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Thread: Rifle Case – French Fitting

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
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    Carlsbad, CA
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    1,205

    Rifle Case – French Fitting

    Our two Boys are in their early/mid 20’s and are avid hunters/shooters. For Christmas I built them both simple rifle cases out of what the local BORG called “whitewood”.


    I wanted something light, hand tool friendly and situationally appropriate/cost-effective given these cases are likely to be banged on/off airplanes, trucks and generally treated the way young men treat most things.


    Here are a couple pictures of the case for our oldest: ~ 60” L x 20” W X 4” T, intended to hold two, small caliber rifles. It’s a simple box – vertical members dovetail at the corners, solid wood frame and panel for the top and bottom. For added strength, there are 4” wide pieces under the panels that go across the case.


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    I glued up the box and then sawed the lid from the case with a rip saw. Brass hinges, latches and corner reinforcement plates with simple paracord stays. I’m still waiting on the case locks and handles. Finish is Amber shellac covered with marine spar varnish.

    By far the hardest part of the build was the foam for French fitting, which is my primary reason for posting.

    First a disclaimer – I think French fitting is cool! I’ll admit it; my pulse rate bumps a little every time I click the latches and opened a box that holds something nestled in French fitting. For me, this signifies “you definitely didn’t get this from IKEA”, and whatever’s inside is usually something special. That’s what I was going for with these rifle cases.

    Now that they’re done, I think I may have been “pound wise and penny foolish” and FWIW thought it might be helpful to share my observations with my fellow Neanders whom I have some interest in French fitting.

    Foam intended for French fitting is commercially available from weapons case manufacturers like Pelican and a range of other suppliers like Kaizen etc. I’m not very good at sourcing materials from the Internet, but my feeble investigation indicated the cost of foam I needed for 2 rifle cases was around $400, which was significantly more than I expected. For perspective, I don’t recall paying that much for complete, top-of-the-line Zero Halliburton and Pelican cases (including foam), although admittedly mine are probably older than my boys.

    In general, I believe “you get what you pay for”, particularly when it comes to tools/firearms, and accordingly am willing to spend a little more. However, I was more than a little surprised/put off by the cost of the options I found online. So in the truest spirit of “I know better, I’m not going to let an industry specific supply chain take advantage of me!” I made the French fitting out of foam from a local craft store.

    This was by far the hardest part of the build. I cut the foam with a sharp knife and coping saw and colored it with black paint. I definitely spent waaaay more time on the foam than I did on the woodworking for the cases.

    Although the woodworking turned out okay, the foam just didn’t feel right; the surface wasn’t uniform/smooth. Even though it sucked up a ton of paint, I don’t think I got all the cells a uniform color and the color isn’t very durable. As soon as you ding the foam (which is guaranteed moving a weapon in and out of the case), the color is lost.

    In summary, I wish I would have spent the money for the best quality material, in this case the French fitting foam. More broadly FWIW, in my 50 years woodworking I’ve never regretted spending more for the best quality material, but have frequently regretted investing the time/effort to build worthwhile projects, without making the same financial commitment to sourcing the best materials.

    Just my thoughts, YMMV.

    All the best, Mike

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Austin Texas
    Posts
    832
    I hear and fully understand everything you say, but................ I, too would choke on $400 for some foam. I just could not buy that unless I won some kind of lottery and I don't mean the $1.2 million one either. Got to be a better way. Just has to be.
    David

  3. #3
    Nicely done Mike! I would have a hard time with that pricing on the foam as well....ouch!
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Longview WA
    Posts
    15,202
    There are some articles about this on line where a liquid expanding foam was used.

    Use a piece of cloth to cover the items to be fit, cover with the expanding foam, press from the top and cover with a weight. Next morning take it out and flip it over. Then you could even have a felt or other cloth as a lining.

    All for a lot less than $400.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  5. #5
    Maybe you should try industrial supplies...... Example in Malaysia we have these kind of suppliers.
    http://www.epepack.com.my/page/products/pu-foam.aspx

    USD 400 for foam is ............ As to cutting foam use a electric router. Works much after and accurate.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    USA
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    4,104

  7. #7
    I lucked into a nice piece of high density foam from packing for electronics at work on the second iteration of my bow case:

    wfa-archerycase-final_open.jpg

    It was a pain to cut, and I paired it w/ too thick plastic felt (after washing the felt w/ baking soda to neutralize the acid used in its manufacture) replacing the brown cloth shown in the photo --- it's okay, and what I'm using now, but the first iteration was better and I should've stuck w/ it.

    Before that, I was using two pieces of 1" thick insulating foam from the big box home center --- I laid the parts out, traced with a pen, cut out with a serrated knife (added finger cutouts to the upper layer using a suitably sized coffee cup), then cut a piece of cardboard to the same size, and sourced a remnant of black flannel from a fabric shop.

    I then sprayed everything w/ a spray adhesive meant for cloth, glued the two pieces of foam together, pushed the cloth into all the recesses, draping it as neatly as I could manage across the top --- I resprayed the adhesive at need, pulled extra cloth down under the foam, and pulled and re-arranged until I got a fairly even draping of the foam across the bottom, top, and down into the recesses. I then re-sprayed the bottom and the cardboard which provided a reasonable bit of structure to it and secured the cloth at the bottom.

    wfa-takedownbowcase-finished.jpg

    The one change I would make would be to laminate the top of the foam w/ a second piece of cardboard (preferably something not corrugated --- it would add some needed structure and keep dents in the foam from occurring and telegraphing through the cloth).

    I considered the foam thing (the usual suggestion is to get a T-shirt or similar stretchy material to drape over the parts) but was concerned about the heat of the chemical reaction and the fumes affecting the finish and the glues used in the bow, esp. the limbs.
    Last edited by William Adams; 01-10-2017 at 12:51 AM.

  8. #8
    Here is an alternative, I have not used this foam, but The Carpentry Way study group did for their tool box builds.

    http://www.carrycasesplus.com/custom-foam-inserts/
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    Location
    SE Michigan
    Posts
    985
    Well done, Mike. I've never built a case, but when fitting foam I use an electric knife. Pretty good, clean results.

    IMG_0338.jpg

  10. #10
    Extremely nice work!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Perth, Australia
    Posts
    4,535
    Hi Mike

    Your work is wonderful, as always.

    I can understand that you are disappointed about the foam, since you clearly appreciated doing the best work you can, and you do set high standards.

    Firstly, you know that the boys will be thrilled with and appreciate anything you do for them - a lot of thought and effort went into this work.

    Secondly, if you are asking what else could you have done, did you consider French fitting in wood, white pine, for instance, and then flocking?

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Location
    South West Ontario
    Posts
    245
    I would have built a smaller case with thick felt blocks glued to wood blocks then glued in the case. If you use cherry blocks and nice green thick felt it looks very sharp. You can line the inside of the case with leather or felt before you start and cut the leather out around the blocks. Remove the cut out piece and glue the block down. I use dumb bell weights to hold the blocks down while the glue dries.

    This method gives you more room in the case for a lidded space for a cleaning kit etc. You can get as fancy as you want.

    I'm not sure the hinges or latches are up to airport baggage handling. The handle seems to be on the short side; is it even possible to carry the case like that?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Plain City, OH
    Posts
    24
    Mike,

    May I ask what you used for the lettering? It came out really nice. Are they burned in place?

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Location
    Milwaukee, WI
    Posts
    22
    It looks awesome. Gets the brain gears turning about building a nice looking case for my shotgun. As others have said, I don't think I could ever pay $400 for foam. I have an expensive rifle with expensive glass on it and I still don't believe I'd need to pay $400 for just the foam alone, but that's me.

    The first thing that came to mind was the "pick n pluck" style foam that comes in many Pelican cases. This stuff is pretty easy to work with and I've used it extensively at work to protect sensitive electronics. The one main shortcoming I've experienced is that with frequent use, the rows of foam cubes closest to your item eventually start to tear away as they take the strain of packing and unpacking. This can be minimized if you always pack/unpack the item slowly and carefully, but sometimes that just isn't realistic. We have had to buy new foam for a few of our cases due to this problem. In the future we will probably move away from pick n pluck and do what Phil did with the electric knife. That looks really nice Phil.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Carlsbad, CA
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    1,205
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    There are some articles about this on line where a liquid expanding foam was used.

    Use a piece of cloth to cover the items to be fit, cover with the expanding foam, press from the top and cover with a weight. Next morning take it out and flip it over. Then you could even have a felt or other cloth as a lining.

    All for a lot less than $400.

    jtk

    Jim, I saw the articles online similar to those I think your mentioning. I bought some of the "expanding foam" that comes in aerosol cans, intended for sealing the voids in the exterior walls left by plumbing/electrical connections etc.

    The description online made it seem like an appealing approach for French fitting, but my experience could not have been more different! I have to say I'm sure my problems were due to operator error – the fact is I'm just not that bright. That said, this foam has to be the stickiest, most persistent and difficult to form/smooth/manage filler product I've ever worked with. I think I still had some stuck to my hand 5 days later (despite the toxic acetone cleanup attempt), not to mention the super prominent white patches on the street asphalt under my trash cans were some of thr foam must have fallen out.

    The foam's expansion is ideal for its intended purpose – sealing irregularly shaped openings. However that means just when you think you've got it cleaned up, come back 15 minutes later and the foam has magically overflowed everywhere. I'm just hoping any accumulated goodwill I built up with my neighbors prevents them from thinking I've got some kind of nefarious, toxic operation happening in my garage!

    Surely others will have better results using this expanding foam for French fitting. For me, it's one of the few things I'll never bring in my shop again – which is surely more on me than the product..

    Best, Mike



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