Greenlight Surfboard Building Guide A-Z
We understand that making surfboards can be very intimidating for the first-timer. Truth is, with a little bit of patience, some good tools, and some proven technique tips, it isn't that hard to turn out a good board on your first try. Our goal at Greenlight has always been to break down the intimidation factor and make board building attainable to those of us who aren't "master craftspeople." (Yet)
Greenlight's Board-Building A to Z gathers the most effective, proven techniques from veteran boardbuilders and organizes them in an easy-to-follow, easy-to-search format. While there is a substantial amount of information here, we have broken the boardbuilding process down to 8 basic components, 3 of which are optional:
All of the information is presented in the order that it typically occurs when building a surfboard. If you are about to embark on building your first board, we strongly recommend that you read the entire guide start to finish, then re-read each section just prior to performing that step. You may want to copy sections of this guide into a word processing program and print them out. They make great bathroom reading, and you can keep it close by in your shaping space for quick reference on the fly. Also consider getting Greenlight's instructional videos which were created with the first time shaper in mind and demonstrate the board building process in a fool-proof manner.
Part 1: Preparation
Making surfboards requires a modest but fairly specialized set of tools. Some of these tools are easy to find at home centers or your local hardware store, but some are trickier to find and only available at specialty board-building suppliers like Greenlight.
It is possible to build a surfboard from start to finish without power tools. If you are only going to build one board (yeah right…), than perhaps it is not worth investing in a full set of power tools. But if you think you are going to build more than one board, we strongly recommend you invest in and learn to use power tools (planer/jig saw/variable speed sander/trim router/power drill) in the board-building process.
There is no one "perfect" list of tools, just like there is no one "perfect" way to build a surfboard. That being said, the following is a list of tools that you need to maximize your chances of getting a good end result.
These shaping tools can be used for both EPS and Polyurethane foam:
- Shaping Weight (or a small brick or similar with a clean towel or foam wrapped/taped around it will do fine)
- Handsaw OR jig saw with 4" blade (to cut outline)
- G-rasp OR Shaping Rasp
- Hard Sanding Block (or wood cut approximately 4"x8"x1/2"; use with lower grits)
- Soft Sanding Pad (use with higher grit sanding screen)
- Small Trim plane (planes stringer in flat areas)
- Spokeshave (planes stringer in curved areas)
- Tigershark Shaping Paper (for rough sanding)
- Medium Grit Sandpaper (60-80 grit for smoothing)
- Sandshark Rail Screen (for smoothing rails)
- Versasquare (clear plastic width measuring and fin placement)
- Tape Measure
- Rocker Stick (long, straight piece of wood/metal to measure rocker)
- Combination Square (for measuring board thickness and rail squareness)
- Yard-stick or 2'+ straight edge (for measuring bottom flatness and/or concaves)
- Shaper's Pencil (for marking measurements on blank)
- Drywall Hand Saw (optional, if you are cutting a swallow tail)
- Round Rasp (optional, for shaping the "butt-crack" of a swallow tail)
- Dust Mask
- Protective Glasses
- Resin Spreader (epoxy) or Rubber Squeegee (polyester)
- Clear plastic 1-quart mixing buckets with volume markings
- Mixing sticks (to mix resin and hardener)
- Clear plastic 4 oz mixing cups with volume markings (for fin installs)
- Clear plastic 1oz mixing cup with volume markings (for leash plug)
- Sharp, big shears for cutting fiberglass
- Ink Jet Logo Paper (optional, for printing logos from your computer)
- Masking Tape (for cut laps, hot coats, and covering fin boxes)
- 4" chip brushes (for hotcoating)
- Masking Paper (optional, if you are doing cutlaps)
- Razor blade or Exacto Knife (optional, if you are doing cutlaps)
Fin/Leash Plug Install Tools
- Trim Router
- Power Drill
- Forstner or Holesaw Bit
- Resin Thickening Additive (Cab-O-sil)
- White and/or black resin pigment (optional but looks slick)
- Fin Install Kit (Each fin system manufacturer offers its own specialized install kit)
- Variable Speed Sander/Polisher
- Hard or Medium Sanding Pad (for grinding fin boxes/leash plugs)
- Soft Sanding Pad (for sanding hot coat)
- 80 Grit Adhesive Sanding Disc or sandpaper for hard disc
- Cloth Backed Sandpaper (120, 150, 220, 400)
- Spray Adhesive (optional, if cutting/sticking sandpaper on disc or using carbon fiber)
- Foam Sanding Pad
- Variable Speed Sander/Polisher (same as used for sanding boards)
- Wool Compounding Bonnet w/backing disc
- Foam Polishing Pad w/backing disc
- Cutting Compound Surfboard Polish
- Very High Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper (600, 800, 1000 grits)
- Micro-Fiber Cloth
Greenlight's prices are better than hardware stores/home centers, plus we also have many of the specialized tools (sanding pads, spoke shave, Versasquare, etc.) that you WON'T find at local hardware stores or home centers.
Bottom line, you can find most of this stuff if you hunt around the internet or drive around to hardware stores all day. This is what we did before starting Greenlight. It is much easier and cheaper just to get everything you need from one place. You save on shipping, gas, hassle and time, and you are assured that all of this stuff is tested and proven for surfboard building.
Once you have your tool situation sorted, it is time to determine what type of surfboard you are going to make, including several key dimensions and design attributes that will act as guide points for you as you shape.
We could write a book (actually we are sometime soon) on surfboard design principles, but for the purposes of this guide, we are going to assume that you have a basic idea of what type of board you are going to make. If not, we suggest you peruse the websites of various surfboard manufacturers (Rusty, Channel Islands, Lost) and online surf magazine buyers guides (Surfer, TransWorld Surf, ESM) to get a feel for what some basic designs and dimensions are state-of-the-art.
Another no-brainer is to go to a good surf shop and take a good hard look at the boards on the rack. Check out the rockers, rail shapes, bottom contours, and measurements (usually written on the bottom stringer). Focus on boards that are right-sized for your height/weight and the wave conditions you will use the board in. Really good surf shops will have calipers and measuring tapes so you can get more important measurements like thickness at various stages of the board and width in the nose and tail. Before you know it, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what type of board you’d like to make and a pretty good feel for ballpark dimensions.
For more detailed descriptions on the key elements of surfboard design, we highly recommend you sign up for Greenlight’s design newsletters. These are pretty meaty, but they will definitely give you a better understanding of the basic design elements of surfboards and hopefully help refine your thoughts on your final design.
Before you get overwhelmed with design theory, it’s probably a good idea to mention that you should KEEP IT SIMPLE for your first few boards. Don’t go for a triple-wing swallow Bonzer on your first shot. We suggest a shape with clean lines, simple (flat or subtle vee/concave) bottom contours, and no extreme curves in rocker or outline for your first shape. Most beginner shapers choose a small-wave type design for their first board, because they are relatively simple shapes (flat and wide), and the physical consequences of an ill-designed small wave board are certainly less substantial than those of a funky Mavericks Gun.
Once you’ve chosen a certain type of shape, there are several ways to refine your idea into a concrete set of dimensions and final design:
GREENLIGHT SURFBOARD TEMPLATES
If you want to skip the design process entirely (no shame in this), choose one of Greenlight’s pre-made board templates and print the template out on your home printer. Greenlight has a pretty broad selection of shortboard, fish, hybrid, and longboard templates in popular sizes. All you need to do is select the shape you want, print out the template sheets on your home printer, and cut/tape the sheets together to form a full sized template.
Once you have taped/cut out the full sized template on paper, you can trace this onto Masonite, cardboard, (or a similar thin, flexible board) to make a permanent template, or you can just layout your paper template carefully on the bottom of your surfboard blank to trace the board outline directly from paper to blank.
TRACING AN EXISTING BOARD
If you want to try to copy an existing “magic” board or other board that you like, you can create a template of this board by tracing its outline on a piece of Masonite or other thin, flexible board. Details on this procedure are outlined in the Making a Template section.
CUSTOM TEMPLATES FROM FREE COMPUTER SOFTWARE
If you want to go the more creative route and design your own shape, there are several free board design CAD programs available on the internet. The easiest to use and most popular can be downloaded from AKUshaper.com. These programs are pretty easy to figure out after about a half-hour of playing with them. Tips and directions on using this software are available on the websites.
These programs allow you to shape the outline, rocker, and even rails and bottom contours of your board and view the board in 3D. Another great feature of these programs is that they calculate the volume of your surfboard (if you need to know it)
Once you design a shape that you like in AKUShaper, the program allows you to print out the board outline templates in full size (at a copy center if you feel like spending the $).
On these programs, you can also print out the rocker profile in full size. This can be helpful when you are choosing blanks to make sure your desired rocker can be carved from the blank that you choose. You can even trace this rocker on the side of your blank (if it’s a rectangular Engineered EPS Foam blank) to give you exact guidelines when planing/sanding down the black to the proper thickness and rocker profile.
The full-sized paper templates can be used to make a permanent template on Masonite or another hard, flexible material. More details on this process are described in the Making a Template section.
CUSTOM TEMPLATES THE “OLD SCHOOL” WAY
Before computer CAD programs, most shapers made templates using thin, flexible, long battens which were temporarily secured along a Masonite board to create a guideline to cut a suitable curve. Many shapers still use this method, as it is simple and effective.
CHOOSE YOUR METHOD
In our Design section, we outlined 4 basic ways to make an outline template:
- Greenlight pre-made templates
- Tracing an existing board
- Boardcad/Akushaper CAD templates
- Batten “old school” templates
The first thing you need to do is determine which method you will use to make a template. If you are satisfied with any one of Greenlight’s pre-designed shapes (58 available at last count), then you get to skip the design-stage and go straight into making your template.
If you have an existing board that you want to try to copy, simply trace the outline of an existing board that you want to try to copy.
If you want to create your own design from scratch, you have two basic choices: Free CAD Software or the “old school” batten method. For the CAD method, you need internet access, a computer, and a printer. For the batten method, you need a long, thin flexible “batten” to define your curve, and some small nails/hammer to temporarily secure the batten on the Masonite to define the outline curve you want.
Both methods work well and are pretty easy. The CAD method allows you to “fiddle” with the shape more easily on the computer screen to arrive at your final design. CAD also has the added benefit of calculating volume, allowing you to design the rocker and rails, and allowing you to view the board in 3D.
The biggest benefit of the batten method is that it allows you to visualize the shape in full size as you are creating it. With the batten method, you should be sure of your nose, tail, and wide-point widths before you start, because these points will be defined when you start, and it is a bit of a pain to change these dimensions/locations as you go.
If we had to choose, we would choose the CAD method due to the increased flexibility in design and the ability to determine rocker, thickness, and volume.
All of the four template making techniques will get you to the same point: a curved line drawn on a piece of Masonite. You can get 8’x4’x1/8” sheets of Masonite for under $10 from any home center. You should also get the home center to cut the Masonite in 4 1’x8’ slices, which gives you four straight-edge pieces to make 4 templates. They usually do this for free.
If your board is over 8’ long and you need to make a two-sided “spin” or “flip” template, you simply draw the nose half of the board on one side of the template, and the tail half of the board on the other side. Just make sure that you mark “stringer” points on both ends and top/bottom of the template to mark the point where you will place the template down on the stringer when you trace your outline on the surfboard blank.
If you are making a swallow tail, you do not need to include the swallow tail on the template. Just carry your template out to the end of the rail line and square off the tail of the template. You add the swallow tail later in the shaping process when the board is almost completely shaped.
Once you get that curve drawn on the Masonite, the directions to cut and smooth out your template are all the same. But first, we will outline the various methods of getting curve drawn on the Masonite:
Once you have chosen your design, print out all of the template components and cut the sections out. Tape them together using the markings that are printed on each sheet for proper alignment. Once the curve pieces are taped together, you can tape down the paper template (or use 3M Super 77 spray adhesive if you want), making sure the endpoints of the nose and tail are flush with the flat-side of the Masonite. Once the paper template is securely fastened to the Masonite, trace the outline curve with a Sharpie Marker, being careful not to let the paper move or distort as you trace.
2. TRACING AN EXISTING BOARD
If you are going to make a template from an existing board, the fastest, most accurate method is to clamp your Masonite template board directly to the bottom of the board you are copying. Make sure the flat edge of the Masonite is centered on the stringer, and make sure your clamps are padded enough so that they don’t put pressure dings in the board. Once the Masonite is secure, trace the outline with a Sharpie onto the masonite. Be extra careful to hold the marker vertical as you trace to that you get an accurate transfer of the outline.
3. CAD TEMPLATES
Transferring your CAD-designed template to Masonite is exactly the same as making them with the Greenlight Templates. From the software, you print the template in full size on multiple sheets of 8 ½” x 11”paper. Set your printer margins as small as possible so that you use the least amount of paper as you can. Then you tape all of the sections together and cut out the curve on the full sized paper template. It is better to cut OUTSIDE the line than INSIDE. Try to get as close to the line as possible. Once the curve is cut out, you can tape down the paper template (or use 3M Super 77 spray adhesive if you want), making sure the endpoints of the nose and tail are flush with the flat-side of the Masonite. Once the paper template is securely fastened to the Masonite, trace the outline curve with a Sharpie Marker, being careful not to let the paper move or distort as you trace.
4. BATTEN TEMPLATES
To make a template using a batten (long, flexible, thin piece of wood or other hard material), you first need to mark 5 points along the straight edge of your Masonite:
- 12” from Nose
- 12” from Tail
Once you have marked these points, you need to measure and mark the proper widths of your design at each of these points. Use a Versa-square to mark each point and hammer a nail into the Masonite slightly inside each of these points. Hammer two nails at the nose/tail marks to hold the batten in place. The nails act as guide-points for the batten. When you place the batten around the nails (secured by the double nails at the nose/tail), you now have a curve as a starting point. From here, you can place additional nails wherever you want to nudge the batten around and modify the curve to your liking. Once the batten is curved the way you like it, trace the outline with a Sharpie (or pencil) and remove the batten and nails to prepare for cutting the outline.
CUTTING AND FINISHING YOUR TEMPLATE
Once you have your template traced out on Masonite, you need to cut it out with a Jig Saw and preferably carbide-tipped jigsaw blade. Don’t forget the eye protection and dusk mask, and once again, STAY OUTSIDE THE LINE when you cut. Give yourself a 1/8” or so buffer as you cut out the template. It’s best to have a friend holding the Masonite as you cut, or at least clamp the Masonite securely to a table/work-bench to keep it stable as you cut. You may have to move/relocate the clamps as you go to complete the cut.
With the template rough-cut, now it’s time to smooth it out to final shape. First you must clamp down the template onto a table or workbench securely. Now, take your Shaping Rasp or G-rasp and use it to take down all of the high-spots on your cut. Make sure you don’t shave below the line. Try to get to the line but no further with the rasp. In this Rasping stage, you are trying to take out any dips or lumps in the curve. Don’t let the Sharpie/Pencil line distract you, it is better just to look at the curve itself to try to discover any dips/bumps that need to be smoothed out with the Shaping Rasp. Let your eyes be the judge of the curve, not the line. Flip the template over to hide the line if it helps.
Once you have Rasped the template down to the line and have a nice, smooth curve, switch to a hard sanding block with medium grit sandpaper (60-80 grit) and run this along the curve to sand away any burrs and roughness created by the rasp. You should also slightly bevel the edges of the Masonite with the sanding block to smooth it out and prevent fraying of the edges. Again, the goal here is to have a nice, smooth curve without dips. The smoother your template, the better chances you have of building a good surfboard.
Once your template is complete, take a minute to measure the nose (12” from nose), wide-point, and tail (12” from tail) widths and write these down with a Sharpie on the template (along with the date and any other pertinent info). You may also want to drill a ½” hole somewhere near the top/bottom of the template (not too close to the edge), so you can hang up the template on a peg/hook in your workshop when it’s not in use.
SHAPING RACKS AND GLASSING STANDS
It is possible to shape a surfboard on a pair of saw horses in a pinch. However, your results will be better and you'll have an easier time if you take the time to build some functional shaping and glassing racks. Material costs are low, and decent racks will greatly improve your chances of getting good results.
Greenlight has developed simple, free plans for both shaping racks and glassing stands that allow you to make functional, simple racks with 2x4s, basic fasteners, plastic buckets, sand or Quickcrete, and masking tape. We understand that most of you don’t have a permanent shaping space, so our racks are designed to be portable and move into storage when not in use. We strongly suggest you print out our free shaping rack and glassing stand plans and build your own. Feel free to improvise on these designs if you think you can do a better job, just make sure you cover the basic requirements for both type of racks:
The key points to remember for building shaping racks:
- Rail Saddle
For stability, you need to make sure the racks do not wobble or tip over while you are working the blank. If your floor is not perfectly flat, just make sure you have the ability to shim or adjust the feet of the racks to stabilize them.
The perfect height for shaping racks depends on the shaper’s height. As you see in Greenlight’s shaping rack plans, typical height to the top of the rack ranges from 36”-40”, or about waist-high.
Padding is also critical to the shaping rack, both to protect the board, and to keep it from slipping on the rack while you shape. Greenlight offers inexpensive, pre-cut shaping rack padding to eliminate the guesswork/sourcing. It is important to tape the padding onto your racks with clean masking tape. Use the minimal amount of masking tape to keep the foam on, and try to avoid wrinkles in the tape. This is because you want as much exposed foam as possible for “traction”, and wrinkles in the tape can leave dents in your foam blank when you press the blank down hard while shaping.
The width of the top of your rack is also important for stability of the blank as you are shaping. The “wings” on the top of the rack should be about 12” across, from end to end. This provides a nice stable platform for the blank to rest on, but not so wide that you are bumping into the rack as you move around it.
All shaping racks also have a “saddle” in the center that allows you to put the blank at an angle into the rack to shape the rails. This “saddle” should be 4”-6” wide and 6”-8” deep and fully padded to allow the blank to sit comfortably and safely in the saddle.
Click to download our Surfboard Shaping Rack Plans:
The key points in good glassing stands include:
Just like shaping racks, your glassing stands need to be wobble-free and stable as you’re glassing a board. Concrete or sand-filled buckets acting as bases for the stands accomplish this task. If you go the concrete route, use the quick-drying mix that is used for securing posts in the ground.
Glassing stands are typically higher than shaping racks, because when you are glassing, you are tucking laps on the underside of the board, and it is more comfortable to have the board higher to see and work on the laps. Most glassing stands are about 40” high.
For the same reason, the top contact points of glassing stands must be narrower than shaping stands. We recommend that the contact points be no more than 10” from end-to-end, because you do not want these points to get in the way when you are folding the wet laps around the bottom side of the blank. These narrower racks reduce stability of the blank, so you need to be a bit more careful that the blank is centered properly on the stands to keep it stable while glassing.
Finally, you want to do your best to make sure that the blank is as level as possible when resting on top of the glassing stands, especially from side to side. Since resin is applied in liquid form, it will tend to flow down any significant inclines on your blank before it cures. You can adjust the level of the racks by using 1.5” wide masking tape and rolling it around and around each of the four contact points on the glassing stands. Place the blank on the stand and put a level on top to make sure the blank is flat from side to side. Adjust the level by simply rolling more masking tape around the contact point that needs increased height.
Click to download our Surfboard Glassing Stands:
In a perfect world, you would have access to a real shaping and glassing room (along with all of the tools and a private tutor telling you everything you need to do along the way). We are going to make the assumption that you do not have such luck, and you will be shaping in a temporary space such as a garage or basement. You can also shape outside in the backyard if you wish.
You can certainly make great boards in your garage or basement; the following things help make the process easier with better results. They are not mandatory:
- Lighting (Great to have but not essential until you start making money shaping for your friends)
- Adequate Space
- Dust Protection
- Tool Space
Experienced shapers use what is called “side lighting,” which are fluorescent tube lights running on each side of the board lengthwise, parallel to the board at a few inches above the height of the board. These side lights have been proven to cast helpful shadows along the rail of the board, making it easy to see imperfections or high/low spots that need to be worked on.
It is possible to make side-lighting without having to invest in a permanent shaping room. You can buy 8-foot fluorescent tube light fixtures and hang them on temporary supports. We suggest you do a web- search and you will find some ingenious/affordable methods of creating temporary side lights.
If you don’t want to spend the time/money on side lights, the next best thing is to get a hand-held fluorescent work light. You can carry this light and shine it around the rails of the board (with the rest of the room lights off) to identify what areas of the board need additional work.
To shape and glass a board, you need to figure at least 2 feet of open space around the circumference of the blank you are shaping. So for a six foot blank, try to have a space at least 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. The space also needs to have electrical outlets nearby, and should be reasonably flat, so that your racks can stand stable and level.
Professional shaping rooms typically have all the walls painted a dark color (royal blue) which contrasts well with white surfboard blanks. If you don’t have a dedicated room, you can hang blue tarps from the ceiling to create this contrast, and just as importantly, help contain the dust that you will make.
You can shape surfboards and sand glass-jobs in cold weather (a garage). Epoxy resin will take longer to cure in colder temperatures but who's in a rush anyway? Epoxy doesn’t smell bad or emit meaningful toxic vapors, so we recommend you glass your board inside during cold weather if you don’t have a temperature controlled glassing room. If you put a plastic tarp below your glassing stands, your floors will be protected and glassing inside is a low-impact exercise. It is not recommended to glass inside if you are using polyester resin. Your house will never smell the same again. If you must glass with polyester resin in cold temperatures, we recommend you use UV-Cure resin as it will cure when exposed to sunlight regardless of outside temperature.
You are going to make a little mess when you are shaping a surfboard. Dust and foam will be flying when you are planing and sanding your blank. If you are shaping in a garage or basement with other stuff in the immediate vicinity, you should cover all of these things with tarps, or better yet, hang four tarps from the ceiling to create a temporary shaping room that contains all of the blank debris.
Get a shop-vac and suck up all of the debris at the end of each shaping or sanding session. This will minimize the amount of dust floating around the room. This becomes very important when you are glassing, because you don’t want airborne dust/foam particles fouling up your glass job.
You also need to consider what you are wearing while shaping and glassing. We suggest using the same ratty old t-shirt/jeans/sneakers over and over again because they will get covered in dust. Another tip is to take off your dusty shaping clothes in your shaping space and leave them there when you are done shaping. If you wear them inside, you will get dust EVERYWHERE. This has led to tensions in many a relationship and should be avoided at all costs.
Do yourself a favor and make sure there is a workbench, shelf, or table very close to your shaping rack where you can keep all of the required tools handy for the task at hand. It can be very frustrating and time consuming to hunt around for tools as you are shaping or glassing. Plan this in advance, before you start. This can be particularly important when you are glassing, as curing resin means time is of the essence.
Pro Shapers typically have shelves right above their side-lights. The shelves serve to direct the light toward the rails of the board being shaped, and also to hold all of the necessary tools within arm’s-length.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
The amount of time it takes to build a surfboard varies from surfer to surfer and is dependent on your skill set and personality. Some people shape their first board in as little as 3 hours, other may take a full day (5-8 hours) just to carve their first shape if being super careful and taking their time.Your second board will probably be completed in ½ to 1/3rd of the time. The learning curve in shaping surfboards is very steep. By your third or fourth board, you will be able to complete the shaping stage in about 2-4 hours. Pros typically shape a shortboard in under an hour.
Glassing a board requires fewer labor hours, but you will spend more time waiting for your resin to cure than actually glassing the board. With Greenlight Marine Grade Epoxy Resin with SLOW Hardener it takes about 4 hours for resin to cure enough to flip the board and glass the other side. (Fast Hardener is 2 1/2 hours) As a rule, epoxy cures slower in colder temperatures and faster in warmer temperatures. Plan on more than one day to laminate and seal coat both sides of a board. You can also use a heated space and crank the temperature up to cure the epoxy even faster.
Resin Research Quick Kick epoxy, which has “flip times” as fast as 30 minutes in warm temps (90F) and under two hours in cooler temps (70F). With Quick Kick, you can pretty easily laminate and hot-coat both sides of a board in a single day (3 flips). As a beginner, you may want to use regular the Greenlight Marine Grade Epoxy System with SLOW Hardener, especially in warmer temperatures, as it gives you longer working time.
Fin box installs take amateurs about 1/2 hour (for a quad), plus the time it takes for the resin to cure. Leash plug installs only take about 10-15 minutes, plus the time it takes the resin to cure.
Sanding your glass job will take 1-2 hours, depending on how much you do with a power sander and how much you do by hand. It is almost guaranteed that you will “burn-through” the seal coat and expose glass weave during your first few sand jobs. Exposed weave will suck water, so you need to re-coat those burn-through areas or even add a second entire seal coat if you have multiple burn-throughs.
Adding a gloss coat to your board is pretty quick: only 20 minutes or so to apply each side, plus the time it takes for each side to cure. Final sanding and polishing of your board should take 1-2 hours on your first shot.
So to plan your time for making a surfboard, consider the following:
Day 2: Laminate bottom and top, seal coat top (1-2 hours labor; 9-12 hours cure time)*
Day 4: Install leash plug, sand top and bottom (1-2 hours labor; 3-4 hours cure time)*
Day 5: 2nd seal coat or gloss coat, final sanding/polishing (1-2 hours labor; 3-8 hours cure time)*
Here we go. Now you’ve got the tools, the design, the template, and the workspace. It is time to choose a blank and get busy mowing foam. The first step in the process is choosing the correct blank. Most surfboards are made with either Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) or Polyurethane (PU) foam blanks. Greenlight carries both EPS and PU Blanks in a variety of shapes and sizes. Your first task is to choose EPS or PU as a blank material.
EPS foam blanks have been used in surfboard construction since the early 1980's but is quickly gaining popularity since advancements in foam technology has made EPS easier to work with and producing lighter, stronger boards. Surfboards shaped with EPS and glassed with Epoxy Resin have proven to have superior strength/weight ratios to PU/Polyester boards (about 3X stronger). EPS boards have been particularly popular for small-wave boards, where light-weight is important, and also are gaining popularity in big-wave guns, and performance longboards, and high performance shortboards, where strength/weight ratio is important. EPS foam is very durable and much more impact resistant than PU foam which means less dings and your board will keep it's lively flex and rebound feel for many years.
EPS blanks have a consistent density throughout the blank, so there is no worry of over-shaping the blank and exposing a weaker inner core. Most beginner shapers choose EPS blanks, as they are easiest to shape and produce a durable but still lightweight board. Greenlight's Engineered EPS blanks are the best quality and most consistent foam on the market. We recommend shaping EPS with our Greenlight Tool pack which we designed to be the most effective and easiest way to shape surfboards.
One last comment of EPS foam, it MUST be glassed with epoxy resin! Polyester resin will melt the foam! Please do not make this mistake.
PU blanks have been the go-to core for the surfboard industry since the 60s. You can laminate them with epoxy or polyester resin. PU blanks are typically more dense and heavier than EPS blanks. Most PU blanks have a density of 3 lbs per cubic foot, while Greenlight EPS blanks are a specially engineered 2# per cubic foot density. PU foam shapes nicely and takes paint well for artwork.
Another unique characteristic of PU blanks is that they are denser in the “outer skin” than the “inner core.” When shaping PU, most shapers use “close tolerance” blanks, where they don’t have to shape deeper than the outer skin to preserve the most durable component of the blank. If you shape too far into a PU blank, your board is more likely to get pressure dings and delaminations in these areas. For this reason, EPS blanks are usually a safer, and stronger bet for beginner shapers.
Boards shaped with polyurethane foam will have a shorter lifespan and will deteriorate over time, losing it's flex and rebound characteristics and eventually break or buckle.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SIZE BLANK
Once you have decided on PU or EPS, you need to choose the appropriately sized blank for your planned design. The three things you need to consider are:
- Rocker Profile
When choosing a blank length, in general, the blank should be at least 1/4" inch longer, but not more than 6 inches longer than your intended final shape. Greenlight's Engineered EPS blanks are designed 1/4" longer than the nominal length so you can fit the board you want in the blank (provided the rocker is what you're aiming for - more on that below). Too short and you won’t be able to fit your shape on the blank, too long and you will have trouble getting the correct rocker shaped. So if you are going to shape a 6’0” fish, make sure you start with a blank that is at least 6’0 1/4"+ and not longer than 6’6”. Although you can shape a 6'0" board from a 6'0" blank with no room for rocker adjustment, or a 6'0" from a 9'3" blank and cut a few feet off either (or both ends). Remember your surfboard is sitting somewhere inside the blank, it's your job to bring it out.
When choosing a blank width, you need to primarily make sure that your blank is wide enough in all key dimensions: 12” from the nose, in the wide point, and 12” from the tail. Greenlight EPS blanks come in rectangular outlines that are 24" wide, so width isn’t an issue, but other blanks usually come in more compact “shortboard” profiles where the nose and tail are relatively narrow, or “fish/hybrid/longboard” profiles, where the nose and tail are wider and more suitable for these shapes. So if you’re making a short fish, make sure the blank is wide enough in the nose/tail area. Many “shortboard” blanks won’t work for fish shapes.
Finally, you need to make sure you can carve out the appropriate rocker from your blank. While some blank manufacturers offer custom rockers, as a beginner, you will most likely be choosing a “stock” rocker profile for your first board. Stock rockers usually fall in two categories: more curvy, shortboard rockers, or flatter fish rockers. The shortboard rockers usually have higher, thinner nose and tail curve, while the fish rockers have lower, thicker nose and tail curves.
If you have designed your board on a CAD program, you will have all of the measurements needed to determine if a blank is suitable for your design: thickness in the center, nose, and tail; plus rocker in the nose and tail area. Every blank maker has a spec sheet for each blank which identifies the key measurements of the blank. If you have not designed with a CAD program, you just need to make sure you choose a “shortboard” rocker for making a shortboard or a “fish rocker” for making any type of low-rocker board. When in doubt, the crew at Greenlight can always steer you toward the most appropriate blank for your intended design.