Making Micarta - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 05:09 AM Thread Starter
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Making Micarta

Okay, i know i said id stop posting knife-related stuff, but in my defense im really hoping someone sees this and decides to make a pen. Or anything really, the materials extremely versatile.

Anyway, on to the project proper! First off, explaining what the hell micarta is. Simply put, Micarta is a composite material made from layers of a substrate impregnated with a plastic resin to make a solid whole. Picture something like fiberglass. The substrate is generally cloth, however paper can also be used, as can more specialized materials like carbon fiber. Point of interest, Micarta is actually a brand name, but like kleenex has become the go-to word for the material.

Enough about that, lets get to making some. Now, here, im making a blue/black micarta from 100% cotton denim fabric. The materials:


Lined up are a half-yard of blue and black denim fabric, some fiberglass resin, some clamps, 2 pieces of mdf to use as clamping forms, some parchment paper to work on to keep from making a mess and some other odds and ends. A not on fabric choice; I like using natural fibers, as they seem to absorb the resin more easily. Denim is one of my favorites, but a lighter cloth could be used, however i wouldnt recommend a heavier fabric, as denim seems to be on the high end for resin impregnation. A secondary note, this time on the resin; Im using fiberglass resin here, as its cheap and does a good job, however epoxy would be preferable if more expensive. The epoxy would be stronger, and a clear epoxy would allow the use of lighter colors, something you cant really do with the fiberglass resin due to the deep caramel color (white would come out looking brown). Last note, you dont have to make awesome wooden clamps, but it does make the project more fun. Anyway, on to prep!

First, cut the fabric into proper sized strips:


Those are roughly 2x8, and i have enough cut up so that, stacked up, the stack rises roughly 3/8 to 1/2 inches tall. Im shooting for 1/4 inch thick at the end, and the extra height when dry will allow for some loss due to the form, as well as allowing for compression. Anyway, on to prepping the form!

Now, you could just use the mdf without any other fanciness, just tape some parchment paper to it to keep the micarta from sticking, but that leads to a somewhat plain pattern on the flat scales. I decided to add some texture so that you could more clearly see the layers in the finished project. You see what im talking about later. To get that look, you need to odd some texture to the form. I did this by wrapping some 10 gauge wire around the forms:


The form is then wrapped in parchment:


Dont skip this step, if you do you will glue your micarta to the form. Anyway, now to the fun part! The next step is to mix up the resin, saturate the fabric and stack on the form, but for obvious reasons i cant photograph that while messing with the resin, so heres the process pictured dry:

First layer placed in blue:


Second layer placed in black:


Continue alternating colors and stacking until you run out of fabric or resin, whichever comes first. Then, add the second caul and clamp:



Heres what that hould look like with the resin added and the clamps applied:


This is a very messy process. Its also a very smelly process, so be smarter than me and dont do this on your dining room table, itll stick up the house. Anyways, stacking everything up i used about 12oz of resin and had a few pieces of cloth left over. Everything was clamped and left to cure overnight. The next day, the clamps were removed and the resulting micarta was liberated from the form:


Thanks to the parchment, everything came apart fairly easily, though the resin did stick a bit to the tape. As you can see, the wire on the form left some channels, resulting in a slight loss of thickness. No big worry, as i made sure to give myself enough material to shave away to get below the grooves, at least on the show side.

The finished product:


The picture should show what i was talking about earlier. The wire pressed into the stack, forcing the layers to no longer run in a straight line from one end to the other, Without the wires, the layers would all be flat, and the only way to see the 'grain' pattern would be shaping down into the material. The way i went, the pattern still shows, even when the piece is flat.

Like i said at the beginning, i can see more uses for this stuff than just knife scales. The one that sprang to my mind doing this was making pens with it. All one would have to do would be to glue up a thicker blank and boom, awesome pen. Working the material is surprisingly easy. Its a little tough to cut, as the fibers tend to bog down saw blades, but not that much, and it responds very well to sanding (dont quite know why though). Its also a very interesting material to hold, as it still feels like denim, at least without a finish.

Anyway, thats all folks. Hope this inspires someone else to make up a batch of their own and actually make a pen with it, i really do think itd make an awesome pen. The fun part of it is just ow much you can play around with making the material. I like using denim in mine, and to make life simple i buy fresh fabric, but thats not necessary. You can really use whatever you happen to have hanging around. Old t-shirt you keep for sentimental reasons but cant wear anymore? Slice em up and make something useful. Need a gift for someone your not particularly fond of but have to give something? Make a pen with your old gym socks! Doesnt even have to be fabric, you could also use colored papers or rope, really anything that wll absorb the resin. Make it with whatever you want, then use it to make whatever you want with it. Me, i made a knife with it:


But what else is new?
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post #2 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 09:02 AM
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who said stop posting them ..?

Why would you stop posting your knife builds? They are always "worthy" ! I'm still admiring the knife you made for me and it's siting out in plain sight, so carry on........

I would how a lamination of fabric and wood would work for a knife scale..... ?

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #3 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 03:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by epicfail48 View Post
Okay, i know i said id stop posting knife-related stuff, but in my defense im really hoping someone sees this and decides to make a pen. Or anything really, the materials extremely versatile.
Man you come up with some of the coolest and most interesting things. Thanks for the tutorial, I will have to give this a try.

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post #4 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 04:41 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
Why would you stop posting your knife builds? They are always "worthy" ! I'm still admiring the knife you made for me and it's siting out in plain sight, so carry on........

I would how a lamination of fabric and wood would work for a knife scale..... ?
I figured by now I'd be trying people patience posting metalworking projects on a woodworking forum, so I've been trying to keep my various knife-related posts down. The wood/fabric hybrid is an interesting idea, funnily enough I've seen a guy dopure wood micarta using plane shavings, I've seen fabric micarta with wood inlay, but I haven't seen a hybrid of the two. Could be fun...

http://www.ibuildit.ca/other%20proje...amascus-1.html

http://www.ibuildit.ca/other%20proje...micarta-1.html

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Man you come up with some of the coolest and most interesting things. Thanks for the tutorial, I will have to give this a try.
You should definitely give it a shot, its a fun material to make and work with. I'd love to see what other people can do with it, as most often I see micarta used for knife scales. It'd be fun to see what someone else could make of it

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post #5 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 05:12 PM
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Is the strength dependent mostly on the resin used or the fabric? For instance, if you wanted to mould parts that would bear loads, would you need to steer towards stronger fabrics? Or was the denim strong enough?

Tis really pretty cool. I wonder if my wife would let me use her wedding dress..... "Reclaimed is all the rage babe..."
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post #6 of 24 Old 02-11-2016, 06:31 PM Thread Starter
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Is the strength dependent mostly on the resin used or the fabric? For instance, if you wanted to mould parts that would bear loads, would you need to steer towards stronger fabrics? Or was the denim strong enough?

Tis really pretty cool. I wonder if my wife would let me use her wedding dress..... "Reclaimed is all the rage babe..."
Using epoxy over the polyester resin would probably result in a stronger product, but I don't imagine it would be a drastic difference. I just think epoxy would work better because it tends to cure slightly harder and more ridgid, and if memory serves its marginally more chemical resistant. Epoxy also come in clear, which would be better for lighter colors. For example, I couldn't use a white fabric with the polyester resin, the color of the resin would cause the white to look brown.

I don't believe the fabric choice has much effect on the end strength, the resin is where that comes from. I just like using denim because the 'layer' effect seems to be more noticeable with thicker layers. Plus, with thicker layers you ultimately have to use less layers to get a given thickness, so the stacking goes faster. That said, I'd wager that if you used the same resin and made a batch of paper micarta and a batch of denim micarta they'd be near even in strength. They would work slightly different, but the strength would be the same

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post #7 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 12:44 AM
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Originally Posted by epicfail48 View Post
I figured by now I'd be trying people patience posting metalworking projects on a woodworking forum, so I've been trying to keep my various knife-related posts down.
I for one really enjoy your knife making tutorials, I find them always interesting, by all means please do post them.

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post #8 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 03:10 AM Thread Starter
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I for one really enjoy your knife making tutorials, I find them always interesting, by all means please do post them.
I'm always willing to do that, that's for sure. I just haven't because, like I said, I figured posting knife builds on a woodworking forum would bug someone

So, quick informal poll to the community at large, what is the acceptability of me posting these build-along/tutorials that aren't exactly woodworking related? If people don't mind, I quite enjoy making them, and I'd love to do a write-up for how I make sheaths

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post #9 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 08:49 AM
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Chris,

Great tutorial!! While I likely won't try this, it's cool to see how this was done. Honestly, whenever I see a thread started by you, I wonder what I'm about to see next. Its like opening a present...

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Last note, you dont have to make awesome wooden clamps, but it does make the project more fun.
Strangely enough, the clamps were the first thing I noticed

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So, quick informal poll to the community at large, what is the acceptability of me posting these build-along/tutorials that aren't exactly woodworking related?
Not only am I good with it, I'll go so far as to encourage this sort of behavior...
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post #10 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 09:20 AM
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On one of the knife making forums someone used a cut up Mexican blanket that had a bunch of colors. So when you shaped it each layer was different.

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post #11 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 11:07 AM
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I'm actually very impatient with your knife making updates, want to see MORE...

Very cool on making this product, I had no idea. Inspired me to look for some way to incorporate this into a future product somehow.
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post #12 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 11:58 AM
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Keep it coming Epic, I enjoy it.
I never cared much for Micarta , that comes from machining it over the years (dust everywhere and sticking to the oily ways on the machine).
This is way cool and I may have to try .
Like your scissor clamps BTW ...never have seen a wood one before .

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post #13 of 24 Old 02-12-2016, 04:04 PM Thread Starter
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http://www.ibuildit.ca/Workshop%20Pr...t-twist-1.html

Forgot to link it in the original post, that's where I got the plans for the clamps. They're really pretty fun to build, and are quite functional. Now, they don't put out quite as much strength as a solid metal c-clamp would, but they still have enough to flex a 1/2 piece of cherry by about an inch. Plus, this way I didn't fiberglass my good clamps!

Gotta say, I was not expecting people to like my knife-related builds so much, otherwise I would've been posting more ah well, at least now I can post that write-up on sheath making I've been wanting to do

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post #14 of 24 Old 02-13-2016, 10:00 AM
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"This is a very messy process. Its also a very smelly process, so be smarter than me and dont do this on your dining room table, itll stick up the house."
another Great idea
Thanks
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post #15 of 24 Old 02-13-2016, 12:23 PM
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Way less smelly if you use epoxy resin, more expensive though, but still messy.
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post #16 of 24 Old 02-21-2016, 02:25 AM Thread Starter
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Quick update on technique! A friend recently asked me about making a new pattern, one that would require the resin I used to be clear, so as not to muddle the color. Looking around, my options for a clear resin were pretty limited to epoxys, and from there i was presented with the options of shelling out $90 to get started with the West Systems stuff, or go $25 for a pack of Parks Super Glaze, the stuff thats usually used as a wood finish. Im cheap, so i went with the latter. So, without further ado, rainbow mycarta:


Turned out fairly well, given that this is something this particular resin wasnt really meant to be used for. That said though, in the future im going to bite the bullet and shell out for the West stuff. The Parks was workable, however i think its a little too thick for this, it really didnt absorb into the fabric the way i like. That complicated machining a bit, as the fabric was still rather, well, fabricy once the epoxy cured.

The other issue i had was cure time; This stuff takes forever to cure. Seriously, i had to keep it clamped up for nearly 24 hours before i felt it was soft enough. Its also extremely unforgiving in its mixing, which i found out the hard way. This batch cured up well enough, but it ended up curing rather soft. Its a little flexible, rather than the rigid block youd expect epoxy to be. I did end up realizing i was marginally off in the mixing ratios. I added maybe 10ml too little of the hardener, which im sure contributed to the problem, but still, 10ml out of an 8oz (236ml) batch shouldnt through off the texture quite this much.

Still though, its a serviceable option. Personally on the budget side, i still recommend fiberglass resin over the Parks, but if the colors of your mycarta would be adversely affected by the amber hue of the fiberglass resin, the Parks is a good, budget friendly option. Just be warned, it grinds like crap

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post #17 of 24 Old 02-21-2016, 11:25 AM
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That is totally cool epic...way to push creativity.
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post #18 of 24 Old 02-26-2016, 12:54 PM
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Life's been pretty crazy lately so I'm finally getting around to reading some of the threads I've been wanting to catch up on.

That rainbow scale is one cool looking knife. It was worth the wait...

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post #19 of 24 Old 03-06-2016, 08:30 AM
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I have an old high school buddy that makes knives. No idea if he knows about making this stuff or not all his knives he posts have some type of wood scale. I'll have to share this thread with him. Very cool.

wish I had a cool line like everyone else...
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post #20 of 24 Old 03-06-2016, 01:38 PM
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D'oh, I threw away about 10 boxes of old jeans last year! This would've been a great way to use them, although with my job in construction (grumble grumble), I have no shortage of jeans going in the garbage. I'll have to try this.

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