Material Monday - Carbon Fiber
Material Monday – Carbon Fiber
Takeaways, for those not into reading:
Carbon Fiber is shorthand for carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP)
Materially, it is most similar to Micarta
10x Strength of steel
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (or Carbon Fiber for short) is probably one of the most beautiful materials used in EDC. That beauty, however, can make people forget that it is also one of the highest strength to weight materials in the world. The process of creating carbon fiber is a lot like our past polymer example: Micarta. It is a fabric that is impregnated with resin and then cured at high heat to create the final product. The main difference is the strength of the initial material. Where Micarta begins as a natural fiber material, Carbon Fiber begins as an engineered micro filament. This micro-filament is then twisted into a thread that can be woven. The final look of the material is based on the application. The most common example of carbon fiber is 1:1 woven. This creates a super aesthetically pleasing cross hatch pattern that most associate with carbon fiber. In addition to woven patterns, there are uni-directional carbon fibers (aligned along the axis that requires the load strength) or even forged carbon (carbon fiber shreds are pushed into a mold in a random pattern and resinated).
The creation of carbon fiber occurred along a similar timeline to Micarta but did not really take hold until the base material made serious strides in the 1960s. It was so expensive (and remains so, relative to other materials) that one of its first application was Aerospace. It then trickled down into industries like automotive racing, where the difference between winning and losing could be grams. The exposed carbon fiber pieces on racecars gave quite a few of us our first look at carbon fiber. As production increased, carbon fiber began to be seen in more and more places, and became an aesthetic choice (in addition to a functional one). Today, Carbon Fiber is both the beauty and the beast of the material world.