Float the Grain

I found an appropriate stopping point in the shop the other day, but didn’t bother blowing the sawdust off my jeans. I was headed to the Grain Surfboards workshop in Portland, Ore. for the remainder of the day.

I don’t think the Grain guys were expecting sunshine during their week-long workshop, because as soon as the rays crept over the asphalt, Mike LaVecchia and and Nolan Collins of Grain opened the garage door at Instrument HQ and dragged the building stands out to the curb.

The variety of shapes and sizes offered good insight on the design aspects and construction of each board. All Grain boards are built upon a balsa skeleton then lightly glassed since wood boards are more durable and require less toxic substances to remain intact. Typically decked using northern White cedar (thuja occidentalis) local to their home in York, Maine, the Grain guys took the logical step and substituted white for Western Red cedar (thuja plicata) local to the Northwest stands. Nolan was stoked on the western red, saying he’s not used to such grain definition.

I’d had a handful of questions for Mike, but when the time came I’d had a long day in the shop and couldn’t shift into journalistic interview mode. Instead I opted to hang out with the crew and merely observe from a craftsman’s perspective. The closest I got to interviewing was sharing my theory developed the night before about the value of surfing to the carpenter. A natural substitute to the Nettie Pot, a couple close-outs or inside battles induce the surf drip, thoroughly cleansing all sawdust from the sinuses.

The ground surrounding the Grain class looked like a hamster cage. Wood shavings planed off the rails carpet the asphalt. I’m not sure the destination for these particular shavings, but Mike tells me back at the Grain barn in Maine, all shavings are composted by the property owner.

A beautiful part about the Grain class was the lack of power tools on the premises. Each stand had a collection of tried and true hand tools; hand planes, combination squares, spoke shaves and freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. Mike couldn’t overemphasize the importance of the spokeshave and board shaping. A cousin of the recognized hand plane family, the spokeshave is essentially a wood blade with wings, or handles. The design makes it a perfect match to refining the contours of a rail with control you couldn’t get with a flat-bedded plane. Mike’s years as a boat builder and mastermind behind Grain was evident in his use of the spokeshave. I’m pretty sure he could have shaved a balloon with it.

If I’d had more time, I would have made the commitment to the weeklong course, but my shop is a pool of projects right now, and unfortunately all I could manage was an afternoon with the Grain class. Floating in my project pool, however, is a wood surfboard kit. Hmm.. maybe I’ll get to that one of these years.

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