This article will go over some necessary tools for when you want to vacuum bag or infuse a composite part. We wrote an article called “20 Tools for under $20 Every Composite Fabricator needs” a little bit ago which covers the entry level tools for working with composites. We will include consumables in this post as well so you don’t miss anything. There are a few things you will need to consider when making a part, primarily if you intend to do vacuum bagging which is a little easier in the beginning, or infusion. If you opt for infusion, make sure you use an infusion epoxy. Infusion epoxies have a lower CPS (centipoise) allowing it to flow easier. You can infuse with a hand lay resin, but its slow so you can’t do anything large. I learned that one the hard way when I was testing things out. Also, the breather layer or flow net will differ, but otherwise a lot of the stuff is interchangeable. Onto the list.
- Vacuum Pump- We use a JB Industries DV-200N 7 CFM 2 Stage Platinum Vacuum Pump. It has a higher CFM than someone starting may need. You can try a ZENY 3,5CFM Single-Stage Pump if you are just getting up and going and should be fine for a while. If you are doing larger parts, its worth it to get a good pump tho.
- Catch pot- Not really necessary for vacuum bagging, but a good idea to have one for infusions. The Fiberglass Supply 1.5 Quart Resin Trap w/Vacuum Gauge should be good enough for just about anyone. This will prevent you from sucking epoxy into your vacuum pump which obviously isn’t good. A good idea is to keep a cup under the line leading in that you can just pull out and throw away instead of filling your catch pot with resin.
- Hoses- We use 3 different types. A semi rigid line is good for the vacuum side as it won’t collapse on itself. For the inlet of infusions we use a softer, clear, flexible tube as its easy to pinch off and you can see if you have any bubbles stuck in the line. The last is a braided flexible line. Usually a little more expensive, we use these for just vacuum bagging as they don’t collapse on themselves, but are still flexible enough to move around easily. Each serves a purpose so try them out and use what works best for you. We get all of our tubes in bulk from Mcmaster.com.
- Connectors- We use straight barbs and “t’s” pretty frequently and are fairly cheap enough to keep a bunch on hand. These are another consumable item I pick up from Mcmaster.com. You can get by without them in the beginning, or with small parts, but for larger stuff where you may need to do multiple inlet and outlet lines, it’s a good idea to have some on hand.
- Hose clamps- We use an automatically locking plyer type, like the K-D Tools 3791 3/4″ Hose Pinch-Off Pliers but the Lisle 22850 Hose Pincher work well too. They usually need 2 hands to operate so that’s why we like the plyer type.
- Sealant Tape– Also referred to as gum tape or tacky tape, this is the stuff that seals the bag to the mold. Once you add pleats, its amazing how much you actually use of this. I’ve tried many different types and ended up settling on the stuff I get the best price on usually, but starting out I would buy it by the roll or two to keep costs down. Be sure to pick up some non stick scissors for this stuff. It will fill the serrations in your nice scissors rendering them almost useless for cutting other materials.
- Bagging Film- When starting, the cheap stuff is usually fine. When doing large parts where more materials and time is at risk, its cheap insurance to spring for a better material. Be extra careful how you handle it and where you place it as a micro pin hole can be hard to find and completely ruin a part. Also note that some bagging films have shelf lives and can dry out over time. The Nylon Bagging Film from Fibreglast.com is nice stuff as it has some stretch to it but also does not dry out.
- Peel ply- This goes on top of the laminate. Like the name implies, it peels off of the part after it cures. There are two general types. A Nylon Release Peel Ply fabric that is generally blue or greenish that releases fairly easy, but is a little more money then a polyester peel ply fabric that is tougher to pull off, but is better for secondary bonding. Each has its place so pick what you like better and what the situation calls for.
- Bleeder/Breather Cloth– Again, as the name implies, its what the extra resin bleeds into when under vacuum. It can also be used to help get an even vacuum pressure around a part by running strips of it to areas farther away from the vacuum source. Hence it being called breather as well. You can also use it to cover the end of a vacuum line so it won’t suck the back into it as discussed in a previous blog post called “The Cheap and Easy Way to Finish Vacuum Lines“. Also, this is only needed for vacuum bagging but is omitted if you opt to go with infusion.
- Infusion Flow Media– Also called flow net or infusion mesh, this is a fine net material that allows the resin to be quickly distributed across the part. There are different sizes which can help flow on larger or smaller parts so again, get what works for what you are making.
- Spray Tac– not a necessity when doing bagging, but its nice to use a light mist between the layers of an infusion. This helps the layers stay together during the layup process.
- Perforated Release Film– We don’t use it but have tinkered with it and its worth a mention. Its almost like a vacuum bag with a bunch of tiny holes evenly spaced. I wouldn’t use it with infusion but it can be used for vacuum bagging. What it does is allows excess resin to squeeze through these tiny holes, but it keeps the laminate a little more resin rich then peel ply. It also leaves the B side of the part a little shinier. This may be advantageous if you are post finishing both sides of the part. It also releases insanely easy.
- Outlet Timer– When you have a vacuum pump running, its nice to grab one of those timer plugs to run the pump. Set it for an hour or two or whatever is necessary for your epoxy system and temperature and walk away. Nothing stinks more then coming back hours later, or the next day and hear your pump still humming away and wonder how much life you just took off your expensive pump.
So, as you can see there are some extras needed when stepping into vacuum bagging or infusion. Its not a whole lot tho if you already have the basic hand tools. And when starting, you can buy stuff in short yardage through most of the companies listed on our Supplier page. Try out different materials to figure out what works best for you. You can see how we vacuum bag a simple flat panel in this video we did below. Also, please note that several links in this article are affiliate links. What this means is that at no extra cost to you, The Composites Blog will get a small comission on the sale when you use one of our links. Thanks for your supports and please leave any comments if you have additional questions.