Having made a budding business out of resurrecting discarded, warn-out skateboards for use as handplanes, Josh Huffman and the Flying Dutchman team are an inspiration for the DIY and environmentally conscious communities. Using retired skate decks as the base for the Flying Dutchman handplanes, the rails and nose are then reshaped and hand-finished with a water-based finish and epoxy that comes from pine sap. While he and the Flying Dutchman crew are looking to expand to other locales beyond their base in Huntington Beach, Huffman also hopes to inspire other DIY enthusiasts with his innovative and sustainable approach to handplane creation. Visit his site for more information.
How did you get the idea to turn discarded skate decks into functional handplanes?
Well, bodysurfing is so fun. It’s such an easy way to go out, grab a few, and get your stoke on! A few friends and I had decided we needed to make some handplanes to goof around on. You’ve heard “Necessity is the mother of invention…” Well, in this case “being lazy” the father… I had been wanting to make a handplane for a while, sort of mulling it over in my head about how and what but feeling lazy. I was hating the whole idea of a bunch of sanding to make the concave for the bottom, so I was looking around for something that might have a concave already to skip a step. I saw an old dusty skate deck lying in the corner. It winked at me, and bingo! It was perfect!
Where do you find old skate decks? Friends’ garages? Dumpsters? Landfills?
Ha exactly! At first it was pretty much just wherever I could get my grubby hands on them! I’m lucky to have some great friends that either skate or work at skate companies, so they kicked down their old boards. Or by word of mouth… You know, bring in three, get one free… Recently I’ve hooked up with the “I Ride I Recycle” guys who have an amazing and totally legit recycle/repurpose program. They’ve let me dig into their stash, which is awesome.
It looks like the handplanes maintain the old stickers, scratches, and decorations standard to a well-used board. Do you add to the boards’ design or leave them as you found them?
Part of the fun is all the happy accidents you get when you end up cutting the shape out. It makes these cool croppings of the artwork, or the stickers, or just the scratches themselves. So for the most part I just leave them as is, unless the board is visually a dud. Sometimes I will then add something to give it some more visual interest. Lately I’ve been transferring geometric patterns on them.
Each handplane’s finish is a water base, and the epoxy comes from pine sap. Is part of your goal in producing these products to do so in a sustainable manner?
Definitely! So many boards end up in the trash. Wood is good! Why not reuse it? We use a fancy commercial-grade finish, and it’s low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds), so it’s easy on the old lungs. Plus it’s water base, so it’s got that going for it. We’ve been using that epoxy from Entropy to fill the truck holes and set the stainless strap anchors. That is made from natural things like pine tree sap, which is pretty cool, and you can feel good about it. Even the hangtags are from old time cards!
The “Flying Dutchman” is a ghost ship fated to roam the high seas for eternity. Spotting the legendary ship indicates impending doom. So why choose this motif for your handplanes?
I’m a sucker for a good story, and supposedly the Flying Dutchman’s ship can go between two worlds: above and below water, (through) time and space. And in a way these handplanes are going from two worlds: a life on the pavement and then reborn for the sea.
On your website, you also use the term wabi-sabi in your description of the handplanes. As a Japanese philosophy centered on the beauty of imperfection, does this term characterize your unique, recycled handplanes?
That’s what I love! Every one is going to be different; no two are ever the same. Each board records its tattered past by each scar, wrinkles, and painted scrapes. The material itself is so cool, all the different lamination colors, the graphics. And when they are taken out of their original context, cut into something else, I think they become something that’s even more interesting than when they first started life. The top is just raw and the bottom, clean and refined. There’s something unexpected about that.
“Blackbeard,” “Mermaiden,” “The Kraken”… Are we right in detecting a particular theme in the naming these handplanes?
Guilty! I guess I do have a certain affinity for pirates and ancient sea lore…
Any worry of getting ripped off by DIYers who make their own handplanes from old skateboards instead of buying your creations? Or is that the goal – to inspire DIYers like yourself?
Not at all! I hope it’s inspiring! I think the world needs more people making things, being weird and getting their hands dirty! There’s a core group of guys that will always see something and be like, “I could make that…” Why not? It will always be a little different anyway. Along the way you’ll change that, tweak that. I think it’s more fun.
You sell to Republik of California, in San Clemente? Any chance you’ll be selling to shops in San Diego or places outside southern CA?
Oh man! I would love to be down in the San Diego area! We’d love to be in more shops. We’re just starting out, but the response so far has been great. We’re also in Canvas Shop in Seal Beach! I’m game for anywhere!
Your blog says the the Flying Dutchman’s current whereabouts are in Totoya, Fiji. How do you track this elusive, seafaring ghost ship?
Hahaha ya, not really able to say for sure, other than that there is a really good coffee shop that he likes to frequent there…