building my own longboard deck press: part 1

My current electric longboard build. This one has an aluminum box and uses a Bustin YOFACE commercial deck. Its a 22 volt (nominal, 25 fresh off the charger) system capable of hauling my 160 pound ass up to 31mph in bursts and can average over 18mph for about an hour. It has about a 2 hour charge time, uses a single 6S LiPo battery pack, 8S capable 120 amp duel ESC, and a pair of 270kv Propdrive brushless outrunners on 83mm ABEC11 Flywheels.

You may be asking yourself why I would bother designing and producing my own longboard deck instead of just finding one out there that meets my needs. TL;DR: there is nothing out there that meets my needs. In fact, there really isn’t anything at all out there specifically for DIY electric longboard builders. We live in a world of concavity and typicality, and an electric longboard build requires some very atypical considerations, such as flat surfaces. Sure, you can find a deck that mostly fits your needs. My Bustin YoFace deck worked out pretty well for my now mostly Enertion and DIYElectric build. Its the popsicle trick deck variety of shape and concave, but at 41 inches it has plenty of wheelbase to squeeze electronics between. But as well as it worked out, a custom deck would always work better, and that is why I’m attempting to make my own.

What special considerations?

Most longboard decks have some kind of concave shape to them. There are completely flat varieties, but those often don’t have kick tails or are too long or too short or too flexible or just for whatever reason don’t suit my riding style or would be bad for mounting things to the bottom. This presents a dilemma for me: I need a flat surface on the bottom to mount electronics, but I also need the rigidity, ease of handling, and general feel of a kick tail concave. This dilemma can only be solved by me creating my own deck that meets my exacting specifications.

There are other concerns besides shape and feel, however. Since we’re talking about electric longboards and not just the standard gravity gliders, we’re also talking about places to put things like wires, battery packs, enclosures of electronic components, etc. Typically when you buy a standard longboard deck, you would also get an aluminum enclosure or maybe even a fiberglass or carbon fiber one, then just stuff everything in there and bolt it on. If you’re more creative you might take the deck into your garage and carve out cavities for wires and electronics, maybe even completely hide your custom batteries inside the deck if your ingenuitive enough. Most DIYers in this space however are going to order a kit or two and just try to strap things on however they can. For these people, and for myself as a builder, it would be a hell of a lot easier to have a deck that will already make the necessary accommodations for you.

My requirements

So to sum up my requirements, I need all of the following: a sharp angled concave kick tail design with a completely flat bottom surface of suitable width onto which boxes or covers could be bolted on over any electronics that are fastened to it via either screws or industrial strength two sided tape, a routed out cavity four to six millimeters deep extending the length of a typical battery pack plus the length of a region large enough for a typical speed controller, radio receiver, high current electronic switch, and wiring, and finally inlaid (meaning hidden in the wood) wiring from the electronics cavity to the sides of the trucks where the motors are mounted. This deck would be accompanied by a custom shaped lid made of either fiberglass or carbon fiber. While the cavity would remain a constant, different lids could be made to accommodate different battery packs and electronics. For example, you might be using some standard LiPo packs like a Turnigy from a hobby site, or you might be using something more custom, such as ones from Alien Power Systems or the new SPACE battery from Enertion. You may even order some cells and roll your own battery pack with BMS included. The point is, a lid could be made to suit any dimensions.

Those aren’t the only requirements, however. I also have to be able to make these decks in my garage, which means a lot of DIY has to happen. To do this, a mold has to be made and a rig created to press that mold over the veneer while the glue is setting between the sheets of veneer. The good news is I’ve already created a mold and its basically flawless. The bad news? The clamps I made to press the mold weren’t up to the task. They broke.

One of my attempts involved these clamps i made to go over the mold. Three of them broke, and still not enough pressure. Very close, though.

But they did produce something I could learn from. The results of the attempt shown below tell me a lot about what needs to happen next.

One failed attempt. This result can tell me a lot about what went wrong.

So what I need now is a great big giant clamp that I can slide the whole mold into. This would also be known as a press, and I’m in the process of building one using 4″ x 4″ pressure treated timbers and a couple of small 2 ton hydraulic bottle jacks. Here’s a doodle of it:

A doodle of the DIY hydraulic longboard press I’m building in my garage this weekend.

It might not turn out exactly like that, but it will be pretty close. Its going to be three timbers deep, which is about 10.5″ and will have a 48″ x 12″ press surface made out of layered plywood that is stacked on top of the timbers. It should provide enough evenly distributed pressure to press the veneer properly and not leave any air pockets. I can tell by the failed results that pressure is definitely the issue at the moment. This should solve that. If anything, this press could reveal problems with the mold that haven’t become apparent yet due to lack of available pressure.

After the pressing comes the cutting

After the deck is pressed, I can use a router attachment for my dremel and carve out the shape of the deck. Because my design has a lot of hard angles, using a jigsaw might be a little risky on the inside corners of the shape. Using a router has the benefit of automatically rounding the corners to the shape of the tiny bit, where a jigsaw could easily cut too deep into the turn or otherwise not turn correctly. A bandsaw would be ideal, but isn’t an option since I don’t have one and don’t plan to buy one any time soon, and don’t really have room for it in my limited space anyway.

the design for the final shape of the deck. lots of hard angles because hard angles are as metal as putting 3hp worth of motors on a longboard

Once the shape is cut out and the edges are sanded smooth, I can route out the cavity in the bottom. I plan to keep this cavity forward, near the front truck but back enough to allow space for the wheels while turning. There also needs to be room along the edges to bolt the lid in place, though the edges could easily angle up past the concave line. To keep things simple, I’d like to use short, standard truck mounting bolts with nylock nuts and steel washers on the lid.

Once the cavity is in place, I can route out the wiring channels that will lead to the drive wheels. My first deck will use a dual rear motor configuration since that is what I currently have and am used to. However, these channels can be created to suit a single rear, single front, dual front, dual rear, or dual diagonal drive wheel configuration. The channels can be routed from the top of the deck, reaching from the electronics cavity to the drive wheels down the center of the deck then angling outward to a location just behind the truck hanger and just next to the riser. The holes at the end of the channels can be drilled to accommodate any size connector, but I’m choosing to stick with 5.5 mm female bullet connectors on both ends to keep things simple. This will require the creation of shorter male-to-male jumper wires for use inside the electronics cavity, as well as some customization or adaptation to the motor wiring. Modifying the motor leads to use flexible silicone wiring with 5.5mm male bullet connectors would be ideal.

Seal it and finish it

Once the channels are cut, its time to seal in the wiring and connectors. I’ll use fiberglassing resin for sealing in the connectors on the bottom of the deck, and for sealing in the wires running to them through the channels I cut on the top. After the resin hardens, it can be sanded down flush with the wood and the whole top can be painted a solid color and prepped for grip tape. Routing the channels from the top like this will leave the bottom flawless for staining.

I’ve settled on a bright red wood stain for the bottom and edges. This will really bring out the beauty of the wood while creating a bold styling to compliment the gold connectors and black wires and case as well as the general aggressive nature of the deck’s hard-angle design. The interior of the electronics cavity can be painted flat black via brush. I’ll likely use an enamel or other solvent based paint for this.

Logo lettering and design for the bottom can be silk screened in white along the edge of the underside of the deck to stay visible after the enclosure is bolted on. This of course means finding and debugging a silk screen kit that is flexible enough to meet this purpose. I’m shying away from using the traditional screen-in-frame setup and may instead use some kind of die-cut or knife-cut stencil screening technique that doesn’t require a frame. White lettering will compliment the red stain as well as the general boldness of the entire design. The entire deck can then be coated with a layer of polyurethane clear coat.

Grip taping is a custom order affair. I found a company that will sell you custom die-cut grip tape in quantities as low as 100 sheets. There is a setup cost, but it does allow you to design your own grip tape complete with logo. To complete the black,white, and red flavor of the deck design, the top of the deck can be painted white so that when the grip tape is applied, the white will show through the die cut lettering of the grip tape. This extra layer of polish should create a very professional finish.

In conclusion…

My goal is to produce a deck that the DIY electric longboard community can use as a platform for their own custom builds. I want to provide a platform that allows you to use whatever kits you bring with you to produce something that feels finished and polished. There is so much good kit to choose from, with lots of competition in the creation of motor mounts, battery packs, and a number of other components. As of this writing I have yet to produce a completed deck. However, once the issues with creating a working and reliable press are resolved, the rest will essentially be a walk in the park. Hopefully there will be a demand for this design, which of course presents its own challenges. Scaling up should simply be a matter of constructing more presses, which creates a need for compactness and efficiency. Something else that presents a challenge is that I fully intend to keep parking inside my garage where all of this is taking place, so any sort of workspace I develop needs to be collapsable or compact in a manner that allows me to essentially put my entire workspace away, but that’s another post entirely.


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