Project: Mini-Powder Board

seventh

Nothing better than introducing your grom to something you hold so dear yourself.

It’s spring break in these parts, which means lots of weekday snowboard sessions. Suprisingly, considering the winter we’ve had on Canada’s West Coast, there’s actually been a fair amount of fresh snow. However, one can not ride EVERY waking hour, so the resident grom and I were looking for a project to fill up some hours. Enter: Project Mini-Powder board.

Hacking away at a perfectly good snowboard has been around since the ‘jibbing’ scene of the early nineties, but those were for help in rails and spins. Today, we’re looking for a different benefit; a board mod that will help the grom ride powder without the severe fatigue normally associated with kids and fresh snow.

Why wait for the major manufacturers to produce something that’s right for your grom when you can do it yourself?  Making a powder board is a great project for you and your little one, and the result beats the heck out of the usual refrigerator art you’re probably accustomed to.

The Board

It's hard to believe, but these two boards are technically the same model

It’s hard to believe, but these two boards are technically the same model

The first step was to find a short board that with a good nose for powder, literally and figuratively. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a 139cm Prior AMF at the local re-use it center. I’ve been riding AMFs for almost a decade and know they handle powder very well. You have to really lean back to keep the float, but I didn’t think it would be a problem.

It’s important that you find a board that you don’t mind throwing out if you screw up, as you’ll probably screw up (I did) and there’s a possibility that the mistake may render the board unrideable. Better to get one or two under your belt before cutting up that 1989 Craig Kelly that’s been sitting on your wall.

The Shape

Next step was choosing a shape.  Go ahead and Google ‘swallowtail board shapes’ and you’ll see there’s no shortage of creativity and choice. You probably don’t want to start off with complex cuts or asymmetrical designs (that’s up to you), but you’ll want to take a few things into account:

  1. Weight of the intended rider:  While this guide can be used for anyone, we’re primarily talking about making a board for a grom who very likely weighs a lot less than the rider the board was designed for.  In my case we were probably 40-50lbs short of the target rider weight, so the deeper the cut in the tail, the more flexible the board would get.  A major consideration for larger riders would be how stable the tail would be when weighted, but this wasn’t a factor for this particular project.
  2. Nose curve:  Taking off a large amount of material might sound like a good way to shorten the board, but remember that everyone wants to ride backwards at least a tiny bit through the course of a day.  I recommend leaving at least a little bit of the tail curve on the profile.
  3. Stance and sidecut:  You’re going to want to have room to put your bindings on when you’re finished. While slamming the stance forward to accommodate a deep swallowtail may sound enticing, that’s going to make for a difficult ride.  Just think of how weird it is to ride switch on a board with an pronounced center-back stance, now add in powder and a relative lack of experience and you’ve got what it’d be like to ride a cut board with the bindings slammed forward.

The Prep

I knew that old geometry set I’ve kept around for years would be useful one day!

Once the shape was decided on, it was time to draw it on the board.  After a few false starts and failed attempts, I found that covering the tail in masking tape and drawing out the shape with pencil worked out the best as it was easy to erase when my rudimentary geometry failed me.  For this step, all you’ll need is:

  1. Some masking/painter’s tape
  2. A simple geometry set (though all you’ll need is a compass and a triangle to check your perpendiculars)
  3. A flexible plastic ruler.  Trust me on this one, you’ll frustrate yourself to no end if you try to draw a straight line on the curved end of the board
  4. Exacto knife/razor blade.

Once you’ve got your measurements, just draw the shape on the board, making sure it’s all symmetrical, and then carefully cut the tape along the line with your blade.  Once complete, simply peel off the tape from the section of the tail you’ll be removing while leaving the tape on the main part of the board.

The Cut

Now we’re at the point of no return, the actual cut.  Don’t be worried though, it’s pretty simple and all you’ll need is:

Turn the chunk you're taking out into some wall art or some sort of conversation piece.

Turn the chunk you’re taking out into some wall art or some sort of conversation piece.

  1. A high speed drill.  I used a cordless drill which is normally great, but I felt might have gone a little easier if it was higher speed.
  2. A large drill bit.  Something with a big enough diameter to let you fit the jigsaw blade in the hole you make.
  3. A jigsaw.  You’ll want a metal-cutting through some boards (the one I was modifying had some sort of metal near the center stringer) but for the most part the board is a pretty easy cut.
  4. A Dremel.  This is very useful for cutting through the metal board edges and maybe rounding out the rough edges from the jigsaw, depending on your level of detail.
  5. Sandpaper.  Or an orbital sander if you’ve got it.  Not necessary, but makes things a little easier.

First, using a cutting disc, Dremel a chunk of the edge down on each side, creating enough space for the jigsaw blade to go through with room to spare.  Be conservative when removing the edge and don’t be afraid to leave too much on the board as you can easily remove more or round off the cut later with the same attachment.

Next, drill a small pilot hole somewhere in the area of the tail you’re going to be removing.  Then use the large drill bit to widen the hole to the point where you can insert the jigsaw blade.  Then it’s all about free-handing it, cutting along the taped edge but not cutting into the tape itself.

hole_saw

Things probably would have gone better with one of these.

NOTE:  In retrospect I think things would have been smoother with a hole saw (is that the right term?), the kind of thing you’d cut the hole in a door to install a handle with.  You can get them in all sorts of sizes and the round cut at the top was by far the hardest part.  A hole saw would have made things easier and much more precise.

Once your cuts are done, take your Dremel and smooth out the edges you recently cut.  Remember, a grom’s going to be carrying this so the smoother the better.  Next, use a Dremel with a sanding attachment and smooth out the cut a bit (careful not to melt the base, those things get hot).  Then grab your razor blade/exacto and carefully shave off the corners of the base and topsheet so that the newly exposed base doesn’t have any sharp edges or pieces of base hanging off.  Just a little bit, you just want to make sure those square edges aren’t going to snag on anything too easily.

Almost there, now all you’ve got to do is sand it to a point where you’re comfortable. An orbital sander helps, but you’re going to have to do it by hand when things get tight.

Sealing it up

A grom walking to the lift carrying something like this is sure to turn some heads.

A grom walking to the lift carrying something like this is sure to turn some heads.

Now all that’s left to do is to seal the newly exposed core of the board.  Failing to do so won’t mess things up right away, but you won’t be doing yourself any favours in the long run.

I’m no Chemistry Surgeon, so you may want to go your own route on this one, but I used a simple flexible epoxy to seal things up.  I’ve heard of people using urethane or more complex things, but my feeling is that as long as it’s keeping the water out, it’s all good.  You are, however, going to want to take into account the flex and temperature factors of snowboarding, so make sure you choose something that won’t chip when it bends or gets cold.

Let your sealant set for the manufacturer’s recommended time, then shave off any excess from the base (or the topsheet for aesthetics) and wax that beast up!

Pray for Powder

cut

While powder might be easier with a dedicated board, most groms will have a bit of a learning curve. Possibly frustrating to deal with while everyone else is getting epic turns, but well worth it over time.

When letting your grom loose with the latest addition to their quiver, you’re may notice that they revert to old habits from when they were first learning, mainly putting too much weight on their back leg, especially on heel side turns.  This will lead to sitting down every other turn.  Explaining the difference between weighting the back foot in powder and pivoting around the front foot may help immeasurably (it did for me).

Price

Used 139cm board – $35
Tube of epoxy – $11.99
More powder turns – $priceless