that taken care of I have myself a new vehicle tray!

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Wrap-up

I found this process to be quicker and easier than cutting voids into a thick slab, and the end result is cleaner as well.  This tray cost about $2.50 in foam where the slab method would have cost $3.75.  Using the firmer CD100 would cost $3.25 for this method, or $6.00 for the slab.  It’s not big bucks either way, but it adds up over an army (or three), and when the easier way is also the cheaper way it seems like a no-brainer which to use.

It would probably be cheaper to use this strip method rather than the slab for infantry trays, but you would have a lot more pieces to glue together.  I don’t know if that’s more or less work than cutting out all of the little squares, maybe I’ll try it someday.  For now I’ll leave that decision to you.

Thanks for reading!

  • I need to use this method for my next big models, especially my Heldrake who will need an entire tray to himself.

    You’re right though, I’ve definitely pissed away money on a full piece to only cut away 80% of it. I was concerned with stability of piecing it together but after seeing yours it seems that’s not an issue at all.

    • So far they’re holding up fine. You could use the CD100 for a quarter less than the Y37ch slab and have a pretty solid tray.

  • Allan Hoffman

    Just a thought what if you cut the pieces to interlock in the middle for your interior pieces? Basically make half depth cuts the same thickness as the foam and then in oppisate directions (one bottom to middle one top to middle) then apply glue and slide them together. Just a thought.

    • That’s not a bad idea! I’ll give it a try the next time I make a tray like this and update this tutorial with the results.

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