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Thread: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

  1. #1
    Old Skool TioEmm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    So you want to build a Freebord deck? - TioEmm secrets revealed!

    I’ve been meaning to write up this recipe for a while.

    The overall process is pretty simple. You glue together (laminate) multiple thin sheets of wood and force them into a concave shape. When the glue dries the shape is retained and you have a concave “blank”. You cut your deck shape out of the blank, drill your mounting holes, round over the sharp edges, apply clear finish or paint and add grip tape. A shop full of power tools will make this easier, but you can get it done with a just a basic set of tools.

    This will just cover the basics, most of which I learned hanging out at If you want more building info (fiberglass, graphics, etc etc etc) that’s the place to go!

    1 What you need

    1.1 Materials
    The only materials required are wood, glue, finish and grip tape.

    1.1.1 Wood
    You want thin, flexible, strong wood. Some options are:

    1/8” Baltic birch ply wood (sometimes called “Russian birch”) is your best option. This comes in 3-ply 5’x5’ sheet. Don’t get birch plywood from Home Depot as this will just be thin birch veneer with a very weak, non-birch core. Baltic birch has three plys of solid birch. You won’t find Baltic birch at Home Depot, you’ll need to go to a good lumber store or a specialty wood supplier. It is used to build cabinets, so if you have trouble finding it try asking a cabinet shop where they get it. It is not too expensive – I pay ~$15 for a 5’x5’ sheet. If you can’t find 1/8” you can use 1/4” Baltic birch, but it won’t hold the concave shape as well. You probably can’t fit a 5’x5’ sheet in your car, but most shops will cut it for you. Ask them how many cuts they will make and plan how you want it cut before you show up.

    Maple is a common wood for decks, but it is harder to get, harder to work with, and more expensive than Baltic birch. Maple comes in a 1/16” veneer which requires very precise glue spreading and very even pressure when laminating.

    Bamboo is also harder to get, harder to work with, and more expensive than Baltic birch. And it is heavier, stronger, and more flexible than Baltic birch. I found a supplier of 3/32” 5-ply bamboo which is not too hard to work with.

    Other hardwood ply can be used if you can find it thin enough. Just make sure it is not a thin veneer over a crappy core. I’ve heard of good results using Australian “Hoop Pine” whatever that is…

    1.1.2 Glue
    I use Tightbond III wood glue. Pretty much any wood glue will probably work. Tightbond III is somewhat water-proof and seems to be preferred by many longboard builders. You can use epoxy but it requires mixing and can be pretty expensive. Don’t use gorilla glue because its foaming action pushes the plys apart during lamination. I pay ~$30 for a gallon of Tightbond III – you can get a 16oz bottle for around $12 and that will probably be enough for two decks.

    1.1.3 Finish
    I use a clear finish on my decks. Minwax “Polycrylic” is a good choice. It is water based, very easy to apply and clean up, and doesn’t smell when you put it on. It comes either as a brush-on liquid or an aerosol spray. I’ve tried both and prefer the brush-on. I’m now using General Finishes “Enduro-Var” which is also a friendly water-based product. I think it looks better and gives a little more protection than the “Polycrylic” but it is more expensive and harder to find.

    You can use a wood stain or dye before applying the clear coat. I’ve made green and pink decks using RIT fabric dye.

    If you want a painted finish you can use spray paint or brush-on paint.

    1.1.4 Grip
    You can use any grip tape you like (Jessup, Mob, etc), but check the width. Many skate sheets come 9” wide – I build 10” wide decks and use 11” grip tape. If you have a narrow sheet, leaving a gap down the center of the deck looks good.

    Another grip option is “sand grip”. You can use beach sand, crushed glass, or Tread-Tex sprinkled in your clear finish.

    1.2 Supplies
    • Sand paper (150 and 220 grit recommended)
    • Cheap foam brush (2” wide) (for applying clear finish)
    • Razor blades (for the grip tape)
    • Masking Tape
    • Paper, pencils

    1.3 Tools
    I’ll list the tools I normally use. You can get by with much less.
    • Razor knife
    • Straight edge – 4’ (you can use a sheet of wood etc for this)
    • Tape measure
    • Scissors (for cutting out your paper template)
    • Clamps
    • Power Drill
    • Power saber saw
    • Power belt sander
    • Router and straight bit (very optional!)
    • Wood rasp (it is a coarse file)
    • Rubber sanding block
    • 6” foam paint roller (for spreading glue)
    • Flat file (for applying grip tape)

    1.4 Mold and Press
    The “Mold” is what the sheets of wood are bent around while the glue dries. It gives the deck its convex shape. The “Press” is the mechanical device that presses the sheets together and presses them into the mold shape.

    I use a two piece mold made from rigid foam that I shaped with a hot wire. It’s got a bottom concave piece (“female” half) and a top convex piece (“male” half) – the sheets of wood (and the glue) go in between the two and are squeezed by the press. I cover my mold with clear packing tape so glue doesn’t stick to it.

    Concave mold made from 2” rigid foam insulation

    Here’s my “Ted Kaczynski” video with some details on building a foam mold:

    My press is two 4’ pieces of 2x12 (which go on either side of the mold) and four “clamps” to squeeze them together. Each clamp is a made with a pair of 18” 2x4s linked together at each end with a length of threaded rod. Tightening nuts on the threaded rod `drive the 2x4s together and squeeze the 2x12 and the mold.

    Clamps made with 2x4s, threaded rod, nuts and washers

    1.5 Rail Press
    There are lots of mold and press options. The simplest is probably a “Rail Press”. This is just three boards and a bunch of clamps. One board, the “center rail” is placed under your plys, the other two, “side rails” are placed on top and the clamps bend the plys around the center rail to form your concave. OK – I guess you need a 4th “base board” that you clamp the rails to. A rail press won’t give you very even clamping pressure, so the glue-bond strength will be a little less – and it won’t work at all with very thin plys like 1/16” maple. 1/8” Baltic birch is stiff enough to work fairly well in a rail press. The mock-up photo below shows six clamps – ten or twelve would be better.

    Rail Press

    2 Building the Blank
    By gluing multiple thin sheets together and forcing them into a concave bend while the glue dries you create a rectangular “blank”.

    2.1 Preparing the sheets
    IMPORTANT: you want the grain running length-wise along your sheets. Look at your wood - look at the grain - it curves a bit, but mostly it runs one direction in the board. You want that direction to be the long dimension of your deck.

    The only preparation required is cutting sheets to the correct size. Figure out how long and how wide you want your final deck and cut your sheets a little bigger. I cut my sheets to 12” x 36” to build a 10” wide freebord. You can cut the sheets with just about any type of saw. OR… with thin sheets like 1/8” Baltic birch you can cut with a straight-edge and a box cutter. Just make a few deep scoring passes with the knife (scoring both sides helps) then bend and “snap”. I use the box cutter if I’m just preparing to build a single deck and a circular saw if I want to make a big batch of 12”x36” sheets. These cuts don’t need to be too precise since the final deck will be smaller than the blank. Remember to check your grain orientation before cutting!

    You need enough sheets to build a blank that is ~1/2” thick. If you are using 1/8” wood you’ll need four sheets. You can go a bit thinner but you will sacrifice a lot of strength. If you ride like you’re 50 you can get away with a 3/8” deck which will be lighter, flexier, and a lot weaker.

    If you care, pick the nicest looking sheet for the bottom as that will be visible.

    12”x36” sheets ready to glue

    2.2 Spreading the Glue
    Once you start spreading glue you have a limited time to get it into the press so make sure you have everything ready before you open the glue: Sheets are all cut out and ready, press is set up and ready, etc. The first time you try this it is a good idea to go through a “dry run”. Pretend to spread glue on the sheets, stack the sheets and get them into the press, tighten the clamps twist the nuts or whatever you do to apply pressure. Glue starts to dry as soon as you pour it out of the bottle. If it takes you much longer than 15 minutes to get your blank in your press you risk a r bond. Different glues have different dry times - read the bottle.

    Warning: glue is messy and sticky. You are guaranteed to get glue on you, on your clothes and in your work area. Are you sure you want to wear that Freebord Stealth Hoodie? The glue will NOT wash out.

    Most of my experience is with Tightbond III wood glue which I highly recommend. Tightbond, Tightbond II, or any other wood glue should be fine.

    There are two standard ways to spread glue: with a plastic scraper or with a foam roller. I use a foam roller because I think it goes on quicker and giver a more even coverage. I have a 6” foam paint roller that I never need to clean and just keep all gluey in a BIG ziplock bag. I lay out two sheets side-by-side, squeeze glue on to one of the sheets, roll it just like it were paint making sure to get 100% FULL coverage, then use the still-wet roller on the other sheet this time going for a light coating and not worrying too much about full coverage. Then I flip one sheet over and stack it onto the other (glue against glue). I continue like this until they are all glued together.

    A plastic scraper can be just about anything that will push glue around: an expired credit card, a wide putty knife, a scrap of wood. Pour on the glue, spread it around as evenly as you can, stack glued sheets together as you go and the glue will not dry as quickly.

    How much glue? Good question. I use about 8 ounces to glue up four 12”x36” sheets. Using too much glue may cause problems - using too little will be worse. The best analogy is to make it like a thick coat of paint. When you press it you should get some glue squeezing out.

    Glue it!

    2.3 Pressing the Blank
    Put your glued-up sheets in the mold. Put your mold in the press. Squeeze!

    There is really not much I can say about this step. But I’ll describe what I do with my foam mold and my 2x4/threaded rod press.

    I start with one of my 4’ 2x12s sitting on my bench with the concave half (the “female” half) of the mold sitting on top. I pile on my just-glued-up stack, the “male” half of the mold, and the final 4’ 2x12. Now I make sure everything is centered and lined up - mold centered within the 2x12s, just-glued-up stack centered within the mold. Next I take my 2x4/threaded rod clamps and slide them around the 2x12s and the mold. Again I check that everything is centered and that the spacing between the clamps is fairly even. Then I hand-tighten the nuts on all the clamps, then carefully and evenly tighten the clamps more and more. I like to use two wrenches and tighten both sides of a clamp at the same time. When you tighten one clamp its neighbors will become loose. Keep checking that things are pretty well centered and that the now-bending blank does not slip too much in the mold. Keep tightening until you get all the clamps good and tight. You should get some glue squeezing out between the sheets. As you tighten, the sheets are likely to slip relative to each other, so your blank will have pieces offset to one side or the other. A little of this is OK - your final deck will be narrower than the blank.

    In the press for 24 hours

    Let the blank sit in the press for 24 hours. The glue is what holds the concave shape in your blank - the wood is straining to flex back to its original (flat) shape so it is a good idea to let if fully dry in the press. If it’s been 22 hours and you can’t wait to get it out - ok, take it out. It you take it out at 12 hours you may end up losing some of your concave.

    Loosen the nuts, pull off the clamps, lift the top of the mold. You marked the center line on your mold right? Before lifting the blank out of the mold mark the center line onto the blank. This is the center of the concave - if the blank shifted when you tightened the press it will not be the center of the blank. You will want to cut out your shape and drill your mounting holes relative to the center of the concave, not the center of the blank. Make a pencil mark at either end of the blank at the center of the concave. Use a straight edge to connect these marks into a full center line down the bottom side of your blank. You need a full center line since you will be cutting off the ends of your blank. The pencil center line will get sanded off after the deck is cut out and the mounting holes are drilled.

    Concave blanks

    3 Building the deck

    3.1 The template
    A deck “template” is a full sized model of the deck - usually just cut out of paper. A paper template allows you to easily see how the deck shape will look, check toe/heal overhang, make sure your shape is symmetric etc without cutting any wood.

    If you have access to design software you can design your shape that way. Google SketchUp is one free option. Most Kinkos and print shops have plotters that will get you a full size print to cut out. Or you can just sketch out a shape on a big sheet of paper. If you sketch it free-hand it is a good idea to just sketch one half of the shape and flip it over the centerline to get a symmetric shape. Whatever you do, make sure your template has an accurate centerline that you can line up with the centerline on your blank.

    When you design your shape you should consider: length, width, waist, and foot space in addition to the look and style.

    Length is pretty obvious and is mostly driven by how wide you want your wheelbase and your stance. Stock decks have the mounting holes about 3/4” from the end - you probably don’t want to have less than that.

    I’ve been making my decks 10” wide which is about as wide as you can go without risk of wheelbite. If you go too narrow you’ll get footbite - especially if you have big feet. If your feet are not too big a slightly narrower deck may be more comfortable. Obviously a wider deck will be heavier. A wide deck will also have a deeper concave since the edges curve up more the farther you get from the centerline of the deck.

    The waist is the narrowed section in the center of the deck (duh). The narrower you make the waist the more torsional flex (how easily it twists) you will get. You want some flex so you can control the pressure individually on your edge wheels. I like a 7” waist but you can go narrower or wider to get a different flex. Don’t go anywhere near as thin as the pictures below!

    Foot space is really all about how much toe/heal overhang you have. This is pretty simple to figure out with a freebord since your feet are stationary in the bindings. A lot of this is determined by the width of the deck, but if you cut back the corners too much you’ll get toe overhang.

    TioEmm recommends you include a handle in your shape. It won’t compromise the strength much, I promise. And it makes it so much easier to carry your freebord up the hill.

    Template ready for tracing. Note that the blank is really too narrow for the width of the final deck. And the narrow waist was a bad idea.

    3.2 Rough cut

    First you need to transfer the shape of your template onto the concave blank. Tape the template to the bottom of the blank (the convex side) making sure to line up the centerline of the blank with the centerline of the template. Trace around it getting a good dark line. Using a sharpie is fine as the ink will all be removed when you round out the rails.

    A power saber saw is the best tool for cutting it out. You can use a band saw if you’ve got one or a hand coping saw. It is much easier to cut from the convex bottom side of the blank.

    This cut does not need to be perfectly precise - you want to make it a little oversized. I generally cut about 1/8” outside my line. How you will do you final shaping in the next step determines how close you cut to the line. If you’ve got a belt sander it will easily remove 1/8 to 1/4 inch of extra overhang. If you will be finishing by hand with files and sand paper you will want to get as close as you can to the line to minimize the hand removal. Your saw may splinter the wood a bit going around the end of the deck, especially if your blade is dull. If so, leave some extra space there and clean it up later with your sander. If you have a variable speed saw run it at top speed, but move the saw fairly slowly around the deck.

    If you are adding a handle, drill a hole big enough for your saber saw blade then carefully cut it out with the saw.

    It’s always a good idea to try some test cuts at the end of your blank well outside of your template line. Try hard not to remove any fingers or any parts of the deck that you want to keep.

    Rough cut. Note that a crappy cheap saw like mine is fine for this.

    3.3 Final Shaping
    Now you need to remove the extra wood and get a nice clean deck shape. You can do this with a power sander or with a file and sandpaper. I use a belt sander that I clamp on its side to my work bench. An orbital disc sander will also do a good job of getting the deck shaped.

    Whatever method you use you will be removing all the wood beyond and including your line. Work carefully - a belt sander can eat through wood very fast. Keep the deck or sander moving all the time - if you stop motion and “dwell” in one spot you can end up with a dip or flat spot in your edge (just like flatting an edge wheel that stops rolling). Try to keep the edge of the deck perpendicular to the top/bottom (you want a square edge, not a crooked one). This is a bit tricky with the concave bend in the deck so work carefully.

    Shaping the inside edge of the handle is tricky. You will probably need to do this with hand tools as you will not be able to get your sander to it. It is a pain, but, trust me - it’s worth it!

    Final shaping with a belt sander clamped on its side.

    3.4 Mounting holes
    It is best to use a baseplate to make sure you get your holes in exactly the right spot. Line up your baseplate with the centerline on the deck. Make sure it is the correct distance back from the end of the deck. Mark the location of the holes, use a center punch (or a nail) to put a dent in the center of one of the hole marks. Drill it through making sure your drill angle is perfect (vertical). You will probably get some “tear out” where the bit comes out on the top of the deck - not really a problem as it will be covered with grip tape. You can minimize the tear out by using a sharp bit, running your drill at full speed (but moving it slowly through the wood), and by clamping some scrap wood where the bit will come through. Once you have one hole through you can use it to attach your baseplate to the deck and drill the remaining holes right through the baseplate holes.

    You can also use another deck to get your holes in the right place. Just clamp the old deck to the bottom of the new one and drill through the original mounting holes.

    3.5 Rounding the Rails
    There are lots of ways to round over the rails (or edges) of the deck. I use a coarse wood rasp followed by coarse and then fine sand paper. You can do it with an orbital sander. A belt sander is probably too aggressive to give you a good result. You may be able to do it with a router and round-over bit but the concave makes that difficult - and in my experience a router is the easiest/quickest way to ruin a deck.

    4 Finish and Grip
    Even if you don’t care about how your deck looks you need a good finish to seal and protect the wood.

    4.1 Applying Finish
    If you used Baltic birch your deck will be pretty smooth already, but give it a good pre-sanding with 220 grit paper. Make sure you sand enough to remove the centerline and smooth out any rough spots around the edges. This is your last chance to even out any imperfections in the shape or the rails.

    There are lots of ways to apply your finish, I’ll describe how I do it, but here are some general considerations:
    • It’s a good idea to seal inside your mounting holes, especially if you every ride in the rain. Do this with a Q-tip when you are applying your first coat or two and follow with a brush to catch the drips.
    • The deck will get rough after the first coat dries – that’s because the water in the finish causes the wood grain to swell. Let the first coat dry thoroughly (like 24 hours) then sand it smooth with 220 grit paper. This will pretty much remove that first coat but that’s not a problem.
    • Multiple light coats will give you a better result.
    • Don’t obsess over the finish quality on the top of the deck – you will just cover it with grip anyway.
    I apply clear water based finish using a cheap 2” wide foam brush. I set the deck right-side up, brush a light coat on the edge all around, brush a light coat on the top, flip the deck over and set it on four painter’s pyramids and brush a light coat on the back finishing with light, full length brush strokes to leave a smooth finish. Flipping the deck will leave finger prints and the pyramids will leave four tiny dimples in the top finish but the grip will cover all of that. I usually apply three or four thin coats to the top and as many as eight coats to the bottom. I may only wait an hour or two between coats, especially if it is warm. Every few coats I let dry fully (24 hours) and then sand very lightly with 220 grit. If I’m trying for a really nice finish I’ll use 320 grit before the final coat and I may thin the finish a bit with water.

    4.2 Grip tape
    The process here is the same as re-gripping any skate deck. Stick the over-sized sheet on the deck being careful not to get any air bubbles, run a file around the rail to mark the edge and remove some grit, and carefully trim the excess with a razor blade. Or, the skate shop where you buy the grip tape will probably install it for you.

    You can cut a graphic into the tape using an xacto knife before you apply it. Cut through from the back side of the tape and be sure to flip the image – you will get a mirrored result on the grip side.

    Sand grip is another option. Lots of things will work for this – I use a product called Tread Tex which is basically just coarse sand. Put down a thick coat of your clear coat and shake sand into it while it is still wet. You can use a salt shaker or make one by punching holes in a jar lid. Hold the shaker well above the wet deck – like 3 or 4 feet – to get an even cover. Let it dry thoroughly, then add another couple coats of clear finish to hold the grit in place. Use a bristle brush for those final coats as the foam snags in the grit.

    5 The End

    That’s it. Mount your hardware and ride like you’re fifty!

  2. #2
    oh, WORD
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Blacksburg VA

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    Jesus H. Christ.... :shock:

  3. #3

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    something about the glues.. Don' t use glues that act fast. Or glues named PU (polyurethane). I find epoxies the best choice.

    The epoxy resin acts as a "liquid filler" filling and sealing tiny gaps that are created on the surface of the ply during construction. As it spreads over the wood or plywood, it penetrates the dry wood, excluding the slightest trace of moisture, which could be trapped between the layers, that could reduce the strength and durability. It acts as a means of binding like polyester with glass, increasing protection and durability. Also with different epoxy mixtures you can change how hard or elastic your board will be with the same number of plywoods.

  4. #4
    Old Skool TioEmm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    Interesting. I don’t know much about epoxy. I did use it the one time I had plys with an irregular surface for its “liquid filler” effect. It is a big step up in price and not as easy to use and I have not (yet!) had any delamination using Tightbond III.

    I am interested in changing the elasticity of the deck. Can you give some examples of what you’d use for a hard or an elastic deck?

  5. #5

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    I am sure your glue is good! Although never test it i know a lot of people from U.S. useing it. But the chemical reaction of epoxy resin and hardener gives great ammounts of heat drying your plywoods. (epoxy reaction can melt plastic)

    There are few industries in the world that make epoxy resins and hardeners. But there are hundred of industries (formulators) that buy epoxy resins as raw material producing new epoxies with different characteristics. So you can buy a ready epoxy mixture that meets your criteria and the appropriate hardener (depending on what temperature you are working).

    You can also create your own mixture.

    There are many ways that you can create your own formula. Most common is the use of talc, pyritium dust, aluminum dust, wood dust and many more. This technic will give you a harder resin.

    You can also create elastic resin (i don' t understand why you need an elastic resin but anyway).
    You need to add ready flexibilizer or thickener for epoxy systems, or an ?????? ?????? (google translates as "viscosity reducer")

    Sorry but i can' t give you a ready recipe not because i don' t want to but because the resin and the hardener i use is from Greek formulators and it's totally different to the one you will find in your local market. But I am sure in your local hardware store you can find the epoxy you need, definitely any epoxy for grout will give you a solid rock deck. Good luck

  6. #6
    Old Skool TioEmm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    Cool - very interesting stuff! I'll definitely look into it some more. One issue for me is that I work in an unheated garage and the hardeners I've seen are rated down to 45 F. Maybe I didn't look hard enough...

  7. #7

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    wait! i have to edit that post

    "That' s 7 degrees celsius. That' s very cold. But still you can use a fast hardener. Fast hardeners can be worked between 5 - 30 celsius but give you only 15 minutes work time.

    I use slow hardener and now that summer comes i have to go with an extra slow hardener (up to 40 celcius) both hardeners give me more than 30 minutes to work.

    or do you mean that you work under 45F ? cause then you just have to heat your garage.

  8. #8
    Old Skool TioEmm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    Yeah it's often colder than 45F... 6" of snow this morning!

  9. #9

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    6" of snow - 'only' this morning... :dry: :blink: :S
    YEAH - sounds great!!!

    Tio, have you ever tried snowboarding???
    In Anstria, it's winter too, and I spend my free time with snowboarding.

    By the way, a fail on snow or especially on powder is much more pleasant than on street!!!
    Started snowboarding years before freebording, and I was really shocked as I dropped on street the first time!!!


    PS: Will get some veneers from a friend of mine who is cabinetmaker -

  10. #10
    Old Skool TioEmm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Re: TioEmm secret recipe. Shhhhh!

    Yeah I clearly need to snowboard more. 6” was our biggest snow of the year - in mid-March?!? - very wet and the rain came in big that afternoon.

    Glad you found some wood. Can’t wait to see what you make!

    Emmanouil1980 - saw your 4-deck photo. Awesome! Post an update!

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