The Checkerboard Experience

The stretch of boardwalk that extends from Venice Beach, Calif., to nearby Santa Monica is one of the most epic places in the world to hop on a longboard skateboard and take off for a ride. The paved winding path takes you past beach bums and chiseled bodes, burnouts and family beach goers, all the while with the Pacific Ocean crashing to the West.

That scene, which I play over again in my head during my deepest day dreams, was the inspiration for this pair of checkerboard longboards that recently emerged from the Weekndr shop. One of them is headed that way in just a few days to meet its new owner.

Bergerboard No. 056
“Venice Bound
This 7-ply hardwood maple longboard is decorated with a classic checkerboard pattern in Birds-Eye Maple and Tiger Maple, flanked by redish-brown Sapele. It measures 44-in. long and 9-1/2 in. wide. The popsicle-stick shape has a kick in the front and tail, and the width of the board is concave for improved footing. The top of the board is covered in grip tape with a checker diamond in the center.

Bergerboard No. 057
This 7-ply hardwood maple longboard is decorated with a checkerboard pattern in European Beech and Sapele. The checkers deconstruct at on end of the board, a design detail that covered a flaw in the board, hence its name “Patch.” The checker pattern is flanked by tiger maple. The popsicle-stick shaped board measures 44-in. long and 9-1/2 in. wide and has a kick in the front and tail. The width of the board is concave for improved footing. The top of the board is covered in grip tape with a checker diamond in the center.

Adventures of the garage-shop veneer press

Sometimes is a breeding ground for grifters and over-priced used products, but every now and then an amazing opportunity comes along. That was the case last weekend when I searched the For Sale section on the hunt for a vacuum veneer press.

There isn’t much to a vacuum veneer press, but a good one with high-quality parts and features can costs a lot of money. It’s comprised of a motorized pump that attaches to a thick plastic bag with a hose.  Turn on the pump and its sucks the air from the bag. Whatever’s inside – typically layers of wood ready for lamination – compresses as the pump pulls all the air from the bag. In woodworking this tool is most-often used to adhere decorative veneer to curved or flat surfaces with glue. The sealed bag holds the veneer tight to the surface of your substrate as the glue dries.

Vacu Press

Craigslist score: VacuPress Hi-Flo vacuum veneer press with rolling table.

The custom made vacuum veneer press table shown here with two skateboard forms inside.

Before I drove off with my new tools I talked with the shop owner for nearly an hour. He gave me a tour of the 30,000-square-foot cabinet shop where he spent the better part of his life creating magnificent furniture and interiors. At one time, he said, there were 40 people working there. He told me about his first big job – a billionaire’s media room in Aspen – which he charged $1.3 million to complete. I heard a story of back in 1974 when he invented the first-ever automated TV-lift; that’s the thing that makes a TV rise and retract from a media cabinet. He charged $500 for it, but it cost him $7,000 to engineer and build. Didn’t matter though because it got him bigger and better jobs and allowed him to acquire more and more tools, like the one I was buying.

The kit that I purchased was the smallest of nine vacuum veneer press kits he was selling off. And those were just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment that would soon be plugged in at someone else’s shop.

It was hard to miss the sadness in the owner’s eyes as he said goodbye to his lifetime of work. But as I talked with him that morning and told him about what I planned to use it for – making decorative skateboards and mousepads with highly figured veneer and marquetry –  I could tell he was a small bit satisfied that at least this tool would live through another interesting adventure.

This weekend I get started putting it to good use with a colorful batch of veneer I recently acquired. Have a look at some of the patterns I assembled for my next batch of projects.



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Checkerboard No. 003

Checkerboard No. 003Checkerboard No. 003 goes out the door tomorrow after a heroic effort that lasted nearly nine months with continual starts and stops. It was worth the effort, though. And we suspect the proud new owner will appreciate the handmade effort.

The general cause of our delay can be blamed on tools. You can never have enough of them (unless you own this tool chest).  We sure don’t. In fact, we’re missing all of them: A scroll saw to cut the veneer pieces straight and square and fast; and a vacuum press that can promise a good glue bond when laminating the deck.

To get this one done, it was painstakingly constructed by hand: hand planes, handheld knives, a hand-pump vacuum bag, and hand sanding and scraping. As a result, there are a few tool marks and less-than-straight lines, but that’s part of the handmadi-ness of it all. You won’t find another one like it.

Now, time to buy some new tools and get started on No. 004.

checkerboard no. 003

Weekndr Skateshop: Open for Business

Garage skateshop

Inside the workshop. A checkerboard skateboard takes shape one square at a time.

Shop doors open.

Shop doors open.

It doesn’t look like much yet, but the Weekndr Garage Skateshop opened for business this week as production on the first Checkerboard skateboard got underway. Seriously folks, we’re taking orders.

veneer marquetry

The veneer goes together using a old-timey technique known as marquetry. Kind of like building a puzzle.

Decked out in a checkerboard pattern of exotic veneers, this short board will become No. 53 in the long lineage of handmade skateboards I’ve sent out into the world. It was more than 12 years ago when No. 1 hit the street under the brand Bergerboard. It was a pin-striped longboard that emulated the woody longboard surfboards of the 1950s. The cash payment for sale went straight to the weekend beer budget, and also bought the materials for the next few boards I made and sold. Soon, Bergerboards were selling as fast as I could make them (which wasn’t very fast at all).

Over the years, I’ve evolved the construction process, tried new materials and designs, and finally settled on the current method, which is faster and results in a higher-quality skateboard. If you’re interested in No. 54 and up leave a comment.

marquetry tools

A Japanese carving knife and a straight edge make quick work of the veneer cutting.