Last time, we looked at finding a suitable waterski to turn into a longboard. This time we'll look at how to turn that ski into the longboard of your dreams. In part III of this series, we'll go beyond the basic finish and look at design techniques that will make any home-made board look as good or better than commercially produced ones.
Presumably, you've already found a good waterski--one that meets the length, width, and construction requirements we spoke of last time.
The first step is taking off all of the hardware, making sure to save anything that might be useful in the finished product. Unless you want to break a leg the first time you go down, you'll want to ditch the bindings. Still there may be something you can salvage. I once built a longboard out a ski that had two shallow wooden fins on each ski, instead of a single one. They made great side rails.
Before you go an further, try to find the center line of the ski and draw it lightly in pencil at the front and back. This will help when you with drawing the shape of the nose and tail as well as with mounting the trucks. If you had a particular length in mind, figure out where you want the nose and tail. Bear in mind that if you turn the waterski backwards, you can utilize the slope of the nose as a kicktail. The next step is coming up with the shape of the nose and tail.
The easiest way to do this is with scissors and pieces of paper. Fold the paper, making sure that the crease is straight and even. Measure the width of the ski where you want to start your cut and mark half the width on the paper perpendicular to the fold. From here cut the paper in the shape that you envision what one rail would look like, so that, when you unfold the paper , both sides of the nose, or tail are symmetric. The advantage of doing it this way is that you can experiment with the shape until you're happy. If you screw up, all you've lost is a piece of paper. It's real easy to start over.
You might even want to draw in the basic shape as a guide for cutting. A French curve, readily available wherever art supplies are sold, can help you draw a nice even curved line, even if you can't draw a straight line freehand. Once you're happy with the shape, you can transfer the outline to the waterski in pencil. Try to keep the lines as light as possible but still visible. Remember that lines that fall inside the finshed deck may have to be sanded out.
For cutting the waterski, a bandsaw is preferable, but a portable saber saw works fine too (you're not really cutting all that much here). Now it's time to head to the Home Depot. If you can, bring the ski with you. You're going to need some wood putty to fill the holes where the bindings etc. were. If the ski is a nice hardwood, and you're going for a natural finish, having it with you may help them find a color of wood putty that matches better. If you're using a saber saw and you're not sure how old the blade is, buy some new ones, making sure you get the right type for the wood your cutting (another good reason for having the waterski with you). This makes an incredible difference in how easy and well the cuts go. While you're there pick up whatever else you might need for finishing. This includes paint and varnish strippers, sand paper, and new paint or varnish.
Now it is time to start cutting. If you can, draw a curved line on the part of the ski that you are going to be cutting off anyway. Then make one or two practice cuts. It takes a while to get the feel of your tools, and it's way better to make your mistakes on a piece that you are going to be throwing away anyway. Take your time with the cuts. Saws like to throw up lots of sawdust, so that you can't see what you're doing. As you get to the end of a cut make sure that the part being cut off is resting on something, or have a friend hold it. You don't want it to break off and splinter at the end.
Once you're done with the cutting, it's the time to drill the holes for truck mounting, but before you start make sure that the trucks you have are adequate. If they're old and thrashed, consider getting some new ones before you drill. The reason I say this is that, for you old schoolers, the hole patterns on newer trucks have changed. If you drill based on your old Trackers, you may be limiting what types of trucks you can upgrade into.Hopefully, you remembered to draw a center line on the waterski. Assuming that the base plates on your trucks are square, okay rectangular, measure and mark where the center line of the truck is. Then line this up with the center line of the board and mark where the holes for the trucks should be.
When you drill, make sure that you drill through the board into some scrap wood. Otherwise it might splinter the deck. If you have access to a router, it's a good idea to rout all the way around the board on the top and bottom. This will give you a nice even beveled edge all the way around and hopefully hide any mistakes you made cutting.
From this point, all you need to do is paint or varnish and slap some grip tape on it, and you're golden. Okay, there's a bit more to it than that, but I'm going to leave it for next time. If you really need to finish it, here's my advice in lieu of the next installment. Take your time with the preparation. The more time you spend sanding and stripping, the better it's bound to turn out. Pick the guy's brain at the hardware store. He's probably forgot more about wood finishing than I'll ever know. Don't be afraid to steal a graphic. You see a nice Grateful Dead sticker at your local head shop, go for it. Professionally produced stickers look great especially when you put a coat of clear varnish over them.
Finally, use a file when you put on the grip tape. Don't try to cut the grip tape in the shape of the board; you'll never get it on straight. Cut the grip tape to a little longer than the board, pull off the backing paper, and put the whole sheet on. Then use a file around the edges of the board on top of the grip tape. This will give you a nice line for trimming off the excess. Plus, filing will push the grip tape down around the edges, so it won't peel up.
Nose Wheelie, except where noted otherwise, was written and created by Chris Sturhann.
Copyright © 1997 Chris Sturhann