Welcome to Solid Balsa

Balsa wood long board
Guess where?
It's easy!!
Surf on dude!!
Surfing is a state of mind
All day long
Gather up the basics - soft carpenters pencil. 10 foot tape measure and a right angle square. You will also need a sharp hand saw, 2” or better block plane with a NEW blade, a power planer with a 3” or better sharp blade, 40 grit sandpaper (spray mount to 4”x14”x3/4” block of wood) 100 grit and 320 grit sandpapers and another sanding block 4’’x12’’x3/4 Specialty tool you can make: a “rail gage” made from a piece of right angle pine molding (1’ and 3/4” sides), 3” long. Safety Note get a good dust and fumes face mask and wear eye protection. Balsa dust is super fine and will rake havoc if it gets into your lungs and eyes. If you don’t have a set of shaping blocks I’ll send you a free plan sheet. And some suppliers carry ready made blocks.

Templates  free template
Get your hands on a board you like and trace half of the outline (nose to tail) on a piece of heavy paper or cardboard. That’s the easy way - or " e " mail me and I’ll send ya’ the free sheet on templates.

Selecting the blank
Decide the finish measurements of your board. Consider rocker, nose and tail width as well as center width and thickness first, then contact your local balsa blank supplier, I can help. Check the blanks for consistency and color , grain, worm holes and any other characteristics that effect the appearance of a finished piece. Personally, I prefer natural " blemishes " and imperfections in the blanks I use.

Choosing the outline
Classic long board outlines vary between somewhat parallel looking rails to almost a teardrop shape. (Here is where YOUR style of riding and personality are priority). Various issues of Long Board and Surfer magazines offer explanations on theory and designing of rails, rockers, weight, mass and other high-tech. stuff. I’ve got another free sheet of my own “revelations” harvested over thirty years - if you’re interested email me.

Lay your blank on the blocks bottom up, measure the length, mark the CENTER nose to tail and width. If you like more weight foreword, mark the center between 3 and 6 inches closer to the nose. Now, from this center point measure out to the rail one half of the final width, (use the square against one of the laminate lines near or at the center point), mark the width and then add 1/8”. Push a 1” finishing nail into the board at this final point. Repeat the process for the width at the other rail and tail and nose widths. Position the template against the nails and trace the outline.

Rough out
Find your hand saw, (use a “saws-all” if you are in a hurry or are sadly out of shape) PUT ON YOUR MASK and EYE PROTECTION and remove the excess wood from the outline. Try keeping the cut true and at right angles with the blank. Stay outside the last 1/8” line as this is a rough cut and a little extra wood will help in the truing stage.

Truing and plan check
With a block plane, or if you are confident with your power planer, true up the curve of the rails by placing the blank on edge in the blocks, Make long, deliberate strokes while watching the template outline. Nose and tail curves are easily worked down with the 40 grit sanding block or power grinder. Do both rails, nose and tail then rough sand with the 40 block to make sure the rails are at 90 degrees to the bottom, Grab the template and check the outline. Looking’ good? Stand the board up, step back and check it out. Look for symmetry in the outline and mark any glaring imperfections - True up.

Adjust rocker
Place a straight piece of wood, (1”x3” x 8’ will do) on the bottom of the board, (nose to tail). Have a friend measure the distance from the bottom of the wood to the nose. If you are happy with the nose rocker - leave it, if not you can add more by first marking the amount to remove at the tip of the nose thickness. Tail rocker can be added using the same method. Keep in mind that any changes you make to the nose and tail will and must affect the whole board. Remove material with the block or power plane. Start at 18” back from the nose / tail and with smooth strokes gradually taper a curve down to the nose and tail marks. Count the passes as you go. Think Symmetry. Before we go on, check this - Without sounding too stupid, let’s remember that (DUH !) water flows over all parts of the board. It must flow SMOOTHLY over the surfaces of the board. Intentional obstructions like fins, channels, concaves and rocker allow the rider to control the speed and make those award winning moves. On the other hand, too much kick in the nose will slow the board, uneven contours and inconsistent transitions hinder performance and, lets face it, they just plain look bad. The bottom must flow smooth and evenly from nose to tail. Concave, at V and rounded areas must have smooth transitions one to another. While working the bottom and all other parts of the board, it helps me to imagine the tool I’m using as if it is water passing over the surface of the board. I then feel the imperfect transitions and smooth them out.

I like to keep the bottom classic, simple and non - trendy. The time tested shaping elements still work. Try to keep things easy, work with the natural rocker you bought with the blank, add a slight “vee” to the nose and tail, Get the center section as flat as possible. (Some classic bottoms are slightly rounded. This causes the side - to - side action to be a bit squirrelly). Remember to smooth out the nose and tail transitions where they meet the center. Use the block or power plane, work WITH the grain. Notice and enjoy the variations in balsa’s color and texture.

Balsa, unlike foam, is somewhat hard all the way through so you can plane down from the top to reach the thickness you want. Keep the deck flat or roll the outsides slightly to the rails. Simply, it’s a matter of thinning and smoothing. Watch all the elements of contour and again, keep the transitions smooth. This is still a rough stage so don’t sweat perfection… yet.

Now the fun Begins. Most classic boards I’ve held feature rails that seem symmetrical - top and bottom. Commonly called “50/50” rails, the cross section is a smooth ellipse - tapering the full length of the rail - nose to tail. However, Modern rail design features like a sharper bottom curve rolling off to a hard edge about 18” from the tail and the addition of a narrow chine on the undermost turn of the rails will produce faster response in turns and more speed. The choice is yours. For classic 50/50 rails: pencil a line at the center of the thickness of the rails. Now scribe two more lines, one 1- 3/4 " and another at 3” in from the edge of the rail on the top of the board. Turn the board over and scribe two more lines on the bottom, one 1 - 3/4” in and the other 2 - 1/2” in from the bottom edge of the rail. (These numbers will yield a slightly rounded bottom and a more rounded top). Scribe another line half-way between the center line and the top of the rail and yet another half-way between the center line and the bottom of the rail. Take a break and check things out. The lines you have made will become the edges or corners of “facets” as you “square off” the rails. (Some of the lines will disappear as they approach the nose and tail.) Begin removing material from the rails from the top by holding your plane at 45 degrees to the edge of the rail near the center of the board. Remove wood until the area meets the first lines on the side and top. Now you have created two more edges. Extend these edges to the entire length of the rail. Repeat ALL the other edges the same. When you are finished , the board will look like a stealth fighter with all its squared - off edges that you can now work down with more hand finishing and rough sanding. For more contemporary rails: Make two lines on the outside of the rails - one 1/2” up from the bottom, the other 1 - 1/4” down from the top. Turn the board over and plane the inside bottom edge at 35 to 45 degrees until the at area you are making is 3/8” wide from nose to 18” or so before the tail. When the edges are rounded from these numbers and the tail section bottom is left sharp, (round the rails from the deck to the bottom), the rails will be close to “60 - 40” with a slight chine on the very bottom. (Leave the last 18” sharp [hard] at the tail).

Rough sanding
Is your mask on? For me this is the worst part. The dust is everywhere! The upside is the great workout you are about to experience. It will help on that next surfing session. Grab that 40 grit and go for it! Use the block on the at areas and rails with long, deliberate strokes, always with the grain. Round off and smooth the transitions, eliminate plane marks.

Nose- tail blocks and Fillers
Some foam suppliers furnish blocks that are already glued up. The balsa sources I use do the same. However, if you are looking for something out of the ordinary, you might need to special order or glue up some yourself. Remember, dry non-oily hardwoods are more compatible with the resins used in laminating the board. Lay out the pieces on the nose and tail and choose the angles you are to cut from the board. Match the angles to the blocks and cut. Be sure to leave an inch or so extra on the rail end to trim off and match in the final sanding stage. Glue up using a hot batch of resin. Use masking tape to hold the blocks firmly to the board. Fill any offensive holes with a mixture of carpenters’ glue and sanding dust from the boards or its scrap pieces. Or use clear resin if you prefer but be specific while applying the “ filler” as all the excess will need to be sanded off later. Now clean up and walk away! Let the resin and glue cure - ‘til tomorrow.

Final shaping and sanding
Begin this first part of the final stage by trimming off the excess wood from the nose and tail blocks with a hand saw. Carefully plane down the excess wood then feather into the rails with the 40 grit sanding block while restoring the original contours to the nose and tail. Now, carefully sand any excess filler from the repaired spots with 100 grit block. Use the same block on the next phase to contour and smooth out scratches from the rest of the board. (for modern rails) Sharpen the bottom tail section and eliminate any facets from the curve of the rails. Keep the bottom most edge of the chine that runs from the tail section almost to the nose. Now smooth the rails by hand concentrating on the upper and middle curves. Use 100 grit or better sheet paper. If you want a great finish, lightly sand the entire board with 320. This will reveal any missed scratches to be removed and also bring out the character of the grain. Don’t over sand. Concentrate on keeping the grain at - over sanding will cause ‘‘ripples”.

Fin or fin box
Your choice. Classic glass - on skegs are available in somewhat limited selection. Some suppliers offer n blanks that you can finish yourself. Ask around or make your own! A modern fin box will give you more options in fins and fin positioning. Let a pro glassier install it.

Balsa wood does not yield to pressure like foam does. I recommend one layer of 6 or 4 oz. glass over the entire board. this application keeps the weight down and is more than sufficient to seal the board. As far as the actual glassing (laminating) goes - LET A PROFESSIONAL GLASS SHOP DO IT…… they have all the know-how and equipment. (I know a few great laminators if you need help locating one.) Just tell ‘em you want it “REAL GLOSSY” and they‘ll know what to do.

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Wallace Surfboards

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