20 Feb 2014

Above:  The Hotbox that completes the final step in constructing a custom pair of Bigbend Skis

Photos and article: Tennille Barber

Handcrafted.  This word describes everything Daryl does or has constructed in the shop.  The machines used in the process of ski construction are completely from scratch, so much that I had to ask what to call each contraption.  Researched on the internet and inspired by a trip to the States to see the processes of other custom ski shops, each piece of machinery has been made by Daryl, and surprisingly, more than one employs the use of vacuums.  To me, this is the most amazing part in the construction of the custom skis made at Bigbend.

the vacuum used instead of the press

the vacuum used instead of the press

Each handmade machine that Daryl has made is adjustable to the client’s requests.  The Core Profiling Machine ensures the sidecut the client wants for the required turn radius.  The Core Tapering Machine, a homemade CNC, tapers the ski at tip and tail to the preferred length back on the ski, making the flex specified by the client a reality.  The Hot Box has mounts that press and bend at the tip, waist, and tail to put in the specified camber at the final stage.

Consideration of waste in the process and sourcing material without too much travel to get it into Revelstoke, along with the amount of energy used in the process is on Bigbend’s priority list.  Everything down to the vacuum bags, if it can be reused, is.

Here it is, the final step in the construction of Bigbend’s process employing handcrafted tools for a handcrafted, 100% custom kickass ski… built with passion.  Thank you BigBend for inviting me to see your amazing shop, involving me in a build, and letting me see what goes into each pair: the heart and soul of a human being and the desire to help others shred exactly the way they want to.

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Securing metal edges to the bases

Securing metal edges to the bases

Ski Assembly

Custom Handmade Equipment: Vacuum Bag Machine / The Hot Box

Seeing a design come together after the last 3 visits to the Bigbend shop has been so suspenseful I could barely contain my excitement when he invited me for the finale.  Laying on his 3 counters were all the parts of the equation he needed to assemble.  If custom skis came in a box, the side of it would say:

In the Box:

– 2 cores, shaped to your specifications with a custom core tapering machine, extra protection in the tip and tail

– 2 bases with (metal sidewalls) attached

– 4 long strips of carbon and 16 small pieces of carbon (specified by you, the customer, tailored to your stiffness requirements, with consideration of where you will be skiing)

– 2 rolls of material to suck up the excess epoxy

– 1 topsheet designed by the amazing artist Isaac Becker with stylized details of our fabulous resort town

– 3 types of resin in a popcorn carton

– 1 vacuum bag

Tools:

– 1 syringe to apply the resin

– 1 custom designed vacuum

– 1 custom designed heat box

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He lined the counter with used vacuum bags, explaining to me that he reuses everything possible to ensure his footprint is the smallest it can be.  He placed a popcorn carton on a scale and measured the 3 types of resin he’d need to mix together by weight as he added them.  He follows a formula he calculates according to the surface area of each ski.  After mixing the epoxy he’s only got about 2 hours to work with it.  On top of the plastic he put down two aluminum plates that are not part of the design but rather a form that comes into play later.  On top of that he laid down the sintered 4000 bases with metal edges with four short wooden pegs attached, ready to plug into holes in the core for a perfect fit to hold everything together.  He applies the resin with a syringe to ensure the least waste possible.

On each core there are markings measured out and placed in specific spots on the ski tailored to the client’s stiffness requirements.  One long piece of carbon is applied just to the rear of centre.  Four more short pieces are applied in the front of the ski in the shape of two x’s to evenly distribute torsion stress.  The core is laid onto the base, and the same process is done to the top of the core. One of the beautiful topsheets is applied according to the client’s desire, a stock design or custom ordered from another artist.

The most exciting part of the entire process is now underway, as he puts fibre padding onto the top of the ski with some extra near the end.  He slipped it into a vacuum bag, sealing it with a clip that resembles chip bag keepers.  He burned a perfect hole into the plastic near one end, fit it with a valve that attaches the package to a vacuum, with the extra fibre placed strategically under it to make sure the resin doesn’t get into the valve.  Unbelievably, the small vacuum sucks the air out of the package and the parts of the ski came together with precision.

He clamps and secures it into the aluminum forms and slips it into the hotbox, a huge box that’s heated to not as warm as you might think.  The aluminum forms put the camber into the ski, while the vacuum bag keeps everything in place.  When it comes out of the hotbox, he trims the extra pieces off the tip, tail, and sides, then cleans up some extra resin.  A good chunk of this was made possible by a small vacuum!  Ski science, minimalism, and conservation all coming together to create a custom design.