A few weeks ago we did a story on what to look for (and to avoid) when it comes to choosing a woodshop. We know there are many folks out there who are very interested in starting up their own deck company. We heard from Mike Mahoney of Savvy Cycles and founder of Honey Skateboards.
Mike is an expert when it comes to wood and we are delighted to share his insights. Here is just a partial list of things Mike suggest you look for when it comes to choosing the right shop for you.
Does the shop control the environment?
Almost every shop will control temperature but many do not consider humidity. Since wood will shrink or swell as it drys out or takes on moisture, a shop should keep the humidity level within a certain range to reduce the movement of the wood (veneers). They should monitor the moisture content of the wood as well. Veneers should be stored in an controlled environment. Pressed decks should be given the proper time to cure and return to an equilibrium state before they are cut and shaped and stored in a controlled environment until they receive the finish.
Pressed decks should not be stacked to cure, this promotes unequal drying that can cause warping, air need to circulate around all side evenly. A deck that is too dry shipped to Florida will take on a lot of moisture do to humidity and can warp easily, and a deck with a high moisture content shipped to Arizona will dry out considerably and potentially warp and/or crack. Shops may not give you the specifics but they should indicate that they the decks are maintained in an humidity controlled environment for storage of veneers to finished deck. If not, look elsewhere.
What materials does the shop use?
Maple, bamboo, birch, fiberglass, carbon fiber, other or a combination of. I caution the use of bamboo, it cracks easy and best used in a composite construction. I have seen many brand new, never ridden, big name longboards on racks in shops that were cracked. Shops should advise the proper wood species to suit your needs.
Epoxy, PVA or other. Both epoxy and PVA have specific applications. A lot of people think epoxy is best, but are they using the right epoxy for the application. Epoxy should not be press under as much pressure as PVA because it requires some space between veneers to be effective, otherwise you run the risk of a week bond. There are several PVA glues that were specifically design for skateboards. They are water resistant, and designed to work with the characteristics of maple to flex with the wood (AKA “POP”). PVA’s can be pressed with a tighter glue line than epoxy. Epoxy is better suited for composite constuction. If the shop is using consumer PVA or expoy, look elsewhere. These are industrial products used in industry and not available at Home Depot or Lowes.
For years the standard finish used on skateboards was lacquer. Lacquer in not he best finish for outdoor use. The reason it was used so much is that it is required if your graphic is a heat
transfer and it’s easier to apply. Polyurethane with UV protection is better if possible, it is more water resistant.
Water based adhesives and finishes win here. PVA is water based and most finishes are available in water based these days. Epxoy, carbon fiber, fiber glass and bamboo are the losers. Yes, bamboo! It has been marketed as a “green material” due to it incredible ability to regenerate, however, the process required to get the round bamboo into a flat veneer come with a huge carbon footprint, outweighing the green benefits, but no one wants you to know this.
What type of press do you use?
Cold press vs hot press, manual, hydraulic, pneumatic operated, vacuum bag or clamps?
Cold vs hot depends on the materials and the adhesives used. Press time can also play into the equation here. Hydraulic and pneumatic are more production oriented, then manual, vacuum bag and clamps.
Does the press have a pressure gauge?
Adhesive manufactures have a recommended psi. Without a pressure gauge, how do you know if you meet the recommendations or that every board is pressed consistently? Again, epoxy requires less pressure that PVA.
Molds – Do you have stock molds? Can you make custom molds? Who owns the custom mold? If we part ways, can I take “my” custom mold with me?
The type of mold used is directly related to the type of press used. Do you need a one sided or male/female mold? Woodshops often will have a choice of stock molds to choose from. This is a good way to get started because a custom mold can cost upwards of $1000. Molds are often laminated with baltic birch, maple or even aluminum=($$$$$$). Stay away from a shop that recommends using 2×6’s or other framing material to save money. Just like your veneers, the molds should be kept in a controlled environment. A warped mold will only press a warped deck. Molds need to be precise to get consistent and secure glue joints. A CNC cut mold if far superior to a hand shaped mold. A mold can last for 10’s of thousands of decks if taken care of. A mold also needs to be designed to press a given number of boards. This leads to the next question.
There is a large variation in the industry with this. Some will press up to 5 decks in one mold to save time. This creates 5 different decks with respect to the contours, concave, kicktails, and wheel wells. As you stack decks, each decks’ contours get progressively smaller up the stack. Some don’t care, and some do. Pressing 2 decks at a time minimizes the differential range but takes longer to press decks in a production setting. This is a decision you have to make. Consistency or quantity, where is the happy medium?