Introduction: How to Make a Surfboard
I have been making boards on and off for the last 10 years, I've lost count on how many I have made but I think over 10 for sure. Just like surfing making surfboards is additive. It's cool to see your quiver grow and improve your surfing and shaping abilities. Besides you can custom shape the board to the waves to your local conditions.
If you are worried that making your own board is outside your skill level, don't be intimidated. Anyone with some basic tools can do it! It is very rewarding to take raw materials and end up with a surfboard you can ride.
Even if your board doesn't come out perfect it will still be totally ride-able.
When I first started getting into making board I had no idea where to start, I did a ton of research and just started by buying some foam at Home Depot and started shaping.
I came across the website www.swaylock.com and it is an excellent resource for surfboard builders. The forum is very friendly and other builders are willing to help, just remember to use the search feature first before asking a question.
This Instructables is a video series on how to build your own surfboard from scratch. The purpose of these videos is take you step by step in helping you make a surfboard from scratch with raw materials. The intended audience is the beginner builder and I will try to go into as much detail as possible. I will add details and some pics to each step/video in the Instructable where I think it is applicable.
The first decision you need to make is will you make your own surfboard blank or make your own from scratch.
The board I am making is completely from scratch from block foam, you can also buy your surfboard blank and skip the first few steps for making the rough blank. This surfboard will be made from "styrofoam" and epoxy resin. The steps are similar for making a traditional polyurethane surfboard and polyester resin.
The rough breakdown of how to build a surfboard is the following:
- Decide on a surfboard design
- Make a stringer
- Glue stringer between block foam
- Remove bulk foam from the block foam
- Rough shape the blank
- Cut out rough shape of the surfboard
- Shape the blank
- Sanding hot-coat
- Sand gloss-coat
- Go Surfing!
- Blank = a rough piece of foam to be used to make a surfboard
- Stringer = wooden piece of wood that runs through the middle of the surfboard
- Glassing or Laminating = Covering the surfboard with fiberglass and resin
- Hot-Coat = a coat of resin applied over the glassed surfboard
- Gloss-Coat = a coat of resin applied over the sanded hot-coat
Note that this Instructable is a video series so the instructions will be in video format. The entire playlist can be viewed here as well: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHeE1mcmnNBSXs0ymSgrxwF5od6gqvX07
Step 1: Introduction and Overview
In this video I go over what will be covered in the video series and go over the shaping bay and shaping stands.
Step 2: Shaping Tools
In this video I go over the tools that will be required to shape the surfboard. All the basic tools can be obtained at a local hardware store. The most important tool to have is a Stanley Surfoam plane, it's a rasp like tool that removes foam easily. Other important things to have are various grits of sandpaper.
Step 3: Foam Types
If you are making your own surfboard blank instead of purchasing one you will need foam. There are two different types EPS and XPS. As a general rule EPS is typically the bead foam and XPS is the blue or pink construction foam. EPS absorbs water if you get a ding in your surfboard, XPS does not absorb water but can delaminate. Either foam will work fine, just there are differences between the two that you will want to consider.
Step 4: Wooden Stringer - Part 1
The stringer is a piece of wood that is in the middle of the surfboard. It's placed there for strength and can give the board some flex characteristics, in polyester resin fiberglass boards they were common but some companies are making surfboards without stringers now, the epoxy construction techniques make stronger and lighter boards. It's up to you if you want to use a stringer, I personally like having a stringer even in a epoxy board.
This video shows you how to make a stringer from thin plywood. You can either trace out an existing board stringer template, design your own from scratch or look for the "Clark Foam Blank Catalog" online. The company is now out of business but their catalog gives many different outlines for surfboard stringers. I usually use something from the catalog.
Step 5: Wooden Stringer - Part 2
Continuation of making a wooden stringer.
Step 6: Gluing the Blank Together
In this video, the stringer is glued between block EPS foam. I also go over tracing the stringer template out on the foam so if you are hot-wire cutting the foam you have guides to go by.
Step 7: Hot-Wire Cutter - Optional
To remove bulk foam and make the rough surfboard blank, I like to use a hot-wire bow cutter. This video give an overview of a basic setup. There are plans online, just do a search. This is completely optional, I like using it as I plan on making more surfboards. You can remove the bulk foam with a saw, planner or surfoam, just will take some time.
Step 8: Hot-Wiring the Blank - Optional
Using the hot-wire cutter you can remove ton's of foam quickly. Based on the stringer templates in the previous steps on stringer making, you can hot-wire out a rough surfboard blank. This is optional, you can always remove the bulk foam with other tools such as cutting at the foam, a power planner, surfoam or really rough sand paper (20 grit). What ever method you do, you want to make sure you keep the rough blank flat so you have a good starting point to trace our your surfboard template.
Step 9: Tracing the Template on the Blank
Once you have a rough surfboard blank built, now you can start shaping the actual board. If you purchased a surfboard blank from a supplier you can start from this step for shaping your board. You can make your templates with a vector based drawing program, purchase one, design from scratch, trace out another board or find one online.
Step 10: Shaping - Part 1
In this video we start shaping the surfboard, refining the rough blank, make sure everything is level and even.
Step 11: Shaping - Part 2
Step 12: Marking Rail Bands - Part 1
Here is the step where beginners often get confused and have trouble with. I go over how you can mark the rails before you start shaping the rails. I got my guidelines from the surf supplier, http://www.greenlightsurfsupply.com/, they have them posted on their website for free. They also have information on how to shape a surfboard, you will need to sign up for an account but it's free.
Step 13: Marking Rail Bands - Part 2
Continuation of marking the rail bands.
Step 14: Shaping the Rail Bands
Now that the rail bands are marked, we can remove the foam. The board will start taking shape from this point onward.
Step 15: Shaping a Concave Bottom - Optional
There are different surfboard bottom types, flat, concave, vee, etc.., I would recommend staying with a flat bottom for your first board. I have included shaping a concave just as an FYI.
Step 16: Blending the Rails
Now that the rail bands have been rough shaped and foam removed, it's time to blend the rail bands so to take off the sharp angles and smooth everything out. Now it's really starting to look like a surfboard!
Step 17: Fin Setups
For your surfboard you will need a fin system, there are a few types, I won't go into all of them. I just talk about the ones I know and have used, Bahne box, FCS and Futures Fins, these are all removable fins. I personally like Futures Fins but you can use any type you like. Also you can do a glass on fins.
There are pros and cons to each and different installation methods.
Step 18: Installing Futures Fin Boxes - Optional
Depending on the fin system you choose it will have different methods for installing the fin box. This just shows how to install Futures Fin Boxes with minimal tools.
Step 19: Sealing the Blank
Once you are done shaping your board, you should seal the foam. If you are using XPS you do not and should not seal it, if you are using EPS foam, then it should be sealed. Sealing keeps the board from absorbing too much resin when glassing. Also it fills in any holes or gouges during shaping.
Step 20: Artwork
Before glassing the board, you can do some artwork on the board. Just be sure to use waterbased paints. Oil paints can cause adhesion issues with the epoxy and also can run or bleed.
Step 21: Types of Fiberglass
In this video I go over the different types of fiberglass that will be used for glassing the surfboard. Also covered is glassing schedules (how much fiberglass to use).
Fiberglass is classified by it's weight per square foot. 4oz means a square foot of fiberglass will weight 4ozs, the larger the number the heavier and stronger the fiberglass.
Typically the larger the board the heavier the fiberglassing schedules. Shortboards will use less fiberglass as we want to save weight, they are geared more towards performance.
Step 22: Cutting Fiberglass
Now it's time to get ready and fiberglass the surfboard. This video shows you how to cut the fiberglass.
Remember to use a mask, as when you cut fiberglass little strands will float around the air.
Step 23: Working With Epoxy
There are two types of resin you can glass a surfboard with, polyester resin or epoxy resin. This video I go over some tips with working with epoxy resin.
This board is basically made from styrofoam and must be glassed with epoxy resin. Traditional polyester fiberglass resin will melt right through styrofoam. If you are making your surfboard from a polyurethane blank you can use polyester resin.
Step 24: Taping Cut-Lap
A "lap" is the part of the fiberglass that overlaps the top or bottom of the surfboard. There are two different ways to do a lap on a surfboard: free-lap or cut-lap. This video goes over how to do a cut-lap.
A free-lap is simply the fiberglass is left free and just lapped onto the surfboard. A cut-lap is where the board is masked off and cut off the excess fiberglass so you can control exactly where you want the fiberglass to stop. A cut-lap is typically more important for doing tints or pigments. I like using cut-laps but a free lap will be easier and less steps, if this is your first board probably best to go with a free-lap.
Step 25: Laminating/Glassing the Bottom
Laminating or glassing the surfboard, this is the part that most of you will be interested in. It's really not that hard, just take your time and don't rush. A tip for your first board is mix up extra resin, even tho it might be a waste, it's better than running short and not having enough to finish the glassing. A general rule is 2 oz of mixed resin per every foot of surfboard for 4-6oz fiberglass cloth, but that's just a very general rule. If you have more than one layer of fiberglass add an extra oz per foot.
Also in my video I do a tint job, I do not recommend doing this on your first surfboard, stick with clear resin.
Step 26: Trimming the Cut-Lap
Once the epoxy has cured it's time to trim the cut-lap and remove the excess fiberglass and tape. This is optional, if you did a free-lap, you can skip this step.
Step 27: Deck Cut-Lap and Cutting Fiberglass for the Deck
This is a repeat of cutting fiberglass, this time for the deck. Also preparing the board for laminating the deck.
Step 28: Laminating/Glassing the Deck
Similar to glassing or laminating the bottom, this video is for the deck. Also it's a bit more clear on how to do the relief cuts on the fiberglass around the nose and tail.
Step 29: Trimming and Sanding the Deck Cut-Lap
Again similar to trimming the previous cut-lap, this video is for the deck cut-lap. Again optional if you didn't do a cut-lap. If you did a free-lap you still need to sand flush the lap.
Step 30: Taping the Rails for the Hot-Coat
Finally the board is looking good, we have it glassed, now it's time to apply the hot-coat. Make sure to use good quality masking tape, the cheap stuff will just not stick well or it will not come off in one long piece when you go to remove it. I like using 3M tapes.
You might be asking what is a hot-coat, a hot-coat is simply a coat of resin that goes over the laminated fiberglass. It fills in the weave of the glass and makes the board water tight.
Step 31: Hot-Coating the Bottom
Now it's time to hot-coat the bottom. Mix some epoxy (1oz of mixed epoxy per board foot), pour out the epoxy on the board and using a cheap chip brush spread out the epoxy on the board using slow long even strokes, that's the key to success. Once done don't mess with it, resist the urge if you see a bubble or hair to try and smooth it out.
Let it set for a few hours before coming back and removing the masking tape on the rail, depending on temperature that might be any where from 2 to 8 hours.
Step 32: Hot-Coating the Deck
Similar to hot-coating the bottom, this is hot-coating the deck. Follow the same steps as before.
Step 33: Installing a Fin Box
If you are installing a bahne style fin box, this is how I do it. It is done after glassing.
Step 34: Installing a Leash Plug
You'll need a leash plug on your board. There are a few different kinds, some are installed during the glassing stage and others after.
Step 35: Sanding the Hot-Coat
Once your board is cured it's time to sand. This is the part I dislike the most of the whole board building process.but probably one of the most important. You can sand by hand, palm sander, random orbital or a polisher type sander. The polisher type sander can be expensive but well worth the cost if you decided that surfboard building is for you. You can just get away with a cheap palm sander tho, just will take you longer. And sanding by hand will take a really long time but it's possible too.
Remember the smoother you can get your board, the better the board will look and less sanding you will need to do after the gloss coat, should you decided to do one.
Some tips for sanding:
- Keep your sander level
- Don't sand in one spot, move around, or else too much heat may build up and you may sand through
- Sand the rails by hand
Step 36: Gloss-Coating
The gloss-coat is a second coat of epoxy that can be applied if you want extra strength and cover sand throughs (you can see the weave of the fiberglass) and it's an extra layer of epoxy that you can sand then polish to a shiny gloss. Typically done on surfboards where weight is not a issue, for shortboards you can skip the gloss-coat as they want to be as light as possible.
Step 37: Wet Sanding and Polishing
Wet sanding is the process of of sanding the cured epoxy to a shiny finish. Similar to polishing the clear coat on car, the same tools are used for this. You use progressively finer grits of wet/dry sand paper and sand out the gloss-coat and then polish. This step takes time but yields awesome results. You can also sand to 400 grit and leave it a satin finish and call it a day. Remember tho that any imperfections will show up more on a glossy finish, so if you have an un-level board you will notice it considerably more than on a satin finish.
Step 38: Pin Stripe - Optional
A pin stripe will hide where your cut lap meets, especially the transition from one color to another color. Usually you do it before the gloss-coat but you can do it after as well like I did. A pin stripe can really set off your surfboard!
Step 39: The Finished Surfboard!
The finished surfboard!!
Let sit for a few days so the epoxy is nice and cured and go surfing!