MAX Update No. 54: Mistakes, and How Not to Make Them

Reader Contribution by Staff
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I bet you think I’ve got this all figured out. Hah! I’ve been doing my problem solving on the fly, coming up with new techniques and learning from my mistakes, and boy! Have I been learning a lot, or what?

Since I don’t really mind folks laughing at me, I’m going to share a couple of recent mistakes with you.

I spent way too much time trying to get the hood working, but eventually I threw in the towel and went back to a one-piece nose. To hold the hood between the fenders while fiberglassing the parts back together, I came up with this cool system, of making strips of stiff clear plastic and riveting everything in place through the plastic, with a row of rivets in the hood, adjacent to a row of rivets in each fender. By using aluminum rivets, I could drill them out once the bonding was complete, and then just fill in the rivet holes. Aluminum is softer than the fiberglass reinforced plastics we commonly call “fiberglass” so I knew getting rid of the rivets would be easy.

The bonding back to a one piece nose went great, and the finishing went great except for the rivet removal part, which is when I discovered I’d grabbed a box of stainless steel rivets instead of aluminum rivets.

What’s the difference? Not much to look at, they’re both shiny, but aluminum drills like cheddar cheese and stainless steel drills like kryptonite. The plastic came off easily enough, since trying to drill the rivets got them hot enough to melt plastic, and then a little hotter and they broke loose of the fiberglass and started spinning. I struggled for about two hours before I gave up and ground them off with an angle grinder.

The moral is: measure twice, cut once. Five seconds of reading the box would have saved five hours of work (the three I’ve spent, plus the two I’ll spend prettying up the grinder marks).

And now for a composite blunder. MAX needs headlight buckets for the new body, something I can bolt into the fiberglass. They need to be adjustable (duh) and they need to be in two parts so I can replace the bulb when needed (double-duh).

They’re called ‘buckets’ because they look like buckets, and I found these five quart polyethylene buckets that seemed perfect for molding fiberglass reinforced epoxy shells around — just the right size, plus I wouldn’t have to do any preparation to them, since epoxy doesn’t stick to polyethylene. Neither does polyester resin. In fact, neither does anything I know of, and if anybody came up with something that stuck to polyethylene, what would be the point? What would it be good for?

The answer is, it would be good for painting logos and fill-to lines on polyethylene buckets. And guess what else this magical polyethylene paint can stick to? That’s right, epoxy resin.

Here’s what the failed attempt came out like, after I tried to remove it from the bucket. Man, that stuff really sticks. I guess the moral to this story is, don’t go inventing new techniques two weeks before a competition event. I’m sure I’ll figure something out, since I don’t want to drive across the country with stickers instead of headlights, like some economy model of Lightning McQueen.

Photos by Jack McCornack