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  • Woodworker Profile: Micheal Connor

Woodworker Profile: Micheal Connor

I went to visit Micheal’s workshop to see the handcrafted wooden surfboards that he makes under his ‘Bush Pig’ label. The ‘Pig’ in the name refers to a style of 1960s surfboard and ‘bush’ is an acknowledgment of the forest where the timber grows.

I wanted to see these boards in the flesh and talk to Micheal about how he went about constructing them. I have always been captivated by old photographs of surfers in swimming trunks standing next to elegant timber surfboards. At the back of my mind I even hoped that I might find myself on the beach at nearby Byron Bay.

There is a subculture of surfers shunning modern materials and crafting retro-style wooden surfboards. This group of enthusiasts represents a growing trend towards a return to the origins of surfing when boards were made from wood. These contemporary board makers are drawn to the feel and performance of timber as well as the challenge of mastering the skills and craftsmanship needed to construct a lively, agile board from wood.

Micheal’s surfboards are constructed around a hollow frame that forms the core of the board. Around that is an external timber skin. Paulownia is one of the best choices of timber to use in surfboard construction, it’s light-weight but strong enough to endure the stresses and strains that the waves can throw at it. Micheal is careful to ensure that he sources his material from sustainably managed plantations. Although a timber board feels heavier on land, the weight transfers into momentum on water, it glides better and is less affected by choppy conditions.

The ‘Bush Pig’ surfboards are finished with fibreglass, Micheal favours a matt finish to a gloss allowing the fine figure of the timber to show. The reflective surface of a gloss finish tends to obscure the detail in the grain.

He designs the board shape on his computer using a program designed for surfboard shapers. Making prototypes of his new designs in foam first, he then goes surfing to test their performance. He makes the point that the buoyancy of the board comes from the shape, not the material. This testing phase is very important to the outcome of the finished surfboard. If he’s happy with the performance of the foam board he begins the process of turning it into a ‘Woodie’.

The next step is to send the design to a CAD expert on the Gold Coast. He takes the shape and divides it into sections to create a G code file. This is then used to determine what the CNC machine will cut.

Micheal then makes a 7mm panel of Paulownia that is large enough for all the sections of the frame to be cut using the CNC machine. The depth of cut is only about 6.5mm, this leaves the panel still intact by about 0.5mm. Micheal can then cut out the sections with a sharp knife. This panel looks like something from a giant Airfix model kit.

Once the frame is assembled and glued, foam pieces are fitted within parts of the frame. The external skin is fitted and glued in place using a vacuum bag. There are many elements to be built into the board. The sides are formed by several thin laminated layers and the nose is also fitted separately. The edges of the boards are hand-shaped using a small wooden plane that Micheal made especially for the purpose.