Make Your Own Skateboard
The skateboard was originally created to be used as transportation and to replicate the feeling of surfing on the street. A flat, solid piece of wood was used, limiting the skater to only so much progression that consisted of rolling and balancing tricks. As soon as the first ‘ollie’ was documented (tapping the tail of the skateboard downward, popping the board upwards) things started to change. This gave the skateboarder the ability to get up off the ground for the first time; opening up a new realm of possibilities for skateboarding. As a result, the basic skateboard was instantly outdated.
The next step for the construction of the skateboard was to have a more pronounced tail, and then to slim down the weight of the board to further its ability to be navigated while airborne. The first laminated board was created with plys of wood to create a strong but light construction. Now that the skateboard was subject to a lot more abuse, it had to be built with what was and still is the main material used today: Canadian hard maple.
In order to reduce the weight of the deck they went to thinner plys of maple. Unfortunately, this thinning of the maple plys caused more board breakage. It was clear that the glues being used for the lamination process had to evolve as well. The mass-produced decks evolved from using water-based glues that held moisture and were relatively weak to mixed resins that would be stiffer and bond better with the wood.
As skateboarding continued to progress, so did the shape of the deck. At first the board started to develop a nose more like the tail and then the overall shape started to emulate a freestyle deck with a twin tip and overall symmetrical shape. This came from seeing what the freestyle skaters were doing and their ability to flip the deck around with ease. As control of the deck became more important to further aid a skater’s progression, ‘concave’ was also gradually introduced, which created a side-to-side arc that gave the skater the ability to navigate quicker and with more precision on the street or ramp.
A little help
A helper can hold down the edges of the laminations while the other person removes the air to prevent the vacuum bag from getting pinched.
The mould that come with the kit is shaped perfectly to give you a modern street deck shape.
Plane the straight line
Alex is comfortable using a plane to even up the long straight lines of the deck.
Work the curves
A spokeshave and a file make quick work of truing up the curved ends.
Head to the skate shop
To complete your deck you’ll need to pick up your trucks, wheels, bearings, grip tape and bolts.
Easy does it
Line up the grip tape and allow it to fall in the center and press it down, moving from the center to the edges working the air bubbles out.
Trim to size
Use an old file to mark the edges by rubbing the grip tape on the edges of the board, then use a knife to cut along the scored edges.
Just like in the shop, make sure you have your safety gear before you go out pushing, grinding or freestyling.
This is a great project to do with kids because the only power tool required is a cordless drill. This is the third skateboard that my daughter Alex and I have made, although this is the first street deck we’ve pressed. The other two were long boards … and, yes, we do skate them. This project provides a great opportunity to pass on the skills and passion for woodworking to the next generation.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
When pressing your first skateboard deck, there is no need to start from scratch. I recommend starting with a kit that will introduce you to the techniques involved with pressing a laminated deck. This will allow you to focus on the steps of pressing rather than designing and making forms. Once you’ve pressed a couple of decks with the kits you will know what you are doing and can venture into the world of design.
The instructions that come with the kit are about as detailed as possible and following them will almost guarantee success. Here are some tips worth mentioning before starting into laminate pressing.
Make sure that your work area is free of sawdust. I know, I know, a sawdust-free wood shop. My point here is that if you have saw dust on your laminations they will not accept the glue very well and you’ll waste time trying to sort the problem out while the glue has started drying.
Ensure that you get a consistent layer of glue on each lamination. Any dry spots will end up being air bubbles and can cause delaminating.
Check the vacuum press often to ensure that all of the air remains out of the bag because this is a manual pump.
Once you have pressed the deck you will have some trimming and clean up work to do. For the flat edges we chose to use a block plane to trim up the laminations. You will want to use a beater plane for this task because the glue in the laminations can wreak havoc on the edges of tools. You could also use a disk or belt sander to get the job done. Once you get the sides trimmed, move to the curved ends. For this procedure we used a combination of spoke shave and files to maintain the curved profile. Clamping the deck in a bench vise will make it much easier to work with. With the shaping done, lightly sand the edges, especially those on the ends that would have seen a file during shaping. At this point, you will want to apply finish to your deck to protect it from the elements. I recommend using an exterior grade clear finish to seal things up. The bottom of the deck can be left plain or you can put some artwork on to further customize your deck. Just make sure to seal the bottom with a clear coat to offer the best protection to the wood. In the case of our long boards, Alex and I went with nice veneers on the underside using walnut and curly cherry, respectively, because long boards don’t suffer the same abuse as street decks.
Hardware and Grip Tape
When choosing the hardware for your skateboard, I recommend talking to the staff at your local skate shop about what you need. Essentially, you will need a set of trucks, some wheels and some bearings. There are many different brands of hardware at different price points and qualities so talk to the skate shop staff to find out what will best suit your needs. Once the hardware is taken care of, you will need to put grip tape on the deck. This will keep you from slipping of the deck while pushing around or doing tricks. Grip tape is basically adhesive-backed course sandpaper, except that the adhesive on grip tape is much stickier than the woodworking variety. You only get one shot at putting the tape on because where it sticks is where it is going to live for a long time. Most skate shops will grip tape a deck for you if you are not confident about handling it yourself.
The only thing left to do is grab your helmet and head for the local skate park to test ride your new custom skateboard. The best part about making your own skateboard is the bragging rights you have when somebody asks, “Hey! Sick deck … who makes it?”
Source for deck building supplies
The company from which I got the kits is called Roarockit and they are based out of Toronto, ON. Ted and Norah sell everything you will need, from the laminates to the manual vacuum press to press a deck. You can buy individual parts of the kit or you can buy everything as a complete kit. The kits and much more are available at roarockit.com and the complete* street deck kit, which makes two decks, costs $128.99. They also offer kits to make long boards if you are so inclined.
* Kit does not include trucks, wheels, bearings, or grip tape. For more information about hardware and other skating-related items, check out Concrete Wave, the Canadian skateboarding magazine, at concretewavemagazine.com.