It’s gotten a lot harder to sell skateboards these days, unless of course your price is right. In recent years, the secret to making a decent skateboard has been difficult to keep, as many major manufacturers have relied on the same ingredients for the last twenty years. Now that seems to be changing.

The boom era of the late 70s encouraged authentic and wannabe skateboard makers to experiment with materials beyond the many species of wood being used: plastic, fiberglass, aluminum, foam, Plexiglas, and various combinations were introduced to the market before wood laminates emerged as the construction of choice. By the end of the decade, the seven-ply hard-maple deck, complete with kicktail and concave, prevailed. All the space-age composites were either too flimsy, too heavy, or just too expensive. The organic art of skateboarding demanded a natural tool.

The seven-ply skateboard deck has evolved considerably over the last twenty years. Various types of concaves, nose and tail bends, and shapes have been tried. In this decade, though, all of these features began to homogenize into a few popsicle-stick shapes that came in a handful of sizes. Sure the materials and craftsmanship varied among factories, but never in the history of the sport have skateboards been so alike.

In the last couple years, skateboard makers have introduced some subtle¿as well as some significant¿variations to the seven-ply theme. But a deck of seven veneers of maple, the grain running nose-to-tail on five sheets and rail-to-rail on two, laminated in a press with a secret recipe of water-based glue continues to outsell all other types of skateboard decks combined. Are these multi-plies, composites, and micro-plies just another passing trend? Or are we in the midst of another shift in the manufacturing of skateboard decks?

It may be too early to tell, but the rate at which major skateboard brands are releasing new or renewed deck technology¿not to mention the demonstrable success of some constructions¿ suggests that there’s something to all of this.

While many brands have developed their own versions of competitors’ successes, each markets their decks under different names and promises various results. Consumers will ultimately decide what features they want, what they’re willing to sacrifice to get them, and what they’re willing to pay. Because one thing’s for sure¿most of these new constructions cost more to make, and few manufacturers are willing to absorb further losses in the already-strained hardgoods market.

For this special Deck Issue of SKATE Biz, we investigated some of the alternatives to the standard¿and still dominant¿seven-ply construction now offered. Many brands offer variations on the same concept, but each has an individual way of achieving it. We hope this reference will help decode the fancy monikers attached to skateboards today.

Eventually, one or two lay-ups may emerge as the dominant constructions that will dictate the next twenty years of skateboard manufacturing, or we could find ourselves perfectly happy with the seven plies of hard maple we¿and our industry¿grew up with.

We once again find ourselves in an era of experimentation. And whatever emerges from it, we can be sure it’ll be the best thing for a long time to come.

A-Team

The A-Team pro roster includes names that have steered the course of technical skateboarding in this decade. In their pursuit of a lighter deck, the team helped develop the Nite-Lites construction, which gives them a lighter board for more precise maneuvering. By shaving the two cross veneers, they were able to reduce some weight. By laminating Dura-Lites with StiffGlue and a steeper concave, they were also able to preserve strength.

To complement the Dura-Lite construction, A-Team also developed a line of extra-strength decks. Its Dura-Lam construction utilizes thinner cross plies for less weight, and a combinaon of regular and super-thin longitudinal veneers for strength. Four super-thin veneers with grain running nose-to-tail take the place of two regular ones. The extra glue lines, a deeper nose-to-tail concave, and the StiffGlue high-pressure laminating process result in a stronger, stiffer deck that’s about as thick (or thin) as a regular seven-ply.

Aircraft

Aircraft debuted last year with a line of curious-looking aluminum decks. The extruded and stamped beams with plastic nose and tail tips have evolved into a new line of Aircraft decks. The latest model is the MiG-29, an aluminum-alloy deck that replaces the plastic tips with seven-ply-maple nose and tail plates. The plates are made to feel like an all-wood deck during slides, and are replaceable with maple or the new polyurethane tips. The MiG-29 resembles a standard wood deck with smooth top and bottom surfaces, but it features nine internal hollow sections. The smooth bottom surface also allows for a five-color graphic. 

Alien Workshop

Seeing the writing on the wall, Alien Workshop began developing new constructions two years ago. The seven-ply Ultra-Lite construction features thinner cross plies and a steeper LOK concave to increase strength. Last year the Workshop introduced its six-ply Microlite line¿lightweight decks (less wood, less glue) that also feature the compensating LOK concave. The new Microlites have a refined lay-up that sandwiches the thicker veneers in the core for increased strength, more defined nose and tail bends, and a pronounced concave.

Arcade

Arcade’s Quantum board construction features a computer-generated concave design with a slightly “spooned” nose and tail. This offers increased leverage on flip tricks, and helps lock in a skater’s foot. A slightly deeper concave makes up for thinner cross-grain veneers, which reduce overall deck weight. While some companies laminate several boards at a time, Quantum decks are pressed in groups of three for consistent concaves.

Arcade Quantum construction is available with select models, including scaled-down mini shapes.

ATM

ATM’s team and manufacturer worked together to design a stiffer, lighter board. The ATM Featherweight construction uses a different design philosophy than other lightweight constructions. Rather than shaving just the cross-grain plies, Featherweight decks feature thinner veneers throughout its seven-ply lay-up. To compensate for the thinner veneers, the ATM concave is a little deeper.

Beer City

In 1993 Beer City introduced its hardcore 8-Ply construction to compensate for narrower deck shapes. Designed for heavy-duty skating, these decks feature a slightly thinner “eighth” veneer under the regular top layer. This and the extra glue lines add strength and durability. Hardcore 8-Ply construction is available on Beer City decks in sizes from 7.5 to 10 inches, including the Pro Series.

Beer City Slick decks feature Formica on their bottom surfaces for increased sliding and durability. Slicks are also available in several sizes.

Black Label

Skateboard-maker Paul Schmitt and the Black Label team designed Black Light decks for strength and durability. Their seven-ply construction features extra-thick veneers under the face plies, and extra-thin cross and center veneers. This results in a deck with most of its grain running nose to tail, where strength is needed most. The placement of the thicker veneers near the outside of the deck offers greater resistance to flex, giving Black Light boards their trademark strength and stiffness.

Blind

Blind offers two alternative constructions in its deck line. The Popsickle construction is designed for skaters looking for a lighter deck. Utilizing two thinner cross plies, StiffGlue lamination, and Blind’s Monster Mold concave, Popsickles balance the desire for a lighter deck with the necessity for strength and durability.

The Nine Lives nine-ply construction was primarily designed for strength, utilizing four ultra-thin veneers and extra glue lines for a stiffer, stronger deck without having to use a super-steep concave. Nine Lives decks are also made with the StiffGlue laminating process.

Chapman

New York’s Chapman skateboards offers two deck constructions: Redline decks feature mellow nose and tail kicks, a medium concave, and are distinguished by their single red center ply. Blueline decks have more pronounced nose and tail kicks, a steeper concave, and are distinguished by a blue center ply.

Rather than thinning just the two cross plies, all Chapman decks are constructed with seven thin veneers for overall weight reduction.

City Stars

City Stars offers its pro and logo decks in two different constructions. Power Lites are nine-ply decks designed to be more durable than standard seven-plies. By thinning the cross veneers and splitting two longitudinal veneers, Power Lites achieve added strength by adding two more glue lines in its StiffGlue laminating process.

City Stars Ultra Lites achieve a lighter deck by shaving the two cross veneers and compensating for the lost mass by turning up the concave.

Deca

Deca offers a line of lightweight decks in its first series. The Levitas construction uses thinner cross veneers to shave weight, with a slightly deeper concave and StiffGlue lamination for strength.

Edje

Edje drew from its snowboard-manufacturing experience to produce its Duragraphic decks. Board graphics are printed beneath a scratch-resistant transparent bottom surface made from plastic, resin, and fiberglass. The protective layer is layed up with a standard seven-ply construction during lamination. Duragraphic boards are also available in a lightweight model, which features thinner veneers.

Element

Element took the seven-ply market by storm when it released its featherlight construction a couple years ago. Developed by Kris Markovich and manufacturer Paul Schmitt, Featherlight features shaved cross veneers for reduced weight. Because a deck’s strength primarily depends on the plies with grain running nose-to-tail, these plies are as thick in the Featherlight as in regular seven-ply decks. But since cross veneers don’t add much nose to tail strength, reducing weight by further thinning them produces an overall lighter and thinner deck without sacrificing much strength.

Element tested and refined the Featherlight construction for six months before releasing it, and its success has prompted many other brands to develop similar constructions.

The Twigs Mini Featherlights are a line of Element decks designed for smaller skaters. The same Featherlight construction used in the larger Element decks is pressed in scaled-down molds that feature shorter wheelbases and concaves engineered for smaller feet.

Expedition One

One of the more interesting new developments in wood skateboards is Expedition One’s Inerlock technology. Based on the binding-insert concept used on snowboards, Inerlock decks feature eight threaded stainless-steel inserts inside the deck. These, essentially, replace the nuts used with conventional mounting hardware. Trucks are mounted to the Inerlock deck with nylon-coated machine screws (supplied with each deck) fastened through the baseplates.

Inerlock decks are manufactured by laminating the five bottom veneers, drilling, and pressing the inserts through the top, then laminating the uncut board with two more top veneers to create a smooth undrilled surface. The resulting deck is a seven-ply construction without the truck-hole perforations that form the normal break line. Inerlocks are made with one thinner cross veneer for weight reduction.

Expedition One also offers a line of traditionally drilled seven-ply decks.

Foundation

Foundation has released three models in its Duralite six-ply construction. Designed for smaller skaters, Duralites feature two thinner ven was primarily designed for strength, utilizing four ultra-thin veneers and extra glue lines for a stiffer, stronger deck without having to use a super-steep concave. Nine Lives decks are also made with the StiffGlue laminating process.

Chapman

New York’s Chapman skateboards offers two deck constructions: Redline decks feature mellow nose and tail kicks, a medium concave, and are distinguished by their single red center ply. Blueline decks have more pronounced nose and tail kicks, a steeper concave, and are distinguished by a blue center ply.

Rather than thinning just the two cross plies, all Chapman decks are constructed with seven thin veneers for overall weight reduction.

City Stars

City Stars offers its pro and logo decks in two different constructions. Power Lites are nine-ply decks designed to be more durable than standard seven-plies. By thinning the cross veneers and splitting two longitudinal veneers, Power Lites achieve added strength by adding two more glue lines in its StiffGlue laminating process.

City Stars Ultra Lites achieve a lighter deck by shaving the two cross veneers and compensating for the lost mass by turning up the concave.

Deca

Deca offers a line of lightweight decks in its first series. The Levitas construction uses thinner cross veneers to shave weight, with a slightly deeper concave and StiffGlue lamination for strength.

Edje

Edje drew from its snowboard-manufacturing experience to produce its Duragraphic decks. Board graphics are printed beneath a scratch-resistant transparent bottom surface made from plastic, resin, and fiberglass. The protective layer is layed up with a standard seven-ply construction during lamination. Duragraphic boards are also available in a lightweight model, which features thinner veneers.

Element

Element took the seven-ply market by storm when it released its featherlight construction a couple years ago. Developed by Kris Markovich and manufacturer Paul Schmitt, Featherlight features shaved cross veneers for reduced weight. Because a deck’s strength primarily depends on the plies with grain running nose-to-tail, these plies are as thick in the Featherlight as in regular seven-ply decks. But since cross veneers don’t add much nose to tail strength, reducing weight by further thinning them produces an overall lighter and thinner deck without sacrificing much strength.

Element tested and refined the Featherlight construction for six months before releasing it, and its success has prompted many other brands to develop similar constructions.

The Twigs Mini Featherlights are a line of Element decks designed for smaller skaters. The same Featherlight construction used in the larger Element decks is pressed in scaled-down molds that feature shorter wheelbases and concaves engineered for smaller feet.

Expedition One

One of the more interesting new developments in wood skateboards is Expedition One’s Inerlock technology. Based on the binding-insert concept used on snowboards, Inerlock decks feature eight threaded stainless-steel inserts inside the deck. These, essentially, replace the nuts used with conventional mounting hardware. Trucks are mounted to the Inerlock deck with nylon-coated machine screws (supplied with each deck) fastened through the baseplates.

Inerlock decks are manufactured by laminating the five bottom veneers, drilling, and pressing the inserts through the top, then laminating the uncut board with two more top veneers to create a smooth undrilled surface. The resulting deck is a seven-ply construction without the truck-hole perforations that form the normal break line. Inerlocks are made with one thinner cross veneer for weight reduction.

Expedition One also offers a line of traditionally drilled seven-ply decks.

Foundation

Foundation has released three models in its Duralite six-ply construction. Designed for smaller skaters, Duralites feature two thinner veneers in the center of the deck. The thinner veneers and six-ply construction is reinforced by the slightly deeper Foundation Posi Trac concave.

Kingdom

Kingdom offers three new board constructions, each with slightly different strength and weight properties.

The 6.5-ply features slightly thinner veneers than standard seven-ply boards. It is designed for skaters 120 pounds and lighter.

The Kingdom seven-ply construction is slightly thicker for increased strength. Kingdom heavyweights (170¿200 pounds) Chris Gentry, Bill Weiss, and Tom Boyle all prefer this construction.

The eight-ply construction takes it one step further with thinner veneers and elongated glue lines for increased strength. The eight-ply is designed for skaters of all sizes and weights.

Kingdom nine-ply decks take the concept of thinner veneers and additional glue lines to the extreme. Four super-thin veneers keep the weight down, but increase the number of glue lines.

Lib Tech

While the founders of the company originally intended to make skateboards, Lib Tech made a name for itself over the last decade producing premium snowboards. Last year R&D man Mike Olson transferred many of the lessons he’s learned from making snowboards to the production of his new line of composite skateboards. The Lib Tech Perma Pop decks were received with gasps of skepticism and surprise, given the range of materials in them and the apparent complexity of their manufacture.

Lib Tech decks are made with three layers of lightweight, fast-growth wood that sandwich a sheet of tensioned graphite and fiberglass, which is all themselves sandwiched between thermoplastic and plastihide outer skins. The nose and tail features polyethylene and birch-wood inserts at high-impact points. The graphite and fiberglass layers are imbedded away from the tips and rails to avoid exposing them to bare fingers.

Lib Tech skateboards are available in three concaves: standard, medium, and king.

Maple

While the brand is much younger, Maple’s factory has been manufacturing skateboards for over twenty years. The company has worked to perfect the seven-ply lay-up, and now offers a couple new constructions.

For heavy-duty skaters, its eight-ply deck is designed for extra strength. Maple also offers its lighter six-ply Super Lite deck, which is designed for smaller skaters.

Maple decks are available in three different concaves: a standard street concave, a slightly deeper Firecracker concave for increased stability and deck strength, and Microtech for smaller skaters and mini decks.

New Deal Armorlite

New Deal’s Armorlite construction was designed by manufacturer Paul Schmitt and the New Deal team to offer increased strength without adding weight. Based on a New Deal nine-ply design from the early 90s, the new Armorlite replaces two regular veneers with four super-thin veneers in strategic positions. The extra glue lines and a proprietary laminating process produce a deck designed to withstand greater abuse and retain its pop longer than seven-ply boards. The Armorlite nine-ply formula has been widely imitated since its introduction last year.

Powell

Powell has been experimenting with various deck constructions for over twenty years, including its famous aluminum-and-maple Quicksilver boards in the 70s, and a lesser-known aluminum-honeycomb construction in the early 80s. In the 90s, Powell introduced several concave designs, which were available simultaneously, and its proprietary bladder-press laminating procedure.

With a hard contoured mold on the bottom and the elastic bladder on top, the bladder press laminates boards by inflating the bladder, which applies an even pressure over the entire deck surface. This method allows Powell to press decks at less than half the pressure required with a regular hydraulic hard press, and still achieve the desired bond. Operating its own factory, Powell was able to develop the bladder press as a way to laminate decks without crushing the wood fibers so the