How To: Composite furniture that’s ahead of the curve
For decades, carbon fibre has been used purely for its lightweight properties, hidden away under the skin of the world’s fastest yachts – but not anymore. Furniture-maker Nicholas Spens puts the black check fabric centre stage in his sinuous, state-of-the-art designs and he trusts PRO-SET® epoxy to add a brilliant and robust finish.
“Under the glossy epoxy and varnish, the carbon seems to move.”
“There’s something really special about the look of carbon fibre furniture. Under the glossy epoxy and varnish, the carbon seems to move; it has this 3D effect as you walk around it,” says furniture-maker Nicholas Spens.
Nicholas’s designs are truly cutting-edge. Blending carbon fibre matting with epoxy and materials such as wood and copper, he creates fluid pieces that are moulded to beautiful, ergonomic shapes. “I’d say the main reason I’m commissioned to produce pieces is for their aesthetics,” he says – and it’s easy to see why. Nicholas’s eye-catching designs have been commissioned by clients worldwide, including one for Sir James Dyson.
In some instances, however, the weight of the carbon fibre is also important. “At the moment, I’m working with interior designers in Florida to build a dining room table for a catamaran saloon,” explains Nicholas. “The table must be super light so that the boat travels fast.”
A background in boats
Given the materials he works with, it’s not surprising that Nicholas’s background is in boat construction. Following a summer placement at a prominent boatyard, Nicholas left college early and went to work there full-time, building luxury racing yachts and composite components. “It was a great opportunity. I was ahead of my time, working with some of the latest boatbuilding techniques and materials: epoxy, carbon fibre, ovens and vacuum bagging,” he says.
It’s these same methods that Nicholas uses today for furniture construction. To start, he typically makes a plywood or MDF mould which is laminated, painted and finished. After this, he follows the same process as any boat builder would use. “I’ll wax the mould and then cut the carbon I need for the job, which I lay up and laminate using epoxy.”
Nicholas prefers to use a three-layer composite with a foam core, vacuum-bagging each layer so it’s ultra-smooth. “In the world of composites, I suppose my methods are quite traditional,” he smiles.
Ensuring a flawless finish
Of course, leaving the carbon on show does present challenges that your typical boat builder won’t have to deal with. For one thing, the carbon sheathing has to sit perfectly straight for a flawless finish. “That’s basically a case of years of practice!” Nicholas smiles.
It’s also important that the epoxy is nice and clear – which is partly why Nicholas uses PRO-SET LAM epoxy. “Most of my products are clear-coated. Quite a lot of the hardeners develop a yellow tinge when cured but PRO-SET LAM epoxy cures very clear,” he explains. “This is very important for a high- end finish.”
“I’ve genuinely not found another epoxy that’s as good.”
Nicholas also appreciates the viscosity of PRO-SET epoxy when working in cool temperatures and its low toxicity. “I’ve worked with WSI products for 22 years. For my furniture business I have predominantly stuck with PRO-SET epoxy, because I’ve genuinely not found another epoxy that’s as good.”
To discover more about Nicholas and his designs, visit nicholasspens.co.uk.
To find out more about non-marine applications for WEST SYSTEM epoxy, contact us.