Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Firefly

So recently I have taken up a new hobby, or should I say I have extended a prior hobby a few rungs up. A few months back I had received a couple of foam blanks from a friend as a gift. These "blanks" are what is generally referred to as the foundation to making a surfboard. They typically are made with a mold injection process that takes shape as a crude block resembling a surfboard, if you blur your eyes hard enough. Most of these blanks have a wooden stringer running the length of itself which gives it tensile strength. 

It has been a dream of mine for years to whittle down my own piece of foam with the intention of riding it someday. Although intimidation to the material and shear fear of fucking up a piece of innocent foam remained a hurdle to conquering my dream. Then it dawned on my one day while sitting in the ocean waiting for a set to approach, I thought back to a video I had seen where some ace surfer caught a wave on a traditional house door and rode it for a bit. This door had no fins, no rocker and was void of any shape that would lend itself workable. Yet this surfer got to his feet and rode it a few yards until the board lost control and dude bra went down. I thought about my own craft as a woodworker/sculptor and about some of the other things I had sculpted out of wood. Surfboard shaping seemed to be just subtractive symmetry, and even if it wasn't symmetrical, the thing, like the door was bound to float. So I decided to give it a shot, I started working the blank about a week ago. 

I had decided to take one of my favorite boards and duplicate it's form with a slight variation in the width and thickness. First, I made what is called a template out of  3/16" masonite. This is an outline of the older board measuring from the center point of the deck to the outer curvature of the form. I simply traced the outline of the old board onto the masonite, cut it out with a jig saw and sanded the edges down. Once I fine tuned the template I placed it onto the blank and scribed an outline onto the bottom of the foam. I used a brick to keep the template secure to the board, I did this on both sides. Making sure things were as symmetrical as they could be I sawed on the outside of the line to create a crude blocky representation of a surfboard, I now had my door. 

Initially I was excited about shaping the entire thing by hand, the old fashion way. This idea was quickly abandon due to the fact that a surform is simply no match for a hand planer when it comes to removing material. Traditions overrated... After a few nervous attempts with the power planer, my passes became less timid as I worked out a rythem to remove the material. Along the way I found that a basic shop vac hooked up to the hand planer worked really well to keep the dust down as the whole process is like being in a snow globe without it. Before I knew it I had taken off at least a 3/4" of material all around and felt it was time to stop and measure some things before I had nothing left. Using a caliper that I fashioned out of some old plywood, I could check the thickness of the board from nose to tail. I didn't mess with the edges since the line that I had drawn was my only visual guide I had to follow. From here I began working with a surform, drywall sanding block and hand plane. The removal of the material was far more slow and deliberate at this stage, but I was able to visualize a more refined form taking place. 

I've recently been working the edges of the board with a drywall sanding block, this has allowed me to remove material slowly and gauge the rail symmetry. I have also been studying up on different bottom contours for speed and stability. I'm feeling confident that this aspect of the shaping will be done fairly soon. I'm looking forward to the next few stages...

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