Continuing with the Local Spotlight series that started with Surf-Rodz a couple weeks ago, I took a trip to visit Tom Rutledge of TR Custom Longboards in Simsbury, CT to check out his shop, how he makes boards, what sets him apart from other small board makers and why he’s gotten into making longboards in the first place.
I first learned about TR Longboards through the grapevine on Facebook and saw some boards he posted on his page. The first thing that struck me about Tom’s longboards was the absolutely breathtaking wood veneer that he uses as the “graphic” on the boards. If you read Cory’s Peeping Tom review from the other day, you saw a perfect example of the exotic woods that Tom uses as a finishing touch. We’ll go a little more in depth on that later, though. After seeing his boards I reached out to him and quickly got in touch so I could visit his woodworking shop, see how he does things and talk a little about his process for making longboards.
From the start you can tell that Tom isn’t your average longboard maker. A successful engineer as his day job (doing some very cool stuff around the world, working with anything from cars to aircraft) Tom started woodworking as a hobby around 10 years ago. The combination between engineer and skilled craftsman is dangerous, let me tell you, as there’s pretty much no problem in woodworking it seems like Tom can’t solve. He started making longboards a couple years ago as wedding gifts for his sister-in-law and her husband in California. Pretty soon Tom was getting e-mails from people who had seen the boards and were interested in them, the rest is history. When I went to visit I got to see the process from start to finish as he created a new downhill deck.
The “Custom” in TR Custom Longboards isn’t just a word he threw in to sound cool, Tom is serious about building custom boards. When I walked into his shop last weekend to watch the design phase and how he builds his molds, I was surprised to see two local skaters from the Northern Skate Alliance, Cory Medlar and Robert Briggs (soon another, Bill Steinbacher came too), already in the shop giving him ideas and feedback about what they do and don’t like to see in downhill boards. Tom was able to take the best parts of their ideas and figure out a way to transfer them off paper and onto wood. More talk went into how stiff it should be, the shape it should have, and other factors to determine how the board should ride before the making the mold and pressing the wood.
I went back last night to watch some more of the process as the wood had been pressed and was ready to be cut and sanded. This time I walked in to once again see Robert Briggs in the shop along with fellow NSA skaters Ryan Howard and Alicia Godbout already giving Tom advice as to what the shape should look like and how to go about forming the wheel wells (good news: no wheel bite possible on this board!). I cannot emphasize enough, when Tom says he makes custom longboards, he makes custom longboards. With his background in engineering, there doesn’t seem to be a problem that Tom can’t solve and with his woodworking skills he can pretty much do anything so long as it’s physically possible. The board was cut pretty quickly and work began on putting the holes in for the trucks and cutting out the wheel wells. Since this was a prototype board Tom didn’t put the exotic wood veneer he usually does on the board, which has given TR Custom Longboards a very distinct look in comparison to the rest of the field. Tom uses a mirroring technique with the exotic wood, making it almost seamless and making the grain run absolutely perfectly. A finished TR board is a true work of beauty with these ecotic wood finishes.
With his skillsets in both engineering and woodworking the sky is the limit for what Tom can produce for boards, and unlike other board makers Tom is willing to listen and take advice to make his boards even better and customized for your wants. What’s next in the pipeline for TR Custom Longboards then? The downhill board that was being shaped while I was there is currently out for testing with Robert Briggs of the NSA, that doesn’t mean things will stop, though. Tom mentioned yesterday on his Facebook Page that he visited Surf-Rodz and was hoping to start offering completes soon — I’m also hoping that means we’ll see a new deck designed around a set of INDeeSZ or RKPs, time will tell. Until then Tom has posted a bunch of images from past boards he’s done and a few of the prototype DH board.
Make sure you check out TR Custom Longboards Facebook Page — support local and spread the stoke!