Handgun Storage: Hard Cases and Pick-Pluck Foam

Whether to keep them from getting scratched in the safe or secure during transport, a good hard case will protect and store your guns. Properly planning and fitting a heavy-duty case with custom foam insert isn’t as hard as you might think. In fact, it can easily be done in an afternoon. We’ll cover everything you need to customize your own handgun storage case and  a step-by-step process to ensure you get the best results. 

Case Options

Before we customize our pick-pluck foam case, let’s pick out the framework, the case itself. We want a hard case, as this will provide the support and protection needed. There’s no shortage of options on the market in different shapes, sizes, and colors. A larger case will hold more, but will be heavier and more bulky. Decide what gun or guns you want to store and get an idea of how you’d like them arranged. Then, find a case that can accommodate that. Your plan will likely need some fine-tuning, but that will be done later down the road. 

Pelican case with pistols inside
Quality firearms deserve a quality case. Don’t cheap out.

You can buy cases with pre-cut foam inserts, but the pick-pluck foam will allow for a truly custom fit. In the end, you can find them for the same cost or even cheaper, so you may as well do it yourself. Buy once, cry once. 

There are a number of brands making quality hard cases in all different price ranges. Pelican, Nanuk, and others are a good place to look. We pay more for the brand name, but this gets you guaranteed quality and certain features you need for higher-end gear. Air tight, water tight, shock proof, reinforced construction, and locking capability are all great things to look for. Locking cases are required for TSA, so this is a must if you plan on using the case for travel. I have budget cases that I use to organize knives and nicer ones for traveling with a firearm. Variety is the spice of life. 

And for those grayman types, these types of hard cases are often used to carry expensive electronics and gear, so they don’t necessarily scream Gun!  

Obviously, my recommendations will change some depending on the type and size of case you’re looking for, but here are some of my favorites. 

My Recommendations:

Planning Process

This is the most important part of the process. Measure twice, cut once, right? I recommend starting on graph paper, the square cells match well with the foam squares for an easy blueprint. This is a good visualization and will reveal any issues in your plan before you start cutting up your material. I sometimes go through 3-4 iterations until I am happy with the end result and move on to the actual cutting process. 

Go ahead and count how many squares span across your case, both horizontally and vertically and take note. Draw the area out on your paper to give you a guide. Some foam inserts have the pluck cubes running all the way to the edge of the case, some will have a buffer rim around the case to prevent you from going too far over and removing too much material. If yours does not, be sure to leave 1-2 inches of foam along the rim of your case, it will help protect the contents. The area inside is what you can cut. This is the real amount of space you have to work with. 

Now, mark out where you want to cut with a sharpie or highlighter. Remember to keep track of what areas are “cut” and what areas are “keep.” The layout will depend on the size and shape of your case, and the number of handguns you’d like to store. Probably the most common arrangement, and what I’ll detail here, is several vertical slots to store multiple handguns with a spare magazine section beneath. Be sure to leave enough foam between each slot to properly cushion and protect the gun. The size and number of slots will all depend on the firearms you plan on using. I go with a larger size, because it can accommodate more variation in firearms for test and review purposes. For a more permanent collection, measure the specific guns for the best fit, as a more secure fit will provide more protection. 

Pick-pluck foam cubes
Here you can see how the foam cubes are connected.

Depth is another consideration. Most cases are composed of two foam inserts to work with, which allows you to go deeper or shallower depending on the size of the item. If you lay the pistol in flat, it will display better and you may only need to cut the top layer of foam; if you place it in there standing, you’ll need to cut deeper but you can fit more in the same amount of space. 

With all that, take time to plan out how you want your case to look and function. You can always tear off a new piece of scrap paper, you don’t want to have to keep buying foam inserts. 

Cutting Foam

With a proper plan in place, it’s time to start cutting. I use the term cutting loosely, as the pick-pluck foam pulls apart with your fingers, but I find it’s helpful to run a small knife along the perforations to get a clean line and complete separation of material. This takes longer, but will yield a better result with no frayed edges. The small blade on a Swiss Army knife works well, but the main consideration is that it’s sharp enough to get a clean cut and small enough to get into tight spaces. 

Small Swiss army knife on foam
A small knife will help you get clean edges.

I like to cut while the foam sections are in the case. It seems to give them better support to prevent tearing on sections I don’t want to remove. However, it does compress the foam cubes some and can make it a little more difficult to spread them apart for cutting. 

I like to start with the corners and then connect down the edges. Go slowly so you don’t remove too much or tear the material. A little chalk can help mark your outline points for a slight guide. 

When you complete a section, you can remove it to check your work, but reinsert the foam as a filler insert for the time being. This will help keep the section from accidentally tearing while you continue to work on other sections. Wait until you’re completely finished with cutting to remove all your filler pieces. 

Pelican case foam inserts
Most cases will use a two section construction. Most times, we will only need to cut the top section.

Sealing/Finishing

If you did everything properly, you should already have clean lines, but if you have a few frayed edges or lingering material, go ahead and carefully trim everything up. If you’d like, you can go ahead and stop here, but I would suggest one more step to help seal everything. This will make your handgun case last longer and keep it looking new for years. 

On a dry and sunny day, outside or in a well-ventilated area, lay out a tarp or some old newspaper under your foam inserts (the parts you are using, not discarding…). With some black or clear Plasti Dip, spray a light layer on your foam and let it dry. Go back and give it another coating or two, letting it dry between each application. You’re not looking to drench the material, just glaze the surface. You can always add more if you need, but you can’t take any away. 

Pelican case with slots and pistol
This case is set up to hold 7 pistols and a spare magazine for each. It gets a little cramped, but works well.

The spray will help seal and reinforce the outer layer of foam to keep it from wearing and fraying as much when you insert and remove your firearms and accessories

After you are satisfied with the results, let it fully dry for at least a day. Now, you’re ready to put in your beloved guns. Additionally, you can keep and change out a small desiccant pack in there for additional moisture control in especially humid areas. 

Conclusion:

I know it can seem intimidating at first, trust me, I was nervous when trying it out for the first time myself. But follow these steps and take your time, and you can have a custom-made hard case to transport and store your favorite handguns. 

How do you store your handguns? Have you ever made a pick-pluck foam case? Share your experience in the comments.

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