Testing The Dark Arts Of Carbon Nanotubes

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
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The search for the better board continues. Sometimes it involves exploring less toxic materials, other times the motivation is improved performance or strength, but always the search involves rigorous testing.

The last time Swellnet spoke to John Dowse from Sanded was in 2020 and he was running tests on basalt fibreglass. 

Sanded, for those that don't know, is a surfboard chemical and material retailer located on NSW's Central Coast. However, rather than merely stock and sell, John also likes to indulge his inner egghead, donning the scientist's white lab coat and testing the stuff he peddles.

Recently, John was put onto carbon nano resin, which is epoxy resin infused with carbon nanotubes and is a material that's become increasingly popular, used in everything from kitchen benchtops to big bore firearms.

When it's used in surfboards, carbon is usually either woven into the cloth or sometimes it's the whole cloth itself - see the work of Dick Van Straalen, Aviso, or what's coming out of the Dark Arts factory in San Diego. In contrast, carbon nano resin features tiny - hence the 'nano' - tubes of carbon that are mixed into resin and then applied to a cloth of choice.

So, rather than resin simply reinforcing the fibreglass, the carbon nanotubes reinforce the resin which then also reinforces the fibreglass.


Well it sounds good in theory, and it's being touted as wonder stuff, but, as he's done with many other materials, John wanted to run tests before jumping on the hype train.

There were two types of tests. The first was to make a surfboard using one layer of E-glass (standard fibreglass used in boards) laminated with epoxy resin mixed with carbon nanotubes, over an EPS core. This was to get a sense of performance and feel, those unquantifiable sensations that delight or detract when we're on a wave.

The second was what you might call the hard data. Various samples of E-glass laminated with and without carbon nanotubes, then compression tested till breaking point, with the results recorded. Every sample was tested twice to confirm the data.

John's five fin plug stubby built for the test

When it was finished, the board, according to John, was "lighter by about 500 grams - taking a layer of 4oz off the board saves about 200 - 250 grams - and it feels solid." The extra 250 - 300 grams weight saving is possibly because less resin gets used when nanotubes are mixed in.

Also, while making the board John was asked about the possibility of the carbon conducting electricity and perhaps the sander getting zapped while working on it. "The only thing we noticed," said John in reply, "was that the sanding discs got a static charge that clogged them way quicker than normal. So that's maybe something to be aware of."

The laminating process was the same as normal, with John reporting his "first impression after curing was that it was hard to thumb so it feels light and strong, and would definitely pass the “pick up in the shop” test."

And the reason for that? "I think that the nanotubes fill the cloth weave so it makes a harder surface - though only slightly," says John.

When we spoke, John had surfed the board five times and it had "only very slight impressions in the deck" and that it rode well, feeling "slightly whippy" owing to the reduced weight.

The other tests, however, the ones conducted in a lab and hence free of human prejudice, were the ones that mattered.

At left, various samples of E-glass laminated with and without nanontubes, while at right is the same but with basalt cloth.

These tests were done with 28kg3 EPS foam (the preferred foam core for machine cutters) using carefully measured epoxy resins, hand laminated, then left for seven days to cure without ovens. "In other words," says John, "we wanted to get as close as we can to how your surfboard manufacturer would do it in their factory."

Considering the board was made with one layer of E-glass, let's check the results of that test first:

Applied weight in kilograms up the Y-axis, movement in millimeters across the X, you can see the orange line - which is 4oz E-glass laminated with carbon nanotubes - survives breakage just that bit longer than the E-glass laminated with normal epoxy resin. They both get to approx 300 kgs, but the board with carbon nanotubes bends approx 15mm before failing.

"It's a very minimal improvement," says John.

On its own, this isn't hugely surprising, though it may make a case for pro boards - which are generally glassed with just one layer - using carbon nanotubes. They'd get a touch more strength and a touch less weight.

What did raise eyebrows was the comparison test using two layers of 4oz E-glass.

Sames axes, though the carbon is the grey line, standard epoxy the blue. As you can see, when using two layers the carbon nanotubes snapped first.

"My thoughts on this test," explains John, "would be that the carbon nano filling the weave gives it another substance to fail in between layers." Having two layers effectively reduces the board's necessary flex.

Considering most boards - pro boards notwithstanding - are built using two layers of cloth on the deck, this test was an important one.

While he was in testing mode, John applied the same procedure to basalt cloth in both one layer and two, plus another run of two layers of E-glass.

The light blue line is one layer of basalt laminated with carbon nanotubes, which lasted until the machine clocked out at 450kgs. The slight deviations around 350kg and 410kg are, according to John, "slight fractures in the fibre but not enough to fail."

The grey line is two layers of basalt laminated with carbon nanotubes, which also lasted until 450kgs, this time without any fracturing.

The dark blue line is another test of two layers of E-glass laminated with carbon nanotubes, which failed at 350kgs, exactly the same as the previous test.

So, the takeaways from all this tesing?

Firstly, carbon nanotubes 'may' have a place in manufacturing though it would be specialised - think shaping for Championship Tour surfers - or whenever one layer of cloth will suffice.

Secondly, basalt has once again flexed its might as a cloth with backbone.

The last words go to John: "I was hoping for better results to answer the hype and cost around carbon nanotubes, but it's good to get a result either way."

"In summary, for the cost of the resin, carbon nanotubes don't have enough performance advantages to make it viable."

The search for the better board continues...


rothmanisatool's picture
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rothmanisatool Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 8:24am

wow so great to see this kind of testing going on in surfing. its only 40 yrs behind F1/military etc. go john and Sanded!

stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:34am

Here's a little bit of an explanation and a history of carbon nanotubes:


Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:40am

Interesting. I would hazard a guess that how the test weight is applied would make a huge difference. Is it a point/sphere pressed against the laminate, or is it loading both ends over a fulcrum to simulate breaking?

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:40am

Thanks Island bay

How we test is "heel" pressure test with a 60mm dome pushing into to the laminate in the middle of the sample
This way we get compression and failure results - we do this test on at least 2 samples set up of the same material - this way we get rid of any weird results

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:42am

Has there been much take-up of the basalt cloth?

Looks good and seems to perform well.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:53am

Firewire are now using it on six of their models. They've gone hard, gaining exclusive rights over a particular basalt weave that mixes basalt and PET.

Banksy is also using it, as is Mike Wallace from Northern Cali (Iconoclast, Twiggy Surfboards). In the US, basalt and flax (and basalt hybrids in general) have been selling well as that weave lightens the colour.

Seems to be selling well, though still largely in the realm of backyarders/alt-board makers. The FW move may change the equation, making it more acceptable.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:50am


lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 9:52am

What about a 4+4 top +4 bottom and just laminate the bottom with the carbon nanotubes?

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:43am

Hey Lostdoggy

It could work.. but for a manufacturer to change resins during the process, would be time and materials cost - but if a customer wants to pay for it.. possible

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:19am

Clear takeaway is go basalt. Love a good graph.

Reform's picture
Reform's picture
Reform Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:21am

The unregulated use of toxic engineered synthetic nanoparticles finds a place in the manufacture of surfboards! Of course it does! Its in just about every thing else from car paint to Heinz tomato sauce, including but not limited to clothing, metals, polymers, medicines and vaccines that most of the Western world populations have been pushed into taking.

No governments have regulated its use meaning it can be and is being used in whatever way the maker of such products wants to. This is a problem for the environment, and not a simple one, this is a huge problem for all life on earth.
These tiny particles the size of a Nano is one millionth of 1 mm, that's 1 billion of them floating round in a metre. These nanoparticles are able to enter the cellular structure within our own bodies and all other life on earth, get into the cells, harbour there within the cellular structure, they then become prone to decay, toxicity and disease. silently making us ill!!!

The producers will continue to push it making millions and the industry will continue to use it carte blanche, unwittingly or worse still, knowingly.

WTF, at lease there may be a few less pressure dents on our boards.

But I hope the shapers, glassers, sanders and foam producers know about this and stay away from such a profoundly harmful technology!
Its time to get back to basics not making the world even more spoiled.

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:47am

Thanks Reform

We just tested it, not something we would sell to the public.. we just wanted to see if it would work, as every salesperson in that industry was telling us it was magic!! As we said probably not viable in the surf industry.

Reform's picture
Reform's picture
Reform Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 12:13pm

Cheers John!

I read the article diagonally but just saw the takeaways confirming your findings. I simply wanted to alert you and any readers about the use of the nanoparticles, it's worth digging into the net and looking into what this material actually is.

I'm not a scientist but my wife is and she's convinced the use of this material is troublesome, due to its ability to enter our bodies at a whim, enter the cells, sit in there, stagnate then decay causing toxicity in those vital organs like the lungs, heart, spleen, liver and the brain.

The technology and use is out there already in spades, just not many people are informed about it. Apparently despite all of their study, scientists still don't know how carbon nanoparticles operate, let alone control them.

Its a creative industry that you're in and I appreciate your valuable input, cheers

farquarson's picture
farquarson's picture
farquarson Friday, 4 Aug 2023 at 6:52am

Why are they putting carbon nano particles in Heinz tomato sauce.

Reform's picture
Reform's picture
Reform Friday, 4 Aug 2023 at 3:44pm

Hi Farquar-sun,
This afternoons lesson for your convenience,
I just looked online in relation to your question and found this from a packaging company.
Apparently Its in the lining of the bottle that resists the sticking of the sauce to the side of the bottle so that not a drop is wasted, Those scientists have to justify their pay one way or another.

They say its been tested and approved too. It must be okay to let loose these uncontrolled particles of matter around the planet that are undetectable to the eye, Happy weekend surfing! cheers,


Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Friday, 4 Aug 2023 at 1:11pm

Everything is bad for you now days .
Everything !

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Friday, 4 Aug 2023 at 7:38pm

The liver can absorb & redirect many organic toxins and if damaged, regenerate, when your healthy.
That's how animals survived, evolved. Orca's love eating shark livers... btw.

Those warm, fluffy, polyester fibre clothes we wear in winter (inorganic/synthetic) however,... release micro particles that we breath in....

sanded's picture
sanded's picture
sanded Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 10:53am

Thanks Stu for taking the time and SN readers for taking an interest

It's good see the interest in the manufacturing side of surf

We love working on things that could make a difference in the surf industry, we try to test everything we sell so we know how they work and can trouble shoot with our customers (as everyone knows in our industry to make a board from start to finish without any problems is a 1-3 ratio)

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 11:10am

Cheers, Sanded. The article and your work really made me think.

Gowsa's picture
Gowsa's picture
Gowsa Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 11:53am

Would the carbon increase chances of being hit by lightning ?

samerubi's picture
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samerubi Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 3:03pm

i think the interesting aspect of the plots is that they show the carbon nano tubes (essentially a filler in the resin) reduces the stiffness of the medium. it would be interesting to benchmark these results against the benchmark we all know and love - polyester resin and fibreglass cloth. perhaps it is not ultimate strength we are after but rather a less stiff response from the laminate depending on whether the blank is eps or pu.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Thursday, 3 Aug 2023 at 3:49pm

I was thinking the same thing in graph 1 - lower modulus of elasticity rather than any difference in strength. Wonder if the difference in flex would be noticeable.
Graph 2 could just be due to random defects in the carbon loaded resin - sample size of 2 isn't enough to draw general conclusions (would be interesting to know if the two tests failed at similar loadings or not, if so, better chance the ultimate strength has been reached).

The real takeaway is how well the basalt performed!

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Friday, 4 Aug 2023 at 1:08pm

Wonder how it would go with poly or my fav
Vac bagged?
I've been making esp boards for the last 4 years.
Making my blanks also.stringerless.

This year I haven't surfed anything except esp boards.
What's really interesting is the strength of epoxy resins.
I threw some builders oxide on my last hot coat as an experiment.
Pretty interesting results. Just on the bottom 4 #

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg Saturday, 5 Aug 2023 at 9:05am

What do basalt laminated surfboards feel like to surf on?

And which combination of basalt, blank and resin type would provide a more ding proof surfboard? I’m not so much interested in a light weight high performance surfboard, but would like a really strong normal weight one to surf on really crowded days. It would be great if the drop-in guy’s surfboard always came off second best :)

Years ago I had a really strong production surfboard (McTavish Pop-out?) but it didn’t flex enough when on a wave. Never dinged, but just didn’t feel right.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Saturday, 5 Aug 2023 at 1:46pm

Mac tav was 5 years too early.
The stronger the board the weirder / stiffer it feels.

Flex is important.
More strength less flex.
Its all about finding the balance.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg Saturday, 5 Aug 2023 at 1:53pm

Cheers LD

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Sunday, 6 Aug 2023 at 9:58am

Interesting experiment on new materials. Thanks for sharing the story.
Would love to see more basalt & less guys with snapped boards.

Timber veneer is a promising frontier, with high strength, flex and beauty.
Maybe the vacuum bag process isnt economical for mass production.

Those Mc Tavish pro-boards were/are very strong, timber veneer deck, but corkey / buoyant. Fantastic for getting into waves early or if you put on some extra kgs.
The porous styrofoam & embedded fins were the weakest link, esp. if you surfed over rocks.

"In 1989 McTavish introduced Pro Circuit boards, which created machine-moulded replicas of the boards ridden by professional surfers."

philosurphizingkerching's picture
philosurphizingkerching's picture
philosurphizing... Sunday, 6 Aug 2023 at 9:56am

A layer of glass, a thin layer of balsa, a layer of glass and you have a compression /tension skin.
Blert Furburger explains.
Actually the whole Sunova tech series is worth checking out, gotta love his engineering mind and his willingness to share his knowledge.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Sunday, 6 Aug 2023 at 10:21am

Timber eye candy


57's picture
57's picture
57 Saturday, 19 Aug 2023 at 1:21am

Almost seems like to many uncontrolled variables coming into play by making a full surf board. Cut away samples from various surf boards you tested for more precise test would have been nice to see... maybe it would be further proof the test was accurate. just my 10 cents Prost!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 9:18am

Another test from the crew at Sanded. This time the effect of resin tints on EPS foam:

57's picture
57's picture
57 Tuesday, 27 Feb 2024 at 7:03am

ever play with ss window screen in the layers