In Spring 2019 I was walking my dog and I noticed something. The city had just sent out crews to prune some of the palm trees in the area – all the dead fronds were removed leaving a clean, trimmed palm head above.
There were a few remnants of some of the dead fronds lying around on the ground – so I picked one up. I’m talking about the full “branch” – if you will – the leaves, stalk, and fat part that connects to the palm tree’s trunk.
It was the fat part I was mostly interested in. It was really light, super dense, and fibrous. It seemed like a cross between agave, balsa, bamboo, and PU foam. I was determined to build a surfboard out of the stuff.
Trimming the Palm
I had a tree on my property that hadn’t been on the pruning crew’s list. It had a ton of dead palm leaves and branches around it on the ground and hanging on by threads above.
I gathered and split the dried, dead palm leaves until I had a little over a garbage can full.
With a machete, I hacked the palms into more manageable pieces for the band saw.
I used the band saw to create as many rectangular blocks of the palm branch insides as I could. It cut like butter and had a really unique appearance.
Not Building Surfboards
After I spent a while cutting, I got through most of the good palm stock I collected. Now it was time to figure out how to glue it all together so I could shape a board.
This task was proving way to challenging for the patience and time I had to spare. I could have probably used a good thickness planer and about 100 more bar clamps too.
So back to the bin my palm rectangles went – collecting dust while I refined my fin designs.
Vissla & Surfrider Upcycle Contest 2019
That plan didn’t pan out. I thought, “Oh well, there’s always next time.”
The problem was I didn’t have quite enough palm stock and it would be too challenging to glue it all up with the equipment I had on hand.
Labor day rolled around, I was out of town, and the Upcycle Contest was a pipe dream of the past.
Then it occurred to me, while I certainly didn’t have time for a dead palm surfboard, I could probably crank out a pretty cool dead palm hand plane. So I did – with less than 6 days until the deadline.
The materials for the Wave Arcade Dead Palm Plane for the 2019 Vissla/Surfrider Upcycle Contest were as follows:
- Dead palm tree “foam”
- Fiberglass and fin rope off-cuts and scraps
- Leftover Entropy Resins Super Sap One bio-based epoxy
- An old wetsuit for the handstrap
Here’s how I made the dead palm hand plane:
- First, I glued and clamped a bunch of palm foam blocks into about the size I wanted to final hand plane.
- I decided to glue the horizontally due to the irregularities in their thicknesses. I think it gives it a pretty unique look.
- Next, I drew a rough outline and cut it out on the bandsaw.
- I used a power planer to get things even, and then swapped for a block plane to clean things up.
- I used sanding blocks and sandpaper to square the rails and rough out the bottom rocker and contours.
- I used a file to shape the rails and cleaned them up with sandpaper.
- Using a wood burning tool, I burned in a Wave Arcade logo.
- I cut some 4oz fiberglass scraps to glass the top and bottom.
- Next I laminated the hand plane and added fin rope and some more glass scraps that would hold down the strap.
- I did a hot coat and some final sanding.
- From there, I cut an old wetsuit, lead it through the fin rope loops and sewed it tight.
It turned out extremely light, really interesting looking, and pretty clean.
As far as I know, nobody has used a palm tree branch to do something like this before. Next step was to ride it and get some groovy barrel shots.
Admittedly, I don’t do much bodysurfing, but the dead palm plane may just change that. It was a blast in some dumpy, fast beach break.
Update: 2019 Vissla/Surfrider Creators & Innovators Upcycle Contest
This entry was chosen as a finalist for the 2019 contest along with some other really great projects from around the world.
The winner’s included a surfboard made from salvaged lobster buoys, an extremely well-crated hollow-wood body board & handplane made from an old barn, and a alaia made from 100+ year old miso barrels.