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Five tips for working with carbon fiber

So you’ve decided to take on a carbon fiber project? Here are some tips to keep in mind when working with carbon fiber:

1. Cutting Carbon Fiber Laminate

Carbon fiber sheets can be cut with standard tools, ranging from scissors and razor knives for thinner sheets, to abrasive cutting wheels and dremel tools. For cutting many carbon fiber veneer sheets, we recommend the use of carbide tools, abrasive type cutters, or diamond crusted tools. Regular steel tools will cut carbon sheets just fine, but due to the abrasive nature of all carbon sheets, standard tools will wear down fast with heavy cutting use. Panels are then easily edge-sanded, allowing you to trim close and sand to final dimensions for a smooth, clean edge. See our Summary of Standard Thicknesses for more specifics on cutting tools for each thickness.

2. Health and Safety Considerations

Carbon fiber dust is not toxic, however, it is a mild irritant to the skin, eyes, and lungs, much like fiberglass. We strongly recommend that you wear a dust mask to minimize any itching or irritation, especially when cutting or sanding in quantity. Edges can be very sharp, so gloves are also critical to avoid cuts and slivers.

3. Adhesive

See our page on Adhesive Options for more information on the best alternatives for carbon fiber. See Applying Adhesive for more detail on how to apply our 3M Adhesive.

4. Molding Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber panels made with epoxy resins are not thermalplastic (heat formable) -- a finished sheet cannot be heated and bent to hold a curved shape. Carbon fiber laminates will not stretch like plastic. You can get a very limited amount of permanent curvature in one direction with high heat (over 200oF), but due to the difficulties of this, we do not recommend it. Molded parts can be made, but the carbon fiber fabric must be placed in the mold and infused with epoxy to prior to the heating/curing process.

Keep in mind that a flexible carbon fiber sheet will bend in a simple curve such as around a pipe, but not a complex curve like covering a ball.

Several users have reported successfully installing our carbon fiber veneers with adhesive film on mufflers and exhaust tips, however we can't make any specific recommendations for applications over 200oF. You are welcome to experiment with heat, but be advised, it is totally at your own risk.

5. Machining Capabilities

Many people use CNC machines to cut carbon fiber panels, but at times it can be difficult to hold the carbon fiber sheets in the machine. Diecutting is also an option. Be sure to find a machinist or diecutter who is experienced in working with carbon fiber or leave the machining to us. Our experienced CNC staff can handle even the most complex cutting jobs.

Water jet cutters are used for complex, intricate shapes, or high volume parts manufacturing. Our 3M high performance adhesive can be applied BEFORE water jetting your carbon fiber parts, as the water will not harm the adhesive, leaving a nice clean edge on both the carbon fiber sheet and the adhesive.