Official ZX2MS Beginner's guide to Carbon Fiber

I have done this writeup for a few other sites but wanted to make sure it was here. We have had so many people come along through the ages of our site and others who have come and gone. Many have wanted to learn this interesting skill.

I present to you my official guide on how to do Carbon Fiber. This guide is property of myself and ZX2ms, you may only repost it with permission and a link to where you are posting it. This is simply my asking of a common courtesy as I am writing this and releasing this on free of charge.

I am working on a more in depth tutorial and guide on carbon fiber that I will be distributing at some point, but as of write now we will call this the zx2ms beginner’s guide to CF. I hope you enjoy!

Figured I’d post up a brief introduction to carbon fiber. I’ve got a lot of emails about it since I made the dash and posted it up all over. So I figured I’d make a brief “This is how you…” for those that wish to do it yourself.

It is hard to find ANY tutorials online without paying money. I am a do it yourself type, trial and error… so this is the beginners guide to carbon fiber.

A few things to start off.

DISCLOSURE: Any carbon fiber work you assume to do is at your OWN RISK. There are resin/chemicals involved, potential fibers that can post a health risk to you and your lungs. Carbon fiber in it’s standard form can still be dangerous to you and your health due to the fibers. In pursuing this you must understand that you are doing so at your OWN RISK. With that said I will list the precautions that I take before doing so. If you are unsure or have any questions about pursuing this and your safety we highly recommend consulting with industry professionals and seeking their advice!

  • ALWAYS WEAR A MASK. PERIOD. If you value your lungs, wear a mask. Not a cheap mask. Get a high grade mask, the kind you would wear if you were going to paint a car. Some of the fibers that come up from carbon fiber when cutting it are TINY. You do NOT want it in your body.

  • ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES. PERIOD. Mostly because this stuff hurts like a pain in the butt if you get it in your hand.

  • IT IS EXPENSIVE. A “decent” layered part is at least 4 to 5 layers. One sheet of carbon fiber LOOKS like a lot but think of it like paper… if you put resin over paper it’ll be easy to bend and snap. You need MULTIPLE layers to make it worth a darn. Thin parts you can get away with 3. Anything that needs to stand up to force or stress, more… till you’re happy with it. 1 yard of carbon fiber goes far but if you’re making huge parts, no.

  • BE QUICK! Once you mix resin you have a limited window to get things ready!

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE - the more intricate the part is the more difficult it will be to make that part in carbon fiber. Curves are one thing, but tiny tips and sharp curves can be hard to mold. Be prepared for lots of prep work for complicated parts.

With that said… this tutorial is for laying carbon over existing parts. There are several ways to do it. The most expensive but efficient way is to vacuum bag parts (this sucks the CF up to the part and keeps it air tight while it cures), the other is to make a mold out of another substance such as plastic or fiberglass, this is also expensive. The other way is to use an existing part as the mold itself. This can be quite effective but you can risk destroying a part DEPENDING on what it is made out of (like a dash) and can also have difficulty staying flat or holding shape so you must be very careful when using this method.

Step 1… choose a part. In this case I have chosen the heel guards off of my 1999 Ducati 900SS. Then figure out how thick you want the part to be and cut the pieces of carbon fiber to match it’s shape.

Step 2… cover the part with some sort of wax. This will keep the resin from STICKING to the part. It sucks when it does, believe me… turtle wax works the best, however, in this case I used meguiars 3 step was (used step 1 cleaner wax).

Step 3… Mix the resin - in this case we are using an industry standard resin. The mixture is 4 parts resin to 1 part hardener (or 4 scoops white stuff into 1 scoop of yellow stuff in layments terms). If you mixed it correctly you will likely see some bubbles in the resin. Keep mixing and try and get as many of the bubbles out as possible.

Step 4… Determine how you want to lay the material down. Some people get the carbon wet and then lay it down. I prefer to lay mine over the part and pour the resin on it and pack it with my fingers (sort of like how you would pack a wheel bearing with grease, just mash it down and pat it nicely to get it through all the crevasses)

Step 5… Keep adding layers. Use up that material, lay down more resin, you will notice the thicker it gets the easier it is to keep molding it!

Step 6… Trim off the edges while you still can. Once this stuff hardens, if it is thick enough, about the only way to trim it down is with a dremel or cutting wheel. The dust is so fine at that point that you NEED a mask. I prefer to use a nice sharp pair of scissors to trim the edges. This way you can have a little flexibility in trimming it up and you can end up with a good result, it also is easy to trim while it’s still wet!

Step 7… With the edges trimmed where you want it, time to cure that puppy! HEAT GUN TIME! Keep in mind, you can SEE and SMELL it cure. When the heat is applied on a heat gun (in this case, a simple $20 heat gun from wagner from your local home depot is PLENTY of heat) it will start to bubble. BE CAREFUL, if you apply too much heat then it will bow in places and not stay flat, try and keep the heat even. The way this stuff cures and takes off it will get HOT, BEWARE, THIS CAN BE A FIRE HAZARD. IT WILL SOMETIMES SMOKE AND IT WILL GET HOT! Keep this in mind on your gloves! Sometimes if the resin “takes off” on your gloves they will get HOT, be careful being burned by resin would not be fun! But be CAREFUL! But again, keep it consistent, once it starts to take off you will lose the ability to mold the carbon fiber, so do not do this till you have it formed exactly how you want it!

Step 8… Wait for the curing to stop, then keep trimming!

Step 9 and 10 are simple… sand sand sand with 600 grit sandpaper to get the surfaces FLAT. Clean it off with water, wetsand, sand more, more sanding… then when you think you’re done, sand more. Step 10 is to lay down your clear coat! You will still need to likely wetsand this as well, I would stick with 600 grit WETSANDING once you get to the clearcoat.

Here is a nearly finished part… this still needs more setsanding and some finishing and some more clear and a bit of touch up.

A FEW TIPS!! Carbon fiber has a very interesting feature to it a lot of people forget. It is flexible one way and not another. The rule of laying down a piece that will be structurally SOUND is to lay them down in patterns diagonally. Here is an example:

This is a piece I pulled with my hands sideways, note the middle has a very clear bunching to it, this is because it would not stretch, this is the “non-flexible” point. If it was structurally pulled in this direction it would be VERY STRONG.

This is the same piece turned and pulled. Note that it has now CHANGED SHAPE. If it was pulled this way… it would stretch!

Note how far it stretches!

So the idea if it’s going to be structurally strong… lay it down on opposing patterns. The idea is that if you can do that, no matter which direction the part tries to flex, move, bend or pull it will stay strong as can be!

Very good info guys right here. This man obviously knows how to put on cf. If you do it yourself as well post up pictures so we can see the results.