Carbon Fiber Fabrication

Why join a hackerspace?

Everyone has their own reason, but for me it’s mostly building a community to learn from and share with. But, there are practical reasons, too… some of my projects are messy!

A long time ago, I worked at a small satellite company and was good friends with the guy who built all the carbon fiber structures we used.  I watched the process many times and learned the techniques, but never made anything myself.  Fifteen years later, and I decided to try my hand at it — and got some good press for it!  My first experiments were in the basement of a big house I was staying in, but since then I’ve moved in to a much smaller place. Luckily, my office moved in to a much larger place and I could continue my work after hours there… until… that one day.  I was using Bondo to alter the shape of my mold — Bondo is extremely smelly stuff for the 5 minutes between the time you get it out of the can and the time it cures.  That’s the exact time my boss walked in and thought I was killing myself with the fumes. I need a hackerspace so that my boss doesn’t have another heart attack.

My first project used a simple mold.  I’ve been advancing my technique to learn more and more complicated mold-making methods that let me build more customized objects.  Now I’m trying to reproduce my hardshell backpack.  After a bunch of slight mistakes (documented on my flickr page), I made my first shell:

It’s a fully functional part, lighter but much stronger than the ABS plastic that my hardshell backpack originally came with. It also has kevlar embedded in it in case I fall off my motorcycle and this thing skids along the asphalt. But, this part is not quite up to my expectations cosmetically.  I could sand and clearcoat it and it would look great – but because the surface quality is a little poor to begin with and because I’ve got some big epoxy bubbles, this will take a lot of work. So, instead, I’m planning on trying another run – it’ll be quicker & easier.  I’d love to show the processes to anyone who is interested – hopefully in the next week or two.  Anyone up for a 2-hour demo some Saturday afternoon over pizza?  (it has to be an afternoon because I need to run a vacuum pump for several hours afterwards)  It won’t be a class per se, but you’ll learn lots of techniques and find, while there are bunch of steps, it’s not as hard as it looks. And about 1/10th the cost of buying carbon fiber parts commercially.

Suggested reading: West Systems has some great tutorials and free pdfs

— John Maushammer