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Templates 101

There are almost as many methods for shaping surfboards as there are shapers. Every shaper has their own unique process for building a board –  from developing the concept of a board in their imagination, to getting it shaped, wrapped in fibreglass and onto the wave.

Most beginner shapers have a reasonably good idea of the board they want to shape, but aren’t always confident about getting the shape from their head and onto the blank. The proven vehicle for this stage of the process is the Template. Your basic template is a full length rendering of the board’s outline, divided in half lengthwise. This is laid onto the blank down the centre and traced, then flipped and repeated on the other side to ensure symmetry (if that’s what the shaper is aiming for).

In the “olden days” before the advent of computer aided design, shapers relied on some more analogue methods for creating their templates – bending and tracing flexible batons into aesthetically pleasing curves, combining existing templates to form new shapes, and others that I won’t go into detail about here. These days it’s much more likely that the design process starts on a computer screen and in many cases it doesn’t venture beyond the digital realm until the machine-shaped blank is ready for cleaning up.

But that’s not what I’m going to talk about here. What I’m going to detail here is my process for creating a template. Feel free to cherry-pick any bits that you find useful.

1. Designing the outline: So far all the boards I’ve built have been unique, one-off shapes. They start in my head as an idea of the board I’d like to create – e.g. a 5’10” quad fish with a beaked nose and single to double concave bottom contours. I’ll then sit down with my laptop and,  using a free board shaping application downloaded from the internets, I’ll set about conceptualising the outline, rocker curves and foil of the board. To date I’ve used two different programs for this process. The free trial version of Aku Shaper is the one I’ve used mostly. It takes a bit of playing around to get used to the controls, but it’s pretty intuitive.  The downside is that with the free version, you can’t save your shapes. However, I’ve developed a workaround for this, which I’ll detail at a later point in this post. The other application I’ve recently started playing around with is Shape3D, on the advice of local shaping legend Leighton Clark, whose shaping machine runs on files created through this program. Because I haven’t done enough playing yet to go into too much detail about Shape3D, for now I’ll stick to Aku Shaper. I also use the free FinFoil application to muck about with fin designs, but that’s another story for another day.

2. Saving all the critical measurements: Once I have an outline and rocker profile I’m happy with in Aku Shaper, I take screenshots of all the important points and their measurements – 1’ from tail and nose, wide point, nose & tail rocker etc. I use a Mac, so to take a screenshot I use the Shift+Command+4 shortcut then, using the mouse, I highlight the area I want to snap. This saves a screenshot in jpg format to the desktop, which I then go back and rename. To consolidate all these images into a single file, I export them to PDF then, selecting one file to be the master, I click & drag thumbnails of all the others into this file (Google search how to combine PDF files using Preview for more information on this process). Now I have a master file for the board and I can close Aku and walk away knowing I won’t lose all the data on the board.

Sea Dragon Surfboards master board file
Example of a master Board File

3. Creating a full-size template: This entails transferring the shape from an A4 page to a full template – blowing it up while retaining all the key dimensions accurately. To achieve this, I use the Mac’s proprietary spreadsheet application Numbers. The process goes like this:

  • Open a Blank Document in Numbers and, in Preferences, change the ruler units to inches.
  • Click the circle in the top left of the screen (select all), then hit Delete to get rid of the spreadsheet.

    Click on “select all”
  • Go back to your PDF and, using the screenshot function again, take a snap of the template outline, making sure that it includes at least one half of the complete outline.

    Screenshot that will become your template.
  • Now go back to Numbers and insert the screenshot into your file using Insert-Choose-(select file from desktop).

    Insert your image into the Numbers file
  • Now that you have the image in your Numbers file, click on it to select it then click Arrange over on the right hand side of the window. You can use all the functions in this section to resize the image so that it’s full size.

    “Arrange” can be found on the right hand menu bar
  • While you’re doing this, remember to crop the image using the Edit Mask function so that its edges align with the edges of the board’s outline, not the area of your screenshot. I’ve saved this command to the menu bar so it’s more readily available, but in the basic program it can be found in the Format menu across the top of the window.

    “Mask” = “Crop” (in anyone other than Apple’s language)
  • So, for a board that’s 5’10” (70 inches) x 19.5”, I adjust the size of the image by inserting 9.75 (half the full width of the board) into the Width box, then 70 into the Height box, making sure you untick the Constrain Proportions box.
    Adjust size in the Size box

    Finally, adjust the Position of the image to 0 (X) and 0 (Y), so it’s now located in the top left hand corner of the file.

    Change the X & Y values to “0” to position your image
  • You now have a complete, printable digital template ready to go. When you go to print, make sure you adjust the Page Orientation to Landscape so you’re only having to deal with one vertical line of pages when actually printing. This applies for boards up to about 21” wide. Anything wider and you’ll be dealing with a second column of pages. Also, make sure that at no stage is your file being constrained or scaled to fit the window. This will throw the accuracy of your dimensions right out the window. In the Print window, make sure the Content Scale is set to 100%.

    Set the Orientation & Scale before printing

4. Constructing your paper template: Print your file then carefully tape the pages together to make the full template. Take your time lining up the edges from one page to another to ensure you accurately retain the outline you’ve just spent so much time designing and creating. Once the pages are all stuck together, turn it over and stick the edges on that side together as well. This will make for a stronger more robust artefact. Once that’s done, cut it out with a pair of scissors, taking care to avoid any notches or unplanned straight sections.

Take care when putting the template together so you retain accurate dimensions

5. Using the template: I have yet to find the time to transfer my template collection over to a more permanent format, so at the moment it’s all rolled up pieces of paper (not ideal). If you do want a more lasting solution, trace the outline onto a sheet of MDF, thin ply, plastic sheeting, masonite or some other tougher medium. Otherwise, you can just lay the template onto the bottom of your foiled blank and trace it straight onto the foam. That’s what I’ve done to date and it’s worked for me.

So that’s it. My process for creating and using a template, in excruciating detail. Congratulations if you made it to the end. Feel free to share your own unique methods or comment on any of the steps I’ve included above. Otherwise, good luck with the design and creation of your templates and boards. Happy shaping!

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