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Old 04-21-2011, 10:47 AM   #1
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Default Custom Carbon Fiber Parts - Cutting Technique and Safety

I'm interested in creating some custom chassis from carbon fiber sheet for myself. Since there is no parts or mods section in the forum, I picked this particular forum since it seems to have the most activity. If there is a more appropriate forum, mods please move the thread.

I wanted to summarize some of the information I've come across and wanted to look to those who have tried making parts themselves to weigh in any additional tips or advice they may have.

CUTTING
From reading other threads it seems like most people without stationary shop tools use a rotary tool with a cutoff disc or a hack saw to make their cuts. If you have one a scroll saw works as well.

To keep the cuts accurate, people seem to print out a diagram 1:1 and adhere it to the sheet with double sided tape or some temporary adhesive.

To minimize the roughness of the initial cuts, I've seen recommendations to also use making tape along the areas where you will cut to minimize fraying.

Screw holes seem to also be made with rotary tools or a drill press if available. After making the cuts, people sand the edges using progressively finer grit paper and finishing the edge off by sealing it with super glue, CA, or nail polish.

SAFETY
The carbon dust created by the cutting seems to be something to pay particular attention to. People usually work in a well ventilated area outside of the home. You don't want it on your skin or lungs so it seems the proper procedure is to use a mask with HEPA filtration, wear gloves and long sleeve clothing.

To minimize the dust created by cutting, some people choose to cut with water flowing on the sheet. Others create a box to encase the dust in a specific area and still others simply put a vacuum close to the cutting too to suck up the dust. I suppose you could do all three of these in combination if set up right.

QUESTIONS
1. How do you keep a long cut clean precise using hand tools?
2. What is the best way to make sure your holes are precise, can you tap carbon fiber or make some kind of mark to guide the bit?
3. Any other tools to have handy not mentioned above?
4. Anyone know how manufacturers cut carbon fiber? Lazer, CNC mill, water jet?
5. Will a standard HEPA rated filter on a shop or household vacuum be sufficient to catch the carbon dust, or is there specific rating it must meet?
6. How do you dispose of the water used to keep the carbon dust down properly?


Any advice or tips would be very much appreciated.
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Old 04-21-2011, 11:27 AM   #2
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What I have heard is that most companies use a CNC router or mill for production work. A water jet may also be used. For at home use, a standard router can be adapted to cut carbon fiber by installing a carbide bit. Depending on how handy you are a simple guide can be made to "trace" a template that you attach to the piece of carbon sheet.

Dust is the biggest concern. I use an organic vapor mask that we use in the body shop business.
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Old 04-21-2011, 01:34 PM   #3
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A scroll saw does not work for cutting the stuff, I tried to cut g10 (a fiberlass product extremely similar to CF with more flex, and less cost and bling) and I would smoke a blade every inch no mater how slow I went, a dremel cut the stuff without issues but makes some serious dust.
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Old 04-21-2011, 01:42 PM   #4
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I sell carbon fiber panel in 2.5, 3, 4, 5mm.

The graphite is made of 3k cross weave carbon made in USA, you can ask
anyone that have bought my products my carbon are premium graphite.

Steve
www.snrgraphite.com
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Old 04-21-2011, 02:04 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snrscion View Post
I sell carbon fiber panel in 2.5, 3, 4, 5mm.

The graphite is made of 3k cross weave carbon made in USA, you can ask
anyone that have bought my products my carbon are premium graphite.

Steve
www.snrgraphite.com
I can attest to the SNR quality... The CF is top notch.
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Old 04-21-2011, 02:05 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snrscion View Post
I sell carbon fiber panel in 2.5, 3, 4, 5mm.

The graphite is made of 3k cross weave carbon made in USA, you can ask
anyone that have bought my products my carbon are premium graphite.

Steve
www.snrgraphite.com
Very high quality stuff from SNR. Maybe you could enlighten the OP on some of his questions?
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Old 04-21-2011, 11:26 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonny5 View Post
Very high quality stuff from SNR. Maybe you could enlighten the OP on some of his questions?
Thanks guys.

I can't reveal all my secretes.
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Old 04-22-2011, 05:53 AM   #8
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I have in the past used a table router to cut CF panels... I made a form out of MDF, double side taped the CF to it, and used a flush trim bit to get-r-done.

Looked great, worked great, and I got yelled at by everyone about the dangers of CF dust. I looked into it and promptly stopped...the dangers of CF dust are no joke.

I have wondered if you could cut it with a small wet saw used for tile, but unless I can find a way to work with it wet...I'm out. There are enough people out there that will cut it to your specs for not much $$$. If you can make a measured drawing or blueprint your part compare the price for having it made to buying sheets of material...hopefully it's close. Nobody gets hurt ordering CF parts.
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Old 04-22-2011, 07:38 AM   #9
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I also machine carbon fiber on a daily basis. I also own OutFrontFrames and have for the past 11 years. My knowledge also spans 27 years deep in the hobby industry. 90% of what rolls thru my shop is hobby industry related with 75% of that being for the car side alone. OutFrontFrames does work for several manufacturers as well as prototypical work and production runs for smaller rc shops.

If you use a diamond coated scroll saw blade then it will cut just fine. Don't plan on getting in a hurry though. However, finding one of these blades can be a bit difficult. I had some made years ago at a local shop that typically makes band saw blades.

If your using a dremel tool than a typical carbide bur can do wonders. You can use a roto-zip bit from home depot. I wouldn't use smaller than 1/8" in a hand tool like a dremel as it could snap off easy. Printing out your parts than taping them to the material is one way, however I suggest drawing the parts on the carbon with a silver sharpie first.
Wet tile saws work great as long as they are not wet.. lol.

The dust is a bit of a concern. I use big vac systems in my shop. My cnc, trim table, sanders, drill presses, etc all have vac connected to them. If you can smell what your doing then it is too late. Take precautions to prevent it. Getting it on your hands isn't so bad, just wear rubber gloves or similar.

Having the parts cut via cnc is generally an easy process. Any shop worth anything can take just about whatever you have and make a part from it. At OutFrontFrames I can take your existing parts and make a drawing, work with your existing drawing, and in some cases even redraw and recreate your broken parts, considering that all the pieces are there. I can also do production runs and cut sheet part number calculations when planning for spares and/or a new kit. I enjoy assisting customers to get the most from their ideas.

As for obtaining the material there are only a couple of place in the US that carry material that we typically use in the hobby industry. Out of those two only one is reliable so do your home work before purchasing. I would also stay away from Ebay carbon fiber. If you need material let me know and I will gladly point you in the right direction or you can buy it through me.

If you have any more questions please feel free to post up or shoot me an email. Thanks.

Wes Brown
OutFrontFrames

QUESTIONS
1. How do you keep a long cut clean precise using hand tools?
Setting a gauge or fence to help keep the tool straight. Basic principles that would be used in wood working with a router come to mind.
2. What is the best way to make sure your holes are precise, can you tap carbon fiber or make some kind of mark to guide the bit?
Yes you can tap carbon fiber. The process is similar to metals/plastics but the tolerances are different. You can only thread across the fibers, not with the fibers. As for precise holes that are larger than a drill bit... make a guide and wing it.
3. Any other tools to have handy not mentioned above?
Dremel, dremel, dremel,... belt sander, sometimes an orbital sander.
4. Anyone know how manufacturers cut carbon fiber? Lazer, CNC mill, water jet?
I use a cnc router. I have heard of cutting with a water jet but am skeptical about moisture injection and the effects of it causing delamination over time.
Lazers and carbon don't mix, at least not from what I have witnessed. Simply put a CNC router is your best bet.

5. Will a standard HEPA rated filter on a shop or household vacuum be sufficient to catch the carbon dust, or is there specific rating it must meet?
Yes for the most part that will be fine. Remember that it is an actual particulate. On my smaller vacs, I use several layers of terry cloth wrapped around the filter inside the vac.
6. How do you dispose of the water used to keep the carbon dust down properly?
You shouldn't use water to keep the dust down. Carbon dust is not water soluble. It will only float on water. Use a vacuum.
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Old 04-22-2011, 10:16 AM   #10
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Appreciate everyone's input, especially RACETEK, that was very helpful. Thank you.

I think I have enough info now to try out my ideas safely but if anyone has more tips and advice either in regards to making or safety, please add to the thread.
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Old 04-23-2011, 06:10 PM   #11
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cut it with a relatively low spindle speed and wear a good mask, the particles are bad for you. other than that you can use all the same machines you would use to cut metal or plastic. (mill, drill, dremel, etc...)
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