LONG ARTICLE! 35 – 45 minute read:
Once you really start to get into surfing, or if you love to be creative, making your own surfboard is a really cool idea and one of the things a lot of surfers never get round to doing. The thought of flying across a wave on a craft you made with your own two hands is a pretty awesome feeling.
So, we’ve created this Ultimate Guide on How To Make a Surfboard but we’ve split it into five manageable chunks.
Part 1: Sourcing tools, materials and setting up your workspace
Part 2: Designing and templating your board
Part 3: How to shape your surfboard
Part 4: How to glass your surfboard
Part 5: Sanding your surfboard
Part 1: Sourcing Tools and Materials, Setting Up a Shaping Bay and Organising Your Workspace
Gone are the days when surfboards were shaped with stone adzes, sanded with coral, and not glassed at all. Nowadays, most surfboards are built in factories, with the help of computers and power tools, under intricate shaping plans and meticulously calculated curing times, in temperature-controlled rooms – a veritable production line. Most of them – but not all.
Many surfers, regardless of skill level or years of experience, dream of building their own surfboard. It just feels like the surfing experience won’t be complete until you do. And whilst it can be daunting to imagine yourself jumping head-first into such a seemingly complicated and demanding venture, it is still very much possible to make your own boards at home without prior training. All you need is the right equipment, a proper place to work in, some planning, a few guidelines, and lots of patience.
In this series, we will show you how to make a surfboard at home, using some basic equipment and a makeshift shaping bay. Part 1, outlines the basic list of tools and materials needed to shape a traditional EPS/PU surfboard, also running you through how to set up a proper workspace.
You don’t need a huge space to shape a surfboard, as shown in the photo above
Sourcing Tools & Materials
Although we wouldn’t discourage you to improvise when making a surfboard (after all, if they could do it with rudimentary equipment a hundred years ago, why can’t we today?), having a minimum amount of tools and materials – or, rather the right tools and materials – can make or break your project. Even if the costs seem a bit salty, think of it as an investment. You wouldn’t want your surfboard to come out bad just because you didn’t have a sanding block to keep the surface even, especially not after putting so much time and energy into it.
Most of the items we have listed here can be found in most general hardware stores. However, depending on where you live, it may be that you need to order some things online from specialised surfboard equipment suppliers. In fact, if this is an option, go for it – you’ll not only save in time and gas, but can be assured that the stuff you’re buying is right for surfboard building.
It is also worth mentioning that the use of power tools is not mandatory in the process of DIYing your surfboard. If you’ve already got the tools laying around in your garage, great. But if you’re not thinking of shaping boards on a regular basis, know that it is possible to make a satisfactory – even if slightly rough-looking – board without electric tools. Needless to say, using them will provide more precision as well as save time in the board-building process.
The following list is not comprehensive but will give you what you need to shape and glass your own board without compromising the result. All items can be used for Polyurethane (PU) and EPS foam blanks.
Basic Tools for Shaping A Surfboard
Foam blank (more details in the next article);
A tape measure;
A speed square;
A torpedo level;
A combination square to measure the thickness of the board;
A carpenter’s pencil and a fine marker pen;
A good-quality dust mask;
A pair of protective glasses;
A jigsaw or handsaw (4” blade) for cutting the outline;
A block plane or electric planer for shaping the blank;
A trim plane (small) for planning the stringer in flat sections;
A spokeshave for planning the stringer in curved sections;
Some sort of “shaping weight” (e.g. a brick wrapped in a towel) to hold the blank down;
A hard sanding block (e.g. 4″x8″x1/2″ block of wood) to use with finer grit sandpaper;
A soft sanding pad and a sanding cloth for finishing;
A wide range of sandpaper;
A 2ft yardstick to measure the bottom contour;
A long yardstick (or any straight piece of metal/wood) to measure the rocker;
All of the tools you need to get your first shape under your belt are shown here
Basic Tools For Glassing A Surfboard
The appropriate amount of resin and hardener;
Fibreglass cloth according to board measurements;
A thalco polyester laminating squeegee (for polyester);
An epoxy resin spreader (for epoxy);
A roll of duck tape;
White rags and white paper towels;
Some razor blades;
Several plastic mixing buckets (1-quart) with volume markings;
Several mixing sticks;
A handful of 4oz mixing cups (w/ volume markings) for fin installation;
A 1oz mixing cup (w/ volume markings) for installing the leash plug;
Two 10cc syringes for catalyst and wax (if using polyester resin)
Big, high-quality shears for cutting fibreglass;
Both 1” and 2” good-quality, chemical-resistant masking tape;
Acetone to clean up polyester resin / Alcohol (90%) to clean up epoxy resin;
A handful of 4” foam or natural bristle brushes for sealcoating/hotcoating;
A digital scale to accurately measure and mix resin;
If using polyester: at least 3oz catalyst and 2oz wax;
Basic Tools For Installing Surfboard Leash/Fin Plugs
A power drill and holesaw bits;
A trim router;
A surfboard fin install kit of your preference;
Basic Tools For Sanding A Surfboard
A medium-density sanding pad for fin boxes and leash plugs;
A soft-density sanding pad for hotcoats;
Several adhesive sanding discs of 80-100 grit;
Sandpaper of various grit (from 120 to 400)
A foam sanding pad for smoothing out the surface;
Basic Tools For Glossing/Polishing A Surfboard
An 8” buffing wool bonnet;
An 8” foam polishing pad;
Cutting compound or surfboard-specific polish;
Several wet/Dry sandpaper (from 400-1000 grit);
A couple of microfibre cloths;
After going through the list of tools, it is time to prepare the space where you will be shaping and glassing your surfboard.
The trusty old garden shed: A great place to call your shaping shack
Setting Up A Shaping Bay
You can try to shape and glass a surfboard on an old table or atop a couple of bar stools. People have done that. However, you’ll not only be making your life more difficult, but you’ll also be running the risk of ruining it all before it’s even finished. To say nothing of the extra fun you will have by being able to move around freely and securely, paying attention to the details on your boards rather than whether or not your stand is levelled. The only real downside here is that you will need to drop a bit more money and time on yet another stage of preparation. But all in all, the pros vastly outweigh the cons.
It is possible to find simple and free plans for DIY shaping racks and glassing stands online. And pretty much all of the materials you need can be found in any regular hardware store. Since the majority of people who embark on a surfboard-building project don’t have a designated shaping area, most blueprints you find will be for portable racks that can be stored away in a corner of the garage. Plus, putting in the effort on making a nice shaping/glassing stand from the get-go will mean that you’ll have it at hand should you wish to build another board.
Below are some of the main factors to take into account when building a shaping rack and glassing stand.
Is it stable?
Nothing worse than a shaping rack that wobbles. Well, there is – a shaping rack that tips over. To remedy that, the best thing is choosing an area with a flat ground surface as your shaping bay. If that’s not accessible, at least make sure you can shim your rack. The same goes for glassing stands. Many first-timers opt for using buckets full of sand as the base of their stands and racks. This ensures stability whilst providing mobility.
Is it high enough?
A high enough shaping rack is that which is high enough for the shaper. Most range between 36 to 40 inches; an average person’s waist height. For glassing stands, this changes a bit. They have to be a bit higher as you often have to see and work on the underside of the board. Again, you can figure out how high your glassing stand should be by considering your height. But they usually start at about 40 inches.
Is it wide enough?
When it comes to shaping racks and glassing stands, width and stability go hand in hand. If your stand is too narrow, chances are the blank will topple as you apply pressure when shaping and/or glassing. That said, you also don’t want to narrow a platform, otherwise, you will be bumping into the stand or hitting with tools as you move around. Considering that the average width of a surfboard is 20 inches, most shaping racks are roughly 12 inches wide. For glassing stands, this is usually a bit less, around 10 inches. That is because, as we have mentioned, you will need to work on the underside of the blank when glassing, and therefore need the area to be free of obstructions.
Is it padded?
Whilst glassing stands don’t need padding, shaping racks rely on it. Not only does the padding protect the blank against abrasion and dents, but it also helps to keep it in place while you run the planer and sander over it. For the optimal padding, use clean masking tape to wrap the foam onto the rack. But don’t overdo it – too much tape will compromise the “grip” provided by the foam and can scratch the blank.
Does it have a rail saddle?
This feature also doesn’t apply to glassing stands, but is a crucial one for shaping racks. The role of saddles is to provide a space for the board to lay comfortably on its side so you can shape the rails. The size of your rack’s saddle will depend on its height and width. But if following the above-mentioned dimensions, it should be roughly 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches wide. This area should also be padded.
Is it levelled?
Making sure that your shaping rack is levelled is important, but making sure your glassing stand is levelled is of the essence. This applies to both a height levelling between stands and a side to side levelling on each stand. The reason being that, when applying the resin, it is bound to abide by gravity and flow down inclinations. And if the blank is not properly levelled, you will end up with more resin on one side of the board when it cures. Many people fix this issue by wrapping masking tape around the stand’s contact points, using the torpedo level to ensure they are all even, and adding more tape where the height needs to be increased.
Organising Your Workspace
Once tools, materials, shaping rack and glassing stand are all set, you can finalise the preparation stage by adjusting a few elements of your workspace. It is fair to say that most of us are likely to shape our first surfboards in a basement or a garage or even a backyard, and therefore won’t have access to the conveniences of a shaping and glassing room. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the rudiments of a temporary space. It is still possible to make your workspace pleasant and functional.
Although the following ideas are not mandatory, they can surely improve your chances of making your first surfboard project hassle-free and getting better results. Think of them as add-ons.
Optimizing the lighting
Proper shaping rooms benefit from side lighting – tubes of fluorescent light stuck horizontally to the wall at a particular height to assist the shaper in spotting imperfections on the blank, areas that need to be worked on. If you want to have side-lighting in your temporary shaping room, buying a pair of fluorescent tube lights and setting them on portable support (so you don’t have to drill the walls) will do. An even more basic idea is to purchase a hand-held fluorescent light, the kind used in construction sites, shining it around the rails of the blank to look for uneven spots. For more detailed info, look up “DIY shaping sidelights” online. Or visit your local shaper and ask for advice.
Choosing the right space
One thing you will definitely need when shaping and glassing a surfboard is space to move around the blank. A rule of thumb is having at least 2ft (0.5m) of free space around the entire outline of the board. Another important feature to consider is the accessibility to power outlets. And, as we mentioned previously, as flat of a floor as you can find so your rack and stand are levelled and stable. Although not as crucial, having a dark-coloured room also helps in the shaping process; it contrasts with the white of the blank, thus not straining your eyes too much. Here, many first-timers who happen to be shaping in a white-coloured room choose to block the walls with tarps.
For glassing, you will also have to pay attention to the room ventilation as well as the temperature you’re working in. Both epoxy and polyester resin take longer to cure in colder temperatures, but can cure too fast when the temperature is too high or under direct sunlight. So, in order to avoid temperature fluctuations and/or abrupt rainfall or wind, the best option is to glass indoors. That said, whilst epoxy resin doesn’t release toxic fumes or smells bad, polyester resin does. Therefore, unless you have a temperature-controlled and properly ventilated room, try not to use polyester inside. Also, make sure you cover the floor with a plastic tarp when glassing.
Protecting from dust
Shaping and glassing a surfboard is an inherently messy enterprise. By the time you’re done with planning or sanding, the surrounding area will be looking like the North Pole – and that means whatever is around will be covered in fine, foamy snow. Avoid that by doing as we suggested before and blocking all four walls with tarps hanging from the ceiling. Also, make sure you have a vacuum cleaner handy to clean up after each shaping/sanding session. Any dust particles floating around the room can highly impact the process of glassing later on. Besides protecting the room and its contents from dust, you also need to protect yourself from it. Needless to say, you shouldn’t rock your newest pair of jeans when shaping and glassing a surfboard. The best thing is to pick an old set of clothes and shoes and reuse them for the entire process. But perhaps more important than what you wear is keeping what you wear clean. If you have an air compressor, blow your clothes to remove the dust from it. Otherwise, a simple brush or a vacuum cleaner will do.
Anyone who has worked with construction or done any DIY project knows the value of knowing where your tools are when you need them – shaping a surfboard is no different. Therefore, when setting up your workspace, make sure you have a designated tool space (e.g. shelf, table, workbench, etc.), and check that everything is in order before each work session. This is particularly important for glassing since all materials have to be kept clean and mixing quantities and curing times must be spot on.
With all the aforementioned set, the next step is to decide what type of surfboard you want to build, its dimensions and design features, so you can create a template and start shaping!
For a quick clip on the whole process, check this video below
Part 2: Designing and templating your surfboard
Before a surfboard exists, it must be conceived. So it is only natural that, before sharpening your tools and prepping your mixes, you think about what kind of surfboard you want to build, what it will look like, how it should perform… In fact, the design stage is probably the most important step in the process of building a surfboard. Not only because it will determine if/how the board will work, but also because every move you make when shaping will be based on what you have decided beforehand.
Indeed, many surfers, whether shaping their own boards or not, tend to underestimate the design of their craft. They usually go for what is the most aesthetically pleasing, or what the latest vogue is, or even the “safest bet”. They tend to overlook the fact that there are many elements at play: the type of wave they are more likely to surf, their skill level, to say nothing of their body dimensions. Hence, design decisions are often affected by the image the surfer wants to portray. And that usually comes at the cost of compromising the fun and facility when surfing.
But we are not going to tell you how to make your decisions. Each to their own; we’re all adults here. Plus, there are enough principles and tips on surfboard design to write a good length book, and, unfortunately, we can’t cover them all here. For that reason, in this second instalment of our How To Make A Surfboard series, we will only touch on the basics of surfboard design – hopefully enough to give you an idea of the type of surfboard you want to build – as well as guide you on how to refine the blueprint into a template, then get that template turned into a board.
Designing Your Surfboard
Design theory can be overwhelming – especially for someone who has never shaped a surfboard before. Therefore, it is recommended that, however much you would like to experiment, you keep things simple, at least until you have gained more experience. That means avoiding overcomplicated features that may sound nice but can ultimately either give you a hard time or disrupt the shaping/glassing process – which would negatively affect your surfboard’s performance.
So, instead of bringing in double concaves and wings and elaborate tail patterns, try to stick to a simple outline without extreme curves or a wavy bottom contour or a highly-pronounced rocker. Also, it may be a good idea to begin with a small-wave board focused on having fun; something that is flatter and wider, will not require too much time and material, and won’t be too performance-dependent such as, say, a big-wave gun.
Along those lines, one major common mistake among beginner shapers is building too small a surfboard – whether they are going for a longboard or a thruster. Needless to say, riding a board that is too small for you will have a huge (and probably negative) impact on your performance, regardless of surf conditions. And it is not uncommon for surfers to get frustrated and even lose interest in the sport altogether because they are struggling to paddle and catch waves. So it is of utmost importance not to lose sight of whether the board is fit for your height and weight.
The best tip we can give you when choosing a design is to try as many different surfboards as possible according to the model you are looking for. Simply thinking about different boards and looking at them won’t do – take the board out for a ride, in various conditions if possible, feel it under your feet. You can research all you want, even consult experts, but nothing will tell you whether a board is right for you or not more than surfing it. So, before embarking on such a demanding project as building your own surfboard, borrow your friends’ board for a few minutes or go into a surf shop and ask if there are test boards available.
Speaking of surf shops, it can be helpful – not to say enlightening – to spend some time looking at what they have on the racks to have a feel for the different design features (e.g. rocker, bottom contour, rail shapes, etc.) and how they interact. Pick a model you like, check the height and volume, measure the nose and tail width, assess the thickness distribution, inspect its concave.
By doing all the aforementioned and cross-referencing it with your own research and ideas, it becomes a lot easier to make up your mind regarding the type of surfboard you want to build. Besides, you will have a rough idea of dimensions and particular features to pay attention to when shaping.
Below are a few key points to know about surfboard design:
The plan shape of a surfboard (meaning its outline) is always determined by its length from nose to tail and its width from nose to middle (wide) point to tail. This is the most distinguishable feature of any surfboard, the one to give it not only its visual appeal but also influence its categorisation (e.g. to be considered a longboard, a surfboard should be longer than 7ft, have a rounded nose and a straighter outline relative to that of a Gun, for instance, which is distinguished by its narrow nose and tail width).
When talking about nose and tail width, shapers refer to the width of a point 12 inches from either end. This is usually measured by placing a square along the centre of the board and multiplying the distance between the stringer and the rail by two.
A surfboard’s wide point is not necessarily the midpoint, but the widest point of its plan shape. On a Fish, for instance, the wide point is often above the midpoint, whereas a Thruster tends to have the wide point closer to the midpoint.
The length of a surfboard is measured by stretching a tape measure from the very tip of the tail till the tip of the nose, always along the topside (deck). The shorter the board, the easier it is to turn and the quicker it will recover from turning into planning.
The wider, thicker, longer, and/or flatter the surfboard is, the better it tends to perform in slow and/or small waves; the narrower, thinner, shorter and/or curved the surfboard is, the better it tends to perform in fast and/or larger waves.
Fins are also essential and highly determinant components in a surfboard, and, as such, should be considered as a part of the overall design. Longer fins facilitate a larger turning radius, contributing to the projection of the surfboard; shorter fins facilitate a smaller turning radius, contributing to the looseness of the surfboard. Likewise, fin placement influences the feeling you get from the board. Fins closer to the tail end provide more drive; fins placed further from the tail end provide more manoeuvrability.
Rails are an important, even if underestimated design feature. The sharper the rail, the better the board works in smooth surfaces, allowing for hard, powerful, tight turns; the rounder the rail, the better the board works in choppy water, facilitating slower, smoother, wider turns.
In general, the wider the plan shape the easier it is for the board to be turned, yet the more drag it produces.
The combination of a surfboard’s dimensions dictates how much it will float (depending on the size and weight of the surfer, of course) and how easy it will catch waves. Therefore, choosing a 7ft-long design doesn’t mean you will be gliding – width and thickness should be taken into account. A surfboard that is 6 foot and 5 inches in length, 22 inches wide, and 2 1/4 inches thick will paddle similarly to one that is 7 feet in length, 20 1/2 inches wide, and 2 1/4 inches thick.
A general formula for designing the rocker is to start with 5in at the tip of the nose and 2in at the tip of the tail. By dividing the rocker on either end by 2.5 you will get the rocker at one foot from each end (e.g. 5in divided by 2.5 equals 2in at one foot from nose tip). Consequently, if you divide the rocker at one foot from either end by 2.5 you will get the rocker at two feet from each end (e.g. 2in divided by 2.5 equals 0.8in at two feet from nose tip). From then on, you can easily freehand the rest of the rocker and refine the curvature during the process of sanding.
Finally, it is worth taking into account that the type of blank you use will influence how your design is transformed into an actual surfboard. That is, how easily and precisely you transpose the measurements onto the foam. So, unless you are using a blank that is already the shape you need, we suggest you create a template. This will allow you to have a physical notion of the board without potentially compromising the blank. And it will also leave you with a prototype for future use.
As we have mentioned above, a good template is a novice shaper’s best friend. And, as it would become clear if you tried to build your first surfboard without one, it is a crucial tool to building a streamlined craft as hassle-free as possible. Besides, making a template costs very little and doesn’t take much time. The pros definitely outweigh the cons.
A template nearly always begins as a print-out of the design, which is then cut and transferred onto something more resistant and solid. Most shapers use a thin (1/8 inch) piece of Masonite as their permanent template to trace the surfboard’s outline onto the foam blank. That said, any other flexible material with smooth surfaces and edges – such as a piece of cardboard or even plywood – would work.
There are three main ways to create your surfboard outline template:
Template out of an existing board: Many first-timers opt to copy an existing board as their first DIY surfboard project. If that is you, making a template is easy. All you have to do is trace the outline of the board directly onto your permanent template material, double-checking the measurements and adjusting any imperfections before cutting it.
Pre-made templates: Choosing a pre-made template is probably the safest, fastest, and easier bet. Not only will you skip the design process (which can involve a lot of trial and error), but you will end up with a verified set of measurements for all sorts of surfboard models and sizes and a “faultless” prototype. And all you will have to do is print it out, cut and tape the sheets of paper together, and trace the outline onto the permanent template. The biggest drawback here is that you will have little to no wiggle room when it comes to the design of standardised templates. Another potential drawback is that pre-made templates usually cost money. But on the other hand, they save you time since you can easily find them online.
Customised CAD design: For those who want to create a fully customisable template, using CAD software is the best option. This is a relatively easy and highly reliable alternative, for CAD allows you to have a good idea of what the board will look like (volume, thickness, rail shape and rocker included) even before you make the print-outs. And if anything goes wrong in the process, you can always go back to the computer and change it. The only issue here is that you would need to know how to use the software. Plus, it would take much longer than any of the above-mentioned.
An option to get started is to use CAD software and a shaping machine to get your first surfboard design from concept to reality.
Regardless of what method you choose, you will end up with a curved line traced on a sheet of Masonite – or whatever the material of choice is. One of the benefits of using Masonite – or even a thin sheet of plywood for that matter – is that it is cheap and large enough to fit most templates. In fact, if your surfboard is 8ft or shorter, a single sheet of Masonite (8’ x 4’ x 1/8”) will suffice.
However, if you are planning to build a board longer than 8ft in length, you will need to make what is known as a “two-sided flip template.” This means using the same sheet of Masonite for both the nose and the tail half of your surfboard – each drawn on one side of the sheet.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you have designed the board with a swallow tail it shouldn’t be traced on the template. Instead, square off the tail of the template and leave the shaping of the swallow tail for the end of the process. On this note, we should also mention that, if possible, first-time shapers should steer clear of swallow tails as it is more likely to cause complications down the line.
Once the tracing is done, the next step is to cut out your template with a jigsaw. Make sure you use the right type of blade according to the material of choice, and that your sheet of Masonite/plywood is secured to the table or workbench while you cut. But most importantly, always make sure to pass the blade on the outside of the line, leaving roughly a 1/8” margin between the cut and the line. Failing to do that will increase the chances of digging the blade into the trace, thus rendering the template unusable.
After you have finished the rough cut, you can smooth out the template until you reach the final result. The first stage entails removing any lumps or dips left by the jigsaw cut with a rasp. Again, avoid getting too close to the line lest you accidentally shave below the delineation. The goal here is only to take out major imperfections.
Once you are done rasping, grab a hard sanding block with 60 grit sandpaper and run it along the cut edge. This will ensure you remove those minor imperfections whilst sanding away any rough bits left by the rasp. Feel free to sand all the way down to the line now, bevelling the edges ever so slightly to prevent the material from fraying. The goal of this stage is to achieve the smoothest curve possible, as this will increase the precision of your trace on the foam and, ultimately, the quality of your surfboard.
With your template ready, take some time to double-check all measurements and scrutinise the curve to ensure it has no dips. At this point, many shapers write down the dimensions on the template for future reference. Then, when you are ready, get your blank set on your shaping rack, place the template along the stringer/centre, and trace the outline of your surfboard.
Part 3: how to shape your surfboard
The act of shaping is probably the most fun, as well as the most romanticised part of building a surfboard. This is where your idea will gain form; this is where you will put your craftsman’s skills to use; this is where the progress of your project will be visible; this is where you will be covered in foam and dust and grinning like a five-year-old rascal.
Since there is a lot to cover and a lot of potential tangents to go off on, we have chosen a very systematic approach and formatted this Part III of the How To Make A Surfboard series as a step-by-step guide. As such, it’s worth mentioning that we will steer clear of specifics like shaping a vee or concave. We also won’t be touching on how to colour the foam or make funky airbrush designs.
And, unfortunately, we can’t teach you how to operate power tools or how to properly hold a sanding block – only to give tips on how a particular technique/setting is relevant when working on a foam blank. The intention behind this instalment is simply to guide you through the essential steps of shaping your first surfboard.
Tracing & Cutting The Outline of Your Surfboard
For tracing the outline onto the foam, turn the blank bottom-side up. Since the blank is longer than the template, and given that most blanks come with a default rocker, you will need to move the template according to the rocker you want on your surfboard – the further up you place it on the blank, the more nose rocker you will start with, and vice-versa. (But bear in mind that you will be shaving a few layers of foam!) Then, align the straight edge of the template with the centre of the stringer.
With the template line-up, hold it down and trace the outline onto the blank with a shaper’s pencil. Flip the template over and repeat the process on the other side, making sure the nose/tail matches.
Now it’s time to cut the outline. The most common tool for that is a handsaw. This process is similar to that of cutting out the template in that you should pass the blade outside the line, leaving at least a 1/8” margin. This is particularly important because cutting inside the line is, at this stage, an almost unfixable error. Meaning that you will have to reset your design. It is also important to try to keep the blade as close to a 90-degree angle to the surface of the blank as possible since this will minimise any clean-up work later on and maximise your chances of getting an even, clean shape.
The following step is to square the outline cut. This is done by grabbing either a rasp or a sanding block with 60 grit sandpaper and running it along the rails, trying to get rid of any bumps and dips in the outline whilst remaining a tiny bit away from the traced line. Then switch to an 80 grit and slowly make your way toward it until the shape of the blank matches the outline and the mark have disappeared. Feel free to shift the blank around on the shaping racks – lay it flat or set it up in the saddle, whatever is most convenient. Also, make use of the combination square to check your progress, and don’t forget to step back now and again to assess the job. The smoother, cleaner, and squarer/truer (90 degrees) you can make the rails, the easier and more precise will be the next steps of the shaping process. So take your time!
Setting The Foil of Your Surfboard
Before switching on your planner, consult your final design and note the measurements of nose rocker (at the tip and 12 inches from it), tail rocker (at the back and 12 inches from it), board thickness (12 inches from nose and tail and at the centre).
Use a caliper to measure the thickness of the blank, then work out the amount of foam you need to mow to near the thickness you want to achieve.
Put your goggles, ear muffler, and mask on, set the power planer to the shallowest cut, and place a weight on the blank (on the half of the board opposite to the one you will be working on) to hold it in place. At this point, the blank should be sitting bottom-side up.
Run the planer along the edge of the blank in a single motion, from the bottom (tail) toward the top (nose), keeping it at a forty-five-degree angle to the stringer and always holding it flat against the blank. Work your way toward the stringer by moving from tail to nose, then from nose to tail. Try to make the bands overlap enough to be levelled but not too much that it will create ridges.
Once you approach the centre of the blank, feather the planer into the stringer, running it all the way down to and off one end of the nose/tail, paying extra attention so the blades don’t chip off the wood as the planer comes off the blank. Come back from the nose/tail and run the planer in a similar fashion, pushing it off the blank carefully.
Repeat the same process with the other half of the bottom of the blank. Once you have taken one pass off the bottom, double-check how close you are to the desired thickness. If, for example, you estimate that another two passes are needed, do one more on the bottom then flip the blank around and work once on the deck.
To adjust the nose and tail rocker, align an aluminium beam with the stringer, placing it right on the longitudinal centre of the blank. Measure the distance between the beam and the nose/tail with a T-square, using the shaper’s pencil to mark how much rocker you should mow. Then it is just a matter of running the planer on the nose/tail ends until you have reached the desired rocker. Make sure you always start from the same point (ideally 12 inches from the tip of the nose/tail, where the rocker begins), and that the planer exits the blank gently. It’s a good idea to use the low-cut setting in this step.
Fine-tune the rocker with a Surform or a medium-grit sandpaper and sanding block. The ultimate goal is to achieve a smooth, seamless transition on the bottom curve. But be patient – it takes time and practice!
Shaping The Bottom of Your Surfboard
Level the stringer by running a hand block plane over it. This will ensure the entire underside of your board is uniform, which, in turn, facilitates the following steps.
Hold the Surform with one hand at each end, place it on the tail end of the blank, at a 45-degree angle to the stringer, and draw it toward you to blend the tail rocker and even out any ridges.
Switch to a sanding block with 40-grit sandpaper and run it lengthwise along the tail section without applying too much pressure. This is only to blend the contours and flat areas. Never scrub the sanding block in a single spot. And it helps to stand on the opposite side from the half of the blank you are working on.
Once you are satisfied with how the bottom looks (don’t sand too much otherwise you’ll compromise the thickness of your board), it is time to shape the bottom rail bevel. For that, consult the radius measurements on your design according to the type of rail you have chosen. Mark the measurements on the rail with the help of a T-square, starting at the thickest point of the blank and tracing the desired radius from the nose until a point just before where the forward fins are supposed to sit.
Applying light pressure on your Surform, cut the bevel from nose to tail, making sure it feathers out as it approaches the fins.
Shaping The Rails Of Your Surfboard
Flip the blank so the deck is facing up and even out the nose and tail sections by running a Surform and/or medium-grit sandpaper – just as you did on Steps 2 and 3 of the previous stage.
With the blank laying flat on the racks, place a weight on the opposite longitudinal half from the one you will be working on. Transfer the measurements from your design onto the blank so you know how far in toward the stringer you should turn the rails. Also, delimit the middle part of the rail line with a pencil; you should leave some of it to be shaved in the next step.
Set the planer to a shallow cut and run it from nose to tail, walking beside the board to ensure a continuous motion that will, in turn, produce even, intersecting bands. Work your way from the rail onto the deck and toward the inner marking, gradually feathering the depth of cut when you approach the thinner sections, and being particularly mindful about the nose and tail areas. And avoid going all the way to the tip of either end as these are prone to chipping or snapping.
Usually, cutting three or four rail bands with the power planer is enough. Then you can move on to blending them with a Surform and/or soft sandpaper. Use the latter to extend the bands into the nose and tail. This is also when you should shape the tailblock according to your pattern of choice.
Slide a hand block plane along the stringer, from the tip of the nose all the way to the tail, so the deck is levelled and clean.
Blending All Elements of Your Surfboard Together
With 40-grit sandpaper and a sanding block, sand the deck of your surfboard until it is flat and uniform.
Pushing a Surform lengthwise along the rails, blend the rail bands until you have achieved the desired form. Alternatively, use a 40-60-grit sanding paper, sliding it from nose to tail without stopping to scrub a single spot. The goal here is to make the deck and the rails merge seamlessly.
Depending on the rail design of choice, you might want to further adjust the rail taper. If that is the case, use 80-grit sandpaper. And make sure you don’t over-shape the rails!
Sand the deck and rail top surface with 80-grit sandpaper on your sanding block so as to smoothen the texture. Again, be careful not to over-shape anything. What you want is to clean up any imperfections.
Use a soft foam sanding pad, give the deck one last blending/smoothing so it is ready to glass.
Secure the board in the saddle of the racks with one of the rails pointed toward you. Then, wrap a sheet of 80-grit sanding screen around the nose section of the rail and walk back slowly toward the tail, pulling the screen lightly toward you. This is a difficult tool and skill to master, but it is super important as it is here that the whole rail blends together.
Once you are happy with the results, flip the board around and blend the other rail. As we have mentioned before, it is better to under-shape than over-shape – so don’t get carried away when blending the rails, even if they don’t look perfectly smooth and symmetrical.
Finishing Up Your Surfboard Shape
Flip the blank back around so it sits flat on the racks, bottom-side up. Fine sand the entirety of your surfboard’s underside with 80-grit sandpaper by performing long, continuous strokes, as though you were patiently wiping down a glass window. The objective of this stage is to remove whatever is left of minor bumps and scratches – again, without re-shaping anything.
Now switch your focus back to the rail to define how tucked you want it to be. Use either a Surform or a 60-grit sanding block to refine it to your liking, trying to keep both rails symmetrical and being careful not to damage your previous blending work. Pay attention to this step as it will have a major impact on the way the board performs – from its speed to its manoeuvrability and the potential it has to hold take-offs. At this stage, you might want to study some of your favourite boards to get a feel for the way in which the rail zeros out as it approaches the fins, how it transitions from the deck to the bottom, and how it softens at the nose.
Once you are happy with the bottom rail radius, grab a relatively worn 80-grit sanding screen and run it lightly along the rail so the entire rail line is blended together. Again, attention is of the essence in this stage as too much pressure on the sanding screen can change the shape of the rail.
Run the hand block plane as gently as possible along the length of the stringer, being super careful not to dig it into the foam. For the tip of the nose and tail, use an 80-grit sanding block instead.
Now it is time to install the fins cups. We will not cover this stage as it will depend on what fin system you have decided to use, and they all come with detailed instructions.
No surfboard is officially finished until it is signed. So grab a soft pencil and pen your signature on the underside of the blank. While you are at it, is also good to record the board dimensions for future reference.
This last stage is not part of the process, but there is a lot to be said about keeping your shaping bay clean – especially if you have rented/borrowed the space from someone else. So vacuum the floor, tidy up your tools, and use the air compressor to blow the dust and bits of foam off your clothes and surfboard.
The next step before glassing would be to paint the foam blank and/or apply any logos you might want to display. But as this is not an essential part of board-building, and since it involves a whole other set of skills and tools, we’ll skip straight to How To Glass A Surfboard – which you will find below.
Part 4: how to glass your surfboard
Glassing is perhaps the most intriguing and demanding stage in board building. To glass a surfboard – that is, to waterproof and finish it – you will need to laminate layers of fibreglass cloth onto the blank, then seal coat it with the resin of choice. This process not only requires dexterity and a basic knowledge of chemistry, but also lots of planning, patience and focus.
If you haven’t got the aforementioned, or if you feel like you’re not up to the task, we suggest you don’t even put yourself through this ordeal. Instead, look up a professional glasser in your region; it will save you time and ensure your board is properly finished. But if you are keen to learn or feeling adventurous and want to give it a try, then read on. Just be mindful that, once you get started, there is no turning back and no shortcuts. Failing to sand enough or messing up the resin mixtures can make or break your project.
There are a few theoretical bits we need to understand in order to have a functional, well-glassed board – such as how glass schedules work, the difference between cloths and resins, as well as details about technique – all of which you should plan ahead.
In this Part 4 of the How To Make A Surfboard series, we will run you through some of the main ins and outs of surfboard glassing, then will break down the process in a step-by-step guide. But before getting started, refer back to Part I of this series to find out what materials you will need for this stage.
Understanding & Choosing A Surfboard Glass Schedule
A surfboard glass schedule refers to the amount of fibreglass cloth that will be laminated onto the foam blank. This is an important factor in determining the board’s strength as well as its final weight. The main takeaway from this is that the more fibreglass a board has, the heavier it will be –but also the more robust.
When buying fibreglass cloth, you will notice that most stores sell it in ounces per square yard. This measurement is so that you know the amount of resin needed to saturate the cloth entirely. For surfboard building, most shapers and factories use 4 oz. and 6 oz. fibreglass, often interposing them to achieve better results. As for the amount and distribution of fibreglass, the rule of thumb is two layers on the deck and one on the bottom. That is because the first suffers more impact than the latter, hence it needs a sturdier build in order to be durable.
There are several different glass schedule combinations available for surfboard-making, and it is up to each shaper to determine which one is best suited for the board he/she is making. A common one is 6+4×4, meaning two layers of fibreglass on the deck (one 6 oz. and one 4 oz.) and a single 4 oz. layer on the bottom. Other frequently used alternatives are:
4+4×4: Lightweight formula often used for competition surfboards
4+4×6: Lightweight Plus variation with a sturdier bottom
6+4×6: Standard formula vastly used in commercial boards, particularly hybrids, eggs, and Fishes
6+6×6: Heavy-duty formula specific to longboards
When it comes to the type of fibreglass cloths used in board-building, there are two common types – the S-glass and the E-glass. The first, which has been designed for military purposes, is stiffer, stronger, and more expensive, and is generally used to strengthen the deck. The latter, which was originally designed for electrical purposes, is the most used fibreglass cloth in surfboard glassing.
Other not-so-common types of cloths are the Volan and the WARP glass, which is a variation of the E-glass. Due to its increased number of longitudinal fibres, you often find shapers interposing the WARP glass with a standard E-glass, thus making the board stronger and more stable from nose to tail. Conversely, because of its increased weight (between 8 – 10 oz.), the Volan is rarely used in short and mid-length surfboards. Its application might have been popular back in the 1950s and 60s, but nowadays it is pretty much restricted to the construction of longboards or the boating industry whence it originated.
Surfboard Resin 101 (Polyester vs. Epoxy)
There are two types of resin used in the glassing stage of surfboards: Polyester resin and Epoxy resin. Each alternative has its particularities, and covering all of them would take a long time. Plus, as a beginner shaper, there are other elements you should focus your attention on. So instead, we have outlined some of the main up- and downsides of both polyester and epoxy – the stuff you should keep in mind when picking which one to use:
+ Renders the board more dynamic and bouncy
+ Easy to find and easy on your pocket
– Not as durable as its counterpart, deteriorates faster
– Relatively unhealthy to work with, releases smelly chemical odours
+ More robust than polyester; withstands harder impacts
+ Healthier to work with and less detrimental to the environment
– More expensive than polyester
– Epoxy resin tends to lose its colouration and turn yellow faster than its counterpart
Another important thing to clarify is when to use each one. Often, you will hear surfers saying “This is a fibreglass board,” or “This is an epoxy board.” Whilst this refers to the type of resin used, it also points out the core material of that particular surfboard. So before you go ahead and purchase the resin you deem best, remember this rule of thumb:
Polyurethane blanks work with either epoxy or polyester resin;
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) blanks work with epoxy resin only.
Surfboard Glassing Technique (Freelap vs Cutlap)
Once you have established a glass schedule and decided on the type of resin, it is time to look at what type of glass job you want to do – clear or tinted. This choice is important because it will determine the kind of technique you will have to use in the process – freelap for clear glass jobs and cutlap for tinted ones.
Assuming that this is the first surfboard you have ever shaped and glassed, we suggest you stick to a clear glass job and the freelap technique. It is easier to get your head around, takes less time, uses less material, and decreases your chances of messing up. After all, adding colour to your surfboard is an add-on; as a beginner, you should prioritise the essentials.
But in case you really want to colour your first surfboard, we have summarised the main characteristics of each glassing technique below. At least then you can compare both and plan ahead.
Freelap: As mentioned above, the freelap technique is used exclusively for clear glass jobs. In a freelap, you will saturate the fibreglass’ overlaps with the resin of choice and stick it onto the underside of the blank. Once the resin has cured, use an electric sander/polisher (see list of materials on Part I) to sand down the overlaps. Make sure the overlaps are even with the blank, but be extra careful not to sand too much and hit the foam. Flip the board and repeat the process.
Cutlap: Conversely, the cutlap technique is only used when glassing the blank with pigmented or tinted resin. Before anything, grab some masking tape and tape off the bottom surface outline. Most people, depending on how they want the colouring, run a masking tape along the edge of the rail, but feel free to mask the entire bottom if you want. This sets a line for the lap, preventing the tinted fibreglass and drops of resin from touching and sticking to the underside of the surfboard. Once the resin has cured, cut the fibreglass along the tape line with a pair of shears and peel the tape off. Before repeating the process on the other side, grab the electric sander/polisher and buff the lap line so it is smooth and even with the blank.
Surfboard Glassing Step-by-Step
With theory and preparation out of the way, it is time to get glassing. But before you mix your resins and cut your sheets of fibreglass, we recommend you set up the workshop and tools so that nothing gets in your way in the process. For first-timers, it helps to write down the programme, as well as any measurements and specific guidelines you might forget. It might also be helpful to watch a video or two on glassing surfboards; that way you can have an even better idea of what the process should be like and will be able to study the technique of a more experienced glasser. Finally, make sure your protective gear is clean a handy in a designated spot – the more organised you are, the better!
Now you’re ready to go…
1. Laying and cutting the fibreglass
Always begin the glass job at the bottom of your surfboard. This means that, if you have chosen to add colour to the resin and do a cutlap you should tape off the deck first. Otherwise, lay the blank bottom-up on the stand, then stretch the sheet of fibreglass lengthwise, centring it as best as possible. If your glass schedule says you will be using only one layer of fibreglass, measure roughly 2 inches below the rail (so it reaches the underside of the board) and cut the outline with a pair of shears. If using two or more layers of fibreglass, cut the first layer approximately 1 inch away from outline, the second layer with the same 2 inches as mentioned above, and any subsequent layers slightly longer. If you have chosen different types of fibreglass cloth, make sure the heaviest one goes on first. A final and crucial note for this stage is to make what is known as “relief cuts” (usually in the shape of a “V”) along rounded sections and corners, particularly the nose and tail. This prevents any creases and/or wrinkles to form on the laps.
2. Mixing the resin
Whether using epoxy or polyester, the recommended quantity is 3 oz. of mixture per longitudinal foot of the surfboard, followed by another coat of the same amount. For instance, if you have shaped a 6ft shortboard, make sure you prepare at least 18 oz. of resin-hardener mixture. Those who have chosen to add tints or pigments to the board should drop these once the mixture is ready.
Below we lay out the process of mixing both types of resin – epoxy and polyester.
For resin to go from liquid to solid state it needs a hardener. When glassing a surfboard with epoxy resin, the ratio should be 2:1 by volume or 2.2:1 by weight. The majority of shapers tend to measure the ratio by weight as it is more accurate. As for the hardeners, they can be purchased according to their speed – fast or slow – which is essentially the time it takes to cure. Slow hardeners should cure in roughly 4 hours, while fast hardeners take more or less 2,5 hours to achieve the final result. That said, regardless of what kind of hardener you choose, it will be at the mercy of the room temperature – the warmer the temperature the faster the curing time. Once you have measured the ratios and estimated the curing time, stir the resin-hardener mix thoroughly for a couple of minutes, making sure the resin is well-blended and that there are no lumps on the bottom or sides of the container. Be extra careful when working with fast hardeners and epoxy resin as the mixture can warm up so much in the curing process to the point of melting the EPS blank.
Polyester resin also needs a hardener to set its chemical transformation from liquid to solid in motion. In the case of polyester, the hardener is known as catalyst – or methyl ethyl ketone peroxide (MEKP). If working with polyester, the ratio should be 1-2% of catalyst to the volume of resin. Similarly to epoxy resin, polyester needs a good stir to ensure no bits are left unmixed. The ready mixture will take between 15-20 minutes to harden (again, depending on the room temperature), so make sure you work swiftly. At this point, it is also worth keeping in mind that this type of resin is highly flammable, so avoid working under overly warm conditions.
3. Laminating the bottom of the surfboard
Here’s where things get exciting, where the magic happens. Pour the mixture on the centre of the blank and, running the spreader smoothly from nose to tail, saturate the entirety of the board’s underside. Then, pour the remaining mixture along the rails, again running the spreader lengthwise so that the resin cascades on the overlap. Finally, carefully tuck the now-saturated overlaps onto the deck, working your way from the nose to the tail on one rail, then from the tail to the nose on the other. This is the procedure for a freelap. If you have gone for a cutlap, flip the blank around and cut the fibreglass overlap along the tape lines as soon as possible. Otherwise, the resin will harden and it will be much harder to do a clean cut.
4. Sanding the laps on the deck of the surfboard
Next, grab the electric sander and tidy up the overlap by sanding any bumps or wrinkles along the lap line. Just be mindful of the pressure you apply lest you come too close to the foam – this will be very bad. The goal here is to flatten and even the laps as best as possible (many glassers use a wallpaper roller to help with this) so no air bubbles forming when you move on to laminating the deck.
5. Glassing the deck (Steps 1 to 3)
To glass the deck, all you have to do is repeat the processes detailed in steps 1-3.
6. Sanding the laps on the bottom of the surfboard
Sanding the laps on the bottom is pretty much the same as sanding the laps on the deck, so follow the instructions on Step 4. For those who have opted for a coloured glass job (cutlap technique), try sanding as smoothly as possible since too much pressure on the laps can fade the pigment. Remember: all you want to do in this step is get rid of bumps and wrinkles along the lap line.
7. Applying the sealcoat/hotcoat
With the first coat of resin on and cured, you can proceed with the application of a second layer, aka sealcoat (for epoxy) or hotcoat (for polyester). This step is necessary to further smoothen bumps and wrinkles whilst filling in any gaps in the fibreglass weave; it seals the board completely, making it fully waterproof.
But before getting down to business, you should prepare the surface. Begin with the deck, making sure it is clean and that there are no dust particles or fingerprints on the surface. Run a masking tape along the rails, covering the entire outline of the board and making sure the bottom edge of the tape hangs, thus directing any excess resin to the ground instead of the underside of the surfboard. Next, clean your brush by rubbing it on your palm and squeezing it against the sticky side of the tape. This is more important than it sounds – it will prevent bristles from sticking to your board as you apply the sealcoat/hotcoat.
Now you are ready to mix the resin. As previously mentioned, the accepted guideline for the amount of resin, whether sealcoating or hotcoating, is 3 oz. per longitudinal foot. There are no secrets to mixing the resin for a sealcoat/hotcoat – do the same as you did when laminating. When you are ready, pour half the mixture along the stringer line and the other half a couple of inches away from both rails.
Next, grab the brush and spread the resin across the whole surface, working from nose to tail, as though you were really painting it. Once you reach the tape lines, continue painting the surface lengthwise, only now lighten the pressure on the brush. Work carefully but fast – you should take no more than 10 minutes. Once the entire surface looks shiny and wet, let it cure.
Don’t fiddle with the surface while it is curing, even if you spot any bubbles or bumps, as this will likely create more issues. Leave it to be fixed when polishing. The resin will take anything from 2 to 8 hours to cure depending on the hardener and the temperature of the room. Halfway through the curing process, you can remove the masking tapes. Once one side of the board is fully cured, go ahead and do the same thing with the other.
Coming up next is the next is the final part of this series, the on how to build a surfboard: Sanding and Polishing. Stay tuned!
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