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Gelcoat is a material used to provide a high-quality finish on the visible surface of a fibre-reinforced composite material. The most common gelcoats are based on epoxy or unsaturated polyester resin chemistry. Gelcoats are modified resins which are applied to moulds in the liquid state. They are cured to form crosslinked polymers and are subsequently backed with composite polymer matrices, often mixtures of polyester resin and fiberglass or epoxy resin with glass.
The manufactured component, when sufficiently cured and removed from the mold, presents the gelcoated surface. This is usually pigmented to provide a coloured, glossy surface which improves the aesthetic appearance of the article, such as a counter made with cultured marble.
Many marine craft and aircraft are manufactured using composite materials with an outer layer of gelcoat, typically 0.5 mm to 0.8 mm (0.02 in to 0.03 in) thick. Gelcoats are designed to be durable, providing resistance to ultraviolet degradation and hydrolysis.
Specialized gelcoats can be used to manufacture the moulds which in turn are used to manufacture components. These require very high levels of durability to overcome the mechanical and thermal stresses encountered during the curing and demoulding processes.
Suitable resin chemistries for the manufacture of gelcoats vary, but the most commonly encountered are unsaturated polyesters or epoxies. Within each of these categories, the resin chemistries are further subdivided.
In addition to any pigment a gelcoat will, if necessary, contain a thixotropic additive to assist its tenacity to vertical portions of the mould whilst it cures.
It is possible to repair scratches, chips, cracks and worn areas of gelcoat fairly easily. Firstly, any loose parts should be chipped away, and then the area to be repaired should be abraded with sandpaper (150-220 grit). Next, topcoat should be applied to the area after mixing with catalyst to start the curing process. Once cured, the topcoat is sanded down to blend it with the original gelcoat, and then polished to restore its shine. Repair materials and further DIY instructions are available by searching online. For general consumers the products needed are found at Marine or RV supply stores rather than Automotive- even though a few rare vehicles will have a gel coat finish.
- Gelcoat Repairs, CFS Fibreglass.