Gnarlatious Tips on Building Your First Bitchin’ Surfboard

Summer’s almost upon us– in about a hundred days– and if you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself, is this the year I finally realize the dream of building my own surfboard? It may seem like a daunting task, especially for those of us who aren’t exactly Bob Vila, let alone the Big Kahuna. But, with a few swipes of the keyboard, help manifests itself once again:

Not too long ago, Stephen Pirsch, a visionary in board construction, released a book entitled,How to Build Your First Surfboard, an easy-to-follow, detail-rich DIY paper on the subject. Written for first-time builders, this guide was created to lessen problems and save money– especially to prevent the typical board-ruining mistakes.

“This book is for the garage or backyard builder who has few tools and little money.  The following information has been tested, and is the result of  friends building their first surfboard with me.  Also,  thousands of  interesting people have emailed their questions and results.”

Turn to the Equipment chapter, and there you’ll find a list of tools and supplies needed to get the project going. As this tutorial is geared towards the O Mighty Ones of Little Cash, however, Surfer Steve is careful in recommending his tools:

“Hundreds of dollars can be saved by using the following tools compared to industry standard tools. The following has been extensively tested (on 6 boards in 2012) by the author, the expense and labor solely for the benefit of you, the reader (The author already owned the industry standard tools). Be aware these tools are not designed for heavy duty, continuous production use, but will work well for the occasional garage built board.”

Drill Master 5.5 Amp 3-1/4″ Electric Planer (#91062)  (or, similar, for a few dollars more, the Chicago Electric 3-1/4″ Heavy-Duty Electric Planer with Dust Bag – #95838)

 ”1. This planer has a 1/16″ maximum cutting depth. The depth can be doubled to 1/8″ by loosening the cutting blades and extending them 1/16″(the tools for this are included). The depth can be tripled to 3/16″ by grinding the front plate (the plate on the bottom which adjusts up and down). Put a 3″ abrasive cutting wheel on your drill, or a 6″ abrasive cutting blade on your sander/polisher (this tool mentioned below) and slowly grind the plate with the wheel almost parrallel to the plate – this will take one to two hours. If you over grind or grind unevenly, it can be filled with 5 minute epoxy. After modification this planer works very similar to the industry standard Hitachi

2. In contrast to surfboard foam planing shown in youtube videos, a planer is designed to be used parallel to the direction of work (not 45 degrees), Holding at 45 degrees reduces the cutting area by 1/2 which doubles your labor, and increases the possibility of an error.”

 

Chicago Electric 7″ Polisher/Sander with Digital RPM Display (#66615)

“1. (Shop for) assorted 6″ hook and loop sanding disks… if you buy from industrial suppliers you will have to buy an absurd amount of each grit.

2. Initially run sander at lowest speed, and practice on a scrap piece of foam that has been laminated and hot coated. Very slowly sand into the cloth and through the cloth, so you can see what to avoid.

NOTE 1: This purchase is worth it for the accessories alone.

NOTE 2: Hook and loop sandpaper is the best type because it is the easiest, and fastest to change and can be re – used. Hook and loop usually costs more initially (although not with this purchase), but costs less in the end, especially in cost of time.”

 

Drill Master 1/4″ Trim Router (#44914)

1. You will need a router bit with 1″ long cutter for Fins Unlimited Boxes – 1″ bits are rare.

2. A 12″x 6″x 3/16″ template can be made out of 3/16″ panel board (get 4′x 4′ piece at Lowe’s. To achieve 5 degree lean on twin or tri fins, an additional 1″x 12″ piece of 3/16″ panel board can be duct taped to the bottom edge of the template. The entire template can be held in place with Gorilla brand duct tape.

NOTE: By the time you adjust the router and bit, and make a template, you could cut out about 5 boxes by hand. After making template (and practicing) it is faster and more precise with a router. The Harbor Freight cutout tool can also be used as a router.”

 

Additional EQUIPMENT LIST:

Respirator with dust and vapor cartridges
Tape measure
Magnetic torpedo level
Drill preferably with two handles, variable speed and, 2000 to 3000 rpm.
Hand saw (wood)
Sharpie fine marker pen
Block plane (smallest)
Pocket Plane
5″ rubber/plastic back-up pad with 1/4″ shank (for sanding disks on drill)
Hacksaw blade (coarse)
Optional 1″ paddle bit to match optional 1″ leash cup

“You might be asking yourself, do I really want to do this? Is saving half the money of a showroom surfboard, buying the tools, pouring sweat, blood and time into this little venture going to be worth it? Surfer Steve has an answer for that:

“Building a board can be very rewarding.  Everyone who follows the directions manages to finish somehow, and almost everyone who makes one will make another.  Much of the work and expense on the first board (such as racks, blocks, and tools) won’t have to be duplicated on following boards.

Kowabunga, baby.