Introduction: Popsicle Stick Longboard Deck

About: I'm a video editor by trade but enjoy making all kinds of things to entertain myself and others.
I have wanted to make a longboard deck for some time, however I was having trouble finding cheap veneers. I started thinking about using popsicle sticks to construct my own veneers instead. Popsicle sticks are made from baltic birch, which is used to make wooden aircraft so I thought It might work for a longboard as well. Here's what I did.

Step 1: Shaping the Template

I figured out the shape I wanted and scaled it so i could use 5 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11" paper as a template. I just taped the sheets together cut it out and stood beside it to make sure it felt right.

Step 2: Building the Mold

I built a mold out of foam core or "Ready Board" which I bought at the dollar store. I cut out multiples with the curve I wanted with a scroll saw, these became the ribs of my mold. I scored the foam core with a razor blade so that the sheet could curve with the ribs. I marked out rib points with pencil and then I hot glued the ribs to the scored sheet.

To keep the popsicle sticks from sticking to the mold I covered the gluing surface with some glossy "marbled" vinyl I got at the dollar store.
I traced the template shape onto the vinyl and added a center line.

The curved tail section of the mold was built up of more pieces of foam core.

The illustraion shows a "cutaway" look of the mold. (Not the steps of construction.)

Step 3: Gluing the First Layer

I purchased my glue and popsicle sticks. I used 2 bottles of Titebond III glue which I found at Lee Valley Tools. The popsicle sticks I purchased at the dollar store, they came in packages of 150 and were conveniently paper taped in stacks of 50. I figured I needed about 1500 sticks for the board but I had a lot of rejects.  I would say about a third of a package was unusable, either the sticks were warped or cracked.

I cut the round ends of the sticks off with a band saw.

I worked outward from the center of the mold gluing a row at a time. It was slow going, I figure I spent about 6-8 hours per layer.

Step 4: Steam Bending for the Tail 1

For the popsicle sticks to have a smooth curve into the tail of the longboard I needed to steam bend them.

For the first layer I left the tail until last. I dry fitted pieces and numbered them. I boiled water in a sauce pan and put a colander between the pan and it's lid, this would allow the steam to fill a chamber and transfer heat to the popsicle sticks so they could be bent.
They didn't need much time about 45 seconds to a minute in the steam was long enough to bend them. I had a few sticks break and had to replace them. After gluing the bent sticks in place I used a bag of sand on top of an extra piece of vinyl to help keep them in place while they dried.

For subsequent layers I would bend the tail pieces as I glued each individual line which worked much better.

Step 5: Steam Bending for the Second Layer

For the second layer the popsicle sticks would be glued perpendicular to the first layer to add strength like plywood. This is called cross grain. Since the mold bends in that direction I needed to give the popsicle sticks for this layer a bend.

I built a jig that I could put a bunch of sticks into and steam at the same time. I placed the jig upside down above a large saucepan and covered some of the gaps with a rag. When steaming wood you want the steam to move around the wood. A steam chamber with a few holes in it is a good thing. The sticks only needed to be exposed to the steam for 45 seconds to a minute. Once they had cooled I popped them out and added another bunch.

I covered the first layer with wax paper so that the next layer wouldn't stick to it. I marked the center line with a push pin and started gluing my second layer.

Step 6: Steam Bending for the Tail 2

For the next layer I glued as before except I did the tail pieces row by row. This worked much better, allowing me to work diagonally out from the tail pieces. I used a rasp to even out the ends of the popsicle sticks and some sand paper glued to a board to straighten the edges and to thin thicker sticks.

After each layer I sanded the high spots down and sawed of the excess at the tail.

Step 7: Gluing the Layers and Vacuum Pressing

I made five layer total. Three lengthwise layers and two cross grain layers. I stacked them in an alternating pattern so that the bottom, middle, and top layers went lengthwise.

I used a palm sander to even out each layer. I peeled off the wax paper and sanded the undersides of each layer.

I reinforced the mold with some side pieces. Next was a dry fit, using a push pin as my center line I marked each layer with pencil so I knew where to place them when gluing and to see if they would fit in my vacuum bag.

I bought some vacuum bags meant for shrinking clothing for storage. Each package has small bags for shirts and large bags for dresses. The large bag was just too small for my mold so I had to cut off a 2 inch piece before I did the final glue up.

I applied a liberal amount of glue and used a brush to evenly smear the glue across the top of each layer top and also to the bottom of the next layer and stacked them in place on the mold.

I sealed the bag and vacuumed out the air you can see some extra glue seeping up through a crack in the top layer near the valve. Once again I used my trusty sand bag to apply extra pressure to the tail.

Step 8: Cutting Out the Shape

I left the mold in the the vacuum over night. After removing it from the vacuum I notice a couple of raised places which I would have to inject with glue after cutting the board out and sanding.

I used a jig saw to cut out the shape and used a belt sander to smooth the edges. Next was the palm sander to smooth and remove extra glue from the top and bottom. I used a damp cloth to clean off any fine saw dust that was left on the board.

Step 9: Preparing for Hardware

I added holes for the skateboard trucks with a drill press.

I bought trucks, wheels, bearings, grip tape, nuts, and bolts at a local skate shop. I decided a cool blue which reminded me of popsicles was a good colour choice for the wheels.

Step 10: Finishing

There was some more sanding needed on some spots on the top which were raised and needed to be injected with extra glue.  After that I sealed the board with a few coats of shellac and applied some surf inspired grip tape lines.  The grip tape is self adhesive and can be purchased at almost any skateboarding shop. 

Overall there are much easier and faster ways to build a longboard deck, but I wanted to try using popsicle sticks just to see if it was possible.

Make It Stick Contest 2

First Prize in the
Make It Stick Contest 2

4th Epilog Challenge

Participated in the
4th Epilog Challenge