Building a snowboard is easy. There are plenty of marketing people out there who would like everyone to think otherwise because it’s their job to make people buy their product. But that isn’t exactly the case. Anyone can build a board. The materials are basic. The difficulty lies in getting them in small quantities. But this hasn’t stopped a plethora of garage snowboard operations from springing up around the US over the last five years.

While it’s obviously easier to walk down to your local shop and slap down 400 bucks than to build one yourself, knowing what’s in a snowboard and how it was made means having knowledge when it comes time to discuss board properties with the local shop employee.

We went around to various factories and talked to a few snowboard tech-weenies to find out what is going on with board technology today. Here’s how it is:

There are five different ways to build boards:

  • Pre-cured sandwich
  • Wet-wrap sandwich
  • RIM (Reaction Injection Molding)
  • Pre-preg
  • Cast foam core torsion box

While the first three are by far the most popular and make up most boards on the market, the last two are less common because they are more costly, and in the case of Cast Foam Torsion Box, said to be more time consuming. Most current snowboard technology is just classic European ski construction on a wider scale. Bringing the technology to the US has mutated some of the techniques and created a new age of slope tool knowledge.

In order for a snowboard to be solid yet flexible, and hold up to more than one season of serious thrashing, it needs to have a bottom-sheet, topsheets, a core, edges, fiberglass, and glue. Because most of these elements come to a factory in a fairly raw form, it’s the factory’s job put all of these pieces together in the shape of a snowboard. Like a puzzle, the pieces are put together and placed in a massive steel press where pressure creates the board. The only exception to the presses is the RIM process, which we explain more thoroughly later.

The catch with building snowboards is if even one component of the raw goods is faulty, or if the lay-up process isn’t performed perfectly, the snowboard has the potential to delam, break, bubble, or just simply loose its strength before the season is over. This is why so many snowboard companies chose to have their boards built in factories. Besides being difficult and costly to set up a factory, it’s toxic and messy. All components which make garage snowboard shops currently pumping out sticks heroes for not buying a spot in Pale or one of the other behemoth factories around the world. But that’s another story. For now we’d like to explain the first three processes to you, because these are what you will be seeing in the shops this season.

PRE-CURED SANDWICH CONSTRUCTION

The most commonly built board until the last year was pre-cured sandwich construction. This has been especially popular snowboard construction in the massive European factories that make boards like Liquid, Burton, Avalanche, and Sims.

A sandwich construction board is easily identified by the sidewalls. That means that when you hold the board sideways and look at it, the topsheet and metal edges are separated by a strip of plastic called ABS. This is also known as the sidewall.

Building a sandwich board begins with the molds. A metal mold is placed onto a flat work station. The P-tex is set with the base graphic facing down onto the mold. In the US the metal edges are usually pre-glued onto the P-tex. In Europe small powerful magnets located underneath the metal mold hold the edges to the P-tex. Next a layer of pre-cured fiberglass is glued to the P-tex with an incredibly adhesive epoxy. Pre-cured fiberglass means that there are already glues in the fiberglass before the wet epoxy is added.

Next, the wood core with pre-glued inserts is placed on the wet fiberglass. All of this has to happen quite quickly as the epoxy begiins drying the minute it is spread thinly on the board. After the wood is lay in the puzzle, the ABS sidewalls are forced in between the metal edges and the wood. Rubber dampeners are placed on the tip and tail and through out the board, then a topsheet is added. This is topped by a thin metal slab that contours to the shape of the bottom half of the cassette and it is placed in a press. The press does exactly what its namesake says it does__it presses on the whole mess until all of the excess glue squeezes out the sides and the board is impenetrable. That is until human forces repeatedly bashed it into trees, rails, and other objects.

WET WRAP CAP CONSTRUCTION

Cap construction utilizes many of the same elements of building as sandwich construction, however, the cap has no ABS sidewalls. Instead the top-sheet smoothly slopes over the core at an angle until it meets the edges. This year a majority of the high-end boards are using cap construction with the argument that it is little more torsionally stiff than sandwich construction. While some people like to argue that this construction is stronger, others say it’s just the slicker look that is driving the market toward cap. Either way, this is what will dominate the mountain next season.

Wet Wrap Cap Construction starts with an indented mold often called a cassette. The cassette is recessed just enough for all of the elements of the board to fit just above the metal sheet. The other difference is that the fiberglass placed on top of the wood core is not stiff like the pre-cured glass in the sandwich board. The fiberglass is placed over the wood and wetted with epoxy, then the top sheet is placed in the cassette and it smoothly rolls over the slanted edges creating the cap look.

RIM (Reaction Injection Molding)

RIM is by far the most technologically space age of the three processes for the simple reason that it doesn’t involve a press and the cores are not wood, they are foam. Because the publicity on foam hasn’t been very good over the years and the association of foam being low-end, companies that build foam boards will sometimes add a wood insert so the board can be called a wood/foam combo. But this of course adds weight taking away from the original intention of using foam__to lighten the boards. To make foam as strong as wood there is often a little more glass added in the process.

The whole thing begins with a metal mold with high sidewalls. A P-tex base with pre-cured glass is placed in the mold. The metal edges are put on next and are held down by small magnets found under the mold. A topsheet also with pre-cured fiberglass and metal inserts attached is rested on the top of the high sidewalls. A chemical compound is injected into the open space between the top and bottom elements and as the chemicals combine, they expand and create a hard foam. This is one of the cleaner and less wasteful construction techniques in terms of epoxy. The end product of RIM construction is simply cleaned up as opposed to the other two techniques which require cutting off a significant amount of over flowing fiberglass and hardened glue.

The other two techniques, pre-preg and cast foam torsion box are only utilized by a handful of companies (Morrow boards are cast foam torsion box). They utilize similar processes to the above three, however can be costlier and more difficult to produce.

And that’s how your board was built. Any questions? Go to the M-Boards and ask away.