Surfboard Glassing Tools of the Trade
Looking at the tools needed to Glass that Magic Stick
So, now that we have covered the basic tools found in shaping bays around the world with our Surfboard Shaping Tools of the Trade
article, let’s have a brief look at what you commonly find in the glass shops handling your boards.
Again, these tools can vary and there is no particular right or wrong way of getting the job done. Every laminator (the guy laying down the fiberglass and resin) has different techniques that may require certain tools, but for the most part, everyone uses or should use similar tools to get the job done properly. The tools may also vary depending on if you are getting Poly or an Epoxy Board
, as they are slightly different to work with.
Another thing to consider is that there are many more steps involved in glassing a board compared to just shaping a board and usually there is more hands involved as well. To ensure great quality work, you will have the Laminator, a Sander, a hotcoater, a fin guy, and a polisher...sometimes more, and sometimes one guy will do a few of these jobs. But each individual step requires certain tools to get the job done.
Where the magic starts, the lamination room at Emery Surfboards.
Here is a BASIC list of tools needed to get the job done. Please note that some of these tools cross over to various applications.
- Sand Paper/Abrasives
- Chip Brushes
- Sander/Polisher, Sanding Pads/Polish Pads
- Rubber Gloves, Respirator Mask
Now, please keep in mind that this is a very basic run down on the tools required, if you walk into a professional glass shop anywhere in the world, you are likely to find these tools as well as many more… some of which are made specifically by the people doing the job to improve quality and make things easier.
Good clean squeegees are key for a tight lamination. After the Fiberglass is laid down, the board is flooded with resin. The idea is to work all of the resin into the fibres of the cloth and squeeze out all of the excess unnecessary resin. If too much resin is left on the board, you will have a brittle finish that can be prone to cracking. Not enough resin and the fibreglass will not be sufficiently saturated which can lead to a bonding issue or water penetration over time. Having a good squeegee and knowing the right pressure to apply when laminating the board is key to a tight lamination. As polyester resin and epoxy resin have different consistencies, the squeegees used are usually a little different. With polyurethane, you will normally find a softer squeegee that is somewhat flexible. With Epoxy resin, many laminators use a stiffer spreader similar to a bondo spreader. It is the difference in viscosities and curing times that allow the resin to penetrate into the fibres that dictate these two tools.
Doubling teaming with delicate squeegee work at MH Surfboards.
Good sandpaper and other abrasives are also very important. There are many applications you need sandpaper for during the glassing process. After you laminate the top or bottom of the board you are left with what is called a “lap”. That is where there cloth has wrapped around the rail and finished on the other side of the board. Before you move on to laminate the other side, you need to “grind the lap down” to where it is almost flush with the board so you will not have a high ridge under your glass job when you lay your next layer down. Lightly going over this lap to smooth this layer out and also knock down any excess resin or hardened fibres from the cut fibreglass cloth is a key step before you move onto laminating the other side of the board. The cleaner you can get this finish, the better your next step will turn out.
Sandpaper is also used to scuff up your lamination before you lay your hotcoat or filler resin down. This is where you flood the board with resin only to fill in the porous textured feel of cured fiberglass lamination and ensure a water tight glass job.
Sanding between hotcoats.
And again, you need the sand paper after the hotcoat, as you need to sand off any excess unnecessary resin left on the board. The same principle with lamination… you just want to fill any of the small voids, and take off the rest of the resin. Too much resin means a brittle hotcoat job that can crack or chip away over time. This is a very tricky job as there is a very fine line of sanding too much off and hitting the weave of the cloth and leaving too much on. The Hotcoater also has to follow the exact shape of the board board as well, so having good clean sandpaper is of utmost importance to them.
If there is to be a Gloss Coat (another extra layer of special resin to give you a glossy look), more sandpaper and sanding is required to ensure an extra clean, smooth finish. A gloss coat can bring out a lot of blemishes, so getting the job done right is key to a great looking board.
Chip Brushes are essentially paint brushes. These are used in both the Hotcoat application and the Gloss Coat. You will normally find cheaper “throw-away” chip brushes used during the hotcoat and used with a delicate hand knowing the proper pressure needed to fill the resin in to the texture left in the weave of the fibreglass after lamination. After which a lighter pressure is used to smooth the resin out as much as possible. A good glass shop will take the time to do a double hotcoat which means letting your resin cure, sending the board to the sander and then applying another hotcoat layer down again with their chip brush.
For the gloss coat, many glossers will use a high quality brush with softer bristles that are less prone to falling out. The gloss coat needs to be impeccable, so they do not want to waste their time and energy picking out loose bristles that may fall off the cheaper chip brushes.
Laying down an ultra smooth gloss coat on a balsa gun. Photo Courtesy of Fiberglass Hawaii
Tape is another underrated “tool” used in the glassing process. There are many styles of tape that have different uses. Some are a lot more expensive than you would guess, but they are more resistant to the heat generated by the catalyst that makes the resin cure.
Tape can be used during lamination for procedures such as cut laps (where the laminator makes a clean cut along the lap line usually in colour laminations where one side of the board will be a different colour to the other). It will definitely be used during the hotcoat application as a way to direct the excess resin drips away from the other side of the board so you have less sanding and prep work to do when you flip the board over and hotcoat the other side. The same application will hold true for the gloss coat as well.
Tape is also used for airbrush sprays which normally go directly on the foam before lamination, to help the artist create patterns or spray critical areas without getting paint on other parts of the board. Or on the other end of the spectrum, after lamination and hotcoating, to create pinlines which add aesthetics to a board.
It is even used on the glass racks for both lamination, hotcoating and airbrushing to hold the board in place so it does not slip off the racks while you are working on it.
Believe it or not, tape is one of the biggest expenses a glass shop can go through.
Taping around the rails for the hotcoat keeps the job clean and makes the prep work for the other side a breeze.
You may think scissors are pretty standard, but you would be surprised at what a good pair of scissors can cost you, but more importantly, why these guys need a good pair of scissors. Glass shops can pay upwards to $50 or $60 for a pair of scissors, but they will save money in the long run. The scissors are used to cut the fibreglass to the rough shape you need to wrap around the board before lamination. Fibreglass cloth is very hard on scissors as it is literally glass fibers that you are cutting through, not like cotton or other textile materials. You need to have a good hard, sharp pair of scissors to get a clean cut of the fibreglass and to help avoid fraying of the cloth. The more fraying you have, the more work will be involved when prepping the opposite side of the board. With a bad or dull pair, your cloth will fray a lot…when you wrap the resin saturated lap around the board, those strings left by the fraying cloth will harden and cure, leaving a mess that you have to clean up before laminating the other side of the board. A good clean cut almost eliminates the majority of those strings left over, making your prep work much easier. This can save a lot of time for laminators who do many boards a week.
Buckets are a fairly simple item used in the glassing process, but they can easily add up in cost in a production shop and are a must for all glass shops big or small. You need something to hold your resin and mix in your catalyst or hardener before you pour it on the board to saturate the cloth. These will be used in the lamination, hotcoat and gloss coat applications, and luckily, buckets can be re-used a good number of times before they have to be replaced. This is a must have for everyone glassing a board from the backyard one board guy to the production shops.
Eye Symmetry Surfboards uses a lot of colors...and buckets.
Sander/Polisher, Sanding/Polishing Pads
A good sander/polisher is also essential for the glassing process. Sure these jobs can be done by hand but the hours you would put in doing these jobs solely by hand are not even worth it for the backyard hobby builder. A good machine can be used for both applications with the change out from a sanding pad to a polishing pad. Spending the money on a good reliable machine is well worth it for a production glass shop as these machines get a lot of use. You will often find the carcasses of older machines that have been pulled apart to replace broken or worn out parts of an operating machine. The machine and the pads used (whether sanding pad or polish pad) have to all be well balanced so you can ensure an even, clean job. If it is even slightly unbalanced, you will get scratches and swirls all over the board that look horrible.
Rubber Gloves, Respirator Mask
Just like in our article for Shaping Tools, protective items are the number one tool you need. A good pair of rubber gloves is key as you are working with nasty chemicals that can literally work their way into your blood stream with prolonged or repeated contact over time. Everything from the Catalyst or hardeners to the chemicals used to clean up your tools like Acetone can be very harmful to your health. A good pair of gloves is well worth the expense, even for the part time backyard hobby builder.
Same holds true for a good respirator mask that fits properly and special filters to protect you from harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that are released into the air from the resins “going off” before they are fully cured. These VOC’s and other chemicals can make a person very sick, even leading to long term affects that you can never get rid of. They should be worn during every part of the glassing procedure including the sanding and polishing phases. And you have to be especially careful when using epoxy resins… just because you can’t smell it does’t mean it is not there.
A good pair of gloves and a good respirator are well worth the investment to protect your health.
So there you have it, those are the basic tools required for glassing a surfboard. Again, there are many other tools that can be used and many more that are created by the person who does the job to make their job easier. But there is not necessarily one right way of doing the job. Everyone who does this for a living has different techniques that work for them to get the job done right.
Now go surf!
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