So, I thought I’d write up what is in my composite workshop. It’s not a fancy workshop, but it’s just part of what’s in my garage. I saw a post in a composite group asking what was in the ideal workshop, and it got me thinking.
I’ve split it in the bare essentials, desirable, and the stuff that I didn’t know I’d need it until I had it, and I’d not let it go.
- 2 stage vacuum pump, designed for the job. You don’t need one that pulls huge volumes, but one that can achieve high vacuum.
- a digital vacuum gauge. The analogue gauges on catch pots can get splattered with resin, and I’ve never had one last very long. The digital gauge shows instantly if you have a drop. If you pull a part down, isolate the pump and find the gauge doesn’t leak, you know you’re good.
- if you’re working with aramid, or needing to cut a lot of cloth, you need electric shears. Multiple composite outlets sell them and for about £100 they’re awesome.
- Lots of plastic pipe – the polyethylene stuff. Buy a lot more than you need. It gets used for lots of things. I also buy the pnumatic connectors to to join it together. They can’t be assumed to be vacuum safe – test each one you use.
- PPE – personal protection equipment. Any dust you generate is bad, and composite dust is worse. I bought a cheap multiple coat-hook thing and bonded it to the back of my garage door and I hang all my PPE of that. I have two of everything. Ear defenders, good goggles and breathing masks. Don’t ever get the paper ones – they’re no good for this work. Get the filter ones and understand what the filters are for. The jury is still out on if styrene is bad for you, but I know it smells, and first exposure usually comes with free headaches and nausea. With the right mask, you won’t smell it. Similarly with goggles – get some that seal completely around your eyes. I once had a spark from an angle-grinder go under a set of safety glasses into my eye. Quite the uncomfortable day, and it’s a weird sensation when you feel the ‘ting’ as the eye doctor rubs their probing tool over it and your vision bounces.
- Light – all the light. More than you think you need.
- Acetone – most towns have GRP roofing suppliers and they have this stuff in droves. I bought a 25L drum a couple of years ago for about £50, and I’m still on it now.
Stuff I Didn’t Know I’d Need But I Won’t be Without
- A degassing chamber. They can be found quite cheaply on eBay and I always use mine. If you’re building for strength you don’t want tiny air bubbles in there. If you infuse a part and you see a run of bubbles going along the resin front, you have air trapped in there. If you just see the resin front with no bubbles, you stand a better chance of avoiding air in the part. I always degas.
- An ultrasonic leak detector. Not cheap, and I did need to hold my breath when I bought it, and look the other way when I clicked ‘buy’, but it’s really helped speed up securing a good bag, and sorting one with a leak. Similarly I always double check my pipework as well. More than once I’ve found a tiny leak where I’ve jointed a pipe. It’s great for ensuring your vacuum setup is properly leak tight. The less issues in the setup the more you can trust your bag.
- tongue depressors. They’re cheap and you buy them by the hundred. I use them all sorts. I don’t think I’ve stirred anything with them, but I use them for scraping, as supports when hot-glueing Thing1 to Thing2, packing, anything really.
- A hot-glue gun that has hot, and fucking-hot as the settings. The second setting is essential if you need a couple of seconds to position a part, but beware. If it drips on your skin, it’s a free 3rd degree burn.
- Dolphon Glaze. It’s a thin body-filler. Great for filling in fine areas (such as the layers in a 3d printed part).
- A compressor – I bought my first as I was finishing my first build, and i couldn’t get over just how useful air-tools are. They’re way cheaper than electric tools, and cheaper again than rechargeable tools. They’re great for blowing the dust off stuff but useful in other ways. I have an air-grinder with a flap disk on, and the standard scary angry-grinder for the heavy duty stuff. When working up a pattern it’s great to swap between the two. Similarly an air nut-spinner is great for winding in screws, nuts etc. It only develops about 20 lbs of torque so it speeds up bolting together.
Stuff that is Super Useful that I Could Do Without
- vacuum tank – I repurposed a broken compressor – dumped the pump etc. and I use it as a staging tank between my pump and catch pot. It’s great for pulling initial vacuum and when the infusion is over, using it to hold vacuum in the part. I have valves before and aft so I can isolate it, the pump etc.
- 3d printer – a bracket here, a bracket there. I print all sorts of parts for what i do when infusing – things like vacuum ports so I don’t buy the silicon ones. I print parts that I then turn into patterns and then make moulds from. The possibilities are endless.