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Empire Grown are Ben and Zhenya building small batch snowboards from trees grown behind our shop in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Read more

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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on May 2, 2014.

Empire Grown are Ben and Zhenya building small batch snowboards from trees grown behind our shop in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

About this project

Zhenya with some of the Empire prototypes from last season
Zhenya with some of the Empire prototypes from last season

We've been working on our ride for two years and after multiple prototypes we want to bring our winning design, A 17 oz. biaxial fiberglass layered up with an 11 oz. carbon fiber tape for adding reinforcement based on the rider, to life for the 2014/2015 riding season. We're raising these funds so we can build 50 snowboards in-house and entirely ourselves.

Our Humble Beginning - The Seed Stage

Our very first snowboard started shape as a text message several years ago.  Could it be possible that we can build snowboards the way we wanted them to ride? After tons more hours of research, lonely nights in front of AutoCAD, and sore muscles from scratching our heads we finally proved ourselves right.

The first prototype built by Empire, keepin' it cool by the fridge.
The first prototype built by Empire, keepin' it cool by the fridge.

That whole winter we rode the board in all sorts of snow; from the hard pack and ice on the East coast, to the greatest pow on Earth in Utah.  After testing and abuse by riders way too big for the boards size we learned quite a few things. Most importantly, the process that we used worked great. Unfortunately, our design was flawed.

Refinement - Stretching our limbs

Now that we knew it could be done, we needed to see how well it could be done.  Despite being a traditionally styled camber model, our first prototype had handling problems because it was way too stiff. Unless you were riding on perfectly groomed trails, the board was just no fun.

Ben picking out some of the wood for the next batch of cores.
Ben picking out some of the wood for the next batch of cores.

That summer was spent tweaking angles in AutoCAD, poring over composites, and picking out the wood that would become our snowboard cores.  The goal for the next version was to have it be completely ours including a never before seen board shape to create an All Mountain ride.

A core block made up of vertically laminated Poplar and Birch dries in a set of clamps.
A core block made up of vertically laminated Poplar and Birch dries in a set of clamps.

To get that all mountain feel we started with the essentials for each type of riding we liked to do. For POWDER days we gave the design wide floaty tips to keep us aloft. For bombing GROOMED runs we wanted a side cut that would bite and keep us in control. For going big off jumps and conquering FREESTYLE competitions we wanted to keep the board light and poppy. 

Combining all these elements resulted in our spoon tip design, a low profile wood core, and a triangular side-cut. 

The spoon-like design provides more surface area at the tip and tail to increase lift in powder. With the extra float, we were able to reduce the boards rotational weight by clipping small sections out of the tip and tail. Less weight at the end = faster turns, easier spins!

With wider tips we were able to take away material from the ends (shown in RED) to reduce rotational weight, making split second turns easier, and overall weight as well.
With wider tips we were able to take away material from the ends (shown in RED) to reduce rotational weight, making split second turns easier, and overall weight as well.

Our low profile core drops the weight and allows us to make more cores from a single block. The thinner cores are balanced out by carbon fiber stringers added during assembly for extra strength and bigger pop off kickers.

The triangular side-cut helps with edge hold on hard pack and icy slopes.  Designed so the rocker section comes in contact with the snow as you first roll on to your edge to initiate a turn, the camber section between your legs takes over with a sharper edge for a perfectly radial turn when you really lean in to it.

The ride was finished by profiling it to ride buttery smooth in most conditions. A rocker tip and tail provides lift in powder and helps with turns on steeper slopes by smoothing out the transition between heel side and toe side edges. The camber section that stretches just outside the binding inserts gives more pop underfoot and adds stability at high speeds for bombing all of the runs.

The board is pressed to have a rocker tip and tail for smoother turns and more float, with a camber section under foot for stability and more pop.
The board is pressed to have a rocker tip and tail for smoother turns and more float, with a camber section under foot for stability and more pop.

Prototyping

We were confident our design was improved but weren't sure exactly what type of composites would help realize that "just right" feeling for the ride we wanted.  Many a sample pack of fiberglass and carbon fiber were narrowed down to just 8 fabric variations that would, in theory, give our ride that buttery smooth, ultra-poppy feel that we wanted.

All of the prepped materials for multiple prototypes in layup order.
All of the prepped materials for multiple prototypes in layup order.

We needed to build 8 snowboards with different materials.  This is where we first tried crowd funding by offering the prototypes for sale at cost - sight unseen.  Two were paid for out of pocket by ourselves, and the rest were bought by riders in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, and New York.

The promised delivery date for something that existed only as a blueprint was no later than Christmas Day of 2013.  With funds in place, it was time to deliver.

All of the core blanks fresh out of the CNC after profiling and shaping.
All of the core blanks fresh out of the CNC after profiling and shaping.

CNCing raw materials

Ben created tool paths out of our AutoCAD files and we set off with a trunk full of core blanks to get them milled on a CNC machine.  We were lucky to have been there at the right time over and over and over and over again to convince the shop foreman to let us to pay for the time of his engineer and run our blanks through their (very expensive) mill.

Together with custom built insides, the outside got a polish with graphics made to each riders request and a crest with our logo bearing their name was added to finish off each top sheet.

All of the Empire prototypes and one-offs are personalized for the rider, right down to their name.
All of the Empire prototypes and one-offs are personalized for the rider, right down to their name.

 With all of our parts ready to be sandwiched together in the vacuum bag, it was time to answer the question of "Which materials give us the buttery smooth, lightweight, poppy ride that we want?" 

All of the prototyped boards were built from one core block to ensure consistent performance of the core between all of the models.
All of the prototyped boards were built from one core block to ensure consistent performance of the core between all of the models.

After a full season of riding we tested eight fabric variations, three different mold types and were fortunate to receive a bunch of feedback from our friends riding in all sorts of different conditions.  The winner?  

A 17 oz. biaxial fiberglass layered up with an 11 oz. carbon fiber tape for adding reinforcement based on the rider's specs to maintain the desired feel.

CAD profile of the shred tested design
CAD profile of the shred tested design

During prototyping we also discovered three things that needed to change so we could cut down on waste and improve our end product.

First, we'll be switching from a traditional cutting bit to a drag knife, and pouring our own sidewalls. The plastics for the base and the sidewalls create a lot of waste from being machined. Using a drag knife creates precise cuts without any of that confetti-like waste material. We'll also be mixing a polyurethane sidewall ourselves to use a more exact amount of material instead of trimming them down for every board. 

Our previous build process used a router to shape the base material which created a lot of waste in the form of plastic confetti.  Our new process eliminates all of the waste by doing this step with a drag knife.
Our previous build process used a router to shape the base material which created a lot of waste in the form of plastic confetti. Our new process eliminates all of the waste by doing this step with a drag knife.

Second, we'll be switching to a press.  While vacuum bagging is great for prototyping, all of the materials we used ended up being thrown away because none of the films, tapes, or fabrics are reusable. Pressing means there will be no waste from pressing any of the boards because all of the parts will be reusable after some cleaning.   

Third, we created a modular mold and split the board into sections. Not everyone rides the same mountain. While some of us are chasing fresh powder every day; others make do with groomed ice sheets.  To fine tune our ride for varying conditions we split it in to three sections to tweak the final board profile from all rocker to full camber, and everything in between by switching out mold pieces before the boards get pressed.  

Growing Further - Snowboard 1.0

We want to share our love of home grown snowboarding with more people by creating a limited run of 50 snowboards for the upcoming 2014/2015 season. We need your help to be able to do this entirely on our own. 

Here's how your donations will be used:

Materials

Purchasing materials in bulk will help us get fiberglass and carbon fiber woven to tighter specifications, ensuring a consistent product from board to board.

Why get materials? It would be pretty hard to build anything without 'em!

Building a Heated Snowboard Press 

A heated press will allow us to mold and cure a snowboard in 24 minutes versus 24 hours in a vacuum bag.  Building it ourselves means we make it exactly how we want it to work by incorporating our modular mold design. We'd also save 55% of the cost versus buying a ready made press which leaves more of your money to produce an actual product.

Why a press? In one sentence: planning for the future.  Our current method relies on vacuum bagging which is very wasteful.  Each time we put a board in to the mold it required 16' of vacuum tape, a 6'x14" piece of peel ply, breather fabric, and vacuum bag material. None of this stuff was reusable either.  By eliminating these materials we'd save 11% of our resources on each snowboard - that's a lot of materials that get saved from ending up in the garbage.  At that rate, the press would pay for itself after 100-120 snowboards.  

Build a CNC Machine
Having a computer controlled mill will realize our CAD blueprints in to wooden realities 10x faster all while cutting down (ha, get it?!) on waste by using a drag knife to cut materials where possible.

Why a CNC? A CNC machine is crucial for milling precision pieces like each of the different mold parts, and all of the wood cores in a timely manner.  We are committed to creating a quality snowboard and the CNC is crucial to doing this because it creates consistent parts cut after cut. Like the press, the CNC machine would quickly pay for itself after roughly 150 cut cores. 

Testing and Insurance
We're 100% confident in our snowboards and we want to be able to guarantee them 100% as well.  

Why get tested and insured? To keep you, the rider, safe and protected.  We want to make sure that you get an awesome board and awesome protection should anything go wrong with it.

Stretch Goals 

Should we meet our initial goal of $10,001 our plan is to use any money above and beyond that to keep with our original intent of doing it all ourselves.  

Foremost, we will use any additional funds to build more snowboards for our local shops and any kickstarter supporters that order them.  

Once the demand for boards has been met, the second thing additional funds would be used for is to build our own solar kiln.  This would help us dry wood more efficiently and with more control over the final characteristics of each board that goes in to our cores.

Last but not least, we'll use any leftover funds to make our graphics really shine.  To do this, we want to build a sublimation cavity for our press.  This would allow us to literally bake in the colors for our graphics directly in to the top sheet instead of printing them on a separate layer.  

Risks and challenges

Our background in woodworking, fabrication, and design gives us a huge advantage because we already did 85% of the work in-house for every board we made; up to and including building our own tooling and programming a CNC to shape our design. What we're doing is putting in the remaining pieces of the puzzle to come one step closer to having everything done in-house.

We do, however, intend to improve our process with each iteration of the boards. Doing something new can always create stumbling blocks, but we are still confident in being able to deliver our project on time. We're confident in this because there is already a proven, working method in place to make each of our boards.

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    5 backers

    EARLY SUPPORTER - Your name will be proudly displayed on a permanent "Supporters" section of our site, and silk screened on to T-shirts the Empire crew will wear in the shop as a daily reminder of who made the next batch of boards possible. Every little bit of support from friends like you goes a long way in helping us to achieve our goal!

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    8 backers

    STICKER PACK - Show off your support for our home grown snowboards by decorating your helmet, your car, or any of the hard surfaces in your life with an Empire Grown sticker pack.

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    2 backers Limited (28 left of 30)

    SMALL SPONSOR MESSAGE - Donating at this level gets your name out there - quite literally - as we'll write it in as part of the graphic layer on a small fleet of demo boards that will tour the country. Fill a space up to 3"x2"!

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    7 backers Limited (13 left of 20)

    ADOPT-A-TREE - Support our responsible forestry initiatives for future generations of people and snowboards. We'll engrave your name on a plaque and plant it (ha, get it?!) next to one of the growing Poplar's on our land. This reward makes a great gift for an eco conscious friend, family member, or significant other!

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    21 backers

    T-SHIRTs - Wear your heart on our sleeve by adding an Empire Grown T-shirt to your wardrobe. These Next Level men's 6200 and women's 6640 T's are soft with an athletic fit making them a great way to show off your body and your support for our home grown, hand made snowboards.

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    LARGE SPONSORSHIP MESSAGE - Have something really BIG to say? Get yourself a spot double the size of the small sponsorship message on one of the demo boards. We'll be rocking these boards front and center at every event we attend, sending pictures out to press, and getting riders to try them out on the slopes everywhere we demo.

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    DRINK COASTERS - Whip out some of our wood at your next party with drink coasters cut from the core blocks of our prototypes. Each donation gets you a set of 4 coasters emblazoned with the Empire logo and finished in a protective gloss.

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    2 backers All gone!

    GEAR HANGERS - Are you always throwing your helmets in a closet or draping your coats over a chair? This donation gets you a set of four wooden hangers made from the same Poplar we build snowboard cores with so your outerwear can be hung up to dry in style. Each hanger comes with the hardware needed to mount it on a wall in the wet room, a closet, or even above your bed in case the action gets that serious.

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    BOARD OF DIRECTORS - Get yourself a seat on our Board! We'll invite you to bi-weekly Skype meetings to discuss progress on the next batch of snowboards, answer technical questions, and give you an inside look at what it takes to build our boards from the ground up. This donation is great for people who want a personal look inside of what it takes to build snowboards, as well as a chance to influence our final product.

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    ALL IN ONE - Want it all? This reward level gets you one of EVERYTHING that's part of the rewards above this one! At a glance that includes two sponsorship messages, a Tshirt, stickers, drink coasters, board and helmet hangers, a seat on our Board of directors, a plaque for your adopted tree and tons of exclusive content during the months we'll be building all of this!

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    SMALL BATCH SNOWBOARD - All of the boards in this batch will be made from a few small Poplar trees that have been cut down last year and are just waiting to be put through the paces on the mill. Your donation gets you a snowboard with inside access to the build, pictures updates of the whole process, and an open line to us for anything you want to see more of. Comes with a T-shirt, the finished board is shipped to your door.

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    CUSTOM SNOWBOARD - Donating at this level gets you one on one time with the Empire crew to build your ideal snowboard. You're in charge - customize everything! We'll find out how you like to ride to better tune the materials in the board to suit your style, create custom graphics based on your ideas, and when your ideal board is perfect on paper we'll build the real thing. Comes with a Tshirt and a video of the entire process, the finished board ships to your door.

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    TEST PILOT - Aren't satisfied that we don't build a splitboard or another unique design like a hard boot bomber? Want to test prototype snowboards? This is your chance to tell us what you want developed next and be the first person to ride the results. Be warned - we can't guarantee the final product of this tier because it will be a prototype.

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    BUILD-A-BOARD - Donate at this level to get hands with building your own Empire snowboard. We'll put you up for a night in our production trailer, drink some beers, and guide you step by step through the process of building your own snowboard. At the end, craft your own board under our supervision or take a step back and watch us build it in front of your eyes. We'll press the board before the end of the day and send you home ready to ride. Please note that you must pay for your own transportation to our shop, or to the Albany airport or train station from which we could pick you up.

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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    BOARD IN A BOX - This reward level gets you the ACTUAL mold we used to make the 151, 156, and 159 size prototype boards, vacuum bagging material, and all the supplies to put together two of your own boards following our steps. Comes with everything needed to build your own snowboards except a vacuum pump or air compressor (we strongly recommend a vacuum pump, though a dual stage 100 gallon compressor putting out at least 15 CFM at 100 PSI would work). Both Ben and Zhenya will also be just a phone call away to answer any questions you may have along the way.

    Due to the size and weight of this reward (7'x16"x20" box that weighs almost 100 pounds) shipping will be calculated separately from the reward total because it fluctuates so wildly across different regions - sorry!

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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    PRO RIDER PACKAGE - Ride in the lap of luxury and have all of the fun of being a pro boarder with a dedicated team of people to build your dream board. By donating at this level you get the ultimate experience by being totally immersed in this project with a direct line to Ben and Zhenya. We'll be consulting you for input every step of the way so every contributor's board will be influenced by your style and ideas! When it comes time to assemble all of the boards, we'll fly you out from any major airport in the USA to an airport in Albany, New York where we'll pick you up with refreshments and chauffeur you to our shop. You'll spend the night resting up in our production trailer right outside the shop and we'll start the next morning with a gourmet breakfast, a tour of the shop and an inside look at how we've been building this season's boards. When you're ready, we'll work with you to press your very own Empire Pro model board during which time you can participate as much as you want or sit back and watch your dream ride come to life. While the board's curing, we'll cruise over to the best BBQ spot in town to fuel up before peeling the finished product out of the mold. We'll put the finishing touches on the board that evening, get you outfitted in the latest Empire swag, and have a few more beers before getting you on a plane back home - ready to ride like a pro!

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Funding period

- (28 days)