Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams - The Perfect Man Cave
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Old 04-19-2012, 08:48 AM
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Default Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams

Here's a quick product review of poker table playing surface foams. In the past, two different types of foam have been popular for padding the playing surface of a table: Volara and Headliner. I've now used several different types of foam (including the above) and wanted to do a quick comparison/breakdown of each. All foams given below are 1/4" thick.

List of Foams:
Headliner Foam
Volara (2A/2EO)
Neoprene
Foam Rubber (Ensolite)
High Density Foam

Headliner Foam

Automotive Cloth Headliner
Overall description: Open cell type of foam that provides a light padding to the playing surface. It's very easy to depress the foam (it can be fully depressed for short durations without damage), and provides a minimal amount of support.

Pros:
  • Relatively Inexpensive
  • Readily available locally at stores like JoAnns and sometimes Walmart, which saves on shipping costs
  • Available in Widths of 60" for larger diameter tables.
  • Ships well with little to no damage
  • Very easy to pick up cards/shuffle
Cons:
  • Open cell foam, not water resistant
  • Very little support - you can easily feel the wood underneath when you press down, and tall chip stacks may be unstable
  • Official 11.5g full chip case test: OK for short durations, will partially damage permanently if left overnight. The foam will slightly rebound, but you'll feel soft spots where the chip case fee were.
  • Will sometimes rip/tear when replacing the cloth

Volara

2-EO Density Volara - 1/4" Thick Closed Cell Foam
Overall description: Closed cell type of foam that comes in a few different grades/densities (2A/2EO) and provides a firm but yielding padding to the playing surface. It has a very dense support cushion to it and is not easy to depress the foam (it cannot be fully depressed without damaging the foam).

Pros:
  • Closed cell foam, water/chemical resistant
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Somewhat common material and sometimes available locally
  • Available in widths of 60" for larger diameter tables.
  • Provides excellent support
  • Very durable under normal use
  • Little to no damage when replacing the cloth
Cons:
  • The extra support and firmness can make it a little more difficult to pick up cards or shuffle compared to other foams.
  • Shipping and storing Volara can be a pain in the ass. If not properly packaged (wrapped too tightly, rolled too tightly, not properly padded), the foam will arrive with permanent dents/creases. Must be stored properly as well - if anything is moderately resting on the foam for long durations it will dent the foam. I've stored rolls of it in my shop in the ceiling (between the open floor joists), supported with a couple of string ties and it's dented under it's own self weight.
  • Official 11.5g full chip case test: OK for very short durations, will permanently damage if left for more than an hour or so (complete indentations overnight). The foam has a little give and is OK for normal playing conditions, but once the foam cells are compromised the damage is done, there is little to no rebound.

Neoprene

Neoprene - Foam Insulation, Closed-Cell Foam, Neoprene Pads
Overall description: Closed cell type of foam that provides a supportive but "squishy" padding to the playing surface. It is easier to depress than volara, but not as easy as the open cell foams (it cannot be fully depressed without damaging the foam).

Pros:
  • Closed cell foam, water resistant
  • Provides excellent support with a soft cushion
  • Easy to pick up cards/shuffle
  • Very durable under normal use
  • Little to no damage when replacing the cloth
Cons:
  • Expensive (can be 2-3X the cost of most other foams)
  • Can be difficult to find in large sheets for full size tables (the largest I've found online is 48"x80" - or you have to buy a full roll)
  • Ships OK, can have similar problems to volara but the neoprene is a more forgiving material and will rebound better if not packaged properly
  • Official 11.5g full chip case test: OK for short durations, may permanently damage if left overnight.

Foam Rubber (Ensolite)

Gym Rubber - Rubber flooring, closed-cell foam exercise mat
Overall description: Closed cell type of foam that provides a supportive but moderately "squishy" padding to the playing surface. It is easier to depress than volara, but not as easy as the open cell foams (it cannot be fully depressed without damaging the foam). I call this material the poor man's neoprene - as it has the squishy yet supportive feeling of neoprene (it's little firmer) but is usually priced closer to Volara.

Pros:
  • Closed cell foam, water resistant
  • Relatively Inexpensive
  • Provides excellent support with a soft cushion
  • Easy to pick up cards/shuffle
  • Very durable under normal use
  • Some damage when replacing the cloth, I've had the skin of the foam slightly peel off when replacing cloths
Cons:
  • Sourcing can be difficult (it used to be regularly stocked by foambymail, but they've had supplier & quality issues recently)
  • Typically only available in 48" widths, so it'd be tough to do large round tables without a seam.
  • Ships OK, can have similar problems to volara in that it will dent if wrapped too tightly. Not as susceptible to creasing.
  • Is somewhat susceptible to damage before covered. Because the material is soft, you can nick or scrape the surface during installation if you're not careful.
  • Official 11.5g full chip case test: OK for short durations, will sometimes permanently damage if left overnight. In my experience, the indentations will slightly rebound, but usually you can still feel them.

High Density Foam

1/4" Thick Foam Padding - High Density (FIRM)
Overall description: Open cell type of foam that provides a moderate padding to the playing surface. This foam is similar to the foam most people use for the rails, just thinner (1/4" vs 1" thick). It is easy to depress, and can be fully compressed. However, given that it's a much more dense material than headliner, it still offers a little cushion when fully compressed, so you can barely feel the wood under the foam. The foam provides a good amount of support.

Pros:
  • Inexpensive
  • Available in widths of 58" for larger diameter tables.
  • Ships well with no permanent damage (any creases/dents will rebound within a day or two)
  • Provides good support with a soft cushion
  • Very easy to pick up cards/shuffle
  • Little to no damage when replacing the cloth
  • Official 11.5g full chip case test: Good for short and long durations. I'm going to try this again to be sure, but I left a full chip case on this foam for 3 days. Once removed, it fully rebounded after a day, with no visible indentations or soft spots.
Cons:
  • Open cell foam, not water resistant

Here are my rankings for a couple of important factors in a playing surface foam:

Price (~$/yd)
1. HD Foam - $7
2. Headliner Foam - $9
3. Ensolite - $11
4. Volara - $12
5. Neoprene - $15-20

Foam Compression (For Card Pick-up):
1. HD Foam / Headliner Foam
2. Neoprene
3. Ensolite
4. Volara

Cushion:
1. Neoprene
2. Ensolite
3. HD Foam
4. Volara
5. Headliner

Foam Support (For chip stack stability):
1. Volara
2. Ensolite
3. Neoprene
4. HD Foam
5. Headliner

Durability/Issues:
1. HD Foam
2. Ensolite/Neoprene
3. Headliner
4. Volara

Comparison & Recommendations:

There's a lot of personal preference that goes into what foam is right for your table. Typically though, you're in one of two camps of preference: a firm, supportive surface or a more plush surface with a good amount of give. I personally am more in the latter camp - my "perfect" playing surface is one with a good amount of give, but not so soft that you can feel the wood underneath. IMHO, you pad the playing surface to (A) make it easier to pick up cards and (B) protect your chips. If you're in that boat - my recommendation is either Ensolite or HD foam. Foambymail was a great source for Ensolite in previous years - they shipped a really good consistent product. Several months ago, however, their supplier stopped producing the product, and the replacement material has had quality issues (varying thicknesses, miscut foam, damaged foam, etc.). Because of those issues, I've recently switched over to the HD foam - the primary con of the foam typically does not apply to my tables, as I almost always use the waterproof suited speed cloth so an open cell foam is OK. The fact that I don't have to worry about getting a sheet shipped with a dent and the material's ability to rebound are also huge plusses. Plus it's cheap.

If you prefer a firmer playing surface, Volara is probably your best bet. I've used volara (2EO blend) for numerous tables, and it works fine. My bigger issues with Volara have been that I've had so much trouble with getting a good sheet shipped to me without dents or creasing. Even when Jason was at YAT, I'd have the occasional order with creases, or UPS would stack it up next to an odd shaped package and it would dent. But it functions well when you get a good clean sheet.

Hopefully that helps the new folks in deciding what's best for their table. Comments/questions/experiences/additions are welcome.

Last edited by Irish; 04-22-2012 at 10:46 AM..
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Old 04-20-2012, 11:26 AM
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Default Re: Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams

Thanks this is really helpful, getting ready to recover my table this weekend.
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Old 04-20-2012, 01:50 PM
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Default Re: Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams

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Old 04-20-2012, 02:08 PM
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Default Re: Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams

Volara gives you a nice firm surface... but you can put an eye out splashing the pot.

Headliner is too thin... I hate being able to feel the plywood when you press down.

IMO, the perfect solution is headliner over volara. With the volara underneath, it takes away the thin-ness and compress-ability of the headliner. And the headliner dulls the bounce of Volara.

I've never used HD foam... I'm curious if you've ever done headliner over Volara and if so, how it compares to HD foam.

BTW, my wife leaned my table (with just volara, no headliner) against another table... I found it a couple days later and the weight of the table leaning dented the volara. I was so pissed. Q told me not to worry, that it would eventually spring back. It did. You can't even tell now.



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Old 04-22-2012, 10:30 AM
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Default Re: Product Review/Comparison - Playing Surface Foams

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wedge Rock View Post
Volara gives you a nice firm surface... but you can put an eye out splashing the pot.

Headliner is too thin... I hate being able to feel the plywood when you press down.

IMO, the perfect solution is headliner over volara. With the volara underneath, it takes away the thin-ness and compress-ability of the headliner. And the headliner dulls the bounce of Volara.

I've never used HD foam... I'm curious if you've ever done headliner over Volara and if so, how it compares to HD foam.
Yep, I've done this before (I think on my second personal table). It's a good combination for the reasons you stated above, as it combines than advantages of each material. My issue with headliner is that IMHO it's too soft and offers so little support that I found chip stacks to be a little unstable, especially when stacked pretty high. The HD foam is a nice alternative, it's got enough support that a chips stack remains solid while being soft enough to make picking up cards easy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wedge Rock View Post
BTW, my wife leaned my table (with just volara, no headliner) against another table... I found it a couple days later and the weight of the table leaning dented the volara. I was so pissed. Q told me not to worry, that it would eventually spring back. It did. You can't even tell now.
Good to know. I've not had that good of luck, I had a roll of volara that wrapped a little too tight in the middle, it made a slight indentation during shipping that never came out (I help onto it for 2-3 months before chucking it).
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Old 07-25-2014, 06:14 PM
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