Surfboard shaping has a long and storied history that many pioneering people molded from various disciplines with diverse skill sets. But one thing has always been true, and that is the fact that, at the very least, some essential tools are required to successfully shape a surfboard, whether it be an adze for shaping a log of wood or an electric planer used to shape a polyurethane surfboard blank.

Without tools, we would not see the diversity of designs currently available in surfboard shapes.

These days one of the primary tools is the shaping machines used by many large production factories.

But we are still fairly old school and prefer hand-shaping all of our boards. A wide variety of tools can be utilized in the hand-shaping process, and we thought we would introduce you to just a few of them on this page. This is by no means a definitive list of all the tools that could be used; just a few that have caught our fancy!

The Electric Planer

Early in the modern era of surfboard shaping, whether balsa or the early foam blanks, shapers realized they needed a tool to remove material from the blank more rapidly than a hand planer would allow. That tool was the electric hand planer.

Probably every type of electric hand planer invented has been used by some intrepid shaper, but one planer rose above all others: the Skil 100! This planer had a unique combination of features that made it ideal as a tool for shaping surfboards.

Many of these features could be discussed in depth, but a few standouts are as follows. The planer was made from aluminum, so it was relatively light and, therefore, easy to handle for long periods. The fact that it was made from aluminum, particularly the base, also made it easy to modify the base length. These planers were also reasonably powerful for their size and could rapidly remove material. But from our point of view, the single most defining feature of the Skil planer was the depth adjustment mechanism.

This mechanism was ideally located at the front of the adjustable shoe that controlled the depth, and it only needed to travel a relatively short distance to go from a zero cut to the maximum depth. This allowed the shaper to vary the cut depth as the planer was pushed along the board, making for much control over the shaping process.

Another aspect of the Skil 100 was the general ergonomics of the planer. When you are holding a tool in your hands for long periods, it helps if it is well-balanced and comfortable to hold. There is little doubt that the Skil is incredibly comfortable to work with for extended periods, which eventually feels like an extension of your arm.

It is also worth mentioning that when people first started using these planers, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find, which probably contributed to their adoption rate.

Eventually, most production shapers were using these planers with great success. But sadly, the planer was discontinued more than 30 years ago! But as a solid testament to the beauty of this tool, they are still in use today and are highly coveted, with people paying more than $1000 for one in good condition. A steady trade has been plied on places like eBay as people find long-forgotten Skil planers in some attic and then sell them to eager buyers.

We have to admit to a strong tendency to hoard these planers and buy one whenever one became available, to the point where we had as many as nine of them safely stashed away in case we needed a new one someday or some part was required.

Some attempts were made to duplicate the Skil in a modern planer, with the most successful being the modified Hitachi planers sold by Clark Foam. These planers were much lighter than the Skil but had a different feel. Many shapers adopted and used these planers because they were available and certainly a lot cheaper than the going rate for a Skil planer.

Many old Skil addicts became progressively more neurotic as we fretted about how long we could keep our planers running and what we would do should we no longer use them.

Fortunately, the heavens parted, and a wonderful thing happened: someone got the idea to reproduce the Skil planer using modern manufacturing techniques. Greg Noll and his son Jed were the initial instigators of this project, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for seeing it through to fruition. It certainly made a lot of us old shapers very happy!

Subsequently, the Accurate Planer was introduced to the world. It is produced by a company specializing in manufacturing high-end fishing reels using modern CNC technologies. They applied their knowledge to the reproduction of the Skil planer. Still, instead of utilizing an aluminum casting like the original, they opted to machine everything out of billet aluminum and then polish it once completed. This is a lot stronger than the original; it also looks stunning.

t takes many of the critical features of the Skil planer. It gives them a serious upgrade, for example, a much smoother depth adjustment mechanism, even better ergonomics, outstanding balance, very reasonable weight, a potent motor, modern electronics, and, of course, the billet aluminum! In every aspect, the designers took all of the features of the Skil and upgraded them without losing the endearing characteristics that had made it a classic shaping tool. Now, we are blessed with a thoroughly modern planer that does not compromise any of the good qualities of the Skil and addresses all of the original's shortcomings. Sure, they are not cheap, but when a tool is custom manufactured with this kind of care, you get what you pay for; this tool will last a lifetime while providing stellar performance.

But as beautiful as this planer looks, it starts to shine when put to use; it improves on the Skil in every way and is silky smooth, an absolute joy to use! One of the key features is how much more powerful it is than a Skil; nothing gets in this planer's way!

While we were sad to set our trusted Skil aside, this new planer was too much fun. We still pull out the Skil now and again, but after using the Accurate Planer for some time, it is getting harder and harder to switch back.

Progress is a good thing!

UPDATE: Since writing the above review of the Accurate Planer, we have gone back to using our Skil Planer. The Accurate got hot and ran much higher RPM than the Skil. Over a long shaping session, this made the Accurate Planer less predictable and uncomfortable.

Hand and Block Planers

Hand planers are a crucial tool in shaping, commonly used to plane down the stringer. A good hand planer is an essential tool, but the range of quality in these tools is enormous, as is the price range!

A good block planer makes planing the stringer down a simple, efficient operation. A bad one makes it a nightmare! We love block planers and typically have at least five or six, set at different depths and with different iron angles. Our favorites are small block planes typically used in luthier work, as they have a really good feel with nice thick solid irons.

Here in Hawaii, trying and finding planers that use good quality steel or bronze is critical. Otherwise, they rust like crazy, which is hard on the tool as you always have to clean the rust off.

Having a good hand planer, though, is not good enough. It would help if you kept it sharp, so understanding how to sharpen and maintain the planers is essential for success.

If the planer blade is not sharp, it will tend to tear the foam on either side of the stringer, which can be a total bummer as you now have to sand it back down again, and it could result in a circular effort!

An essential tool for a successful hand shape!

The Surform®

Many shapers will claim that a surform has no place in the shaping room. We disagree with this sentiment as it is a tool that has several valuable roles to play in the shaping process as long as you have a good understanding of the tool and how to use it.

We agree that the modern surforms commonly found in hardware stores are terrible. For some reason, Stanley chose to abandon the older style surforms for new ones that are uncomfortable to hold and use and don't work as well.

Robin personally collects old Surforms, especially the older ones made by the original company that manufactured them before Stanley bought them. These tools are an absolute joy to use for certain tasks, and we would be lost without a few of these in our shaping tool chest.

This photo shows some of the Surforms in our collection, four of which are used on every board that we shape.

The introduction of the Microplaner blades made out of stainless steel and serve as a replacement blade for the tool has advanced the use of the surform. These blades have the equivalent of small planer blades all over the blade and make very clean cuts in foam or wood. A surform with a microplaner blade is our go-to tool when dealing with triple stringers or the nose and tail of the board, as the stringers can be dialed in super cleanly.

We also use the surform for cutting our deep bowled double concaves as the rockered bottom of the tool makes it easier to shape in the concave.

There are myriad little tasks that a surform is ideal at handling, so we feel strongly that they are another one of the essential tools to have in the shaping room.

But the quality of the tool is critical to its success!

Custom Surform

We have wanted to make a custom surform (called CARV) to take advantage of the excellent Microplaner blades. Well, we have finally made the leap, and the first few prototypes have been assembled and are being put to the test.

The very first custom CARV tool!

There is an excellent Surform replacement blade called the Microplaner blade. It is made from stainless steel and has tiny little planer blades on the surface. It is perfect for many different shaping tasks, especially triple stringers.

The standard Stanley surforms work with these blades, but the tightening mechanism is less than optimal. So we decided to design our tool that would be optimized for these blades plus with improved ergonomics. The tool would be made from G10 as it is strong, light, and easy to machine with a CNC machine. We have called this tool - CARV, as that is what we are doing with it.

The photo shows the very first version. From this, we learned much about improving the strength and smoothing the assembly process.

3D rendering of the final design for CARV

The rendering shows the final design and includes a wholly redesigned tensioning sled. The first version of this design is in the process of being assembled. We will post additional photos here when complete.


We have to be upfront and admit that we are unabashed template junkies. We like making and collecting templates.

Here is a very short description for those who don't know what a template is and its role in the surfboard-building process.

When a shaper designs a new board that will be hand shaped, the first step is to either create a new template for the design or try to use existing templates to render the outline for the design. Templates are commonly made using door skin or masonite as the template material, which is around 1/8" thick. These materials work well because they are available and relatively easy to machine and true.

A template can be either full-length or what is referred to as a spin template (one edge of the template has the nose of the board, and the other has the tail, and they are spun around). See the drawings above.

Once the shaper has the desired template, it is used to outline the blank. The typical procedure is to lay out the dimensions for the board on the blank and then to use the template to "connect the dots." If the template is full length, it is much easier and faster to outline, but this only works for boards under 8' as the material is commonly only available in 8' lengths.

Over time a shaper will amass a collection of templates representing a wide array of designs. These curves can be combined to make even more outlines, as needed. These templates make it easy to reproduce a given design at any time.

Our template collection currently stands at somewhere around 300+ templates for surfboards ranging from 5' 9" to 12' 6"!

In recent years we have taken a slightly different approach to our template design and manufacturing process. Our templates are now designed on a computer, make for mathematically perfect curves, and then printed on a large format printer as full-size half-width templates. This printout is then transferred to wood to create a clean template quickly.

The beauty of this approach is that it makes it much easier in this digital age to store the original designs and communicate design ideas to our customers, as we can send our design ideas directly to the customer before the board is made. This allows them to visualize the design and makes it much easier to discuss potential changes. these digital drawings are then also utilized to communicate color setups for the board. It makes for good record-keeping and accurate representation of what the customer will receive with their order!