Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Shadow Composites - Video Set

The three volume Shadow Composites video set presents basic and advanced fiberglassing techniques for rocketry.  I received  the videos as my DESCON 8 prize. Although I am not the most qualified reviewer in this area, I thought I would share my opinions anyway.

The three VHS videos each came packaged in a standard cardboard case and a zip-lock bag for added protection. The first video includes a printed sheet identifying some suppliers. All three videos are of good quality, with clear video and audio.

The three titles are:

  • Volume 1 - "Advanced Composite Techniques for High Power Rocketry"
  • Volume 2 - "Advanced Construction and Finishing Techniques for Composites"
  • Volume 3 - "Vacuum Bagging Techniques"

In each of the videos, Dave Triano, the president of Shadow Composites, presents the information in a clear and understandable manner. All of the information presented is in a "show and tell" format, with Dave actually using the techniques he is describing.

Volume 1 has been out for a while and there are already several reviews on this site. This video is by far the best for novices like me. He starts with descriptions of what composites really are (and what they are not), an overview of the most common materials (i.e. e-glass, s-glass, carbon fiber and Kevlar cloths), weave patterns, weights of the cloth, etc. Oh, and he stresses safety throughout, which is important because most of the materials used in composite construction can be dangerous to you and those around you. In the rest of the video, Dave builds four composite airframes using various materials (54mm glassed, 54mm carbon using heat tape, 10.5mm carbon mat, 54mm Kevlar using heat tape). Having tried fiberglassing mostly "brute force", I just couldn't believe how easy and mess-free it can be! His discussion is packed full of useful tips, several of which had me saying, "why didn't I think of that?"

Volume 2 takes the viewer through the construction of a composite-only airframe (i.e. no paper or phenolic inside), fin attachment on minimum diameter airframes, filling, and priming (ready to paint). This video has some overlap with the previous video, as it repeats the process of building a composite only airframe. However, he also demonstrates how to get various finishes using mylar, breather material, etc. This Volume will be most useful to people who really want to build an all composite, minimum diameter rocket. Although I probably won't be doing exactly what he demonstrates, I'm sure I'll use his techniques for fin attachment, coupler construction, and for easily determining if your surface is perfectly smooth, just to name a few.

Volume 3 details the vacuum bagging process. In this tape, Dave constructs three structures: a flat carbon sheet, a complex fin structure that is tapered root to tip and has beveled leading and trailing edges, and a half mold of a conical nose cone. I pretty much skimmed through this video since I currently have no plans to do any vacuum bagging. However, I found two things about this tape that bothered me. The first is that two of the demonstrations require a mold, which I don't know how to make. The second is that a method to vacuum bag tubes isn't provided. In this video, Dave states that vacuum bagging is not a good technique for tubes, and that the tape method should be used. However, Volume 1 conveys that the tape method is not applicable to larger tubes without a curing oven. This may be a fundamental limitation of the materials/techniques, but I still would have liked to have seen him vacuum bag a tube.

Finally, I want to address one statement that my wife made while I was watching the videos. She said, "gee, it sounds like he only made these videos so you will buy his products." While Dave does make use of many of the products he sells, he does point out other good products out there that can do similar things. There is nothing in the video that you could not do with competing products. I have only used one of the products he sells (SuperFil epoxy filler) and have found it to be an excellent product. In addition, Dave is helpful, his service is prompt, and he actually builds rockets with this stuff! I suspect that his motivation to make the videos may in fact be to promote the use of composites in rocketry, and help sell products, but this does NOT diminish the value of the tapes!

I feel Volume 1 is a good buy for anyone interested in doing any fiberglassing. Volume 2 also had a lot of useful tips, however, if you have Volume 1 and are an experienced modeler, you will get less out of it than from Volume 1. Finally, the third tape is not as useful for a wide audience. If I had seen the tapes in advance, I personally would still want the first two volumes to look back on as I started applying the techniques presented.

In closing, I want to extend my appreciation to Dave for supporting the DesCon with such a great prize, and to Bob Fortune for running the contest. Thank guys!

P.S. -  I'm going to have a hard time referencing these since I no longer have a reliable VHS player!