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working with cuben fiber
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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
working with cuben fiber on 12/16/2013 21:59:32 MST Print View

For a normal fabric like silnylon, if you want to hem it, you can fold over a half-inch from one edge and then pin it or iron it into place until you can sew it. For some weird items, I've used masking tape to hold pieces in place.

I'm thinking that cuben fiber is not as easy as this. For one thing, you may not want to be pinning it. Ironing it, I'm not sure about either. First, I don't know if that would do it any good. Second, the heat might melt the cuben surface, and that isn't good. I don't know, would ironing it with a cool iron do any good?

It seems to matter most what the weight of the cuben is. It seems like the skimpy stuff like .33 ounce or .51 ounce per square yard is awfully fragile. On the other hand, the stuff that is 1.5 ounce or more per square yard seems to be overly durable and stiff.

Cuben fiber tape seems like a novel approach, and it appeals to us who have limited sewing skills. There is single sided tape with a mylar backing, and there is double sided tape with a mylar center. I wonder how bad normal transparent tape would be.

Has anybody been down this road?

Where is Bill Fornshell when we need him? It takes me only a few days to read his good MYOG postings.


Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Cuben on 12/17/2013 05:55:49 MST Print View

Preparing to hem cuben is easy. Fold over 1/2" and run your finger over it to make a crease. Done. Then sew if that's your fancy.

The .51oz stuff has been durable enough for tarps and shelters. Assuming ~3,000 miles qualifies as durable. Some people want more time from a shelter & that's fine. This is the weight Zpacks uses in their Hexamids, etc. Probably not durable for much else, same with .75oz.


Edited by ViolentGreen on 12/17/2013 05:57:35 MST.

James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
Hem on 12/17/2013 07:33:31 MST Print View

You can certainly cuben with 3M tape as well. It's a little trickier (stickier) than sewing and will cost and weigh more when you are finished. I've done it both ways and came to the conclusion that sewing is much nicer.

I find the .51 oz stuff great for tarps and stuff sacks for clothing. The heavier 1.43 I use for food bags and 1 ounce for ground cloths. The only failure I have had with cuben was with the WPB rain mitts that I made. I shredded them on a bear cable. That is probably my fault though. The rest of the stuff Made it the length of the AT and is still going. Most of it was in use before that hike as well.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Re: working with cuben fiber on 12/17/2013 14:03:57 MST Print View

Hi BG,

It sounds like you have read some or many of my old threads.

I don't know if you were able to find the Cuben Fiber - Q&A thread but here is the link. It may be outdated for todays use.

I never found it necessary to hem the edge of anything I made using Cuben Fiber. I did fold seams when it was necessary to sew two pieces together such as the pieces of a pack bag, sleeping bags, quilt seams etc.

When I was more active and SEWING different things out of Cuben I used mostly the lightest Cuben I could buy. I had a few different weights and used what I thought necessary but still went with the lighter weights most of the time.

I must note that most of my hiking was on maintained trail systems.

Fragile is in the eye of the beholder. With lightweight fabrics you need to use a degree of care when using them.

I had my Cuben Hammock and Cuben Tarp set up near a shelter on the GA part of the AT one evening. A family was also staying at the shelter. They had 2 boys playing with a Frisbee. One of the boys threw the Frisbee toward my hanging hammock, the other boy ran, at speed, into the end of the hanging tarp. The next part was almost funny to watch as the father and I watched the boy hit the tarp and bounce back and land on his butt. The father and I walked to the tarp, the father was saying how sorry he was and expected to see a lot of damage to the tarp. The Cuben Tarp (made from some .47 ounce per square material) suffered only a small 3/4" tear. I put a piece of tape on it and now 7 years later I still use it with no additional damage.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: working with cuben fiber on 12/17/2013 14:19:18 MST Print View

Bill, it is good to hear that you are still alive and kicking.

I had read most of your postings about cuben from the 2006 time frame. However, cuben seems to be heading slightly more mainstream now. So, your early pioneering work was an inspiration to those folks who are trying to commercialize it today.

So far, my use of cuben fiber is limited. The commercial products that I have purchased are either too heavy (too thick) or else too flimsy (too light). That's why I have to experiment with different weights of it to find out what really makes sense and why.

If we divide up the spectrum of cuben materials, let's say that everything thinner than 1 ounce per square yard is thin stuff, and everything thicker than 1 ounce per square yard is thick stuff. From what I gather, the thick stuff needs to be joined by sewing it first, and then taping over it. The thin stuff needs to be taped only. You've made the exception since you sewed the thin stuff. I had heard rumors that thin stuff, when sewn, tends to fail at the needle holes. Maybe you beat this in some fashion.

So far, since I am just experimenting, I can buy a couple of yards of cuben at retail prices. It would be nice to buy longer amounts of it at cheaper prices.


Steve B
(geokite) - F

Locale: Southern California
Tape on 12/18/2013 16:20:42 MST Print View

Because cuben holds a fold so well, I just fold over the hem and then come back with some double sided tape (3M 9460) and apply it to either side of the fold, then take the backing off and finish the fold over.

Or, apply the tape right on the edge and fold to get the crease. Then take the backing off and finish the fold over.

This is what I did for the edges of my tarp But I have a supply of 1/4" wide 9460 tape (no longer available as far as I know, as Hang-em high fabrics is gone). You might have to have 1/2" wide hems, as that is the smallest available width that I have seen.

The 3M 9460 tape does not have a center material. It is pure adhesive (once the backing is off). If you make a mistake, the adhesive can be rolled up into a ball off your material. As my linked post describes, I have used the tape that zpacks sells and the 9460 tape did not have as much creep under load (compared to the zpacks tape), and is not as tacky (is easier to work with). Until something better comes along (or is discovered), I would not use any other adhesive.

For what-ever I build with cuben, I design it to be be built with tape, but sometimes stiches just have to be done. I made a cuben water proof bag for my sleeping bag, just like the design in Ray Jardine's book (twist the extension collar and tuck into the cinch). But the channel for the drawstring cord ripped though; the cuben could not stand the pressure of the drawcord. So I did have to stitch a new channel out of nylon onto the ripped cuben channel. This has lasted for a couple of years now. I can post a picture of this if anyone is interested.


Sam Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
Thank you, Bob on 12/18/2013 18:10:37 MST Print View

It is refreshing that you thought to start a thread on MYOG about this. It is good to hear experiences with Cuben gear on the GEAR forum, but working with it to make stuff is another matter entirely. I'm looking forward to hear what people have to say, especially if it is new.

My biggest puzzle with the GEAR threads was that some report failures, and others say it's just peachy, and for thousands of miles. Since we live on the same planet, they both can't be right.

Over the years, I've acquired Cuben from a number of different sources, enough to know that its composition varies and behaves differently. It is not all the same. Some I acquired directly from the manufacturer was mislabeled, and was something quite different than what came form Quest, which in turn was quite different from what came from Zpacks, which in turn was quite different from what came later from Zpacks. When I say behaves differently, I'm talking about holding stitching, and what happens when you stress it after using various adhesives.

OK, the reason I have a bunch of it lying around is I'm just not confident with it, and am never sure what it consists of. Could go into the reasons, but people have made their decisions by now and that's not what this thread is about. Bottom line, an idiot knows that something more flimsy than a cigarette package wrapper won't hold stitches, and if you can bond it, it will tear into tatters when the bond is stressed.
That leaves the unwoven threads to do the heavy lifting. Since when did unwoven threads of anything do heavy lifting? The material would be great if its typology were reliably standardized, and the fibers were formed into a woven thread; that is, a fabric. Maybe someone will do it, and revolutionize the industry.

Edited by scfhome on 12/18/2013 18:13:36 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
.74 cuben on 12/18/2013 19:24:41 MST Print View

I have found the .74 cuben to be the perfect balance of weight and durability. I had no issue taping it, in fact it was surprisingly easy. My last project was a shelter and I sewed the zipper on, a first for me and it was also surprisingly easy. Just don't try sewing through tape. It will be a sticky mess.

James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
sewing through the tape on 12/18/2013 20:18:13 MST Print View

If you do decide to sew through the tape there are ways to make it a little less painful. I used tape for the reinforcements and sewed on tie outs. I used Pam cooking spray on the needle (sprayed it into a bowl and applied it with my fingers). between this and occasionally cleaning the needle with Denatured alcohol I had no problems. I wouldn't use the needle for anything else after though.

iron on 12/18/2013 20:35:36 MST Print View

Dont iron cuben.

I have no personal experience, but word on the street is that heat will shrink it.

This would not be unexpected for a stretched polyester film