Introduction: Baltic Birch Longboard
Over the course of three weeks, working about 50 minutes each day during engineering class in school, I built this longboard. Fully functional, sturdy and flexible, this board is a great project for all riders, regardless of skill level or ability.
Step 1: Get Your Wood
For this longboard, I used Baltic Birch Plywood. This wood is also know as Russian Birch and can be purchased at larger wood suppliers. It cannot be purchased, however, at Home Depot or Lowe's. This plywood is a good choice for its flexibility, and strength. Also, this plywood is rated for being 100% solid all the way through. This means there are no potential voids in between layers as you can get with conventional plywood. Maple is also another popular choice for longboards. I used three sheets of 3-ply plywood, creating a 9-ply board in the end.
Step 2: Draw Out a Rough Shape
There are many shapes to choose from when creating a longboard. Each style brings with it a different level of durability, flexibility, and ride style. No one style is better than another, it is completely based on the preference of the rider. Some of the most common shapes are a pin-tail and traditional drop-through board. It is very important to precisely draw you longboard shape in this step. It is crucial that your longboard is symmetrical on both sides. This will produce a more stable and reliable ride from your longboard. The shape I chose was a double cut out style. This style is traditionally seen with drop-through boards, yet I decided to make mine a top mount.
Step 3: Cut Out the Wood
When cutting out the shape of your board, I would recommend using either a jig saw or a band saw. This is because both of these types of saws can be used to cut the curves that may be present in your design. Another option is to use the table saw to cut the width of the board, then using the mentioned saws to cut any curves or other shapes. In addition, you should leave about a 1/4 in. border around your drawing when you cut it out. This border will be shaved off after gluing.
Step 4: Make a Mold
To create the convex curve of the board deck, I chose to wrap the board around a Styrofoam mold. To do this, I used a rasp to shave the Styrofoam to the desired curve. During this step, it is important to make sure that the curve is consistent all the way down the length of the board to ensure an even longboard. To do this, I cut out the desired curve into a scrap piece of plywood. This way, I could check along the length of the board to make sure it matched the curve I wanted to achieve. This is a very easy and effective way of producing a uniform mold by hand. Also, depending on the style of board you want to make sure that after it is bent you will still be able to apply the trucks properly. This might mean that the ends must stay flat in order to provide a flat surface for mounting the trucks.
Step 5: Glue the Plywood Together
Gluing the sheets of plywood together is just like gluing any other wood project. You want to apply thin layers of glue, making sure that the glue completely covers the surface of the wood. It is important not to use too much, as the board will be very flexible and unusable. When gluing, try to work relatively quickly. This will ensure that the glue not begin to set before all the pieces are together and ready to be pressed into the mold. When glued, Baltic birch is very strong and my board was tested up to 250lbs and performed great.
Step 6: Vacuum Seal the Board
To press the board around the mold, I used a vacuum seal bag. This bag works through the flow of air from an air compressor, As the air rushes through the compressor, the air in the bag gets sucked out, creating a vacuum with 1,200 psi pushing on the board. This force will be plenty to bend the flexible plywood around the mold that has been made. If this is not a realistic option (we are very fortunate to have one of these devices), the same effect can be achieved by attaching heavy weights with a string. Then, hang the weights across the board at various points with the string going across the top of the board and the weights hanging on the side. This is an easier alternative if a vacuum seal bag is not realistic. Also, clamping the board along the edges of the mold will create the same end result, and this is also an easy alternative to the vacuum bag. Be sure to leave the board in the gluing for a few hours or even overnight to ensure the board sets properly.
Step 7: Sand the Board
After removing the board from the mold, the board should have a curve to its surface. The next step is removing that border we created earlier. The border allowed for the separate sheets of plywood to shingle out when the board was glued. Now that the board is glued together the border can be removed. This can be achieved in various ways, either using a saw or sanding the border off. My border was small enough that I was able to sand it off with a belt sander. During this sanding, Make sure to sand the edges making them nice and round. As you sand, gradually increase in grit, and sand the entire board to you desired smoothness. I sanded my board up to 600 grit.
Step 8: Stain and Seal the Board
Once the board is sanded, you can stain and seal it however you wish. For my board, I went with an American walnut stain and then three coats of oil-based polyurethane on top. Whether or not you stain the board, it is important to seal the board. This ensures that the board will not be susceptible to getting wet, or any other elements it might face along the course of its lifetime. If the board isn't sealed, water can get into the plywood causing it to crack and ruin the board. When using polyurethane, be sure to sand lightly in between layers to achieve a clear, smooth finish.
Step 9: Add Trucks and Wheels
As with the previous step, this step is completely based on personal preference. There are many great options when it comes to picking wheels and trucks for your longboard. Ranging from affordable to very expensive, they obviously vary in quality as well. With this portion, it is best to do some research to see what trucks and wheels would be best for you and your style of board. For my board, I went with Gullwing Sidewinder II trucks and a pretty cheap set of wheels and bearings off of Amazon. Together, these two options cost around $70.When mounting the trucks on the board, it is very important to make sure that the trucks are parallel to one another. This ensures that the board runs straight and smooth.
Step 10: Apply Grip Tape
If you are not planning on riding the board and using it just as a decorative piece, grip tape is not necessary. However, if you plan on riding the board I strongly suggest grip tape. Without it, you run the risk of losing grip on the board, creating a potentially dangerous accident. Also, grip tape can help to protect the surface of your board. Applying grip tape can be done in many ways, styles, and even colors. For my design I decided to put two strips along the edge of my board, leaving a stripe in the middle without grip tape. When applying the tape, make sure that you start at one side and work to the other. This ensures that no air bubbles get trapped underneath the tape as you apply it onto the board. After sticking the tape on, use a razor blade to trim off any extra tape.
Step 11: Ride!
You are now ready to ride! I hope this manual was helpful and always remember to be smart and safe when riding, using appropriate safety equipment.
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