Rubberized Contacts: 5. Hidden Costs

I recently collaborated with several friends to make and glue an assortment of table and chute skins for ourselves and our agility clubs – Bay Team and SMART. We used the Rubber on the Run technique, as documented in the book “Making Rubber Skins for Agility Equipment“. This is the fifth installment in a series of articles documenting our lessons learned so that others may benefit from our experience (and mistakes).

During this process, we learned that rubberizing contacts is not cheap. As mentioned above, my only experience is with the Rubber On The Run skins, so I have nothing to compare to. But to give you an idea, here are the costs of the raw materials (from the ROTR Pricing Guide):

Item Kit Pre-Made
A-frame $195 $395
Dogwalk $135 $375
Teeter $55 $120
Table $75 $125
Chute Mat/Rim $50 $95

Not included in these costs is shipping, which is not trivial (over $50 for some of the larger items), but the shipping cost is the same whether you buy the kit or the pre-made skin so that’s not really a consideration. The point of this article is to expose the hidden costs of making skins yourself (in the form of additional tools and supplies) so you can make a good decision when you decide which to purchase.

I have provided a shopping list (including sources and prices) for your consideration.

Making Skins

One-time purchases

Item Source Cost (approx)
Postal Scale Office Depot 35
Spray Bottle Lowes 2
4″ and 2″ plastic putty knives Lowes 2
Pool trowel Lowes 14
Plastic measuring cup set Walmart 4
Assorted plastic bins Target/Walmart 15
Materials for jig (in lieu of wood) Tap Plastic / Friedmans 30
Total $102

Consumables

Item Source Cost (approx)
Nitrile gloves (box of 40) Lowes 10
Duct tape (low residue) Lowes 10
Painters tape Lowes 5
Low Odor Mineral Spirits Lowes 15
Plastic Sheeting Lowes 22
Lacquer Thinner Lowes 18
Total (minimum) $80

As you can see, we spent over $200 on the supplies needed to make the skins after we bought the kits. I haven’t included acetone because it wasn’t required for the tables or chutes, but it would have been for any of the other kits. The math is clear: if all I had been building were the table and chute mats for myself, the kits would not have been a good investment and I’d have been better off buying the pre-made skins.

Attaching skins

One-time purchases

Item Source Cost (approx)
Clamp set Home Depot 28
Total $28

Consumables

Item Source Cost (approx)
Any old gloves (box of 40) Lowes 10
Contact Cement True Value 38
4″ disposable brushes (2) Lowes 5
Total (minimum) $43

We also spent nearly $75 on supplies to attach the skins we made. I didn’t include the cost of a utility knife and blades, because I didn’t use one (as you learned in Rubberized Contacts: Gluing and Trimming).

Fortunately, we were building much much more than one table and one chute. Collectively, we had purchased 6 chute kits and 8 table kits: as it turned out, we actually ended up constructing 7 chute mats and 12 table skins because of design changes (which will be discussed in a later post). Obviously, we had to buy more of a few of the consumables: specifically, gloves and contact cement. But by combining our efforts, we were able to take advantage of the concepts known as . . .

Economy of Scale / Mass Production

Yes, there is some Economy of Scale when rubberizing equipment. Had we bought pre-made skins instead of kits (for the 6 chutes and 8 tables), we would have spent $700 more than we did for the kits. We more than compensated for both the one-time costs and the cost of the consumables within that margin.

And, there are efficiencies gained from Mass Production tactics as well. When we were molding our skins, we all took turns doing each task to get the experience. But we quickly specialized: specific tasks of measuring, mixing, pouring, troweling, and dragging/replacing the plastic were assigned to individuals, based on desire and aptitude.

So the most important lesson here is this: if you plan to rubberize your contacts, you need to do one of two things (or preferably, both) to maximize your return on investment:

  • Plan to do ALL of your contacts (economy of scale). You don’t even need to do them at the same time, you just need to know that you are going to do them all eventually so that the sting of the one-time expense is mitigated.
  • Gather your friends or your club and do them all together (mass production). Do what we did – plan a weekend to build a large quantity of one or two things. This only requires one taping job on the floor, and requires a lot less space than trying to do all of the different equipment types at once.
  • All of the above!!! This is actually easier than doing all of your own, because you can set aside different weekends for different pieces and only tape the floor once for each “set”. This way, you combine economy of scale with mass production and benefit in two ways.

Is It Worth The Effort?

This is really a two part question:

  • Is it worth making your own skins? That’s a somewhat more subjective question, which I’ll answer as follows:
  • IF you can take advantage of the economy of scale, either by doing all of your own equipment or getting your friends/clubs involved, AND
  • IF you have enough space to properly lay out the forms and house the skins while they cure, AND
  • IF you have more time than money, THEN
  • YES – it is definitely worth the effort (compared to paying for the pre-made skins).
  • BUT IF any of those caveats don’t fit your circumstances, you may be better off buying pre-made skins and gluing them on yourself.

Next up: Revised calculations and wrap-up

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