Rings, chess boards, and intricate clocks, Austin Berain continues to create amazing pieces with the help of used board collections from his local shops. Our friend Grant Fiero caught up with Austin to hear how he learned his craft, and what others can do to start making things from used boards on their own.
What’s up Austin? I love seeing the different products you make from old decks, what made you want to start doing that?
It’s kind of funny actually, it was just about 4 years ago now. I focused a board, and it was such a good board, my temper got the best of me. I felt pretty guilty about it, and I felt like there was still something in that board, I owed it to my skateboard I guess. That’s kind of how I looked at it, in a weird way. I had seen people make stuff from used boards before, so I thought “What can I do?”, and I just made a ring, and it kind of took off from there.
Once you had this idea of making products from used boards, what steps did you take to actually start doing it?
It was a lot of trial and error, and practice. I started with a file, hand saw, and very basic tools, and started to re-invest to get more tools. Which made things easier and more efficient. I also had taken some woodshop classes before, so that translated over to what I wanted to do, it gave me a better foundation because there was the way I was doing stuff, and there’s the way they would teach you in a class, and some of that would translate over for me.
I know you mentioned a file and handsaw, but are there any other tools you use in this process?
The biggest thing for me, with the rings especially, which for the longest time was all I was making, was the Dremel tool. I still use that for every ring I make. It’s a sanding bit, and I just mess with it until I’m satisfied. That one is huge, it took my 2-hour process down to 40 minutes. There’s also the drill press. I started with basically no power tools, I had a hand drill and patience. The Dremel is number one in my book, along with the drill press.
That’s sick the Dremel helped cut down the time for you so much. I know you mentioned rings, but what else do you make from used decks?
A lot of bottle openers, fridge magnets, and I’ve made a couple of art pieces including my clock, which I made in one of those classes I took. But that one is probably my favorite. I got to test a bunch of different skills for that one. Like using a chisel, different power tools, and different techniques for one project, which is really nice. It took like 25 boards.
Oh wow, that’s a lot of boards.
Yeah, that one was really cool. The process was pretty insane. I needed really flat pieces of wood, so I took essentially just the wheelbases from 25 boards. I plained them, hit them with the joiner, glued them up in stacks of 12 or 13. Then I re-sawed those down the middle and re-glued it. It was pretty wild, quite the process. It’s for sure my favorite. It’s something you can look at every day, and it is functional. It can sit on your mantle and you can be like “Oh what time is it?” so that one’s cool to me. I can imagine having that for a long time, hopefully forever.
Did that clock take the longest for you to make out of all the projects you’ve worked on?
Definitely. I did that one during my class time, we were just supposed to build a clock and put our own personal touch on it, so obviously I used skateboards. Everyone else’s clocks were coming together way faster because the process for me had a lot of extra steps. For skateboards, it’s like, when does my work really start for this? Do you count when I drive down to Slappy’s to pick them up? Does it start when I’m ungripping the boards, or scraping off the adhesive? For me, I think the most work goes into getting the boards ready to go. Every board has a different amount of adhesive, some griptape brands will peel up in one piece every time. It’s just one of those things I’ve come to learn.
What’s the next step after you get the griptape and adhesive off the old board?
It just depends on what I plan on using it for. I have my own idea of what I’ll use a board for, some boards I get a nose that is usable, sometimes the whole board is essentially usable. If it’s a big, long piece that I can use, that’s going to be used for a bigger project, so I just put it to the side. Then there’s also the veneers, which is really big for me. It’s kind of ridiculous sometimes, I’ll be looking at boards like “That’s a sick graphic, the shape is so nice, but the colors, there are no colors”. Then I’ll end up getting a board that’s compromised in one of those areas, but the veneers are sick. For example, I know with DLX boards there are 2 colors on top, and 1 on the bottom every time. I can get at least 5 rings out of that, that’s kind of how I look at it.
That’s cool because not everyone pays that much attention to veneers, but you’re looking at it because of what you want your rings to look like.
Yeah, I’m thinking “What’s the next process going to be like”, thinking of what it’s going to translate to. A big thing for me is that I don’t break boards every day or anything, so when I get a new board I want it to be a good one, it gives it a personal touch for me. I really enjoy it when my brother gives me a skateboard, or I get my own skateboard, and I’m like “Hey Mom do you want a ring? This is from my board” and she gets stoked. I have a buddy who unfortunately his uncle just passed, and he has a board, so I was like “Hey man, let me get that” and he was like “Uh, I don’t know” and finally he was like “Hey man, if I give this to you can you make me a picture frame?” and I said, “Of course!”. Things like that, little personal things are really cool. A buddy of the owner Overcast Skateshop was riding a board in Barcelona when he met his wife, and that’s something only he would know, and he told me that and now I’m making rings for that couple from that board. I love skateboarding, I want to do it for as long as I can, it’s all I know, so it means more to me. I like woodworking, and the emotional appeal, it’s really satisfying.
That’s really rad. I know you mentioned Slappy’s Garage, how did you start collecting boards from them?
It’s funny. I started selling my rings at farmer’s markets and stuff and I would see people wearing Slappy’s shirts. People would tell me to go to skate shops, and I wasn’t really all that confident yet because I had just started doing all this, I wanted to get better at it before approaching skate shops. I went into Slappy’s to ask if they had any broken boards I could take, and Jason (Owner of Slappy’s Garage) said “Well what are you doing with them?”, and he wanted to see the rings I had made. He looked at them and said, “I’ll take 10 of them”, nothing huge, but I wasn’t expecting that, and he gave me broken boards. Jason is the man. I feel as if I wasn’t ready to have them in shops, but he was down. So that was really cool. There’s also a shop out here in Temecula, the area I grew up skating, called Overcast. It’s a really small local shop. They have done a lot for me as well, holding onto old boards for me to pick up.
That’s really cool that both of those shops look out for you like that, and helped you get everything started.
Yeah, and they’re friends of mine. They’re more than skate shops, they’re really good guys, and nice to talk to, they get it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make different products from recycled skateboards?
I would say just get after it, you have to start somewhere. Work within your skillset. You have to push yourself to learn new things but do it safely. Even with hand tools, I got myself with the chisel the other day. It’s definitely hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s the one thing, work within your skillset, and don’t go into it blind. Just get after it. Everyone has different ideas for what they want to make, and what they think is functional and cool. I make stuff that I like, that’s my biggest thing. I’m not going to make something I’m not stoked on. I’m not going to be like “Oh, I don’t really like these things, but a lot of other people do so I’ll make it.” I think about if I’d get stoked on what I’m making if I saw it in a skateshop.
That’s a cool perspective on it.
I try to keep it true to that. Especially with the price point for rings, I don’t like to sell them for more than $15, $10 is what I want to sell them at. For one, I’m getting pretty quick at making them, and I’d rather sell them at a skate shop than online. Also, kids aren’t going into skate shops for these rings, they’re going for trucks, wheels or boards, which are expensive. So I want them to be like “Oh, $10, easy!”. I don’t want it to be unaffordable for the kid skating off loading docks and stuff.
Haha, that’s really cool. Do you like to sell your rings at skate shops instead of online for the sake of getting more people to support skate shops?
Yeah, skateboarding is so tight-knit. You want to see your friends do well. Jason from Slappy’s Garage and Robert from Overcast are super good guys, they’re looking out for what’s best, so I want to help them out. I do plan on doing the online stuff, but I’m just taking my time. I know I can at least support a local shop. I’m not sending out mass emails, or cold calling anyone, it’s natural.
It’s cool to think about how you pick these boards up from a shop, you make something out of them, then that shop sells what you made. It’s a cool cycle of how you’re reusing these boards, and how you and that shop are supporting each other.
It’s so interpersonal. It’s really cool. Just like you said, it comes full circle, I go to the skateshop and get the wood from them, I do the whole process, and it winds up back at that skateshop in a different form. A skateboards journey is crazy; between the factory, being manufactured, printed on, being redistributed, some kid buying it off a wall, then he/she skates it, travels, comes back, breaks it, ditches it at the skate shop without thinking about it, and that’s where I come in. It’s weird, there’s so much that goes into it.
Yeah, it’s definitely a crazy process, it’s sick to think about that, and to see people like you extending the life of that board.
I’m stoked, so if I can make anyone else stoked that’d be sick.
How has the current pandemic affected you in terms of reusing decks to create art?
For me it’s been pretty productive, it’s been giving me something to do. I had a hard time beforehand because I would be like “Oh I’m going to go skate”, I only have so much free time because I was always working. When I had a day off I would choose between going to skate with my friends or go hop in the workspace. Now that I can’t skate with everyone, it makes it a lot easier for me to go work in the shed, I won’t feel like I’m missing out on any epic skating or anything. That’s been the one real big upside for me to this situation.
What can people do during this time to help you or other makers, is there a safe way you can get used decks while maintaining a social distance?
That’s a tough one. Maybe not actually getting the boards per se, but there are definitely other ways to help. Whether that’s a post on social media, or just telling your friends “Oh check out this page, I think you might like this”, just stuff like that. That definitely helps, whether it pays off right now, or later down the road. I think that’s the biggest thing now, everyone is stuck inside on their phones anyway. I use the hashtags, recycled skateboards, and keep it rolling, and you come across people on your feed that are also recycling boards. I’ve had people give me tips, or ask questions, it’s not like a huge competitive thing, which is cool. This dude in Long Beach, for example, he’s really talented. He makes all these coffee handles and cool stuff.
Oh yeah! What’s his name? I’ve seen his work on Instagram.
Yeah, some of the shops around Long Beach, Furnace and LB Skate are donating decks to him.
Sick! Yeah, that’s awesome. He does a lot of really cool stuff. He was giving me feedback, and different ideas, it was cool. He recommended me to good people for tool repair.
That’s super sick. I think those posts to check out someone like you, or another artist are a great idea. For someone who hasn’t seen art like that before, they get really stoked on it I think.
Definitely, it doesn’t necessarily have to be just about skateboarding. It translates to other things, just recycling and stuff. You meet people that don’t skate, and they don’t woodwork, but they like recycling, and they care about the earth, so it kind of draws from all sorts of different interests I guess.
Yeah, that is cool, it brings people together and gets creative ideas going. Which is another thing that I think is pretty big during this time, it’s a time to get creative and think of some new ideas.
Yeah, for sure. It’s hard to think outside of the box when you’re locked in a box all day.
Haha, very true. If skaters out there wanted to try and start creating things with used boards, but have no experience what would you recommend starting with? Why?
I think the first thing I ever did was sand down an old board and painted my own “graphic”, that was something I thought was cool, and is safe for the younger crowd. There’s YouTube videos and stuff too, where you can learn just about anything about tools. You’re stuck inside, maybe search some easy wood projects, and see what you can translate from a skateboard to something else. There’s a lot of prep work in getting the skateboards ready, there’s a lot of moving parts to get to where I am, as far as tools and stuff. It used to take me a super long time to make a ring using what I had, versus now.
So the rings is where it started for you then, other than sanding down a board and making your own graphic?
Yeah, that was my first one. I didn’t have too many tools at the time and racked my brain thinking of what I could make. I made a quick trip to Home Depot, which you can’t really do right now. Most kids can probably look in their dad’s toolbox or something, where you can find sandpaper, a chisel, anything man. It’s just like skateboarding if there’s a will there’s a way.
Yeah, you’re right, for people that don’t have tools at the moment, it’s not the best time to go to the store and buy them. But people have plenty of time to figure out what they need to buy in the future and get some ideas flowing in their heads.
Yeah, and there are videos of people who create stuff with skateboards and do vlogs, it gives you some insight on what it takes and what to expect. That can be useful for someone who is interested.
Sick, that’s a great tip for anyone interested. Thank you for the update on how you’re doing during this time!
No worries, sounds good man, I’ll keep doing my thing, thank you, stay safe.