Is DIY Carbon Fiber Fabrication Feasible?
While most carbon fiber composite customers are professionals who purchase pre-fabricated carbon fiber components for use in manufacturing their products, there are certainly do-it-yourself hobbyists who would like to be able to fabricate their own CF parts. These hobbyists might wonder, is DIY carbon fiber fabrication feasible? In short, yes it is.
While carbon fiber production is typically a complex process done by professionals, for simple carbon fiber fabrication jobs, it is possible to purchase carbon fiber cloth and epoxy, and do the layup process yourself.
Carbon Fiber Fabrication Tools
As with any project, the first thing you need to do to get started is to gather your tools. The basic tools needed for carbon fiber fabrication include:
- Carbon fiber sheets in an appropriate weave, weight, and size for your project
- Carbon fiber laminating resin, which will come in a two-part kit, including resin and hardener.
- A mold in the shape of your finished part. A mold release agent to prevent the finished carbon fiber part from sticking to the mold.
- Mixing sticks
- Cups or other containers to mix the resin in
- Gloves to protect your hands
- A Small paintbrush
- A Digital scale
- A heat gun or hair dryer
- Lint-free cloths
Carbon Fiber Fabrication Steps
- Put on the gloves and use a lint-free cloth to apply the release agent to the mold. Apply the mold release evenly and thoroughly. Be sure any corners are well coated.
- Allow the mold to sit for 20 minutes or so, until the wax is dry. Buff the surface, re-apply the wax and repeat.
- Set a cup on the digital scale and mix the epoxy in the proper ratio of resin to hardener. Be as accurate as possible at this point to assure that the molded carbon fiber component cures properly. Use the mixing sticks to mix the resin and hardener together completely, being sure to thoroughly scrape the corners of the cup to get all the epoxy and hardener and assure a proper mix.
- Use the paintbrush to apply a thin, even coat of the mixed epoxy to the prepared mold.
- Lay the carbon fiber sheet out flat and measure where you need to cut it. For cutting straight lines, if you pull a single strand of fiber from the sheet where you need to cut it, it will be easy to cut a straight line without the fibers fraying. For more complex cuts, marking the inside and outside edges of the cut with cellophane tape can help prevent fraying. Cut the carbon fiber sheet slightly larger than the final part will be.
- Be sure there are no loose strands of carbon fiber on the carbon fiber sheet. Then gently and evenly lay the sheet on top of the mold. Since the epoxy is tacky on the mold, once you press down, the carbon fiber sheet will tend to stick to the tool, so be careful at this step.
- Work from the middle of the part out, and keep the edges lifted if necessary to prevent them from sticking. Workaround the edge of the mold, pressing to the surface of the epoxy. Press into the corners. Many carbon-fiber fabricators use a steel roller for this step to really help the carbon fiber layers stick together and press out any air bubbles. Be as neat as possible here, for the best carbon fiber fabrication possible.
- Repeat step 3 to mix another batch of epoxy. Then use the paintbrush to apply the new batch of epoxy to the carbon fiber sheet in the mold. Use a stippling or light poking motion with the brush rather than a painting motion to prevent pulling and distorting the carbon fiber weave. Be sure to apply enough epoxy to coat the surface of the carbon fiber sheet, but not enough to cause excess epoxy flowing off the sheet. Less is more when it comes to creating strong carbon fiber fabricated parts.
- You can use a heat gun or hair dryer to blow gently over the surface of the mold as you stipple. This will allow any air bubbles in the epoxy to come to the surface and pop, preventing air pockets or “voids” from forming in your carbon fiber fabricated part. Be sure the setting is not too hot, however. You can also use a vacuum bag instead of or in addition to this step to further ensure no air bubbles are left in the part.
- Repeat steps 6 through 9 to add layers to your mold as necessary.
- Once all the layers are complete, use strong scissors to trim the excess carbon fiber from around the edges of the mold.
- Press the carbon fiber sheet layers into the mold one last time using your gloved hands, a brush, or a roller to be sure the carbon fiber fits tightly into any corners.
- Set the mold aside to cure completely for 24 hours
- Once the carbon fiber fabricated part is fully cured, gently separate it from the mold. Trim any further excess from around the edges, and your part should be ready to use.
DIY carbon fiber fabrication takes careful preparation, patience, and an eye for detail through the steps, but it is possible to do it yourself. The number of layers, size of the carbon fiber sheet(s) needed, and shape of the mold will, of course, depend on your specific carbon fiber fabrication project. However, with practice and skill, a DIY carbon fiber hobbyist can create a beautiful carbon fiber part that they will be proud of.