Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fiberglass: A beginner's guide, "I'm scared..." (pt1)

 --------------------------PART 1 --------------------------

   Ok, so I get the question often whether or not I am scared to work with fiberglass.  The answer: I was when I first started.  Starting to craft with stuff that can burn your skin or eyes can be very scary when you read all that crazy stuff on the back of the bottle, but now 3 projects in with the stuff and I wouldn't stop using it for anything!  Why you ask?  Because it works!  It's sturdy, lightweight and easy to paint!  Heck, this stuff is used to repair boats!  Also an important reminder.  It is rather difficult to fiberglass small, detailed pieces.  So ask yourself if you really need to fiberglass in the first place.  There are other ways of strengthening your piece.  But things that have small engraved details probably wouldn't be the best thing for fiberglass (unless you plan on doing the details in  paint).
  But enough of this jibber-jabber here is how you begin with fiberglass!

Step 0:  Safety Info:  This is obviously important for various reasons.  Please DO NOT skip this part!  First fiberglass gives off quite an odor, so you need to either work outside or a very well ventilated area.  I suggest outside.   Also, you need gloves for this, please don't try to handle, cut, or really do anything with the mat without gloves on!   You will read why further down.  Also, do not leave your fiberglass resin outside when it gets hot, it may negatively affect your resin or worse.  Do not let children around the mat or resin, mat is an irritant and resin can be toxic. 

Step 1: Knowing the materials
   There are 3 very big basic supplies: 1) fiberglass resin 2) fiberglass mat 3)GLOVES (you will thank me later)

1) Fiberglass resin:  There are a couple different types out there the two big ones are just regular fiberglass resin either made my Bondo or Elmer's (believe it or not) and some other generic brands but those are the two biggies.
I've worked with both and didn't notice much of a difference between viscosity or strength so I am sure any will do.  They also come in regular or gel, now I have not had a chance to use the gel, but then again I've never had a project that needed the gel over the regular.  You can find resin at many different places such as: Wal-mart (auto section), Home Depot, Lowe's (generally with the adhesives in the paint section), or most automotive stores.

2)  Fiberglass mat:  Believe it or not, this is a big decision.  Primarily because there are two different types of fiberglass mat:
Kitty hair
Woven Roven
   First you need to decide what your project needs, a little bit of flex or very-sturdy-hardly-any-give.  And let me emphasize the little bit of flex, there is a minuscule difference when it comes to the flex.  If you were to do two of the same prop one out of kitty hair and the other one out of woven roven, if you lined up (just in the same direction, not like tiling just all in the same direction, you would get a little bit of flex along the 'grain' lines.  The kitty hair one wouldn't flex as much.  Now before you proclaim your fiberglass mat love all to woven roven, I say that personally I like the kitty hair.  It's messier but I like that extra feeling of sturdiness.  On my samus costume I made my bottom calf pieces with kitty hair.
To get my foot into this thing it was a tight slip in, but getting out was another story.  My handler had to push inward right above the green lines with some force to get my ankle free.  Now I would be a little scared doing that with woven roven pieces.  So choose your mat accordingly!

3)  Gloves:  Ok now most people say, "well duh!  That stuff is sticky!  I don't wanna get it on my hands!"  You're right, you don't want it on your hands....or your clothes; or just any part of your skin!  The resin starts to exo-therm when it starts to set (aka, it gets hot!)  so you don't want it on your skin.  And do you want to know why they call it fiberglass  it's that is what the mat is, fibered glass.  So you don't want that stuff in your skin; trust me, I learn the gloves lesson the hard way!  Now if you happen to get some on your arm, don't panic, it's ok.  First off, don't rub it that makes it worse.  Go and wash the area off, gently in COLD water after you gently buffed that area of your skin, then come back in with some soap.  See all better now, nothing to worry about!  Just remember when you are picking up the fiberglass to go a couple aisles over and pick you up some latex gloves : )

Some other materials you will need:
  Plastic Containers: to mix your resin and resin hardener (comes with the resin).  You can either buy them or use emptied and cleaned out sour cream containers; or any other plastic food container.  Generally want it to be bigger than a butter container, ideally the size of the large sour cream containers.  Obviously can't put food in there after you have put fiberglass resin in.  However the canisters can be reused for more resin.  After the resin has FULLY cured.
  Chip brushes: I tend to use the 1/4 chip brushes, all up to personal preference.  Artist brushes DEFINITELY not recommended, and after you use the brush for one batch of fiberglass it is done.  Trash.  Can't be saved.
  Plastic Tarp:  Or a cut up trash bag.   Basically something to shield the fiberglass from whatever surface you are working on.  If you like your floor, then it wouldn't hurt to put one down there either.
  Scissors:  Ones that aren't sticky from anything like duct tape, and ones that will be dedicated to fiberglass.  Don't want to spread those fibers anywhere or contaminate anything! 

These are the basic things you will need in order to do fiberglass.  Depending on the project, it can either be either reasonable or expensive.  Either way, the outcome is fantastic, you get a light, very strong piece.  In the next part I will start explaining the process of how to apply your fiberglass!

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