How We Make Wooden Surfboard Frames At Makerspace Cornwall

23 . 09 . 17

When making surfboards, accuracy, symmetry and attention to detail are essential considerations. Our wooden surfboards use a skin-on-frame construction method, and in the pursuit of the above James designs each of the Otter Surfboards models using specialist design software and then cuts the parts of the framework (the interconnecting stringer and ribs) around which our surfboards are built using a CNC router (CNC stands for ‘Computer Numerically Controlled’). This process allows us to consistently reproduce the hollow wooden ‘blank’ of each of our models, within which there is a tolerance for the finer points of the surfboard’s outline and rail profiles to be adjusted by the shaper – be that James or somebody attending a workshop course. It’s a great example of how a maker can use digital technology to create the best possible product, time and time again. If we cut each part of our internal frames by hand it would take an enormous amount of time and would be far harder to replicate components consistently and, most importantly, to the micro-millimeter degree of accuracy that our surfboards demand.

Aaron Moore is a maker who saw the benefits that digital technology could bring to his work very early on. Having worked in East Africa teaching rural artisans how to make their own tools (because the tools that they needed either weren’t available where they lived, or were too expensive), he returned to the UK a decade ago to set up his own furniture making business and saw the huge potential in integrating CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided-Design and Computer-Aided-Manufacture) into his working practices. Luckily for us, Aaron lives and works just a few miles away from the Otter Surfboards workshop, and it is at his workshop where James cuts out the frames of our surfboards. Aaron made his CNC router himself (no small feat!) and it has gone through various iterations and upgrades over the years. He has also built himself a large 3-D printer and has a laser-cutter, and integrates digitally constructed elements into much of his furniture as well as making these fantastic facilities available to the general public through his regular Makerspace days.

On the second Saturday of each month, Aaron opens up his workshop, facilities and expertise to anybody who wants to come along to make something or learn more about CNC making. He’s had local business owners spend a day with him making signage for their premises, helped crafters and hobbyist-makers solve problems and make items or components for their projects, and facilitated school children’s imaginative ideas. Developing out of the Makerspace Saturdays, Aaaron’s will soon be offering longer multi-day courses so that people can delve deeper into the world of digital designing and making, and allowing them to take on larger and more time consuming jobs, such as a Makerspace attendee who returned to make a 3-D bust of his nephew as a gift. Another fascinating example is a pattern matrix made by Amber from [foam]kernow, which uses magnetized pieces on a wooden matrix frame to explore the connections between code and weave, and illustrate the complex mathematics developed by weavers that are now utilised in computer science.

The possibilities that CAD/CAM technologies such as CNC routers, laser cutters and 3D printers open up to makers are enormous and exciting. Whilst we are proud of the handcrafted nature of our surfboards, the use of computer design software and Aaron’s CNC router during the early construction stages of the surfboard blank allows us to produce the best wooden surfboards possible, without taking anything away from the handcrafted nature and ethos of Otter Surfboards. We are very lucky to have Aaron and his machines so close by, and the fact that he is sharing his machines and knowledge with the general public is fantastic for creativity in Cornwall.

When James and Mat created ‘The Storyboard’, a one-tree wooden surfboard exhibition, a line of a sonnet was etched onto each of the surfboard’s internal ribs using the CNC 3D router.

Aaron’s Makerspace is currently Cornwall’s only open-access digital workshop. It is a not-for-profit community resource where anybody can learn how to use digital tools, collaborate on projects, or create their own designs. The aim of Makerspaces is to make communities more self-sustainable, develop and improve skills and employment prospects, and give people the opportunity to be more creative. Aaron’s Makerspace Saturday sessions run from 10am-1pm and 2-5pm, with space for three participants. There is a nominal charge of £5 per person to help cover insurance and consumables. You can find out more on CNCCraft’s Makerspace page.

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