How to Build Your First Surfboard
by Stephen Pirsch

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GLASSING

Most people say the first laminate coat was the hardest part of building their first board.  Please - double please - practice.  Get some scrap foam, cloth, and resin, and practice laminating - especially wrapping the rails.

Do not cut weight by reducing cloth amounts.

I recommend buying supplies online from one of the sources listed in the HELPFUL LINKS.  It is generally cheaper and easier overall to have the recommended supplies delivered directly to your door, from one or two sources, compared to driving to numerous sources.  Buying locally often results in problems caused by insufficient or substandard materials.  If you try to build a surfboard using the abbreviated advice of a local surf shop you are courting disaster.  I have had good experiences with all the companies referred to in HELPFUL LINKS.  www.fiberglasssupply.com  has everything needed to do an entire board, in many combinations.  This web site also has a lot of information about the products which will help you decide which one to use.  www.surfsource.net  is also very good and a little faster. As of 2010, a number of us have switched to www.uscomposites.com for supplies - they are generally cheaper, especially the epoxy.  Note:  I do not receive any compensation for recommending anything in this guide.

Most surfboards have three resin layers covering the foam core;  first the laminate coat (cloth saturating layer), second the hot coat, and third the gloss coat.  Most surfboards are built with a clear polyester resin and fiberglass cloth (Silmar 249 resin and "E" cloth).  This combination can produce a good, economical, time proven board.  Most short boards are made with 4oz "E" cloth - one layer on the bottom and two on the top.  Most longboards are made the same way  with 6oz cloth.  This is a marginal amount of cloth for longboards, and not enough cloth for a shortboard.  The durability problem of the thruster can be solved by simply using "S" cloth (with no increase in weight).  Many professional board builders complain about the "disposable board" attitude which is now so accepted. 

The following products have merit, but please simply follow the recommendations, as you will have fewer problems. Please avoid the following on your first board:

  1. Carbon fiber cloth.
  2. U.V. activated catalyst (sun cure)
  3. Isophthalic resin.
  4. Vinyl ester resin.
  5. Additive F (epoxy thinner - xylene)

Do not use less than 6 oz. "E" with a deck patch for any 2 - 3 lb/cu.ft. foam.  There are better ways to cut weight.
Try the following alternatives:

  1. Thinner, and/or lighter stringer (spruce, cedar, etc.).
  2. Epoxy glue joint in place of stringer.
  3. No stringer.
  4. Foam filled, hollow, cedar, or molded fin(s).
  5. Polystyrene foam.
  6. No gloss coat.
  7. Epoxy and "S" cloth.

The following will greatly help on the first lamination.  Make a small replica of a surfboard blank with some scrap foam (maybe 1/10 scale).  Practice laminating the replica as if it was the real thing (especially wrapping the rails).  Simply follow the directions below in miniature.  Cut a plastic squeegee down to 1/10 scale.  Also;  a small, scrap, full thickness piece (with a rail shaped) is very helpful for practicing wrapping the rails.  Most first time builders say that glassing was harder than shaping.  Practice.

See MATERIAL LISTS for amounts.  Adjust the amounts for each board.  These amounts are barely enough for a 9' board using the cloth below.  For a 10' board add at least 10% more of everything.  For a 8' board subtract 10%. 

The following instructions assume the use of an extruded or expanded polystyrene foam blank (2lb./cu.ft.) with one layer of 8oz. "E" cloth on the bottom and top, with an 8oz "E" cloth deck patch (all plain weave).  Epoxy will be used to saturate the cloth (same basic tehnique with polyester).  Do not use polyester resin directly over polystyrene foam.  See epoxy.  This layering method will produce a very durable board which is more resistant to damage in the areas it is most likely to occur - the deck. 

Use old clothes - these will be ruined.  Keep using these same clothes.  Long sleeves help. Cheap sandals with old socks help.  Cover the floor under the board with roofing felt (at least two widths).  Do the following:

  1. Put the blank on the racks/stands bottom up.
  2. Blow or brush off any dust etc.  Make sure it is ready. 
  3. Roll 1 layer of 8oz cloth over the entire surface of the blank overhanging the ends and sides by at least an inch.
  4. Holding the roll over the end with one hand, cut the end with at least a 1" overhang with your scissors in the other hand.
  5. Put weights (3 bricks etc. on paper towels) on the cloth to keep it from shifting as you cut.
  6. Cut this layer very straight so it will overhang the center or shadow of the rail by about 1" all around.  This is called free lapping. See photos below.





    When cutting the 1" overhang it helps greatly to have a moveable light shining from underneath the board towards the area you are cutting - use a clamp light on a bucket.  Cut a slit (see photo below) in the cloth hanging at the nose tip and tail corners.  These slits will keep the cloth from wrinkling at these points.
     

    Most shops use a different lapping method called cut lapping.  It is prone to devastating errors for first time builders.  It is necessary only if  you insist on different cloth saturated resin colors on the top and bottom, (not recommended).

    A big mistake at this stage can be board ruining, so heed the following.  Make sure you have a little more of everything than you think you need (esp. resin and hardener).  Make double sure you mix a number of small but proportional test batches of catalyzed resin.  Try to make the resin gel in about 30 minutes on your first laminate (cloth saturation).  Refer to the RESIN AMOUNTS section (this should help you with the epoxy mixtures).  When using epoxy, if it is hotter than 80 degrees you may need to refrigerate the resin and hardener.  At 60 degrees you will need a heater. If you are using polyester please use .75% catalyst ratio (less than one per cent)  Before you mix in the hardener/catalyst stop and think, what have I forgotten?  What might I need in a hurry if it sets up faster than I want? Have resin, hardener, and graduated mixing cup easily available, and the mix ratio already figured - in case a small amount of extra resin is needed.  Do the glassing in a garage/shed etc., if possible.  If done outside try to stay out of direct sunlight (unless it is cool).  Do not even think about lifting the cloth after it is wet. Do not attempt to copy a professional glasser seen anywhere.
  7. Please read the warning label on the resin container and put on a respirator with vapor cartridge, and gloves.  If not using a respirator, at least turn on a fan or get in the wind.
  8. Mix the epoxy and hardener (see materials list-resin amounts). Use a mixing container with ounce markings.  I repeat, test it first.  You need at least 30 minutes to do your first lamination (more time is better).   Please do not start an epoxy lamination with the room temperature above 80 degrees or below 60 degrees (it is ok to start at 80 degrees, in the morning, with the temperature rising). Please do not put more than !% catalyst in polyester resin.
  9. Mix it quickly for about three minutes, taking extra care to thoroughly mix the thick epoxy resin which sticks to the mixing cup walls and bottom.
  10. Pour the resin as in Figure 15 - do not allow your resin to run off the nose on to the floor.

    Figure 15



    Pour about 3/4 of the total mixed resin. Save the rest for dry spots.
  11. Working quickly now hold your 4" squeegee at about a 45 degree angle.  Run it lightly longwise forcing the pooled resin out towards the rails as shown in photo below.  Keep quickly, and lightly dragging the resin with your squeegee from overly wet areas to overly dry areas.  Do not let small unevenly saturated areas delay you. Saturate the flats as fast as you can without pushing resin off the rails onto the floor. 
  12. Start pouring the 1/4 resin left in the container, in a thin line, along the rail edge about 1' - 2' at a time. 
  13. Start dragging this resin with your squeegee so that it will run as evenly as possible down the overhang.  Put a hand underneath the overhanging cloth edge. Lift it slightly and daub resin on the cloth with the squeegee (evening the resin saturation and keeping it from running on to the floor).  Try to catch any excess runoff in the container.  Don't worry about drips.    Do not be delayed by small dry spots.  The 4" plastic squeegee can be dipped in the remaining resin (about 1" deep). The resin on the squeegee can be used to saturate uneven spots.  Hurry...the rails must be wrapped before the resin gels.
           

    Long threads may be hanging down in a few places at this stage. Cut them with scissors if time allows.  If possible, a helper can monitor the resin by telling you if it thickens (The resin on the board will gel a few minutes after the resin in the container, giving you a little time to finish very quickly).
  14. Quickly, using very firm pressure, (this almost can not be done too forcefully, just don't make the cloth or blank shift) drag any excess resin out of the cloth (the squeegee should be bending).  Do this by dragging the squeegee crosswise from the stringer to the mid rail all around the board leaving the cloth hanging.  If there are any dry spots on the overhang, use the excess resin, (which will accumulate on the squeegee) to wet these spots.  This accumulation can also be scraped off on the top edge of the container, to be used on other touch ups.  Resin may be dripping everywhere.
  15. Quickly, still using very firm pressure, starting mid rail, lap the cloth underneath working from the middle towards the nose, on each side, then the middle towards the tail on each side.  Do this by starting the squeegee at mid rail and firmly force the wet cloth to adhere to the underside curve of the rails - the squeegee should bend slightly (see photo below).


  16. Look at the light reflection on the surface of the cloth.  If resin is pooled in an area, drag it to the edge of the cloth and scrap it off the squeegee into the container.  The squeegee should make a zipper type sound when dragged quickly over the surface of the cloth.  The weave of the cloth should be visible.  Any pooled resin will make the board weaker (floating bond) and heavier.
  17. Cut anything hanging down and check for bubbles, especially on the rails.
  18. Drip a little resin in the bubbles and work them towards the edge of the cloth with the squeegee.  If this doesn't work cut a small slit with a razor blade, drip a little resin, and work the bubble out of the slit with a squeegee.  If there is a little cloth sticking up at the tail corners and nose tip, drip some resin, squeegee, and stop. These areas will never be perfect at this stage. Fix them on the hot and gloss coats. 
  19. After taking off the gloves, get a flashlight, and check the cloth on the bottom for bubbles, dry spots, and drips. 

If laminating extruded polystyrene and the blank is rough sanded as advised, do the following:  After the rails are wrapped, spread about 5 - 10% more resin over the cloth.  Try to fill in all the pits and scratches, but do not leave any pooled resin.  This will make it look better, (fewer bubbles) and will lessen delaminations.

Put on new gloves and clean out the resin in the container with a paper towel etc., or pry it out when it gets semi-hard (do this every mix).  I added 1 extra container in each size, in the MATERIALS chapter because most people ruin one on  their first board.  Use cheap scissors (dollar stores) and 4" plastic squeegees which can be thrown away.  It can cost more to clean them than it does to use a new one each time.  If you must re-use things try cleaning them with 90 - 100% isopropyl alcohol (found at drug stores).

The epoxies recommended will probably take 6 hours or more to be ready to turn - when the laminate is tapped with a fingernail, and it clicks, it is ready to sand/plane.  Turn the blank top up.  With a surform file, plane any uneven places paying special attention to nose end, tail corners, and where the cloth meets the foam etc.  The area where the cloth meets the foam is called the lap line. Use a surform pocket plane, #50 block sander, and #50 hand sand paper to reduce the lap line edge almost flat with the foam (do not sand into the foam).  It is much safer to leave a slight edge at the lap line (about the depth of your fingernail). I highly recommend putting a layer of duct tape around the entire circumference, around the lap line(foam side).  See SANDING - photo of duct tape.  The duct tape will prevent you from damaging the foam.  Do not obsess over the somewhat uneven cloth edge.  This edge will be invisible, or almost invisible, after the next cloth layer is laminated.  The lumps, drips, and lap line edge are more easily removed if done before the resin is completely hard (consistency of hard rubber).  If the surform or the sandpaper clogs, the resin needs more time to harden.  Remove any clogged resin from the surform with a wire brush, or small screwdriver etc. 

To glass the top, do the following:

  1. Roll 1-8oz. "deck patch" layer from the tail to 1' beyond the board center point. See Figure 16a.
  2. Cut the deck patch cloth at an angle to the stringer (if cut straight it will tend to break on the line). Mark your angle line by lightly scratching a line on the cloth with the tip of your scissors - do not use a marker.  Put weights (3 bricks etc. on paper towels) on the cloth as you cut it to keep it from shifting.
  3. Cut the deck patch overhang at mid rail.  See photo below drawing 16a.  Keep the scissors lightly touching the mid rail at ninety degrees to the floor.

    Figure 16a


  4. Roll 1 layer of 8oz cloth over the entire surface of the blank overhanging the ends and sides by at least an inch - this will cover the deck patch and remaining exposed foam.
  5. Holding the roll over the end with one hand, cut the end with at least a 1" overhang with your scissors in the other hand.
  6. Put weights (3 bricks etc. on paper towels) on the cloth as you cut it to keep it from shifting.
  7. Cut this layer very straight so it will overhang the center or shadow of the rail by about 1" all around. See photos above - first three photos. Note: the deck patch is cut at mid rail and the layer covering it is cut 1" longer - both are saturated at the same time.  When cutting the 1" overhang use a moveable light shining from underneath the board towards the area you are cutting (clamp on light to bucket).  Cut a slit in the cloth hanging at the nose tip and tail corners.
  8. Saturate the top like the bottom, adding about 10% more resin.
  9. When your fingernail clicks on the newly hardened surface, plane/sand the new lap line and any drips and uneven spots (esp. nose tip and tail corners). 

Please do not cut weight by reducing cloth amounts.

Most people say the first laminate coat was the hardest part of building their first board.  Please- double please - practice.  Get some scrap foam, cloth, and resin, and practice laminating - especially wrapping the rails.

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2003 by Stephen Pirsch, All Rights Reserved.

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