Cutting foam isn’t a particularly difficult or unsafe process, if you have the correct foam cutting equipment and set-up. This is your one-stop guide on how to make foam cutting easy and safe at work.
Cushy, Soft Foam: So Useful
Foam makes great cushioning for seats and mattresses, so upholstery and furniture shops are common workplaces where people cut foam.
Foam is also useful for dampening sound—think recording rooms lined with egg-crate foam—and for temperature insulation. Albeit, fiberglass insulation is much more popular for wall insulation and cutting insulation is common at many construction sites. While foam and fiberglass insulation are different materials, cutting foam insulation and cutting fiberglass insulation are much the same processes, so the lessons you learn here can be applied to either circumstance (making this a two-for-one post!).
On the note of different materials, it’s important to not confuse foam with foam core or Gatorboard. When we say foam here, we mean the thick, soft material, you’d find in a couch cushion. Foam core, also known as foam board, is a lightweight, inexpensive layered material often used in crafts and to make architectural models. It features a rigid foam center sandwiched between two layers of thin cardboard. Gatorboard is similar, but the rigid foam is sandwiched by a wood-fiber veneer. Gatorboard is much tougher and sturdier. It’s often used to make signs.
Back to soft, thick foam and the “how to”: cutting foam safely and easily.
Elements of Safely Cutting Foam: Tools, PPE, and More
Because foam is relatively soft, the material itself isn’t likely to present any hazards. But the process does. Any time you’re cutting, you’re dealing with a tool that can cause lacerations. There are four major areas to consider when addressing safety and cutting foam:
- Tool choice
- Work area
Choosing the Right and Safest Tool
The most unsafe aspect of cutting foam insulation and padding is the cutting-foam tool you use. It can cut or puncture you or those around you. So the first step in cutting safety is finding the safest insulation knife.
At Slice®, safety has been our primary directive for over a decade: when it comes to finding the safest cutting tools, you don’t need to look further. We’re the only tool company to make a true safety blade: we started with creating a safer blade because that is the part of the tool that actually cuts you. Our advanced ceramic blades, made of 100 percent zirconium oxide, feature our patent-pending finger-friendly® design, and they’re long lasting.
Slice, like many other manufacturers, also offers models with various retraction options, including manual retraction and auto-retraction. This helps keep the blade safely stowed in the handle when the tool isn’t in use. With auto-retraction, the blade recedes automatically once you release the blade-extension slider.
Now that you have your sights on Slice safer blades and retraction options, which one should you choose? Since foam is thick, you’ll likely need an extended blade. The Slice industrial knives—we make the 10559 Manual Industrial Knife and the 10560 Auto-Retractable Industrial Knife—feature as much as 3 inches of blade exposure, making either a go-to tool for cutting foam. The Slice Manual Industrial Knife shows you how to cut foam easily in this video:
To ensure continued safety, make sure to keep your tools in good working order. Never “fix” a tool with tape or other makeshift means. Broken tools are dangerous tools.
Make sure to replace dull blades and that all moving parts move smoothly and easily. Slice blades last up to 11 times longer than metal blades, so you won’t need to replace them nearly as often as their metal counterparts. This is especially important when you’re cutting abrasive materials like foam and fiberglass insulation: such materials are notorious for dulling metal blades quickly.
Safe Cutting Technique
It isn’t hard to cut foam, but workers still need to pay attention to the process to keep themselves safe. When cutting, use firm, steady pressure and cut in one smooth motion. You shouldn’t have to saw the material. If you do, this may be an indicator that your blade is too dull.
Make sure that no part of your body, or anyone else’s, is in the path of the cutting tool. This means that you need to place the hand holding the foam away from where the cut will be, and the rest of your body should be to one side of where the tool will travel after the cut is complete—that is, you want your body clear of the follow-through zone.
The Appropriate PPE
Workers always need to wear appropriate PPE, and employers must supply it. For safe cutting, that means wearing cut-resistant gloves. Gloves need to fit appropriately and be free of holes. It’s a good idea to store gloves near cutting areas: ease of access encourages consistent use.
Create a Safe Work Area
Setting up a safe work area may sound obvious, but sometimes it’s the most obvious precautions that workers overlook. Familiarity can develop into complacency, so it’s always good to refresh the basics. Mitigating complacency is important for worker safety.
A safe work area for cutting foam is one with a firm surface set to an appropriate height: it should be high enough that the person performing the task can do so comfortably and easily. The area should be clear of clutter that may cause anyone to trip or may otherwise get in the way. Ideally, the area should also be free of distractions, and out of the way of other workers and areas where people frequently come and go. Make sure the space is well lit and has good ventilation.
Implement these simple guidelines to ensure that your team is cutting foam safely and easily from now on.