FibaFuse with Rick Eisfeller
This month, we’re discussing a product that’s relatively new in the drywall world: FibaFuse. First introduced in 2009, FibaFuse was invented with the goal of making a mold-resistant tape that was strong but solved some of the problems (like air bubbles) that paper can have.
Misunderstandings at the time of the FibaFuse’s release hampered the product’s initial success and some misconceptions remain today. We spoke with Rick Eisfeller of Icerock Drywall, one of the industry’s leading voices on how to work with FibaFuse, to better understand the advantages of the product, how to use it effectively, and what newcomers should know before they get started.
Meet Rick Eisfeller
Rick’s experience with drywall goes back a long way and his career has covered a lot of ground. He got his start in the industry as a painter in New Hampshire, working for a drywall company where he studied the finishers while he was painting. Then he moved to Illinois, worked drywall on the side but became a six-sigma process engineer in the automotive industry. The problem, he says is that “basically you’re doing continuous improvements until you work yourself out of a job.”
Because of that, he eventually left engineering to take on drywall full-time. As many automotive companies began to shut down around 2008, he moved to full-time drywall work but found it hard on his body. “I used a hawk” he explains “and my wrist would hurt after a while.” He experimented with hot mud and a compound tube, which helped relieve some of the stress but things really started to change when he met Brandon Hunter from All-Wall. “He sent me a box of FibaFuse. Honestly, I didn’t like it at first but I used it one day and by the next morning when I went to work, it was all dry and I thought ‘this stuff has a lot of potential.'”
Once he was convinced of FibaFuse’s value, Rick was all-in, his background as a process engineer pushing him to take steps that would soon make him a recognized expert on the product and the best practices for working with it.
“I customized my tools to work with it. Most of those tools that I designed in 2009, I’m doing those with manufacturers now. So they’re new [in the industry] but they’re not new to me. I also started a FibaFuse users group on Facebook. I didn’t want it to go away so I started teaching people how to use it because I know if it didn’t sell- well, I was worried they’d discontinue it. Anybody that was interested in using FibaFuse, I would send them a link to that group.”
An engineer like Rick has practical reasons for loving the product. Asked why he prefers it, Rick responds that one of the advantages is weight. “A paper roll is a lot heavier in a banjo or a bazooka.” He says that another advantage is the product’s permeability.
“If I had two corners with a half-inch gap, and I do one with paper and one with FibaFuse, the one with paper tape is gonna take longer to dry and it won’t cure as evenly. The air can get through the FibaFuse, so it dries more evenly and you get less cracking…Also, you can push mud through like mesh tape, to get rid of air bubbles.”
What's Different About Working with FibaFuse? What should people know to get started?
One of the most important things to know about FibaFuse, according to Rick, is that you need to work with it differently than you would paper tape. He explains that “it changes the process of a traditional tape job. Traditionally you had to tape it, go away, come back the next day, coat it again, come back the next day, coat again. With FibaFuse, you can tape and coat your seams the same day.”
That’s why Rick encourages people to try it but to practice and, if possible, to get some training. He feels the product can save a lot of time and effort but you have to know what you’re doing and – spoken like a six-sigma engineer – how to get the most out of its capabilities.
“It’s more delicate while it’s wet so you can’t push it when you wipe. You gotta wipe it with more finesse. But no one has been trained on how to use it. So people were giving up,” says Rick, emphasizing that “there’s just a learning curve” to getting started.
What Tools are Best if You Want to Try FibaFuse? What are Some of the Misconceptions?
Rick explains that one of the biggest misconceptions about the product is that it splits or isn’t very strong – but that’s actually the result of people using tools that aren’t well adapted to the product and not knowing how to work with it.
“When it first came out, it had a crease in the middle where there were less strands. If you weren’t careful while using a regular roller, you could cut it by accident. The rollers are sharp and they were just cutting it in half. People thought it wasn’t strong but it’s just- there were no tools for it.”
That’s slowly changing as Eisfeller helps companies like Can-Am or Advance develop tools that can better accommodate FibaFuse. Some examples include a stainless steel banjo, since the fiberglass strands can tear up plastic banjos if the fit isn’t perfect. For those who want to try FibaFuse in their plastic banjos before committing to a steel one, Rick suggests double-checking the width of the tape, as there is some variation from one roll to another. “Another thing is paper tape is 2 inches,” he explains. “FibaFuse doesn’t have the same tolerances. If you get a roll and you’re gonna use a plastic banjo…check the width because it can damage a plastic banjo if it’s wider than 2 inches.”
Another important tool to consider is your roller. If you use a roller, Eisfeller recommends using a sander to put a radius on the outer wheels, which can solve the splitting problem people mistakenly think is the fault of the tape. “Just do a 2-foot piece,” he says, “and hold it up to the light and see if your roller is cutting it. Because it’s not gonna crack unless you cut it.”
Rick also suggests using a flusher because it can protect the FibaFuse from being cut through on inside angles. “If your drywall’s tight and you use a knife, you might not cut it,” says Rick, “but if there’s any kind of gap, that knife is gonna go through. Use a flusher! Or, on a butt, you can put mesh tape first then put FibaFuse, so your knife won’t cut through. That’s how I do it today.”
What's Next for FibaFuse?
Asked about new developments that might be coming up – apart from the new tools he’s consulting on – Rick mentioned the company’s most recent release:
“In 2019, they released FF Max, that’s the big new thing. [It] basically combines mesh tape with FibaFuse so it’s like both at once…It’s thicker but was basically created to help people avoid cutting it.”
We pressed for details on exciting new ideas that aren’t out yet and Rick played it mysterious, saying only “nothing I can talk about yet…just a maybe. But I can say that the companies wanna make it easy for us finishers, so they listen. When customers have issues, the company calls me to help solve them.”