The Ari-Rail: Friend-Inspired Awesomeness

Fixation and friendship resurrect a mothballed innovation in wood surfboard construction.

The Ari-Rail: Friend-Inspired Awesomeness

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I'm lucky. I've always had good friends around that seem to get as excited as I do about various ideas that I find knocking around in my head - ideas that have brought me to the point of obsession because I thought they were so awesome (whether they were or not). When Grain was just an inkling, some of those friends would swing by the basement and contribute ideas to help inspire this new concept for building a better surfboard. It was a challenge to think in 2D and see in 3D: to take something with as many compound curves as a surfboard and slice it all away to see lofting lines, cutaways, waterlines and profiles. To take all that information and devise a process that not only utilizes local wood, but ensures that the board is light and functional, durable and beautiful, makes the best use of material and is something that can be built with common woodworking tools... It was a mind bender for sure.

I had a pretty good idea how to get started based on years of experience messing about in boats, but it took some creative thinking and about a dozen prototypes to get the first great board together. Later, we refined those early techniques and once Brad developed all our CAD capability, we were able to replicate all that early thinking quite readily, and to apply it to complex, modern surfboard shapes like mini-guns, bonzers, and nose-riders. After all these years, we still come to work every day with a thirst for invention and a desire to make things even better than they are.

Ari and the Rail


Ari was one of my friends from the basement days who, having done some experimenting on his own, shared with me an idea that he thought would eliminate one of the tricky and more time consuming parts of the process: the lands.

If you've built a board with us, you know all about the lands. Much like a lapstrake boat, it's the part of the process where you remove material from the top of the rail with a spokeshave in order for the top planks to extend over, and get glued on. Ari, finding himself spokeshave-impaired, instead modified the frames so that rails rode up and into a notch in each frame, allowing the top planks to fit over them. You could see the idea had merit, but also some pitfalls. I shared it with Brad, but we shelved it.

A year ago, we revisited Ari's concept. Brad figured out a variation and modeled it in our parametric CAD system, we precision-cut a new set of frames, and then - in the shop - the whole crew helped work out the details for blending the ends in, and proof out design assumptions. In the end, it's not quite the way Ari envisioned it, but close enough for us to dub it an "ari-rail"!

We've found a lot of benefits to this upgrade in our method. For one thing, forming the lands is often the most difficult step for most first-time board builders. Removing that step means there's more time to learn about other aspects of board building that, formerly, we couldn't fit into the four-day class. Not only a more efficient use of wood, it also makes it harder to over-shape the deck in ways that might weaken the board. HomeGrown Kit builders can look for the ari-rail in kits sometime soon, and that means this change is going to make the process even that much more accessible to everybody.

Then & Now


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by Mike
Rail'd and ready for top planks - sweet.
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Parametric CAD controls the design of Ari's notches

It's a real contrast. Back then: working in a basement, friends casually offering ideas, then - armed with nothing but a pencil and some hand-me-down hand-tools - sweating through multiple tries to put it all together into something new.

And now: we use a combination of sophisticated computer modeling and good old shop-floor know-how to get ideas formed into graceful shapes of wood in ways I never would have thought possible - all that with almost no prototyping, because nowadays, everything just seems to work the first time around.

Friends like Ari and the great crew here at Grain, folded together with tech, hand-tools and experience... to us, it's a perfect recipe that lets us help others every day to share our obsession.

Quick to rail...

...easy to clamp