Tool Focus: The Surform

01 . 02 . 13

Let us introduce you to the humble surform.  Many of you may already be familiar with them, but we’re going to take a closer look at this oh-so-useful of tool’s for our first tool focus blog post.  Take a peek in any shaping bay, anywhere in the world, and you will spot a surform sitting on a shelf or hanging on a wall.  But their integral role in the shaping of surfboards is not the reason why they’re called “SURForms”, the moniker is an abbreviation of the name “surface-forming tool”.

Essentially, what you’re looking at is a glorified cheese-grater which sits on the workshop wall somewhere between a rasp and a plane, and is used to remove material from any moderately soft surface such as wood, plaster or foam.  The tool is a steel strip with holes punched out of it, and the edge of each hole sharpened on one side to form a small, individual cutting blade. This steel strip is mounted on a carriage that has a handle at one or either end, allowing it to be run across material using the same action as that of using a plane.

In regular surfboard shaping the surform is still used by “backyard” shapers (or those who don’t have their designs cut by a machine) to reveal their intended foils, rocker and rail profiles after initial cutting and planing and prior to fine sanding.  It’s the half-way house tool between removing a lot and removing a little.  In our workshop, working with wooden surfboards, surforms are used to blend the built-up rails into the deck of the surfboard and to remove excess material from the rails prior to fine-tuning their profiles with a sanding block.  But whether you’re working with wood or polyurethane foam, one thing is for sure:  the surform is one of the unsung heroes of the shaping bay.

It’s a tool that every surfboard builder and shaper feels as an extension of themselves, as intrinsic to their craft, and a tool that each of us should have served an apprenticeship with.  Sure, it’s not the most exotic or intriguing of tools hanging on our walls, and their yellow plastic handles aren’t all that aesthetically appealing, but there’s something to be said for a tool that’s got the word “surf” in it’s name and that’s been used to fashion the shape of surfboards for decades past.

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