Raw Materials: the Notorious Pool Noodle

September 20, 2011 11 Comments by Larry

Living in Florida, it’s warm here most of the year so the season to buy equipment for the swimming pool is pretty much year-round. Elsewhere in the country though, you can generally expect pool supplies and pool toys are only available seasonally. So as summer winds down, it might be time to go to Walmart and pick up a couple foam pool floats.

The reason I like these things is because they are easily cut with a sharp utility knife, they can be used as padding for all kinds of different things, and of course, they’re cheap. I have seen the larger diameter version of these used with a slice down the center, mounted on a partially opened car window in order to serve as a soft surface on which to rest a camera body or large camera lens for photography from a moving vehicle. It certainly makes a lot more sense than trying to hand hold a large camera lens in the air while traveling down the road. The smaller diameter pool noodles are generally what I buy and I cut them up for all sorts of different purposes. So rather than go into a lot of detail of a particular project, I thought I would let Cheap Shots readers know about the material and let you invent your own uses for it.

Let me know what you come up with. There might just be something in it for you. Have a great week, see you Wednesday.


  • Stefan says:

    You can also but similar items from a DIY store and they are used to clad pipes to stop them bursting in the cold weather!

    • Larry Becker says:

      Yep. Pipe insulation is great and I use it for similar purposes but it’s generally not as thick. The other thing to look out for is that some of the pre-split pipe insulation tubes have adhesive in them (so they’ll stick to pipes). Most times I don’t want any adhesive.

    • Bernie Doran says:

      I added the pipe insulation tubes to the top sections of the legs of my metal tripod. The tubes come in a couple of sizes so you can get fairly close to matching the diameter of the tripod legs. I did get the kind that has the adhesive on the inside edges of the long slice and I reinforced that with black zip-ties. The insulation keeps hands comfortable when carrying the tripod in either cold or hot temperatures (not a problem with my carbon-fiber travel tripod).

      I agree that you wouldn’t want the adhesive if you are using the noodles on the car. Great idea. Thanks Larry.

  • Wayne says:

    This definitely falls into the ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ category. I’m sure I’ll catch some flack from the family about having pieces of a pool noodle in the car.

  • Glenn Guy says:

    Back in the day you could use the pool noodle as a darkroom tool in mural (e.g. really big) print processing. Agitation is provided as 2 people roll the paper from one noodle onto the next throughout each step in the process.

    This act will greatly reduce the chance of dinting fibre-based papers, which become very delicate when immersed in water, as the paper is transferred from one tray to the next and from the wash to the line or rack for drying. The noodles are better than pvc pipes, which sink to the bottom of the tray and reduce even flow of fresh chemical and/or clean wash water over the paper.

    Just a bit of history from the (dark ages) days of the darkroom.

  • John says:

    The pipe insulation works great to pad a mono-pod or tripod legs for comfortable over the shoulder carrying.

  • CalicoSalsa says:

    I had to ship my 17″ MacBookPro and didn’t have the original carton. I used the larger sized pool noodles as padding. If you cut out a wedge lengthwise, a laptop fits neatly inside, and the noodle protects the whole edge. Do this to all 4 sides, and use half noodles to protect the faces (top/bottom) of the laptop. With a plastic bag and sealing tape to keep out any moisture, you have a pretty sturdy, cushioned bundle.

    Last advice is to spring the few extra dollars for the stronger shipping box. Idiot youth at the packing center can’t understand why one would spend $5 more for a stronger box, giving the “we ship all the time in the regular boxes”. Yes, but I receive regular boxes all the time, and I don’t ever want my laptop in those mangled, crushed husks. A little extra time and expense versus thousands in replacement hardware & software?

    Pool noodles also cushion roof racks for surfboards or other dingables.

  • Miguel Palaviccini says:

    This would have been a great thing to have on my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I did a bit of shooting out of the car window! While I didn’t have a heavy lens, it would have been nice to keep the camera steady at times. I’ll be looking for ways to use the noodle and if I do, I’ll let you know.

  • Steve Thompson says:

    I’ve used the pipe insulation but recently got some “memory foam” from a fabric liquidation shop that was 4 inches thick. The piece I got was about 12 inches long and around 36 inches wide. I cut that into four pieces about 9X12 inches. On the bottom of each piece I used a hacksaw (bread knife would work as well)to carve/cut a “V” shaped notch in the center across the long side. I slide the notch over the edge of my partially lowered car window and rest my 400mm on top the foam. The notch actually helps keep the piece of foam from falling off. The trick is to not cut too deep. Start by taking a small notch, you can always come back and take off more. The foam cost me $5.00.

  • Mark Arundel says:

    Following along your theme that sometimes there are commercial products which beat a DIY project I have used a Cinesaddle for the last five or so years. It is perfect for mounting or cradling a camera anywhere. It is light weight and most importantly makes a very comfortable seat or pillow when the only place to take a nap is on the ground.

  • Steve Kalman says:

    Our local pool gives them away when they get pretty worn, but there are often spots a foot or two long near the center that are like new.

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