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Bumper Tray Inserts


This simple foam support can be used as a tray insert or liner for permanent shelving and drawers.


National Museum of the American Indian 
Smithsonian Institution
Research Branch Move Project Team

Photo Credits: Angela Yvarra McGrew & T. Ashley McGrew

Publication: 2014


Bumper tray inserts

Bumper tray inserts


During the course of the five-year Move Project, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian moved more than 800,000 Native American archaeological (607,089) and ethnographic (168,622) objects from the NMAI Research Branch, a crowded warehouse in the Bronx, New York, to the museum’s Cultural Resources Center, a purpose-built research and storage facility in Suitland, Maryland.  Every piece underwent a registration check, conservation cleaning/stabilization and pest management treatment, digital imaging before packing for transport by truck from New York to Maryland.  This support was developed to help move small objects safely through the move process. These supports can be used as tray inserts but they would also be great liners for  permanent shelving and drawers.


Materials, Tools & Supplies

  • 1/8” Polyethylene foam sheet
  • Tri-rod® polyethylene foam
  • Foam knife
  • Glue gun



1. Cut the foam sheet to the desired size of the insert base.

2. Cut a piece of Tri-rod® foam the same length as the perimeter of the foam sheet base.

3. Using a foam knife make angled cuts part way through the foam in three places corresponding to the dimensions of the base; bevel the ends so that they fit together at a right angle. If these inserts are to be mass produced it may be most efficient to construct a jig (see image below) to notch several pieces of Tri-rod® at once.

Components for creating bumper tray inserts.

Components for creating bumper tray inserts.

4. Next, slice this piece of foam in half (each piece of cut Tri-rod® will produce two bumpers).

5. Glue the flat side of the Tri-rod® down onto the polyethylene foam sheet. Get the glue close enough to the inner edges to keep things from slipping underneath.

NMAI bead bumper 03


Adapted From

Arenstein, R. P., C. Brady, N. Carroll, J. French, E. Kaplan, A. Y. McGrew, A. McGrew, S. Merritt, L. Williamson. 2003. NMAI Living: Moving a la Martha. Tips from the National Museum of the American Indian collections move . Objects Specialty Group Postprints. 10. American Institute for Conservation 31st Annual Meeting. Arlington. Washington DC: AIC. 92–106.

Arenstein, R. P., N. Carroll, J. French, E. Kaplan, A. Y. McGrew, A. McGrew, L. Williamson. 2003. NMAI good tips: applications and bulking of cyclododecane, and mass production of supports . Objects Specialty Group Postprints. 10. American Institute for Conservation 31st Annual Meeting. Arlington. Washington DC: AIC. 176–187.


  1. It would be useful to list what sort of glue gun. We have been trying to create partially full drawer barriers by gluing thin Ethafoam sheets into a stack. Our single temperature hot glue gun melts right through the Ethafoam and it would have been useful to have known that we needed a cool glue gun.
    There is also a good method in Collection Forum 13(2):90-92 for creating simple ethafoam inserts for standard boxes. We line all boxes with these ‘bumpers’ that do not require any glue.

    • I have often had this problem with glue guns, and I solve it by simply unplugging the gun after the glue has heated up. I then extrude the glue as a cooled product and thus the Ethafoam does not melt.

    • Hi Ann,
      My apologies that I didn’t check this entry for the bumpers. In this case and in many other applications what was used was the “LT” 3M jet melt guns that operate at more than 100 degrees cooler temperatures than many other hot glue guns. This was what was used in the application you are referring to at NMAI. In addition, this gun (and the gluesticks used with them) also allows you to be able to hot glue Tyvek which will also be destroyed by normal gluegun temperatures.
      Although not the cheapest source, probably the most widely available source for the gun and gluesticks across the country is McMaster Carr. In many locations they have a next day delivery schedule and excellent customer service.

      I would also mention that for practical purposes I have always used the both quad track system and the palm trigger add-ons.


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