Introduction: Creating a Carbon Fiber Cell Phone Case

Have you ever wanted to create your own cell phone case made out of carbon fiber? Here is an opportunity to learn a step-by-step process to create one!

Before we get started, it is important to be aware of the hazards involved in the experimental process. These hazards include:

  • skin irritations caused by the epoxy and carbon fiber
  • chemical hazards from the epoxy
  • machine hazards from power tools
  • health hazards caused by inhaling carbon fiber reside and epoxy fumes

Be sure to wear protective great such as safety googles, nitrile gloves, long pants, closed toed shoes, long sleeves and face masks (when using power tools).

Be sure to dispose of all wet expoy waste in a hazardous waste bin labeled for epoxy.

Step 1: Prepare Your Lab Station

The best types of projects are the ones where you end up completing the project without panicking mid-way because you don't have the needed supplies readily available. For this project, you need the following materials to ensure a smooth sailing time:

  • Masking Tape
  • Seran Wrap
  • I-phone case
  • Plastic Cups
  • Press-n-seal wrap
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Wax Paper
  • Scissors
  • Popsicle stick
  • Epoxy
  • Sponge Brush
  • A sheet of Carbon Fiber
  • Vacuum bag and vacuum motor
  • Hammer
  • Tweezers
  • Drummel
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Lab coat (or rubber apron or an old shirt you don't mind maybe getting epoxy on)

The first step is to prepare your lab station. Because plaster molds, epoxy, and carbon fiber can get a bit messy when put together, it is important to have a clean station where you lay down a 2-3 foot sheet of seran wrap and secure it with tape. This ensures that your table doesn't end up covered in epoxy or plaster that is impossible to clean off.

Step 2: Create Your Phone Mold

Take a clean phone case and use a sheet of press-n-seal to create a wrinkle free lining of the inside of the case. The purpose of this is to protect your phone case from the plaster but allow for an exact mold to be created. It is important to try and get out as many bubbles and wrinkles as possible. After this, follow the plaster of paris instructions to create a plaster with a pancake-mix consistency before pouring it into the phone case. Be sure not to overflow the plaster. Leave the mold for 24 hours to completely dry.

Step 3: Remove Mold & Additional Prep

Once the mold is completely dry, remove it from the case and use a popsicle stick to smooth out corners and edges. This will ensure that the case fits well onto the phone and it shaped like a normal phone. Once that is completed, cut a piece of wax paper that leaves 1 inch of excess material around the mold. Then use masking tape to secure the was paper on the plaster mold, which ensures that the epoxy does not adhere to the plaster itself. It is important to make sure the wax paper is tightly placed around the mold. This is especially important around the corners, because the wax paper does not easily create rounded corners. It is important to make sure that the tape stays on areas of the phone where the epoxy will not directly interact with (DO: place tape on the front face, DONT: Place tape on the back or sides of the phone)

Step 4: Carbon Fiber Cutting and Prep

Now we are moving on to the actual phone-case making! The next step is to cut a piece of carbon fiber outlined in masking tape where there is enough carbon fiber to create a phone case over the edges of the mold (you want it so that the tape is where you will cut once the case it made). It is important to outline it in masking tape so that the carbon fiber does not start to unravel. Once the piece of fabric is cut, use masking tape to secure it to the mold. Take the same precautions as in the last step, where you only want to place tape on the front part of the phone, where you will end up removing later on. This is because the tape will interact with the epoxy, so you want it in locations that are not critical to the structure and strength of the phone case. The edges can be tricky to round out, but the key is to practice folding material around the phone case with wax paper first before doing it with the carbon fiber.

Step 5: Epoxy Time

Mix around 50 ml of epoxy and prepare your lab station with your wrapped phone mold, epoxy, and sponge paint brush. Be sure to wear nitrile gloves for this portion of this experiment. Dab the epoxy into the case and make sure all of the carbon fiber is wetted with the epoxy. Dry spots are a big no-no, as it creates a weakness within the case. The fibers need to be fully impregnated with the epoxy, so don't be shy with painting the epoxy on. (It will end up being really shiny when you have enough layers of the sticky epoxy covering it).

Step 6: Vacuum Bagging Your Case

This next step is critical to the success of your phone case, as it allows for it to dry while being sealed snugly against your case. Use a vacuum-sealed bag and place your phone case in it. Attached the vacuum hose and leave it under vacuum for 24 hours. After 24 hours, your phone case should be dry and beginning to resemble a phone case. It is ok if some of the excess epoxy is sucked off of the phone case, just be sure to monitor that the excess epoxy is not interfering with the pumps ability to maintain a seal.

Step 7: Finalizing Your Phone Case

It's now time to get the plaster out of your case so that you can make final touches! Use a dremel tool to cut off the portion of the case covering where your phone screen would be. This will reveal the plaster underneath that layer. Then, use a hammer and tweezers to break out the epoxy and make sure that there is no wax paper left on the inside of the phone case. Then use a different dremel head to cut out phone details such as a hole for the camera, headphone jack and charger cable. Polishing heads are important in ensuring that your phone has no frayed edges.

The last step is to coat your phone case with one final layer of thin epoxy to give it a nice shiny finish. Let the case dry for 24 hours.

Look at that, you just made a carbon fiber phone case! Clean up your lab station, and go show all of your friends what you just made!

Step 8: The Final Product!

Before being cleaned and during the final drying after the last layer of epoxy was painted on. Thanks for learning with me!