Before your board is finished: a quick look at the craftsmans’ challenges

31.08.2020

There are many steps in making a surf- or kiteboard like we do at Appletree Surfboards. It takes quite some time to learn these skills and master them. Trained hands and trained eyes are super essential’ – as Jeroen says.

Since 2015 Jeroen is Appletree Surfboards’ Production Manager. He’s the guy that’s responsible for the boards leaving the factory on time. He briefly explains what the process looks like. What knowledge, skills and tools are put together into the board before you mount your fins underneath?

Jeroen sands kiteboard at factory Appletree Surfboards

Eight steps

  1. Drawing and testing
    It all starts at the computer where ideas are being converted into drawings. The outline and the features will be designed, based on what’s necessary on the market. We produce these proto types and test and tweak a few samples until we find the perfect final shape.

  2. Rough cut by machine
    A board is created out of a 50k foam blank which is placed in the CNC machine. Controlled via the computer, the machine starts milling the shape. At this stage, 80% of the shape has been created.

  3. Shaping by hand
    One of our shapers does the last cuts to free the board from the block. Then he sands the roundings and edges perfectly right. This last 20% of handwork requires a lot of precision and concentration.

    Jeroen: ‘Our intention is to make all shapes of one model exact the same as the next one and the next one. There is a great challenge when it comes to sanding. If you sand an area a few strokes too much, you already change the shape. It is also a great skill to shape the rail perfectly round by hand. You have to train your eyes to see inequalities. And it is not only the eyes, it’s also the hands that feel. You can see  by feeling with your hands.’

  4. Glassing. This part of the process is where our strength and secret lies. Imagine the shape in foam. We wrap the glass or carbon around the board and infuse this layer with resin. We are able to find the perfect balance to make a board super strong and very lightweight at the same time. 

  5. Sanding. Once the board comes out of the glassing process, the surface is rough. We sand the surface until it becomes smooth again.

    Jeroen: ‘We use lightweight machines that we can easily hold with one hand, which gives the opportunity to work precisely but also quickly. A surface of a board, it’s all round. The challenge always is to not sand through the precious layer of fiber, because that’s the boards’ strength. So the whole skill of the sander is actually getting the shape right but not sand through the fibers. To do that, we use techniques that are not really common in the surf industry. We put extra time and effort in teaching new team members those skills.’

  6. Hotcoating. Another layer of epoxy is put on the deck for more strength. Generally, we do the sanding from the previous step and the glassing together, side per side. So for example we start with the bottom, and then the top follows, until the board is completely covered with epoxy.

    Jeroen: ‘The challenge here is to put enough, but not too much epoxy on the board, to be able to sand the board to the shape we want it to be. But all epoxy is extra weight and in most situations we want to make the boards as light as possible.’

  7. Final sanding. We refine the shape after hot coating, to get back that super smooth surface. 

  8. Quality check. The precise sanding task requires extra attention, so the board is checked by one of the other guys that is allowed to. The board does not leave the building until we are sure that the shape and the quality are at their best.
Jeroen Meere holding tools for handcrafted sanding Appletree Surfboards

So that’s basically what happens in our factory. As you know by now, almost each step is being done by hands. That’s why it’s also possible to customize boards in different ways. You can choose your own favourite colour, fin-set up or strength. 

Of course there’s a lot more to tell about the building principles, since there’s so many varieties within boards and techniques. Have a look at our Tech-Talk videos for a deeper dive into different topics.