You watched the videos. You read our blog post on where to get materials. You have your materials. Now you need to start working. Here is a list of 20 tools for under (or close to) $20 that every fabricator needs. We have provided several affiliate links to some of the products for clarification as I didn’t want to just litter this post with pictures of every little thing. Most of them should be pretty self explanatory tho, but we do get a lot of stuff from Amazon. And keeping with the beginner phase, we will skip any necessary parts once someone steps up to vacuum bagging, infusion, or pre pregs. Please feel free to leave a comment if you feel that we’ve missed anything.
- Work Bench and/or Cutting Table- You can’t work on the floor so a dedicated bench for doing your cutting and layups is very important. Depending on the size and how handy you are, you could build something for right around $20, or something huge for more than that if you are doing large parts. You can also set it up with nails and hooks to hang your tools from for easy and convenient reach.
- Cutting Mat– You will definitely want a smooth, flat surface for cutting your materials, especially carbon fiber. Any roughness will cause snags in the carbon and distort the weave. Its also a necessity if you use a rotary cutter. A simple mat like links will work fine to get started, but there are options for very large mats. Our cutting table is 5’x12′ for example, and I know there are larger ones than that.
- Scissors- They can easily be under $20, but can also be well over. For composites, you want to get a scissor with a serrated blade like these Clauss 18425 8″ Bent Kevlar Shears. This makes cutting much easier. We also like the non stick scissors for cutting gum tape, but they are not necessary in the beginning. Tech tip: Coat the blades with a chemical release and epoxy and resin can easily be picked off if it ever gets on them.
- Rotary Cutter– This one isn’t really a necessity, but man do they speed up cutting time. You handle the fabric a lot less with a rotary cutter so you get less snags so they are definitely a benefit and make life easier.
- Razor Blades- This should be pretty self explanatory. They make super quick work of cutting any bagging film and peel ply. Its our method of choice when cutting several types of core materials as well.There are Single edge razor blades and Utility knife blades. Obviously a Utility Knife and scrapers are nice to have around as well.
- Straight Edge– I have several lengths of these but a nice long straight edge saves an extreme amount of time. You can lay it down and either roll the rotary cutter or razor blade along it for a perfectly straight cut.
- Sharpies- Sharpies, both Silver and Black, get used extensively in my shop. Just like tape measures, there is never one around when you need one so I buy them in large quantities so I don’t waste time looking around for them.
- Chip Brushes– Cheap brushes are an absolute necessity. How else can you spread your epoxy around? We get ours by the box from US Composites but Amazon has some deals on large quantity boxes.
- Body filler squeegees- On a flat part we will use these to quickly spread the epoxy around. We also use them to tuck and push materials into tight corners or edges.
- Fiberglass Rollers– We don’t use these that frequently since we vacuum bag or infuse most of our own parts. We do however use them when building molds, and would be very nice to have if you are doing any wet lay techniques. They come in a wide range of sizes so get what works for your projects.
- Release Wedges– You absolutely need some of these to demold your parts. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so pick what you need, or just get a bunch cause you never know what you will come across.
- Mixing Cups– We have several sizes on hand depending on how much epoxy or resin we will be mixing. Most of the time, once we are done with the cup, we do not throw it away. We set it aside and let the small remainder cure, and then can use the cup again. Tech tip: Don’t use any type of styrofoam cup with polyester resins! It will dissolve the cup.
- Paint sticks- Just a simple paint stick is perfect for mixing your resins. With the flat side, you can really scrape the sides of the mixing cup to get proper mixes. Just like cups, we set them aside to cure, and then use them again.
- Scale– We like to use a scale to do our mixes. Be careful that a mix by volume does not always equally translate to the same mix by weight. A scale also allows you to reuse cups as long as you zero out the scale with the cup on it. You may need to do some digging to find out the proper mix by weight ratio. This is nice as you won’t need to use mixing containers with graduations on it that cost more, or could be useless after its used once. So the scale will pay for itself over time. A scale like the one linked should be sufficient as it can get to a .1g accuracy and a max mix of 2000g/4.5lbs. Its almost difficult to mix more then this at one time, so a scale that handles a lot of weight is unnecessary.
- Gloves- Get a box of latex or vinyl gloves. Epoxy gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE!
- Scraper– These are nice to chip off bits of dried epoxy on certain parts. I highly recommend to not use them to demold parts as you could scratch you mold surface. We also use these to start separating molds if we can’t quite get a release wedge under it immediately. We use what used to be my gasket scraper from back in my days of being a mechanic.
- Home made edge pusher- you will inevitably come across a part with tight corners and contours. We’ve made several tools specifically to help us get material tucked into tight areas. We use MDF cause its really easy to sand and shape as necessary. Some sorts of plastic would work as well.
- Dremel/Dremel Wheels– Ok, so a dremmel is over $20, but the wheels are not. Do yourself a favor and get the carbide wheel blades. They last way longer so make the price worth it.
- Sanding Blocks- Just some basic body shop sanding blocks are nice to have. What ever it is you make will most likely need to be sanded on the trimmed edge.
- Respirator– A high quality respirator is an absolute must! Carbon and fiberglass dust, along with the fumes from some resins and epoxies are not good to breathe. Obviously. So get a respirator!
- Bonus! Shop-Vac– They are over $20 but a must have even for the very beginner. A Composite shop is a very dusty environment and a shop vac is a huge savior.
I hope you guys find this article useful. If I missed anything, or if you need any more clarification, please leave a comment.
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