Monday, March 26, 2012

Field Trip: Blacklock Longboards.


What do you get when you mix a artist and graphic designer, who also owns and operates a tree farm, and has a love for longboards and skimboarding? You get Blacklock Longboards. Based in Norfolk County Ontario, Craftsman and Farmer Paul-Britman Rapai is into his third year of building longboards under the name Blacklock Longboards. Finding time to build during the Winter months while his 200 acre tree farm is resting. Paul starting building decks in 2005 as gifts for family and friends. Through 2006-2009 Paul laid the foundation for his reputation through word of mouth and selling to a few stores. Soon after Blacklock was started and production stepped up, as well as quality and design. 

Paul-Britman Rapai.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Paul and his property to hang out and to get a hands on tour of his shop and to see the process on how these decks are made. I arrived at their home earlier then expected and as I stepped out of my car I was greeted by Heather, Paul's partner in crime, Paul's Father, and the youngest Rapai; Heather and Paul's son Garyson. Paul was out in the field, marking trees to be sold in the coming weeks, and shortly came rolling up in his dusty pick up.

After a quick break and some introductions we were off to the shop to take a look at some of his completed decks and to see his set up. The shop is tucked in the back end of a large two level barn. The barn stores the typical tractors and other farm equipment as well as the stacks of wood for the longboards. The wood that Paul uses for the decks are felled and milled from his farm, as well as other locally sourced lumber. As we crack the door of the brightly lit shop, it had the unmistakably wonderful smell of cut lumber. I don't think one could ever tire of that smell, its so delightful. The shop is filled with grand work benches, and quite a array of power tools to help transform thin strips of wood into ride-able works of art. Laying across most of the workbenches were the finished glossy planks of pure handcrafted goodness. Paul showed me some of the new designs that he is debuting this year. The intricate "spotted" design is quite striking, using rich dark woods to speckle the light colour of the Ash base. As well, Paul has constructed new tapered stripped decks, some looking like backgammon boards and others looking like the Hot rod flames of the 50's. His third new design is the wicked "rustic" deck that uses wood that has gnarly knots and really nice unique "flaws" to it. While they are structurally sound these decks really possess that "backwoods" appeal to the rider looking for that.

 

We stepped out of the shop and back to their home to take a look at Blacklock's blank decks. Paul's Blanks are not just graphic-less decks that you might think with regular deck, they are finished decks that need there shape cut out. These are for people daring enough to design there own longboard. Picking "your" deck is no easy task when faced with the beautiful rich colours and grains of wood and the fact that the silkscreened logos are all unique colour-ways as well. It took me 15 min, but I thankfully narrowed it down to two, a cherry and walnut pin-stripe and a walnut and oak striped. I finality decided on the Walnut and oak blank. I am a huge walnut fan, and it was also a touch wider for my size 13 feet. From there it was back out to the shop to cut the boards shape out. We modded Blacklock's pintail design to a wider version, utilizing the full 9" of the decks width. Paul effortlessly whips the blank through the bandsaw cutting the board within millimetres of his original pencil line. The board feels good and the shape is balanced. The next step is sanding the edges smooth, bringing the edges right up to the pencil line. Paul starts up the belt sander and shows me that you need to keep rocking it to eliminate flat spots. As I work the deck back and forth the belt sander chews through the wood like a hot knife in butter. Just as I finish cleaning up the edges Heather and Grayson pop around the corner and call us for Dinner.


 After an amazing dinner (Thank you so much Heather!!) and some great conversation around their dining room table, Paul asked if I would like anything stamped into the deck. Again another touch of personalization offered by Paul. Each deck is stamped with a serial number and "Blacklock", but he will also stamp your name, nickname, or anything. I of course got "Damn Yak", and boy it looks sharp. I also asked Paul if he would be so kind as to throw his "John Hancock" on there for me. The last step for us in finishing up the deck is sanding out the wheel wells. Paul has made a one of a kind jig to hold the deck at and specific angle to lean into the spindle sander.  Its was pretty rad to see perfectly angled wheel wells sanded into the deck in about 30 seconds. As we peel the masking tape on the board back I grin ear to ear, the final deck is simply amazing. All I need to do at home is round and seal the edges and its good to go. With our work in the shop finished Paul takes me on a truck ride around the farm, showing me their pond and rows of trees. Quite the operation he has set up, Working the land in the summer and building with what he grows in the winter.

Raw decks that need sealing

Blacklock longboards are unique, and while there are other longboard makers in the world, how many of them have their hand in the entire process, from felling to final sanding. Blacklock boards are just as functional as they are eye-catching, Paul told me he's been up to 65km on his skate. Every deck is completely different, different grains and different stripes. Paul only makes so many a year, because as a proud craftsmen, quality over quantity stands true. I really dig the fact that you don't necessarily need grip tape on the board, allowing you to look down and see the beauty of your board with every push. With the skate seasons here in Ontario fast approaching, you might want to head over to Blacklock's website and scoop up your new summer ride. He just put up all of this seasons new designs and stock, and they do go quick. I just want to thank Paul and Heather for their hospitality and kindness during my visit. I was truly made to feel comfortable in their home and had such a great time during my visit. It really great to see such fresh, handmade, one of a kind products coming from Canada, let alone just a couple hours away from my home. If you have any questions about the boards or the process please contact Paul directly through Blacklock's website.

Laying masking tape to draw the shape on my new deck.
Modding the shape to accommodate the width.
Ready to cut out.
Paul ripping the board through the band-saw.
Sanding the edges square.
Sanding the wheel wells with custom jig.
All done, Tape comes off.

19 comments:

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