Feb 22, 2009

Spring 2009 4GF Prototypes

Hey Everybody,

I've been out of material since last summer, when I made 40 mats before we moved to Washington state. That's the inventory we've been selling since we've been here. We're down to 2 XL's as of today.

Since I knew we would need more material by Spring, and since I've been stuck in the snow and rain for the last 3 months, I've had time to do some material research. The fabric company we've been using since 1984 has been tremendous. But, their prices doubled in 2007, doubled again in 2008, and we're looking at another increase this year. Plus, the minimum quantity has gone up. So, that has given me the impetus to look around for alternatives more aggressively.

There aren't too many places that make the quality material needed to make mats that are durable and perform well. I did come across a fabric manufacturer who had a very complete sample catalog, and they've been willing to work with us. (Meaning, they know we're small time, but are still interested in our business.) And their prices are low enough to allow us to hold our current retail cost ($250 plus S/H) for at least a year ... and hopefully much longer.

The down side of any new material is that it's an unknown in terms of performance and durability. The spec sheets of this new stuff shows a tear strength and seam adhesion of approximately 85% to 90% of our current material. That may be acceptable, but we won't know until we get some serious water time in on the 4 prototypes I finished earlier this afternoon.

One thing is for sure ... there is no way any 4GF mats will go out to customers until we're reasonably certain that the fabric will hold up for at least a couple years of hard use.

I'm sending the new prototypes off to George G. in tomorrow's mail. He gets in the water every day, and has a deep working knowledge of the current state of the art, mat-wise. So, there's no reason not to turn over the field testing to him and his buddies.

Here are the four prototypes mats he'll be testing. All four are Fatties. My thinking is that this is the most versatile 4GF shape, so George and his friends can get in the water almost every day with no worries. I'm sending them off with no non-skid, since I don't have an indoor, ventilated place to glue them up here, and it's too cold to do it outside...

The Black Mat is made of an extremely heavy nylon material on the deck that is as coarse, or coarser, than a new Converse. When I saw a small sample of this fabric, I thought it was too stiff to make a high performance mat. But, the texture was plenty grippy enough to use with no non-skid.

Even though this black material is much more expensive per yard, there would be none of the labor and expense normally associated with any of the non-skids currently being used. (Rubber Grit, Vulkem, Diamond Back patches, etc.) So, it might pay for itself.

I ordered a short sample roll of the Black "Canvas" to try it on the deck in conjunction with thinner material on the bottom. (I ran this idea past Jonathan J. a few weeks ago, and he immediately equated it with the old Merrin Peelers.)

We need to test the deck adhesion. (The grip is incredible when it's wetted out...better than an old canvas mat when it's new.) But the main problem, of course, is the loss of performance due to the stiffness of the fabric. Perhaps the material will soften up with use, eventually breaking in to become a good mat. Then again, as it breaks in, the deck might lose some of its texture. Who knows until we try it...

This fabric is a complete unknown, and it will take at least a month to get it broken in and sorted out.

I love this stuff on the deck!

The orange bottom fabric is a rip-stop similar in weight to what we use now.

The White Mat is made of material that weighs out the same as what we have now, but it's weaker when you test it to destruction. I'm not optimistic that this stuff will work. So, what I did with this material sample is make a shape that George has been asking for since last summer. It's a stock Fatty, lengthened 2", with a Velo-style arc tail with sharp corners in the rear. I made a Standard 4GF with an arc tail for him last year. He liked it at times, but thought it rode "too short" at others. Hence, the 2" increase in length.

I hope he gets enough waves to get a feel for the design change before it pops. It feels pretty flimsy.

The forward black line is the stock Fatty tail, while the rear line is the welded-up Arc tail 2" further back.

The Orange Mat is made of a rip-stop with is supposed to be roughly same weight as the material we use now, but it weighs out much lighter. It has a crisp feel to it. There isn't as much stretch to the fabric, since it has the rip-stop threads running through it. This mat seems like it should be stronger since it's made of rip-stop, but it might actually be weaker over time since there isn't as much "give" to it, and most of the loading will go directly to the seams. It feels kind of toy-like. But, that may be the orange color. Again, who knows until we try it.

The Blue Mat is made of 100 x 70 denier fabric, with a twill weave. Our current fabric is a 70 x 70 denier taffeta. I didn't like this stuff when I saw a small sample, but I got a short roll of it anyway. After I was able to see and handle the fabric in mat-sized lengths, I had a change of heart. It's heavier, weight wise, but, as is well known in the fabric world, twill weave is more pliable than a taffeta weave.

The twill weave seems to absorb more water than the taffeta weave. I wetted out one pontoon to show how much water it appears to draw in.

The advantage of the 100 x 70 denier twill is that it feels as soft or softer than the lighter taffeta, but weighs more, especially wet. It might help prevent mats from blowing away in heavy winds, and it might ride smoother on bumpy waves as well.

I'm the most optimistic about the Blue Twill Mat. The material has a nice, substantial feel to it, along with a soft pliability factor.

I'm getting another short roll of the Blue Twill in a few weeks. I want to make a mat with the coarse Black Canvas stuff on top and the Blue Twill on the bottom. (I didn't have enough Blue Twill to do that this time around.) That might be a killer app for those two fabrics.

I really want the coarse Black Canvas to work on the deck! I covered the top of a Standard 4GF with cotton canvas fabric a few years ago, and the extreme stiffness (due to the canvas/nylon fabric deck lamination) ruined the performance completely, even after an entire summer of break-in. But the feel of having a 100% canvas deck was just great. I kept going out on it just because it was so much fun to be on. So, fingers crossed that the black stuff breaks in over time. It's stiff, but no where near as stiff as an old canvas mat ... it might just work.

Two other things...

The colors of these mats are the stock colors of these particular fabrics. If I order larger quantities, then we can get anything in black. I hate the orange and loathe the white ... but the electric blue color of the 100 x 70 twill is neat. It looks better in person than it does in the pictures.

The other thing is weight. I went ahead and weighed these four mats and a stock Fatty, all with no non-skid. I also weighed them wetted out, so I could get an idea of the water absorption the Blue Twill and Black Canvas in comparison to the taffeta and rip-stop.

Orange Rip-Stop Fatty
Dry - 10.80 oz. Wet - 12.40 oz. (Plus 1.6 oz.)

Current Taffeta Fatty
Dry - 15.00 oz. Wet - 16.3 oz. (Plus 1.3 oz.)

White Taffeta Fatty
Dry - 15.00 oz. Wet - 16.3 oz. (Plus 1.3 oz.)

Blue Twill Fatty
Dry - 15.80 oz. Wet - 17.70 oz. (Plus 1.9 oz.)

Black "Canvas" Fatty
Dry - 23.90 oz. Wet - 30.70 oz (Plus 6.8 oz)

The Orange Rip-Stop is much lighter than the spec sheet claimed, the Blue Twill soaked up more water than the taffeta, but not way-more, and the Black "Canvas" was heavy to start with, and absorbed a lot of water as well. Of course, there would be no non-skid added to the Black Canvas deck mat, so its dry and wet weights are "all-up," while the other four mats will have a few ounces added by the non-skid.

But again, these numbers mean nothing. It's just a test to see if you are as far gone into mat geekdom as me. If you've read this far, GET HELP!

This is my uber-tech mat weigh station. And yes, I re-weighed the box after each wet mat was extracted...


Bagjuan said...

Good stuff here, Paul! Way too early to call for help.Tweaking the weld too,no doubt!

misterdirk said...

Wow, so many variables. Can't wait to hear what works.

That Velo tail is intriguing. What effect is the angular corner expected to have? More hold?

Paul Gross said...

Actually, George's Standard with an arc tail had less hold, because the sharp corner sheared off water unexpectedly.

However, Geroge liked the round arc tail, so he thought maybe we should add a few inches of rail to give him some more control.

I think it's intriguing too...

Anonymous said...

"This fabric is a complete unknown, and it will take at least a month to get it broken in and sorted out."

Paul- put some new fabric (or welded mat w/out valve) in a clean clothes dryer or rock tumbler with soft bean bags.

Anonymous said...

Good thought, D. I'll definitely try it and report back. I have some scraps of the heavy stuff left over.

I've been "hand rolling" the corners of the heavy-deck mat that's going off to George later today, in hopes of getting a head start on the break-in process. But doing it "mechanically" makes a lot more sense!

Hey eveyone, I'm having fun for the first time in a long time...thanks for all your stoke and input.

Anonymous said...

"I've been "hand rolling" the corners of the heavy-deck mat that's going off to George later today, in hopes of getting a head start on the break-in process. But doing it "mechanically" makes a lot more sense!"

Yes. Soft mechanical tumbling allows more time to build mats.

I've been "breaking" the fabric by hand for over 20 years. Especially the internal structures and bottom skin.

It's quite amazing how some fabrics transform from stiff, crispy mediocre to excellent... almost buttery supple.

You deserve to have fun, Paul.

Take care

R4TH said...

I have a almost two weeks left here in lennox...hoping to spot GG riding some of the prototypes at wategos...the orange will be hard to miss!

Anonymous said...

sharks might find it very attractive too
could be quite interesting

nathanoj said...

Maybe the water absorption of the blue twill (on the bottom) will form a water-water interface for extra slipperyiciousness!!??

Anonymous said...

A good assumption!

Yes, when you rub your finger over wet twill and wet tatetta, there is less resistance with the twill.

The twill is smoother when dry as well. (Smoother/softer weave.)But when wet, the difference is slightly more apparent.

Anonymous said...

A question to the mat riding community...

If the heavy nylon "Black Canvas" deck material should end up working as a non-skid -- and performing well after it's broken in -- would you be willing to ride a mat that took a month or two of constant use to break in?

Jamie said...

Sure would, just so long as it comes with a notice to my significant other that explains in exhaustive detail why I must surf at least two hours a day, every day, for the next 3 months.

Pahl Dixon said...

I reckon a break-in period for a sturdier and better looking product is a fair tradeoff. Plus, if it means the guy making the mat doesn't have to use hypertoxic adhesives to glue on traction pads, I'm all for that! The clean look of a blank sheet of top material would be much easier on the eyes. Make mine black on top with an electric blue bottom please. I'd also like to see the logo printed directly onto the fabric, which seems feasible with coarser material.

Anonymous said...

If the heavier black "canvas" deck has any chance of being used on 4GFs, there can't be any loss of performance. But, from my perspective both as a mat rider and builder, if there's a break-in period to achieve that, it may be worth it.

First off is the fun/comfort of a canvas style deck. It's just fantastic.

Second is the fact that 100% of the top has grip, and yet there's a slight fudge factor in terms of moving around on the deck if necessary. To me that's the best overall combination.

Third is the advantage in construction. Any of the current deck preparations (Diamond Back, rubber grit, vulkem, or canvas strips) require some nasty, stinking materials. Working with the Diamond Back supplier, I've tried a number of "green-ish" glues with no success.

The other downside to current non-skid contruction techniques is that, unlike building the rest of the mat, you need a very specific place to do the work. Shaded, with no wind, but plenty of ventilation. Not easy to come by without renting industrial space.

Then there's the time factor. Right now, around %25 of the build time of a 4GF is the deck. And that's if I do three decks at once. One-offs are closer to %40 of the build time.

The cost of the current deck materials isn't insignificant. But, the heavy black canvas is expensive as well. Hopefully, things would even out on that score.

As I mentioned in the OP, my experience with an all-canvas deck mat a few years back reminded me of how much pure fun that concept was...and that impression stuck with me ever since. When I came across this black material -- and wetted it out to test the grip -- I was stoked with the possibilities.

As far as screening the label onto the mat, I doubt that will work. White ink on black fabric is a poor combination. Maybe I can rig up some kind of big rubber stamp, and make the label more of casual form of identification. Maybe even on the bottom.

Again, performance is still the main priority. But, if I can eliminate the time and stink of the currrent deck system, and maintain performance, then a break-in period may be a neceesary evil.

Also, if enough time and misery
is saved in contruction, there's a good chance the cost might come down a bit.

Pahl Dixon said...

No logo on a black roughtop would be great! I like the idea of putting the emblem on the bottom. Also, a handwritten logo and/or signature might suffice, perhaps with date and model designation. After all, each mat is a work of art!