I WILL, I swear, never do this again: work with glass-reinforced plastic, otherwise known as fibreglass. This traumatic day in my life came about because I found an old car to play with.
I knew this was going to be a challenge, for I bought it half-restored off an old guy, who had run out of puff after he had done a heap of repair work, such as replacing a lot of the rotted wood framing of the Australian-made sedan body.
Early cars were like that; even up to the 1950s, Riley sedans still had timber framing. I had a Riley and sold this on a very wet day, after the wood swelled and it didn’t squeak anymore.
Anyway, I bought this German car, where the first job was to rebuild the engine and gearbox assembly. The old guy had told me that he had fitted a known good engine and transmission, which was right, as it had an almost-new rollerbearing crankshaft, and the gears for the crash three-speed unit, although rusty, had all their teeth. So I didn’t need a dentist.
I worked through a long list of stuff to fix, until I got to the line that said: ‘Fibreglass under the right rear wheelarch’. Easy, I thought. Both back mudguards were off and the bloke had already ’glassed the left side as well as the vertical piece on the right side to protect the wood from road rain, so I reckoned this would be a 10-minute job. I had some long-strand glass mat left over from where I had made the new front muffler, so I bought some Diggers resin, catalyst and acetone to clean up stuff after the job, thinking I knew enough about GRP to sail through this small piece of work, no problems. Hah!
The wheelarch wood was clean, so I read the instructions, which said so many drops of catalyst to so much resin, and mixed up what I thought would be enough without going overboard with the catalyst, as I didn’t want the mix to go off way too soon in the middle of the job. I protected the concrete floor of my shed with sheets of cardboard, as I knew I would spill stuff, and using a cheap-and-nasty thick-bristle paintbrush, I got into it.
Or rather, it got into me. With a loaded paintbrush, I liberally laid a thick coat of sticky resin up under the wheelarch – and over my hands and arms and up my nose, where I had scratched at an itch. I put the brush down and tried wiping the resin off my hands on a rag, but the rag stuck to my skin and simply spread more of the goop onto the bits where there hadn’t been any.
Undeterred, I picked up one of my two pre-cut pieces of glass mat, intending to lay this upside down under the wheelarch. The mat stuck to my fingers and didn’t want to know about hanging up there. Fell off in two pieces, it did, so I loaded the paintbrush, and between sloshes of resin and working with my fingers – which kept on gluing to the mat and pulling strands of glass fibres that were now adhering to my hands and knees and then my right ear – I managed to get those pieces of mat to stay where I wanted.
Picked up the second piece; more strands of mat migrated onto my hands and arms and by now I was swearing and shouting, but the neighbours know I am totally mad, so I fought the last piece into position with truckloads of resin. That wanted to fall off too, but I discovered prodding the stuff with the now fully sticky paintbrush eventually persuaded it to stay there.
The instructions on the resin tin said don’t brush but dab at the trapped air bubbles, which I did, and more strands came off with the paintbrush, which now looked like a girl’s spiky hairbrush, and my knees were stuck to the concrete in pools of dribbled-down resin.
I knew I was in trouble now. I looked like a spiny echidna with glass strands stuck all over me and my clothes – even blocking my fundamental orifice when I had sat down in a fibre-filled resin pool. I couldn’t unstick my knees without losing inches of skin and both kneecaps, but if I didn’t, I was going to be dinner for the ravenous rats that live in my shed, and probably peed on by killer feral cats as well. I had managed to attach the mat and got out most of the air bubbles, but now I had to somehow detach my knees and reach the life-saving acetone to get rid of the stuff glued all over my body.
So I shut my eyes and, expecting much pain, ripped my knees off the concrete, and there wasn’t much blood. I managed to get clean again, although my clothes are now in the bin.
But that damn stuff refused to go off, as I hadn’t added enough catalyst, so I swore some more and had a lie down. It did go off, after about a week, but I will never be tempted to use that effing glass-fibre goop again anytime soon! s