It seems that many surfers still think, on some level, there is a lose of soul or that shapers aren’t actually shaping boards that come off a machine. In reality boards, what I like to refer to as pre-shaped, from a machine are usually only about 85% to 90% complete. That last 10 to 15% of the shaping process probably equates to 90% of how that board performs.
Machine are just time savers for shapers rather than actually shaping the board. They remove the unwanted, extraneous material from the rough blank. Granted they cut the outline, generally put in the rocker and bottom contours. But It really depends on how much tolerance the designer/shaper allows for in the cut. Some shapers choose to have some room in their design so that adjustments can be made in the shaping bay. While others have the machines cut designs more precisely to the finished shape saving time in the shaping bay, but leaving less room for adjustments. Relying more on the accuracy of the machine.
Shaping machines aren’t as perfect as most people think. They are just machines and how perfect or accurate the cuts come out depends a lot on the operator. Blanks are not perfect to begin with. They are twisted, stringers are cocked, and they are not always the exact sizes/shape the manufacturers spec out. This is a huge variable a good operator must over come to ensure the cuts they are trying to produce are accurate to the designer’s file. It actually takes a lot of skill to become familiar with how your machine cuts, and how to overcome these obstacles. I have come to believe that using a machine is shaping boards with a different kind of tool. Sure once you get good at it it’s fast, but there is a lot of work and maintenance that goes on behind the scene to achieve that speed and accuracy.
Machines benefit shapers not only by saving them time, but can also help advance creativity and development. It’s not that machines can do more than you can by hand. In fact they can do less. But if you’re not investing a lot of time just trying to tear away at foam to get down to shape something experimental or interesting. I think you’re more inclined to try something different. By using machines you feel slightly less vested about the time it takes to make a board and more likely to try something new. Because you know you can just cut another similar design and try again if the designs doesn’t work as well as you intended.
In the same regards I tend to spend more time refining my shapes that come off a machine. Simply because I have more time to work on them. I find myself more concerned with details than just trying to finish a board to get to the next one.
The disadvantage to machines can be that we become complacent, and not try new or experimental designs. Cookie cutter shapes, and or replication of other shapers designs. Shaper/designers are all guilty of making boards that are based on other people designs/experiments and sweat. It’s natural to see what the best selling manufactures are doing and want to mimic or copy their designs. This has become far easier with the advent of machines, through scanning, pictures and good old measurements. Computers have made it far easier to mimic other shapers boards. This is good and bad.
Generally local shapers are willing to sell boards for less then there corporate brothers just to stay in business. And when a customer comes looking for that Weirdo Ripper from Channel Islands. A shaper can go to the local surf shop that has one, take some measurements/notes, go online read about it, and get some images. Bam start designing a version of that shape for their customer. Then send that file to their local machine operator. WhaLa Weirdo Ripper for less than the $750 at the local surf shop. Well it’s a little more complicated than that, but this gives you the general idea.
All of this being said for better or for worse machines are here to stay. I’m a big fan of the machine. I have about 95% of boards I make come off that machine. I mostly hand shape for fun or if my machine is down. All boards are truly hand shaped in the end.
Lastly, a special thanks to guys who understand the art of glassing boards. There’s no machine for glassing. A truly special art of chemistry and craftmanship most people leave out of the equation. Glassing can drastically effect the weight, flex and overall performance of the board. I’ll never forget the moment this guy, who surfed really well, picked up a brand new board from me. It was run with the same blank, file and everything. His first words were “feels a little heavy?” You know your fucked right there. Doesn’t matter if he took that board on a boat trip to the Mentawai Islands in August for 2 weeks. He was never going to like that board. Just from that first look, feel. It’s like a girl you see you either fall in love right there, or just want to play.