The best way to avoid mistakes when using epoxy

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David Johnson urges people new to epoxy to attend WSI’s Epoxy Workshop  course. Or, at the very least, to read the manual.

If you ever read a technical computer forum you may have seen the acronym ‘RTM!’ being used to pass comment on people who have asked a particularly basic question. It stands for ‘Read The Manual!’ (and, yes, there is a ‘RTFM’ variation).

We all know this particular trait. I know, for example, that I wouldn’t dream of reading the manual when I get a new mobile phone or a new computer. It’s not what many of us do any more. If something doesn’t work – instantly and intuitively – we’re probably more likely to assume it’s broken than to read the manual and find out just how basic our user error has been.

So it’s not surprising that when many people start to work with epoxy they assume that, in a similar way, it will ‘just work’.

Regularly, more often than not on a Monday morning, we receive a call to our technical department at West System International from a customer who has made some basic errors in using epoxy – from mixing epoxy at an incorrect ratio, to not adding enough filler.  We have heard all sorts of stories and we pride ourselves in being able to talk through these issues with the customer in a sympathetic manner and identify exactly what went wrong and how to rectify the problem.

On one occasion we even had a customer call, who had  mixed an entire 6 kg blend of epoxy resin and hardener into a bucket and wondered why it started to smoke five or so minutes later! 

If only they had called us first or read the manual, they would have known that you should mix small amounts of epoxy together and to avoid larger amounts precisely because the exothermic reaction is not only dangerous but will greatly shorten the overall pot life. The advice would have been to mix less than 300 grams of the mix in a mixing pot and then transfer the mixed epoxy into a paint roller tray or something similar to give a forty to fifty minutes working time.

Another classic Monday morning problem is that somebody didn’t buy the appropriate mixing pumps to go with their epoxy product. Consequently they guessed the mix ratios and sadly, guessed incorrectly. One customer had bought pumps but didn’t realise the pumps were already calibrated, so that a single press of the resin pump and a single press of the hardener pump would automatically give him a correct 5 to 1 mix ratio. Unaware of this, he used 5 pumps of resin to 1 pump of hardener, which in fact gave him a wildly wrong 25 to 1 mix, which wouldn’t have cured in a million years.

These problems and others like them are very simple to avoid by reading the manual, reading magazines (including this one) and watching YouTube videos. But I think it’s also true that when you’re looking for practical experience and guidance nothing beats having somebody with real experience standing by you giving you personalised help, advice and encouragement.

That’s why, for several decades now, we’ve been running our highly popular introduction to using WEST SYSTEM® epoxy. It’s a one day workshop for boat owners wanting to gain expert knowledge and hands-on experience of using WEST SYSTEM epoxy to construct, repair and maintain their own boats.

Most of the people who come on the course are first time users of the products. They’re typically either boat owners, or have acquired a set of plans for a boat they want to build, or they’re thinking of buying a boat which clearly needs some remedial work done on it. I would say that 80% of the people who attend will be working with glass fibre whilst the rest will be planning to build or restore wooden craft.

Of course I’m biased but I think the workshop is genuinely fantastic value. It costs £155 and for that you get to learn a lot of the techniques that you will use in all epoxy projects, you get to build a wooden epoxy caddy that you can take home and in addition you get £50 worth of products, including a WEST SYSTEM ‘A Pack’, composite materials and pumps.

But more than that, I know that people leave the course with something that’s very hard to get from reading a manual – and that’s confidence. People are inspired about what they’re going to do next and they’re clearly confident about going away and experimenting further.

I would say that if you’re new to epoxy please, please read the manual.  Or call our technical department – we know how best to use our products in your project.  We have skilled technicians who can answer just about any question, and if we can’t, we will know someone who can. 

But if you want to greatly accelerate the learning curve and hopefully have fun too, then why not come on one of our courses?

David Johnson is Technical Products Manager at West System International.  Our next workshop for those wishing to gain expert knowledge and hands-on experience of using WEST SYSTEM epoxy to construct, repair and maintain their own boats, is being run on 29th January 2015. The one-day course costs £155 and includes a light buffet lunch, over £50 of WEST SYSTEM epoxy products and the wooden toolbox you’ll make on the day. To find out more, read this epoxycraft post, or call 01794 521111 to book your place.

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