Shaping: Hand vs. Machine

April 06, 2011

Here at Bing & Jacobs Surfboards, we often get asked the question “Are the boards 100% hand-shaped by Matt Calvani?”  The simple answer is “Yes” and “No”.

As part of our move to the “Hill” and into the old Channin Surfboards factory, we also acquired Tony Channin’s CNC shaping machine which resided in the factory.  But even prior to the move, we’ve always utilized the machine-shaping technology.  All of the models cut on the machine were all originally hand-shaped by Matt until he was able to fine tune them to how he wanted them to look and ride.  Once he felt the model was dialed-in, the best of the best are scanned on the machine.  The machine does the labor intensive rough-shaping so that Matt can work on the fine details of each board.  In a nutshell, that’s our use for the machine, it’s like a Skil planer on steroids so to speak.  It limits the labor and time it requires to rough a board out, and that allows Matt to not only build more boards (and reduce cost) but also to spend his time and energy on the finer details of each shape as well as to develop new models and designs.  It also helps to limit the variances in each shaped board which inevitably happens when hand-shaping.

Unfortunately, there appears to be some negative stigma associated with using shaping machines, but I can assure you that the machines are not so sophisticated that once the board is milled, any average Joe can just finish them off.  Matt hand-shaped something like 15,000 boards in his career before he started utilizing the CNC technology.  At age 40, he has had to consider self-preservation and the longevity of his shaping career and if he continues to “dig holes” (as he’s jokingly described hand-shaping), then his shoulders and back would be done by the time he’s 50 and he’d be forced to give up building surfboards.   Matt still loves to hand-shape, but he reserves this process for new designs and special custom orders.  The turnaround is a lot slower but the end result the same.

Shaping machines have always produced a good amount of controversy over the past decade, perhaps less prevalent now then before.  At the beginning, the controversy was rooted more in the protection and preservation of someone’s shape and design, and the ability for someone with a shaping machine to “copy” another shaper’s design.  But with integrity and because the machines lacked the sophistication to outright “copy” a shape, the fears diminished.  Nowadays, most shapers who have enough volume demand to justify it, use the shaping machine as an extension of their tool set (“Skil Planer on steroids”) to facilitate turnaround time, production flow as well as minimizing cost and labor.  Right, wrong or indifferent the shaping machine has become a valuable part of Matt’s design process as well as our business model.  Every individual who works in our factory whether it’s the shaper, the laminator, the polisher, down to the board packer loves surfboards and we believe in building them in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable price so that others can enjoy them too.

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