You’d expect carbon fiber—the ultra light, hard-as-steel composite—to shatter or something when you crush it with a hydraulic press. Not. At. All.
Carbon fiber almost disintegrates, the weave breaking down into what looks like a totally weak fabric, as we get to see on the fantastic Finnish hydraulic press channel:
Let’s watch those destructions again. First a tube on its side:
Then a tube on its top:
Then a piece of a driveshaft, designed to withstand twisting forces:
And finally a carbon fiber sandwich, too strong for a press, only struck by a pressed-in nut:
This kind of failure happens because carbon fiber basically is just a resin-baked fabric of carbon strands.
Anyone who’s seen a modern carbon-fiber race car crash has seen this sort of thing happen. We saw it firsthand when we went to a GP2 single seater formula race back in 2012, looking at the remnants of a carbon fiber nose cone destroyed in a crash:
The fabulously named Johnny Amadeus Cecotto Jr., son of retired Venezuelan racing driver Johnny Cecotto and winner of the previous GP2 race in Germany, a week before, crashes his Barwa Addax car into the tire wall. It’s a violent crash made disconcerting and eerie by the complete silence it happens in. It’s very real but even though we’re within walking distance of the accident site, we see it on a screen and we know nothing about Cecotto until he removes his steering wheel and emerges from the cockpit, unhurt. Later, in the paddock, I will see the remains of his car’s nose cone discarded on the floor of the Barwa Addax garage, a twisted mess of carbon fiber. When broken, you can see carbon fiber for what it really is, fabric soaked in resin, then baked in an oven. The nose cone looks like a pair of old jeans.
It’s made to be very strong in one direction, but when you get at it in a different angle, it can be totally weak, and it works to totally take all stress and then completely destroy itself, rather than deform until failure like steel. Weird, right?