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
My original plan was to enter my sweet, totally revolutionary dead palm surfboard with some super cool Wave Arcade fins in the Upcycle Contest.
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.
You can check those out on Vissla’s instagram or on their blog.