Luke Walter | Oregon State University, Undergraduate Research Assistant
Last updated: Jan. 24, 2021
Since the creation of skateboarding in the early 1950’s skateboard technology has taken leaps and bounds. Skateboard “decks”, as they are commonly referred to, is the wooden board the rider stands on. The rider attaches “trucks” to their deck which enables the board to turn and then wheels and bearing which allow the skateboard to roll. Skateboard decks used to be made of one solid and flat wood board, but they are now an engineered wood product that is pressed into shape and held together with an adhesive. This article discusses the following topics:
Skateboards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and have unique graphics. Despite looking so different they are all constructed in the same basic way. A deck is made up of 7 layers of thinly sliced wood, known as a veneer. Veneers are held together with an adhesive.
Before we start talking about the layup of skateboard decks, we need to understand what gives strength to wood. Structurally, hardwood species are supported by cells called fibers which provide the trees strength and rigidity. Since fibers grow in the longitudinal direction, wood is easier to split apart perpendicular to that, such as splitting firewood. So, if we are seeking for a wood product which has sufficient strength in both directions, we shall alternate the veneer orientation between layers.
Skateboard decks are similar to plywood technology because they use cross-laminated veneer, meaning they are oriented perpendicular to each other. Veneers used to manufacture skateboard decks are approximately 1/16 “ thick (1.6 mm). Veneers are glued, stacked and pressed together to make the deck. Each deck has 2 face sheets, one for the top and one for the bottom of the deck, in which the wood grain runs long and spans the length of the board. Parallel to these are the 3 core sheets, they also have long grain. Lastly the 2 crossband sheets go perpendicular to the face and core sheets. In these sheets the grain runs across the face and core layers and only goes the width of the board.
Order of veneer layup
The highest quality veneer plies of a skateboard are the top and bottom face sheets. This is because the highest levels of tension and compression are in these layers. These veneers will have no knots or defects. It is common for core layers and cross plies to have knots or defects because it doesn’t affect strength significantly. In the image above the green and orange layers are the face layers. When you step on the middle of a board it will bow ever so slightly in a U shape under your weight. The same happens when a person walks out onto a tightrope, it will bend under their weight. The green face sheet (top) will be in compression because it is pushed together by your weight. At the same time the orange face sheet (bottom) will be in tension because and is being pulled apart
Skateboards are pressed in this specific way is because creates a light and snappy board while maintaining the strength necessary for impacts. There is a desired balance between flexibility and strength. You want a deck to be stiff, but still flexible enough to rebound the force you put onto it. This will allow the user to pop their tricks higher off the ground. The 2 cross-grain plies are essential in creating the strength necessary for a deck, without them the deck is much easier to break. If all plies in a deck were oriented in the same direction the board could be easily split in half. Again, think of how firewood splits easily.
Magnified side view of a pressed skateboard deck
The most desirable wood used to manufacture skateboard decks comes from the Great Lakes area of North America. The wood is commonly referred to as hard rock maple while it is actually called Sugar maple and its scientific name is Acer saccharum. Maple is a hardwood, which is slower growing and denser than softwoods. This species is used in applications such as bowling alley lanes, baseball bats, NBA basketball courts and skateboard decks. Because the winters in the Great Lakes area are so long and cold the trees grow slowly and have very tight growth rings. Typically tighter growth rings mean a higher density and stronger wood.
In the case of a skateboard, we want an adhesive that will hold the veneer plies together. It is important for this adhesive to have high adhesion, resiliency, waterproofness, and be able to hold its shape over time. The most common adhesive used when manufacturing skateboards is polyvinyl glue. This polyvinyl assembly adhesive (PVA) is a non-toxic water-based glue which is mixed with a catalyst to speed up drying time. Modern skateboard adhesives have a non-toxic catalyst premixed with the glue. To name a few brand names used there is the Multibond Sk8 Adhesive, PC-2365, and Titebond III. Multibond and PC-2365 are used by professional manufacturers and can only be bought in large quantities, while Titebond III is a wood glue that can be bought at most home improvement stores. It is a favorite for small or DIY skateboard manufacturers for this reason.
The process of making a skateboard deck starts with collecting veneers necessary to make each deck. Veneers should be dried to about 8% moisture content. Then those veneers are passed through a veneer sander that freshens the surface on both sides. Each veneer ply, besides the face layers, is glued on both sides with a polyvinyl adhesive. Skateboard decks are typically pressed in groups of 4 or 5. With 7 plies of veneer per skateboard this means a press will usually press 28-35 veneers at once. Sometimes manufacturers will number decks from top to bottom. This is because the top will have the deepest concave and steepest kicks while the bottom will have the least amount of concavity and more mellow kicks. There is a not a noticeable difference between the boards visually, but some skaters swear that they can feel the difference.
The press is where the board gets its shape. Most manufacturers use a hydraulic press that pushes veneers together between a rigid top and bottom mold. This mold makes the shape of the board and creates the kicks (nose and tail) as well as the concave of the board. The hydraulic press is a cold press, meaning that it applies pressure at room temperature without any additional heat. The boards remain in the mold for 1 ½ -2 hours at around 25 psi or 25 tons. This force ensures that the glue is spread evenly and there are no voids between veneer plies. This is the most vital step to creating a high-quality deck. A deck can still be weak if it has high quality veneers but pressed improperly. Once removed from the press a stack is left to air dry for around 3 days so that the water used in the glue fully dries out.
A skateboard that is glued or pressed improperly can delaminate between veneers. When a delaminated skateboard sustains an impact, it will create a shear force in between veneer plies causing them to pull apart further.
Delamination between pieces of wood
After all water has dried out of the glue the board needs holes drilled through it in order to attach the trucks. Manufacturers make their own drilling machines, they resemble a drill press with 8 drill bits. 4 of the bits cut the back-truck holes and the other 4 cut the front truck holes. After this step each board goes to an automated router, or a person that cuts out the outline of the board. The boards still have a square edge after this so they must be rounded. A radius is cut round the entire board to make a rounded edge, then the edges are sanded with bag sanders that a worker holds the board against. All dust must be wiped off the board to apply a coat of lacquer. The lacquer helps protect the wood from moisture as well as sliding on the deck during tricks. I won’t talk in depth about board graphics, but most companies use heat transfer printing which transfers the ink onto the deck. This does not affect the quality of the deck but can be an important selling point aesthetically.
Since a skateboard deck is made of wood you will need to take certain care of the deck to prolong the life as long as possible. All wood that goes into decks was once a living thing that will deteriorate if unprotected. Exposing the deck to moisture, excess heat, or sunlight will accelerate the time it takes for the wood and glue to deteriorate. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your deck and enjoy it as much as possible. But, I would never leave it outside in the rain or in a car on a 110-degree day. I would recommend keeping your skateboard in stable conditions such as in your house or apartment when not in use. Using your board will eventually lead to razor tail, chipping, or pressure cracks. These defects will decrease the amount of pop your board has and make it feel less responsive. This phenomenon can be noticed by comparing the sound of tapping a new deck versus an old deck on the ground. There will be an astonishing difference in sound. A new deck will have a much sharper and higher pitched tap than an old deck.
Razor tail (Left), and Chipping (right)
Keep in mind that every skater has an opinion when it comes to buying or making a new deck. For some it is when the deck breaks completely in half. For others it is when the desired amount of pop is gone. I recommend donating your old deck that is still rideable to someone who could use it. If your deck is un-rideable you could also make it into a work of art instead of throwing it into the trash. The edge of the veneers makes artwork with lines that really stand out when dyed. Here are a few items I have made in the past.
Skateboarding is a very creative activity filled with lots of self-expression and style. Every rider has a preference on their board width, length, wheelbase, nose/tail length, steepness of kicks, and concave depth. It takes time to figure out what you feel is best for your riding style. This article is meant to help you understand what it takes to make a high-quality skateboard. Large skateboard deck manufacturers all use different production techniques and use different quality of inputs. Now that you know what makes a high-quality skateboard deck you can research which manufacturers major skateboard brands use. Many manufacturers are transparent about the quality of materials and effort they put into each deck while some are more secretive.