Custom foam packaging for my Eames House Bird inspired 3D carve - update with new foam

I knew that when I finished my birds, I would want a way to safely ship them. So having a CNC my thoughts naturally went to designing custom packaging, and foam seemed like a great shipping and machining material.

I purchased a specialized Datron foam cutting endmill for the task. After learning how to make the top and bottom parts of the foam package - basically a two-sided mold - and researching effective toolpaths for foam machining, I gave it a try.

Here are some images from the first trial (link to video on my YT channel - Machining custom foam packaging to ship my CNC bird carvings - YouTube), which was a proof of concept. I have ordered a variety of PE and PU foam samples, and will continue to fine tune the machining. I want to find the best foam that:

*holds the bird carvings safely
*machines well
*is at a good price point for each bird shipped


Have you tried foam insulation panels from the big box stores? I use that a lot for shipping stuff.

Let us know when you settle on a foam and supplier. I’m super curious as to the price point and availability in the GTA.

Thank you for the suggestion - I appreciate it :grinning:

I have not for this application. My initial (inexperienced :smile:) thoughts were:
*I need 1.5" thick material, which here in Canada starts to get expensive compared to other material
*I want something softer so that 1) there is no risk of surface finish damage, and 2) I am hoping to get away with a fairly quick roughing toolpath, which leaves small soft cusps in the softer foam, but I do not think would work in the insulation panels
*the softer foam may be a bit more forgiving when cutting the outer dimensions to fit it in the shipping box

What type of products do you ship using the insulation panels?

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Sourcing is always a challenge, but I enjoy the quest :grinning:

There are a few foam suppliers in the GTA that I can drive to, so that saves on shipping (which is becoming less ideal given the cost of gas and 400 series highway traffic!). One even will let me purchase, and if upon pickup it does not seem like the product, they will give a refund and remove the restocking fee. I have free samples being sent from Foambymail, and after experimenting with them, I will know better which foams will work for my use case.

I can update as I learn more if others are interested.


I have had good success using “Kaizen” foam; it’s layered/bonded and can be had at The Depot. Ordered online and shipped to my closest store.

2x4 Sheets, ~$30 for 3/4" thick and ~$40 for 2"



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The foam at a supplier would be a fraction of the cost of branded foam at HD, especially in full sheets.

I just watched the video and it looks like a significant amount of time dedicated to the foam packing. I’d probably do 3 pieces of foam, thinner top and bottom, with the middle the same thickness as the bird. Profile cut the middle piece with the object’s silhouette. Stack them and done.

If it’s taking more than a few minutes to cut the foam for each shipment, that’s going to eat away too much machine time and profits. Unless of course you’re selling $1000+ items in which case a 10+ minute foam cut is not likely an issue. :slight_smile:

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Thank you for sharing the photo and suggestion.

The plank foam sample I found (in my basement :smile:) I believe is a similar material to the branded Kaizen foam. It worked well in my very first trial, but would be too expensive as a final solution if sourced similarly.

Thank you for the suggestions and insights.

At this point in my retirement, and still being new to CNC machining, everything I am designing, building, and machining is for gaining personal experience and pleasure with this new hobby. That includes having the challenge of figuring out a machined foam packaging solution. I did recently decide to create and make public a YT channel and IG page with what may be a future company name and logo - TMDesign.

Having said all this, I do therefore appreciate your more business focused comments. I would like to explore all options, but started with this first prototype because, as you mention, it is the most time consuming - but it let me test my new Datron PU endmill! :grinning:. One idea I had in a similar vein to yours, was to machine a 3D bottom, and use a layer of soft flat or convoluted foam for the top. I will however cost out many solutions, including the one you suggested. This aspect of design, along with the many other challenges to solve, is one reason I am thoroughly enjoying the hobby.

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Just about everything from metal projects (CNC plasma created) to wooden projects (OF created) and even tech stuff. I wrap the piece in paper first (packing paper sheets from Home Depot) and then lay it into the foam. I do a 3 piece foam sandwich - flat bottom piece, middle layer with a cutout and then a top thin panel. That way I’m not spending a lot of time or making a big mess hogging out the foam. Sometimes I’ll do some small dishing out of the foam in the bottom layer if I need to make room for some 3D projection on the bottom of the piece.

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Thank you for the additional information. Seems like a 3 layer solution deserves a thorough cost comparison to the 2 layer fully contoured route - time, end mill wear, ‘mess’, etc… aside.

My foam samples are expected tomorrow, so I will see what new insights the weekend experiments provide. I need to prioritize - I am currently designing and milling parts for a long planned roll up way cover system for the X gantry rails/ball screw - not enough time in the day :smile:

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I am providing an update for those following. I received the foam samples from the Foam Factory ( and completed a quick machinability test. I uploaded the video to my YouTube channel TMDesign - here is a direct link to the video:

I asked them to send 5 foam types that I thought might work, and they are referenced in the video, with their details available on their website. Note that my discussions with Datron confirmed that their foam cutting endmills work best on 2lb+ foams, and at very high RPMs (31K for my 5 mm tool). My RPM and feed rates were lower than ideal, but the cutter performed very well.

Three foams machined with good results, and I will share below the summarized results of a few calculations I made to determine the least costly option:

The poly foam gave the best result, and happily was the least expensive.
I based my calculations on a foam package that has two sides machined with the profile of the bird. These are from a large 1 1/2" thick sheet, and each package half is 6"x10".

The price per bird shipped for the poly is roughly $2.30CA, which includes Canadian taxes and shipping. It would ship from the USA (they ship to Canada once per week).

The other cost effective option is from a local GTA supplier, and it is the plank foam I used in my previous video. The cost per bird shipped for this foam is roughly $2.75CA. I save shipping as they will allow pickup from their distribution centre.

As discussed above there are other ways of packaging the sculptures, with the ‘3 layer’ method getting support. After viewing many videos, and some machining experience now as well, the answer is not as clear. I believe the toolpaths have the greatest impact.

For example, although I like the idea of a 3 layer solution, the middle layer can not be cut out of the 2" foam with a simple, single contour toolpath. It would need to be done in small adaptive clearing moves which (not yet tested) I believe will end up taking longer than cutting the shape of the bird in two halves of 1 1/2" foam.

I will put this project on hold now until I know what the demand will be for my birds with friends and family, and if I will later decide to sell them to the public. At least I have my toolpaths, and a few proven options for the foam type and purchasing source.


That is a magnificent Eames house bird. Do you have a post describing the process?

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