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How Side Project Skateboards Are Made

Based in Houston, Texas, Side Project Skateboards is a one-man operation that handcrafts skateboards from a variety of found and recovered hardwoods and American-made components. The vintage-inspired boards, which are completely one-of-a-kind and made entirely by hand, feature strips of selected woods, like rare South American Zircon, American Walnut, and Purpleheart. The SS16 collection includes nine new skateboards and in this month’s Deconstruction, founder and creative director Jake Eshelman gives us a look into how each one is constructed.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-0a_Open-Workshop-Doors

Personally, I work best with the doors open, so that’s usually the first thing I do as I set up the studio. It sounds mundane, but it’s hard to beat a nice breeze through the workshop (when it’s not oppressively hot or rainy here in Houston).

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-1_Recovering-Wood

Every Side Project Skateboard begins as discarded wood. I have a couple sources to recover these materials, which are usually small strips that I save from the dumpster. On a rare occasion, I’ll get my hands on bigger wood slabs like those pictured here (which is like finding a $100 bill in an old jacket). Regardless, I take these old beat-up pieces of wood and clean it up to something new and beautiful. Rather than using paints or stains to color my skateboards, I simply celebrate the natural colors and character of different wood species. It’s a very fluid, organic and unpredictable kind of beauty—and most people assume those colors are just taped off and stained. Not so.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-2_Lamination

Once I assess each piece of recovered wood for its aesthetic appeal and structural integrity, I mill everything into various strips and laminate (or glue) them together. The joints between each piece have to be perfectly flat and smooth, so I put a lot of time and focus into sanding.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-3_Glorified-Cutting-Board

After curing overnight, I then have long, flat-ish slabs. I then sand them completely on both top and bottom to ensure the boards are perfectly flat. Once that’s done, the boards are ready to shape.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-4_Tracing-Board-Shape

To keep things consistent, I created plexiglas templates per each skateboard shape to help me define the board’s silhouette and to anticipate where the trucks/logo will go. This helps me visualize the final product so that I don’t cover up or distract from a particularly interesting moment in the woodgrain beneath.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-5_Stacking-decks-in-process

Currently, Side Project Skateboards offers three different board shapes (mini-cruisers, classic cruisers and longboards), so I place them in their respective stacks once I trace their individual shapes.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-6_Cutting-Shapes-on-Bandsaw

I then cut out and shape each board using the bandsaw. Here you can see the drop (or remnant) from what looked like a conspicuously long cutting board. These drops are great for throwing across the shop into the trashcan by the door, though I rarely make it in.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-7_Stacking-cut-boards-for-sanding-edges

The bandsaw leaves somewhat of a jagged or burnt edge depending on the age and size of the blade, so I sand the edges again to clean everything up.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-8_Rounding-Edges-on-Table-Router

Now that the edges are perfectly flat, I run each board through the table router to round the edges along the top and bottom of the board. This makes it much more attractive, streamlined and easier to carry around.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-9_Ready-for-Hand-Sanding-to-Clean-up-Edges

After running them through the table router, I then sand the edges completely smooth (again) to make sure the profile is consistent all the way around the board.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-10_Handsanded-edges

Once the edges are sanded smooth and all sultry-like, I stack them again to prepare for carving out the wheel wells (depending on the skateboard model).

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-11_Marking-Wheel-Wells

Again using a custom Plexiglas template, I trace the wheel well areas to help guide my lines when I sand them out by hand.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-12_Marked-Wheel-Wells-for-Sanding

Here’s a look at the wheel well areas before I get to work on them.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-13_Hand-drilling-inset-screw-holes

Once I carve the wheel wells, I then use a hand drill to hollow out the holes in each deck to accommodate the trucks.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-14_Hand-Drilled-Screw-Holes

I use a countersink drill bit, which has the same profile as the screws I use. This ensures that the screws fit perfectly inside the wood, with the top of each screw head sitting flat (flush) to create a completely smooth surface along the top of the skateboard. It’s not just OCD—it actually matters.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-15_Finished-Wheel-Wells

I give everything a final sand to smooth out any issues with the screw holes and wheel wells.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-16_Handvarnishing

Now that everything’s smooth, I apply a coat of oil by hand to seal and enhance the woodgrain. From there, I then apply two additional coats of varnish to further beautify the board and help protect it from the elements. (Few other board makers varnish their boards, which sucks. And those who do varnish their boards often use crappy aerosol sprays that get majorly yellow and gross overtime. That also sucks.)

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-17_Applying-Lucid-Grip

Every Side Project Skateboard is available with or without grip per customer preference. For gripped boards, I use a great product called Lucid Grip, which is essentially a two-part solution of a spray-on liquid and powdered glass. In addition to offering an awesome grip to the board, it doesn’t obscure the natural wood grain underneath to keep everything attractive.

Decon-Side-Project-Skateboard-18_Final-Product

From there, I assemble each board using the highest quality, American-made components I can find. This includes Bennett Vector trucks, which have been in production since the 70’s, and custom leather risers made from Horween Chromexcel Leather (one of the most prized leathers out of Chicago’s oldest tannery). I package up every order, include a handwritten thank you note, and ship it anywhere in the world.

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Finished photos and video by Brian Cummings.

Caroline Williamson is Editorial Director of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.