Working with Carbon Fiber

About working with carbon fiber

We have some general guideline information for all of our customers. That perhaps gives them a bit of helpful information, tips and tricks about working with CarbonWaves materials.

Here are a few pointers about working with CarbonWaves carbon fiber since it may be slightly different than other carbon fiber materials that you may have worked with before or other materials in general.

CarbonWaves composites are made with a custom production process using a high quality resin and it has been cured at elevated temperatures so that it can withstand some heat. But like all carbon fiber and plastics it has its limitations. While working with this carbon fiber it is always a good idea to try to keep it as cool as possible so not to overheat the carbon fiber. If it overheats, then the quality and look may deteriorate or even entirely fall apart if highly overheated. As a general guideline, if it is too hot to touch then it is probably too hot! Under 80C / 175F is totally fine however over 100C / 210F is not advised. Also the cooler the material the harder it will be and that will make machining much easier and faster and will give you neater and faster results.

Using sharp high quality cutting tools when machining it should work fine. A better option is carbide or diamond tools. If other tools are used, make sure they are always sharp and do their job well. Proper air / water cooling always helps and as well as low feed rates. Pausing to let the material cool or check the temperature can be very helpful. High speed, low feed and good cooling is the best way to do it. Or intermittent processing while pausing to check the temperature of the material and cleaning the dust away. If you use HSS tools make sure they are always at their sharpest. They will work, but will dull very quickly and then WILL create extra heat in the material and that should be avoided.

Carbon fiber can be sanded very well to get the final shape that you desire. If you choose a higher grit you should be able to achieve the kind of finish that you want. Wet sanding can help in removing fine scratches. Polishing is possible as well and if you use a compound intended for plastics you should be able to get a gloss finish on the carbon fiber as well. Altho, the carbon fiber is created from carbon fiber fabrics and resin and each will yield a slightly different gloss. This usually shows in the finishing results. So, this is why some people prefer an even matte finish as it is a more equal finish. It totallly depends on your product what would work best in your case and what kind of look you are trying to achieve.

Also keep in mind that the CarbonWaves materials consisting of different colors / glow materials that it is important in the final stage of making the product, to sand / finish these only in the “horizontal” direction. As to not get any of the black (dust / particles) from the carbon fiber into the colored / glow materials grooves. It is easier to keep the non-carbon fiber part clean if you use running clean water to sand. If you take care here then the original colors will stay very true and will not have any black dots / imperfections in them. If you have a bit of practice with this material you will probably see this effect on your materials and can make sure to get the best result possible! An interesting trick is to use neatral / light colored sanding paper as that will also help to keep the finish cleaner and avoid getting darker particles in it.

The colored fabrics in my composites are glass fiber based. The metallic look ones also have aluminum coatings. They behave a bit different in machining and are not as strong as carbon fiber. Yet, still pretty strong tho! Feel free to cut a small piece of waste material into slices to play with it and see just how strong it is. The bond between the layers is always less strong then the strength in the direction of the fibers. Keep this in mind when designing and machining carbon fiber.

When working with carbon fiber it is always important to wear proper safety gear like an a professional air filter mask for filtering small dust particles and latex gloves to prevent the dust from getting on your skin where it may become itchy. I personally have not experienced this as I always wear gloves and a thin kind of safety gloves. Other safety gear like safety glasses, an overall and any additional protection may be helpful depending on your exact process. A dust extraction unit may also be very helpful to remove as much dust from your workspace as possible. All of this is for your own safety, but also to keep your workshop from getting too much dust.

Keep in mind carbon fiber dust is conductive and if using electrical tools while working with carbon fiber that the brushes may deteriorate because of this. Make sure to blow out your electrical tools often with some compressed air as it will extend their life. We use mostly air tools while working with carbon fiber as that also prevents this problem.

This is some information, but we are open for suggestions on any of this information.
This information is in no way complete and if you have any suggestions or feedback I would love to hear it! I hope it does help for now in working with the CarbonWaves materials.

About safety and carbon fiber

Carbon Waves materials and carbon fiber materials in general are really awesome materials but like processing and machining any materials, it is important to keep safety in mind so that you can enjoy working with these materials for a long time without risking your health and your safety!

Dust Filtration masks
Dust in the workshop is always something you should avoid breathing in and carbon fiber dust in specific should be taken seriously. A proper air filtration mask can easily do the job here and its recommended to use a name brand mask as those filter better and usually seal better on your face. More importantly feel more comfortable so that you can wear them for extended time without getting uncomfortable. We have been found to still wear a mask when we worked on carbon fiber an hour ago, but just forgot to remove our mask! I think this says a lot of about these masks. We recommend Moldex, 3M or similar brands.
Make sure to use the filters for fine dust, as those are best for carbon fiber dust filtration.

When working with carbon fiber it is always recommended to wear safety gloves. The dust can create an itchy feeling to many people. I personally dont know as I always wear gloves when handling carbon fiber. Gloves also protect your hands from sharp pieces and keep your hands clean in general. I used to wear latex gloves, but have switched to nitrile based gloves in the last few years as these are a bit more comfortable and also stretch less. That sounds bad, but it means that if your glove gets caught in a machine it does not pull your fingers and hand into it, it will just tear off just like that. The thicker varieties of nitrile gloves are actually still pretty comfortable to wear and are pretty wear resistant and last pretty well. Nitrile gloves also come in long sleeve versions to go past your wrist up to your arm to protect very well. If you wear an overall, you could pull these over your overall as to have absolutely no skin exposed.

It really depends on your exact situation and application which gloves work best for you. Some people prefer to have more “feel” with the material and dont wear gloves, but I know with the kind of glove you do not need to lose touch with your materials and product! Try a bunch of different gloves and just find out that works best for you. At CarbonWaves we stock about 4 different types of gloves in 3 different sizes as to accomodate any person and any particular job at any given time. Great brands of gloves are Ansell, Hygostar, Colad, M-safe or other major brands

Dust filtration
A personal filtration mask will prevent you from breathing carbon fiber dust, but the dust will still be in the air. It may travel to other locations where you may breathe it later, or coat your work space in black. It is always a good idea to give some consideration to trying to minimize the dust from travelling further. A simple shop vacuum next to your work space with the inlet where you do machining can certainly already do the job! A larger dust extraction unit is an even better solution, as those move more air and generally make a bit less noise. They are not that much more expensive, if at all. Mostly they are just a lot larger as the bag units do take a up a bit floor space. But due to this larger size they do filter much better and can move more air. There are also different types of bags available for these. The “general” fabric bag is not recommended as its intended to stop wood dust, which does not stop the much finer carbon fiber dust. It is better to use a bag with low micron rating, like 5 micron or less. We use a 1 micron bag from PowerTec and it works really well! This white bag is still totally white on the outside, and that says a lot! Most dust extraction units have a filtration bag on top, and a plastic bag on the bottom. We use a filtration bag on top and bottom, as carbon fiber dust does not add up much in volume anyways and the extra bag will give more filtration space so that the unit can move more air without the bags getting saturated and decrease airflow. If once in a while you shake up both bags all the filtered dust will fall to the bottom of the bottom bag and airflow will be higher again.

There are also microfilter units sold for dust extraction units that may also filter well, but we dont have personal experience with these. Due to the composition of the filtering paper perhaps it does not filter as well and would be as easy to maintain. If anybody has experience with this please let us know so we can update this information.

Shop ventilation
Even with a great dust filtration unit there will still be some dust in the air that may travel to other parts of your home / business. It may also help to have a negative air displacement setup for this. At CarbonWaves we have a ventilation unit running 24/7 that extracts air from the work places so that no “shop air” can travel to other areas. A simple hole to the outside wall with a fan and a few pipes can do the job. Specific longer pipes directly to work space, and a few valves in the system can make it even better. Please note this will also remove warmth / AC from your work space so your options depend on your situation. It will also be possible to connect this unit to a (HEPA) filtration unit as to re-circulate the air. In general a little bit of fresh air is always a good idea so it works great for us in our modest climate.

Wet machining
Dust in the air can be almost entirely prevented by machining carbon fiber in a wet environment. This can be a mill, a wet tile saw, or a lathe with a wet cooling setup or something else even. Machining carbon fiber in a “wet” environment works great as it adds cooling as well so that you can continue machining much quicker with no risk of overheating at all! Creating a setup for this does take a fair amount of work so that the water runs to the right places, pumps do their job, and the carbon fiber dust is collected in the right places. It will run with the water, but should be filtered somewhere in the unit so that the pump pushes clean air to the work place. A big bucket will aid in having the carbon sink to the bottom, but adding fabric / cloth or other filtration to the unit will help better.

While machining the carbon fiber with water you may splash water around while machining, so it may help to protect the work place and put a plastic curtain or shield or box around it. The wet machining also adds a lot of humidity in the air, so air extraction is still important to keep humidity low in your work shop. As the wet machining lowers the carbon fiber dust in the air its still a good idea to wear protective gear like a safety mask with filtration so that you are still 100% protected.