Cardboard Surfboard - 6'4"

by mesheldrake, published

Cardboard Surfboard - 6'4" by mesheldrake Nov 14, 2010

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UPDATE: 12/2014 - More board designs available at http://sheldrake.net/cardboards/, now under a less restrictive CC-BY license.

Cardboard surfboard core structure assembly. Cut and assemble these parts to form the shaped core structure for a 6'4" surfboard. Fiberglassing instructions on my project website will help you complete the board build.

I've been making and riding cardboard-core surfboards for about three years now. They work. Leaks are not the huge problem you would expect. And they happen to look - what's that old term the surfers used to use - awe..., awes..., awessss..., Bitchin!

These files are also a source of replacement part cut patterns, if you've ordered this board core kit from me or a cutting service. Just search through these files to find any part that's been damaged or gone missing. It shouldn't be too hard to cut one or two pieces by hand, with an x-acto knife.

This set of cut patterns is published under a Creative Commons attribution, share alike, non-commercial license. Derivatives are permitted, but discouraged, since this is not the best format for making changes. But if you do figure out some useful modification, I would be pleased to know about it, share it, and possibly integrate it into my file production pipeline.

The license is non-commercial. The primary purpose of publishing these files is to enable the lowest levels of the board-building ecosystem (where I reside) to experiment with building these boards at the lowest cost. Lots of people have local access to laser cutters, and cardboard is ubiquitous, so widely distributed low-cost production of these core kits is possible.

If you see glowing dollar signs in those translucent hexagons, you'll want to build at least one and surf it before considering whether there's any money to be made. I would be glad to discuss it with you. But I recommend you do a little "non-commercial" research first.

Bottom line: if you really want to build one of these boards, and can't get a core kit from me for whatever reason, here's a way to make your own.

If you build a board from these files, I will be thrilled to see pictures of the results. I'll feature the first response on my project web site.

[Photos on this page: 1.) Nick Yarnes with his very experimental build from one of my router-cut core kits. 2.) A Different Nick, in New South Wales, with his assembled router-cut core. 3.) Finished board by Nick in NSW 4.) A recent laser-cut version of this core.]


1.) See the full kit instructions on the cardboard surfboards project website, to see what's involved in building an entire board, beyond cutting and assembling this core kit. From the project homepage, find the "kit instructions" link on the right side. http://sheldrake.net/cardboards

2.) If you're up for all that, download one of the compressed file sets at the bottom of this page. Get either the EPS or DXF versions - whichever format works best for you.

3.) Get enough cardboard for 21 12" by 24" panels. Thickness is important. You're looking for cardboard that is somewhere around 4mm thick. (3.8 to 4.2 should work) It's a standard dimension called C flute, and it's pretty common. But it's not always easy to find a source for 12" by 24" panels without folds or damage, especially if you're scavenging. I hand-cut most of my panels from 4' by 8' sheets I buy at a packaging and moving supply store in town.

4.) Find a laser engraver/cutter with a 12" by 24" or larger cutting envelope.

5.) Adjust speed and power settings so you get surface marking for the part numbers and the fastest possible cut for the part contours. (Don't worry about kerf offsets. It matters, but I've already included a slight offset that seems to work.)

6.) Cut all the panels. It might take take three hours to cut everything.

7.) Pop out all the parts. Each part has two or four short bridges holding it in the panel. I don't know if these work yet, so let me know if they don't - if they are too hard to break, or if the bridges got burnt away. Also, watch out for the corners on some of the ribs, where notches get too close and cut the corners free. Where this happens, or almost happens, I've added extra bridges and numbers to the corner pieces so they don't get lost, and can be matched up with their "parent" ribs later, after assembly.

8.) Arrange the parts in order.

9.) You now have a core kit ready for assembly. The board building instructions on my project website begin at this point, so go back there for the rest.


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Damn, friend you did already what I wanna do and thinking for at least 6 months now after my return from Bali :)

Thanks! Great looking lasers!

Thank you so much for sharing the files!
I have access to a bigger laser cutter. Do you think it would make sense to join the parts together and cut the whole piece as one (for the longer ribs)?
Thanks again,

Yes, that should work fine for the stringers.
Wouldn't recommend making the rail joiners all one piece though - it's already kind of tricky to slip those in when they're less than two feet.

Here's an illustration of how to align any parts you're joining in CAD, to account for the slight laser kerf offset already in the cut patterns:


great, thanks a lot!

I wonder if it is possible to use this same construction method to build airplane parts. If someone does it, please let me know.

Hi Mike,

I'm from the Netherlands and I have an internship at a FabLab, I want to show as many ways of building opjecten. I'm working on making a canoe and bike. and my wooden surfboard is just finished.
now I really want a cardboard surfboard and prefer the tractor model. (preferably a longboard) Now I wondered whether the CAD files you want to mail to me.
Thanks ([email protected])
It seems very cool and I want to make a sign to put your business and website.

I hope you want to do this!

Kind regards, fabian

EPS and DXF files for several board models are available on "surfcorr", an album of music generated from the cut file geometry data, with the digital cut files embedded in the music data.


NAWP It is also very cool, maybe you these drawings also

NAWP is on the album - and it's one of the best tracks.

hey mike,
when i download the files and open them up in illustrator they go to the edge of the screen instead of fitting inside the paper. when i try opening in original size they are huge and nowhere near 1ft by 2 ft. how should i open the files and in what program

I assume "the paper" is the default page size outline in Illustrator - not part of my files - although I have included an orange depiction of a sheet of cardboard with some arrows, to indicate the proper orientation of the cardboard flutes. (Have the laser cutter ignore the color orange.)

The units in the file are postscript points, the native and consistent units of postscript and EPS files. If your "open original size" options include an option to specify units, choose points. You should be able to find a way to get Illustrator to open the files with the correct dimensions, if you fool around with it enough. If not, there's a list of alternative programs that support EPS here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encapsulated_PostScripthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E...

The EPS versions are meant to go straight to a laser cutting workstation, where it's likely the software available there will be able to handle a simple EPS file correctly. In fact, they are formatted to Ponoko's specs (as of the date of the original posting).

I preview these files in Ghostscript, which is more for viewing than editing, or Inkscape, which might have scaling issues if you don't get the settings right, but is great for inspecting parts. (In Inkscape you'll probably need to select-all and turn up the stroke width to see the parts.)

hey mike,

you said "...cardboard that is somewhere around 4mm thick. (3.8 to 4.2 should work) ..." but when i open the dxf files with catia v5 the cut out is 6.48mm (screenshot). so my question is something wrong with the dxf files or do i need a cardboard around 6mm thick?

The notches have to accommodate 4mm thick parts coming through at a 60 degree angle. If they went through at a 90 degree angle, the notches could be 4mm wide. But any other angle requires the notches to to be wider than the part medium.

Sketch out the part assembly from above and you'll see. And if you work out the math you'll find the notches in my patterns are a bit undersized, to give a good friction fit.

Mike thanks for the upload. I just finished your 6' 0" thruster from your website. Check out my laser cut fins at http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:12495http://www.thingiverse.com/thi..., they can be glassed on or used with Future Fin or FCS boxes. I used the laser to raster the foil.

Surfboard Fins: Shortboard Thruster
by surfair

Hi Mike,

I'm in the process off getting your files ready for laser cutting today at 3pm! But I have noticed some of the files have overlaps, for example in fish_64.panel_5.tabbed.eps part 90's bottom left hand notch over laps into part 76 in the same file. Also in fish_64.panel_9.tabbed.eps part 23 top lef
t cuts into itself.

Are these minor errors that need fixed, or nothing to worry about?
Regards Michael L

This set of cut patterns has some little problems like that.

Parts are very close together, but the few overlaps aren't going to affect the outer contours of the assembled core.

The more annoying problem is when end notches are too close to vertical notches, and end up clipping off a corner. I think I've got extra numbers on all those clipped corners. So w
atch out for them and save them, and glue them on the assembled core later. (This is all covered in the online build guide at http://www.sheldrake.net/cardboards/http://www.sheldrake.net/cardb... )

I've since improved my core pattern designer so that it avoids the situations that lead to these cut-off corners.My other board design
s and kits shouldn't have any clipped corners.

But it's a minor thing. No, nothing to worry about.

Dear Mike

I really want to build one of these boards after seeing one exhibited at the V
amp; A in London on the weekend but are the dwg files still available for free as i cant see a link to download?

DXF download is at the very bottom of this page for this 6'4" fish. Should work with software that reads dwg.

The boards at the Victoria
amp; Albert Museum are my "Glass Fish" 5'5" design, and a 6' thruster core, both produced entirely in London by Dan Brownley, based on my cut patterns and the build guide on my website.

I'm currently working on a better way of distributing cut pattern files for those boards, and my other board models. But the 6'4" fish on this page will remain free and easy.

Dear Mike,

With all the inspiration i got from your designs i decided to do the almost impossible and try to build a surfboard but instead of the laser cutting or routering i am planning to cut the cardboard core by hand. I think people who find this site cannot be thankful enough to you for putting up the d
esign for free, i am just curious if you could share the all-star core pattern design too as it would be much easier for me to cut it out by hand. Either you share it or not big thanx goes out to you! Cheers and keep it up!


I'm taking three surfboards from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a week, for a one-day exhibition. Gas is so expensive. Should I drive or walk?

I want to discourage anyone from trying to cut one of these kits by hand. I want to discourage you without coming off as if I know better, and without suggesting that you don't understand what you're getting into. Anyone can see it would be a lot of work. I say it's too much.

I understand if you
ignore my warning. I admit I've toyed with the idea of doing one by hand.

My recommendation would be to put the passion into lining up or even building a laser cutter or CNC router. That way the the effort isn't all sunk into one object, but invested in a service connection, or a tool, that will n
ot only get this project done faster, but will help with future projects.

DXF version of file set updated again.

After lots of tests back and forth with Nick (thanks for the patience Nick) I was able to fix what was making AutoCAD choke. Let me know in a personal message if the DXF files aren't working for you.


Is your code available to generate the patterns for something other than surfboards ? I would like to use your pattern to model an ultralight autogyro cabin.

I will try to duplicate it in Google Sketchup in the meantime.

Thanks for the inspiration,


Fixed problem in dxf files and uploaded new set. A blank line after the last part in each dxf file was causing the files not to load in some software.

Hello, I am still having issues opening the dxf files in AutoCad 2010. I downloaded the zip file below, but come back with the error "Invalid or incomplete DXF input -- drawing discarded"

Any ideas? Thank-


Nick - I generate these DXF files directly from my own code, referring to the DXF r13 spec, and minimal sample files. The files work in QCAD, BobCAD, and LazyCAM - maybe not the most widespread CAD programs, but if those programs can figure it out, why not AutoCAD?

It's possible my files are too minimal for AutoCAD 2010. Could you please do a drawing with just one simple polyline in AutoCAD and save it as DXF (r13 or earlier, if that's an option) and send it to me at the email address found on my surfboards homepage: http://www.sheldrake.net/cardboardshttp://www.sheldrake.net/cardb...

way I can incorporate any header sections or other extraneous info that AutoCAD might be looking for. I'll send test files back to you until we get one that works. If that still works with QCAD and others, I'll update all the files and re-upload.

In the meantime, for everyone else, if you're using
anything but AutoCAD, the current set of DXFs should work fine. Email me directly with a test file if they don't.


Sweet! I've been admiring your boards for years - thanks for posting this! Our workshop at http://vancommunitylab.comvancommunitylab.com is looking to get a laser cutter soon; this might be one of the first projects!

I have a 5'11" quad fin fish that is perfect for kitesurfing on the light wind days - it has very little rocker and so is great upwind, but I cracked it in half on a 3.5 m swell day a few years ago; never found a good replacement. Will have to try out this fish!


Thanks. Yeah, the rocker is relatively flat, and it's got a mild single concave, with rails that get fairly sharp toward the tail. Kite surfing is not what I had in mind here, but it might work well for that because of those features. Report back when you get it built!

I've been trying to show detailed board specs with an interactive display of the key curves. Still needs some work, but here's the page for this board, which clearly shows the rocker:


sheldrake i need to contact with you urgently for and interview in a spanish magazine.. i send you some emails, but i havent got reply..

please contact me marcel(at)http://marcelbatlle.commarcelbatlle.com

Replied. Thanks for the interest.