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

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3 Responses to “Carbon Fiber Fabrication”

  1. Daniel says:

    Definitely interested. Some of the projects I’m working on will need custom structural elements and I’ve never known how the heck to go about building them. This sounds like a great DIY option for building super durable forms!

  2. I ran into the same bubbling epoxy issue with a CF fabrication project for making an ipod case a couple years ago with a few friends. We tried everything to get rid of it, clear coating, vacuum sealing, a stern talking to, and nothing worked. Then inspiration struck.

    The solution came in the mixing of the epoxy. It’s natural to want to mix it well before applying it to the carbon fiber, but when you do that you also mix in small amounts of air resulting in the bubbling effect on parts of the final fabrication. The trick is to super slowly stir the epoxy and extremely gently apply it to the carbon fiber. After we learned the err of our ways the following fabrications came out amazing and the case ended up out lasting the iPod. Take that Apple!

  3. Liam Sussex says:

    hi John,
    i have a Carbon fiber barrel, and noticed after a few months of play it got a bubbly effect under the resin and painted parts, i was just wondering if i could just scrape it off an start again? but what would you recommend for taking the resin an paint off with and what i should cover it in afterwards to protect it?