Introduction: DIY Composite Layup and Vacuum Bagging - Making a Carbon Fiber RipSurf for Braille Skateboarding
A few of us at Narwhal Labs are big fans of Braille Skateboarding, and saw a video where Ricky Glaser does a few tricks and skates around on a Razor RipSurf. In the video, he challenges Razor to make a carbon fiber version of the board that he can skate harder than the original. With some support from TotalBoat, we knew we could pull it off.
In this Instructable we're going to cover how we made made this carbon fiber and maple composite ripsurf using nearly every tool at our disposal - but also walk through the process of doing a composite layup and vacuum bagging with just a few tools and supplies in even a home or hobby workspace. Check out the video for some more details, visuals and a little bit of fun! Don't forget to check out Braille's "You Make it We Skate it" video as well. We'll provide our template files if you want to make your own.
For the composite layup
- 4 Yards of 0-90 Carbon Fiber cut into 7 layers the size of our mold
- 7 Maple veneers cut to the size of our mold
- 1 4x8 sheet of 3/4 MDF - for making our mold
- 1 Roll of tuck tape or packing tape
- 2 yards of peelply/nylon release fabric cut to size for the mold
- 2 yards of breather fabric cut to size for the mold - small piece to wrap on the end of the hose
- 2 yards of vacuum bagging poly film - cut oversized for the mold
- 1 roll of vacuum bagging tape
- Approximately a 1/2-3/4 gallon of high performance epoxy resin
- Epoxy spreaders (included with epoxy - wide, thin, plastic putty knives will work fine too)
- Vacuum pump with rigid hose - must run until it's time to demold (this one is really expensive, but cheaper oiled pumps work fine)
For the RipSurf
- Circular Saw - for cutting the layup in half - DO NOT CUT ON A SAWSTOP TABLE SAW - Carbon Fiber is conductive and will trigger the blade retraction system.
- Band Saw - you will ruin your blade cutting carbon fiber, it's very abrasive, have extras
- Drill Press and appropriate drills/forstner/countersink bits
- CNC Router and some creative workholding to mill out the flex pattern in the board
- Laser cutter/engraver for engraving the bottom of the board
- Template for cutting the board out - vector provided! We used a vinyl cutter and oramask to make a template.
- 3/16 x 3" Mild steel bar stock
- 1 pair of replacement ripstik casters (easier and cheaper to buy a complete ripstik to remove parts from)
- Palm router and roundover bit
- Wipe-on polyurethane (for the maple side)
- Water based varnish (for the exposed carbon side)
Like many projects, you can make this as simple as you want to - these supplies are what we suggest for achieving professional results, but you may be able to get away with alternatives.
Step 1: Preparing a Mold for a Composite Layup
We won't be going into a lot of detail of how to make the mold/buck for this, but Andrew essentially cut layers of MDF following a template for the curve, and stacked them together. They were glued with wood glue and held in place with brad nails.
The completed form was hot glued to a sheet of melamine. You can use any non-porous surface - but non porous is essential for the vacuum bagging process. Melamine has the added bonus of not adhering to epoxy.
The mold was covered in a polypropylene "tuck" tape. You can also use common packaging tape. This type of tape releases easily from the epoxy we'll be using to glue up the layup.
Step 2: Preparing Materials for the Composite Layup - Mis En Place
Composite layups are time sensitive - you're working against the pot life and working time of your epoxy resin. We recommend having all materials prepared before you begin the layup. It helps you stay organized, and lets the layup go smoother.
Composite/layup materials - We're doing a 14 layer layup with 7 layers of maple veneer and 7 layers of 0-90 carbon fiber. Cut to the size needed for your mold.
Nylon release fabric, known by the trade name peel ply, is a synthetic, porous nylon fabric that is use to remove excess epoxy from a composite layup. Cut one sheet of this to the size of your mold.
Breather fabric is essentially a sheet of breathable polyester fill used to allow the vacuum pump to pull air from all areas of the layup. Cut a sheet of this to the size of your mold. Cut a small strip to wrap around the end of your vacuum hose.
Vacuum bag poly sheet is an airtight film that pulls down tight under vacuum to form our final layup. Cut this large enough to completely cover the mold to be adhered to the base material your mold is attached to - in our case a sheet of melamine.
Vacuum Bagging Tape - this tape is used to seal our vacuum bag to the base our mold is sitting on. You'll need about a half roll of this for this layup.
Mixing cups/pails and stirrers - Paint pots for mixing epoxy will be needed for dispensing and mixing epoxy.
Epoxy Resin - a High Performance Epoxy Resin is used to wet out and hold our layup together. We used TotalBoat High Performance Epoxy with Slow Hardener. Unlike traditional 5:1 epoxy systems, high performance epoxy is crystal clear, non-blushing, and slightly more flexible than traditional systems when fully cured. It's also low VOC. We prefer to measure it by weight when doing larger layups like this. Check the tech data sheet for the epoxy system you're using for the ratio by weight - it's usually different than the ratio by volume. Make sure to wear gloves when working with epoxy. Long term skin contact with epoxy can develop an allergy.
A buddy - It's helpful to have a second person dispensing and mixing epoxy during the layup.
Optional - a larger bucket with ice for your smaller mixed epoxy bucket, and a cup to dispense it from. Keeping mixed epoxy on ice can drastically slow the curing process and buy you some additional working time - but it's important to make sure no water content comes in contact with the epoxy. It will inhibit curing.
Step 3: The Layup
In our case, the first layer to go down will be the bottom of the board. We want the bottom of the board to be maple, so we laid down a maple veneer.
Pour some mixed epoxy in the middle, and use the spreaders to get a nice even layer over the first veneer.
Lay the carbon fiber down and position it. Pour more epoxy into the middle and work outwards. This is important to work out any air bubbles or wrinkles in the carbon fiber. Too much epoxy is better than not enough - it's better to have a mess to clean up than have a weak layup. Our release fabric will make sure there isn't too much in the final layup.
Be sure to trim any strands of carbon fiber from the edges. We don't want them interfering with the vacuum process.
Having a friend to help dispense and mix epoxy as you go, and help with placement of each layer is optional but highly recommended.
Repeat this process until you've completed all layers.
Step 4: Vacuum Bagging the Project
With the layup complete, it's time to get our vacuum bagging done.
Place a strip of vacuum bag tape around the base of the mold as we show in the photos, and make sure to press together the corners. Wrap some around the vacuum hose - it'll form an air-tight gasket for the hose. Leave the backing on the tape until you're ready to put your vacuum film on.
Lay the release fabric on top of the layup, and if you have one, use an epoxy roller to flatten it out. If you don't have one, a chip brush and plastic spreader can help massage out any wrinkles.
Lay the breather fabric on top of the release fabric.
Peel the backer off of the vacuum bag tape.
Place the vacuum bag film over the whole project. Press it into the gummy vacuum bag tape. Be sure to insert the vacuum hose (with some breather fabric wrapped around the end of the hose) before fully pressing down the film.
Once the poly film is pressed in place, turn on the vacuum pump. Start listening for leaks, and work around the project pushing the vacuum bag tape and poly film until you stop hearing them and the vacuum gauge shows the vacuum being pulled. This does take a few minutes - there's lots of air to remove here.
Wait until the epoxy and layup is cured and ready to demold. Shut off the vacuum pump and remove the poly film. It'll be a little difficult, but work at the release fabric until you get a good grip on it. Peel it off of the mold and remove your layup.
Continue on if you're interested in making your own ripsurf or skate deck - otherwise this concludes the layup and vacuum bagging process! Thanks for following along.
Step 5: Cutting Out the Skate Deck and Flex Pattern
Important notes: Carbon dust is not good for you, and a particulate mask and good dust extraction is highly recommended. Additionally carbon fiber is conductive - it will trigger a sawstop blade to retract, and if the dust gets into motors it can cause shorts in the motors windings. Lastly, carbon fiber is very abrasive - you should expect to need to replace or sharpen any blades and drill bits used on it.
We cut the layup down into two deck blanks with a circular saw. Take a look at that cross section!!!
A template was made on one of our vinyl cutters out of oracal oramask, but paper and scissors will do just fine too.
Following the template, we began to work the board on the band saw to cut out the profile of it. A jig saw and drill press with a forstner bit was used to cut the side relief cuts in the board. These cuts help induce some flexibility in the ripsurf.
After several iterations, we figured out a pattern to mill into the board to induce the right amount of flex. This can be done all the same with a palm router, but the CNC allowed us to iterate a little more easily.
A palm router with a roundover bit put the profile we needed on the edge of the board.
We're going to include our vector files for the board itself, and the flex pattern here in Fusion 360 compatible formats.
Step 6: Making the Trucks
The trucks were a challenge, and this is a part we don't expect most people to follow along with. The geometry of the trucks and casters is crucial to the functionality of the board.
We started by cutting apart a Razor RipStik and bolting the plastic caster mounts to the board and this worked great functionally, but not visually. For those following along at home though - this is the easiest and most robust way to add caster mounts gto the board.
We were going to make a set of matching carbon and maple trucks - but after doing all the work of another layup and glue up of composite blocks, we decided they would be far too heavy for serious skating.
We settled on steel trucks. We made a paper template, cut to shape, and drilled the appropriate holes to mount to our board. We scored the bends with a cut off disc, bent, and back filled with TIG welding. We used a bench grinder and wire wheel to clean it up. Some paste wax helps prevent rusting on this mild steel.
These are sufficient for regular skating, but you may experience some bending with heavy use and tricks.
Step 7: Graphics, Finish and Assembly
Graphics are of course optional - but Ricky Glaser of Braille specifically requested "ILIKESSSRIP" to be on the bottom of the board, and we put both of our logos on it as well. We used our CO2 laser cutter and engraver for this, but you could do something as simple as a toner transfer to get your graphics on the bottom of your deck. After engraving, a quick kiss with some 320 hand sanding and it was ready for finish.
We applied 3 coats of oil based wipe-on polyurethane on the bottom of the deck.
For the carbon fiber side, we finished it with TotalBoat Halcyon clear gloss varnish - just one coat, and just enough to bring out the carbon fiber's appearance. It was dry in about an hour, and we did put some grip tape patches on top so it would be grippy enough without hiding all that pretty carbon. Be sure to check out our video and Braille's - we're both giving away one of these boards.
Thanks for following along! We'd love to see what you make with the takeaways from this project.
Check out Andrew Riding the ripsurf below!
Runner Up in the
Anything Goes Contest