Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to blow all your money on Strippers (and a short review on one)

This is an actual photo from my garage. Ok...my garage isn't nearly that neat.
Or nice... actually it's nothing like my garage. Awkward.
Sanding... sanding... sanding. It seems like all I've been getting done the last little bit is sanding. My CR-1 is being extremely disagreeable with the carbo-lift I've been using (Scott is serious business when it comes to layering white paint and clearcoat!) and the newest addition to the stable, (my CAAD-8) while much easier to strip to the bones, has quickly become yet another money sink (really guys... this is my budget build!) after you start factoring in $10 spray cans of stripper and $3-$5 sanding blocks. All that whining aside I suppose I am making some considerable headway on both fronts. The CAAD is already naked and waiting for some primer, and I've got the front 1/3 of the CR-1 down to the carbon. (mostly) There's still a lion's share of work to do on the CAAD, and probably months of work left on the Scott, but hey, that's why they are winter projects...right!?

Before getting nekkid!

Now, on to a little review on the only stripper designed for composites (that is, you can use this on your carbon parts and not destroy them in the process!)

CARBOLIFT - the review

Al Gore might even approve of this stuff!
Well, I've spent enough time playing with this stuff that I feel I can give a fairly in depth review of it.
First, check out the website here, and the video of it working here. That should give you a quick intro to what we're talking about.

Getting the paint off of a carbon bike can be a massive pain. Aluminum and Steel are so much easier as you can basically head down to the local Advance Auto and get a couple of spray cans to strip it bare. When we start talking about carbon life gets a bit more complex though. Most paint strippers are harmful to the epoxy (what holds the bike together) so you can't take off the paint without compromising the structural integrity of the bike.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why would I want to take that sweet paintjob off of my $2k+ road machine? Well, there are plenty of good justifications reasons, but mine was pretty much because...well... I love to try new things. After doing some pretty heavy (for me) research, I discovered that I needed to get my hands on some Carbolift if I was going to save myself the misery of having to sand the frame down by hand. (and I wasn't extremely comfortable sanding with a lower grit paper - what you really want to get the paint coming off - on CF) So begins my experience with Carbolift.

Problem 1: If you did some exploring on the carbolift website, you probably noticed that the link to actually BUY the stuff didn't work. Well... it hasn't in quite some time. Now far be it from me to judge anyone's business model, but let me present exhibit A.

You just can't sell out of one...

After my e-mail inquiry went unanswered I decided to try to find some of the stuff from a second hand source. Fortunately a nice shop in Canada had a few 500ml jugs. After waiting forever for customs to clear it, I was ready to start wiping paint off my bike!

Problem 2: Now, if you watched the linked video as well, you are probably thinking to yourself the same thing I was thinking... "Man, this stuff works just like metal paint stripper! Awesome!" Well, the bike they used in the video was either *very* generous or very poorly painted to begin with. The first coat I administered did just about a hair over nothing. Following the sparse instructions, I slathered the goo (I won't tell you what I think it looks exactly like... but it rhymes with gum.) onto the frame, waited 15 minutes, re-applied, wrapped it in shrink wrap, and waited an hour.

Imagine my dismay when, after making a mess getting the goo off the frame, I was left with basically the same amount of paint and just a little less clear coat... Sigh. After tracking down some fellows who had used the stuff before (to positive ends) I was told to leave it on considerably (20ish hours) longer, with heat if possible. I was also probably being a little bit generous with the amount I was slathering on... there's no need to be shy when you are applying this stuff... you'll waste a lot less by going overboard than you will by using too little and then having to start over. It also won't hurt to knock out a layer or 2 of finish/paint with some sanding blocks... it would have made my experience go by much faster if I had started with sandpaper.

Finally... we were making headway. The head tube was almost totally cleared off and I could see all the carbony goodness beneath. I couldn't wait until I got down to the beautiful weaves on the tubes.

Problem 3: Except, that's not how it works. Naked carbon frames (just cleared over the weave) aren't actually "naked" in the way you (or at least I) would have thought. After finishing the structural carbon/epoxy, a final layer of "cosmetic" weave carbon is put over the top to give it that nice pretty look. The real thing (that they paint over) isn't exactly "ugly," but it doesn't have the weave patterns that are commonly seen & looked for. That ended up being my biggest problem, as now I am in the scenario of either needing to re-paint the Scott or add a layer of cosmetic carbon myself... but I digress, my incompetence has nothing to do with carbolift.

So, what have I learned, and what advice would I give. If I could go back and start over, this is how I would have done it.

Step 1: Strip the bike all the way down of components (should be a no brainer but worth repeating)
Step 2: Start sanding on the frame/fork with a medium(ish) sanding block (no power tools) all you are really wanting to do is knock out a layer or two to cut the carbolift a break.
Step 3: Apply the carbolift generously (seriously, lather it on thick) to a specific part of the bike (start with a chainstay maybe)
Step 4: Wrap with kitchen cling wrap.
Step 5: Wait for at least 12 hours, probably closer to 20
Step 6: Unwrap (you should see some paint bubbling) and use a sponge/paint remover/towel to get the carbolift/flaking paint off.

- Now you probably see that the carbolift didn't just remove everything. That's ok depending on how far you want to go with removing the old paint... personally I want to save all the grams I can (and I'm a bit obsessive) so I wanted it all gone. Follow on then.

Step 7: Get a plastic spatula that's pretty sturdy and start scraping away the leftovers. The carbolift should have softened the paint enough that it rolls off, and a plastic spatula makes it tough to "dig" in too deep.

Repeat until the bike is stripped down to satisfactory levels. (I'll update with getting it back up to looking nice in the future.)

So, what do I think of carbolift?
Well, it's no miracle solution, but it doesn't exactly claim to be either. It's a safe paint stripper for composites, (and also safe for the environment) so you can't expect it to just melt paint off like some of the metal ones (which will also handily strip the skin off of your arm if you aren't wearing gloves) do... but it also won't melt your epoxy (which is a good great thing!)

It will save you some time and is "safer" than just grinding down into the carbon with sandpaper. Of course it's not without risks, but then... we are talking about stripping paint off a carbon frame.

So, A+ in my book.
If only I had got a few more of these in paragraph structure.
Until next time.
-Christopher Morelock


  1. This was very helpful. I just received my CarboLift yesterday and am about to start on a Felt DA this weekend. Thanks!

    1. Hey, glad you thought so!

      Use WAYYY more than you think looks right (should look like Slimer from Ghostbusters just flew through the bike) and it shoudl work great!

    2. Sanded, coated, and now waiting. I definitely caked it on and I looked to be working almost instantly. I resisted the urge to start wiping it away and I'll wait until tomorrow afternoon. I'll keep you posted.

      I haven't read through all your site yet, but did you ever finish the Scott?

    3. Hey,

      Yes and no. The Scott has been back together, I've ridden it a couple of times, but I have yet to take it back apart and paint it.

      As it turns out I'm terribly apathetic when it comes to this stuff :)

      Hope the removal is going well.