For those of you who have been on another planet for the past few months, this is part three of the ‘How a Fatum Surfboard is Made’ series. In this episode we look at the shaping machine and the shaping bay.
In Part One, we covered the Blank. Why we choose the blanks we do, how we select which blank for your surfboard and, most importantly, why doing steps one a and two are so crucial for making a good surfboard.
In Part Two, we discussed what Gero thinks is the most important part of the process, ‘The Conversation’ with you, the client. How he extracts the information from you that he needs to make you the best possible Fatum surfboard.
This Part is my favourite so far, however …
Part 3 – Shaping
To set the stage for this discourse we would first like to make something clear. Being a shaper is only part of the board building process. It is one thing to shape good surfboard but that is nothing unless you can glass and polish to the same degree of excellence.
An Overview – At Fatum, Gero shapes all the boards on the CNC Machine and hand finishes them. From there the boards go to Saqua or Formiga, who fibreglasses and polishes them. The work is all carried out in house and the three guys are all excellent at what they do. Importantly, they can all do each others’ jobs and so have a great relationship and ‘overview’ of what the whole ‘end product’ will look like.
The Shaping Machine – For the first twenty years Gero used to handshape all Fatum boards from start to finish, then glass and polish them, but times change and Gero wanted a new way to be able to reproduce exact ‘starting points’ for certain models. To be more precise.
In 2006, Gero made a decision that would turn out to be one of the most important in his career. He bought his shaping machine, the APS 3000 from a good friend called Miki Langenbach. What followed were two painful years of transitioning from 100% handmade to using the APS 3000. Since then the machine itself has over gone several upgrades, both with the hardware and the software. The result is an extremely intuitive and slick operation.
The Process – Gero has all the files of the different Fatum models and all the variances he has made stored on file, including custom client shapes. This is the starting point, from here he takes the information that he got from ‘The Conversation’ and spends sometime making adjustments and tweaks to his basic model. Customising the board for you.
Using a trained eye, he checks the 3D render of your board over with a craftsman’s perfection for irregularities. Once he is happy, he inserts the selected bank and tries his hardest to cut the surfboard as close to the surface of the blank as possible. This is where the strongest part of the blank is and will make a huge difference to the overall strength and durability of the board.
The APS 3000 takes between 10-20 mins to cut the board and Gero will watch the whole process for irregularities with his hand hovering over the stop switch just for good measure.
Once the surfboard is cut out of the blank it will look a bit like this (below pic)
The next step is to take the pre-shaped blank into the shaping bay where Gero will further refine the rails, tail, nose and deck using manual tools of the trade.
Machine Shaping vs 100% Handshaping
As a conclusion to this part of the board building process and one that I think fits, I would like to share a revelation of sorts. Before sitting and spending the time to understand exactly what machine shaping entails, I had an opinion that perhaps it was, lesser. That hand-shaping was pure and machines were the ugly newer and automated alterative. I would like to amend that and present you my fresh, updated mindset.
Handshaping has the soul, the feeling. There is a connection that you have through working with the foam from start to finish, something that can’t be replicated on a machine. That is granted.
This is a pretty big but, machine shaping is another process. During handshaping, you use different machines; planers, files, saws etc. They are simply machines that fit in your hands. The shaping machine is an extension of that. It is an incredibly complicated, fickle and heavily specialized machine, you need real skill and time to be able to use it with any effectiveness. You also need to know how to shape before you step up to this level.
As the machine operator, you are the translator, you as the shaper have to interact and translate what is required in a way that the machine can understand. You have to be able to look at 3D renders and be able to spot potential problems with creating the physical product before they become reality.
So what are the advantages of using the machine? The short answer is precision. The certainty that you can re-create something that is truly special which is a difficult thing to do with manual tools.
To conclude, I will leave you with this.
Gero often thinks maybe of picking up the manual set of tools and shaping a board 100% by hand from start to finish, but, he says, “That’s as far as it gets …”