First shot ever with Monobloc Twin #1. Shot was taken from about 15 feet. The slip tipped shaft punched all the way through this beautiful cobia to the shooting line. #spearevolution
...a father and son quest to build the most theoretically perfect spearguns in the world
About the builders:
My father is a master woodworker who owned a woodworking business when I was a child. As such, we still have all kinds of tools scattered about the garage. Papa Bear does most of the work on the saws these days. He tends to be pretty protective of my fingers, given their importance to my line of work, although I’ll occasionally step in for a few cuts if he has something to teach me. While we do have myriad tools at our disposal, all are run by 2 hands - no computers here. As the son of a craftsman, this is everything to me
Dad cutting tracks on the shaper.
If dad is the axe, then I am the chisel. I am a physician by day (ok, often by night too), but I was a sculptor in a former life and typically worked in marble. Over time, I transitioned that skill set into wood working, and my dad and I have been building guitars together for a while (which btw is an incredible challenge of wood working precision, science, and art - virtually every step is potentially fatal to the instrument and tolerances are as tight as .002”).
I spend my time on the chisels, while dad works the saws.
I’ve been looking for a new gun for the past year or so, but nothing on the market quite has everything I want. There have been a lot of cool “new” theories and designs, which focus on minimizing the force vectors that affect shot trajectory and recoil, but nothing available takes those ideas to their extreme or logical conclusions. Thus, the Monobloc Twins were born. These nearly-identical guns were conceived from an experiment in science, art, and one piece of wood. No laminations, no joints, just one solid board.
The birth of the Monobloc Twins.
My favorite wood for a speargun is padauk, and the features I had drawn out in my templates required its strength. Sure, padauk is hellacious to work with, is prone to tear out, and is so hard that it often damages bits. Moreover, as I’ve experienced with some other African exotics, my mucus membranes react poorly to padauk. Despite the best possible protections, it makes my throat swell and I suffered a corneal ulcer (one of the most painful experiences of my life) during this build. Yes, it does cost more than teak and much more than other inferior options. But, in spite all of all of these things, padauk's density, strength, beauty, and marine resilience make it second to none.
...then came the actual process of finding the board. The minimum dimensions I needed, combined with my grain and drying prerequisites, made the right board quite a challenge to find. Dad pulled through and surprised me with an amazing piece. The dimensions were perfect and the board was old growth. Actually, Papa Bear brought in enough Padauk to build at least 6 guns, so the projects are ongoing. Without laminations, the process is more difficult (to do correctly), and wood selection becomes even more crucial. Fortunately, we have become very good at sourcing wood, as slight warping on a guitar neck is far more critical than on a speargun. On those builds, movement of only a tiny fraction of an inch is a death blow to the guitar. While not so devastating to a speargun, that is the attitude we brought into these builds.
The board used for the Twins was one of the straightest, most beautiful pieces of old growth Padauk I've seen.
I have a quiver of 5/16, 60" shafts, because this is my favorite shaft to shoot where I hunt. I built the Twins around this shaft, and it is appropriately paired with 2x~14.5mm small ID bands. Just to settle my own compulsions, I tested one of these guns with 3x14.5mm bands and it performed worse than with 2 bands.
My work horse guns over here on the Gulf are all enclosed track, and I admit that I love the ET dearly. I love the simplicity and quick reloading. I don’t think I’ve ever not-landed a fish on account of the decreased velocity of an enclosed track. However, recognizing this is a science project, I knew that the ET had to go. Testing just too clearly shows that a shallow open track is superior with regard to velocity, range, and penetration.
Working out the 2 band muzzle design
Thanks to some great gun designs with high handles, such as the Bleutec carbons and the Abellan Dentons, it has become obvious how crucial the high handle is to a flat shooting gun. However, these designs also afford lowly hacks, like myself, the opportunity and privilege to nitpick and guess where things might be done a bit better. For example, while many of the handles on these amazing guns are *pretty high*, if one studies the designs there are still areas for significant improvement. For example, the wood guns attempt to place the handle under the trigger mechanism. This fundamentally limits how high the handle can be placed relative to the shaft, no matter how shallow the mechanism is. One respected builder commented not long ago on this, in that he placed his handle so high that it was touching his trigger mechanism. While this is a great progression, I did wonder if it could be done a little bit different. Instead of bolting a handle under the mechanism, I wondered if the handle could be moved directly behind the mechanism to align the grip perfectly with the track and shaft. In drawing out several templates, I also made one more observation: even with the handle moved behind the mechanism and an open track, the handle can only be moved so high before the logistics of fitting everything in get really complicated. Most existing designs raise the mechanism above the stock, or even extend the upper portion of the handle to make it appear to sit higher than it functionally does. It became clear to me that the handle needed to be moved higher, while at the same time moving the shaft lower. My thought was to, not only put the handle behind the mechanism, but also to elevate it about 1 cm relative to the track. This would necessitate recessing the trigger mechanism, some fancy carving, and a more complicated process on the saws and routers, but it would also finally allow the handle to sit perfectly in-line with center-mass of the shaft and directly behind the mechanism. On the first gun, the mech was recessed 1mm relative to the 'high point' of the stock, and on the second gun, I was able to recess the mechanism 5mm. The bottom of the track for the bands and shaft then sits 9mm below the roof of the mechanism. This means the high point of the handle on #2 sits 14mm above the tracks for the bands and shaft. I was actually worried about getting downward muzzle flip on the second gun (which I don't think would theoretically affect shaft flight) but so far it is shooting perfectly. Ultimately, this came out better than I could have hoped for. There are only two clues of the handles' elevation. One is an optical illusion that the loading butt is sloped backward (because everything in front of it is gently sloped downward into the mechanism and then into the track). The other is that hand placement is precisely behind the track, right at center mass of the shaft.
First cuts for the high handle on the jig saw
All that really remained was to make sure that the bands were also in alignment and parallel with center mass of the shaft. The purpose of the band tracks was to keep the bands from actually touching the stock when loaded and theoretically increase velocity by reducing friction. Indeed, when the gun is loaded, you can sneak a dollar bill under the full length of the bands up to the muzzle. Executing this proved to be a little more challenging than average on these guns. On a CNC machine, this would probably be pretty straightforward - on a table saw, not so much. As the stock had, by necessity, already been tapered, there was no straight edge to work with. Papa Bear and I kicked this around for a while on how to get it right. Routing was out the window, as the handle was already elevated relative to the track, so there was no plane left in that dimension. A table saw on one edge was impossible for the same reasons, and virtually impossible on the other due to the taper. These are the situations in which we bounce ideas off each other and slowly wrestle out a solution. In this case, dad came up with the idea to modify the original sled that was used to cut the taper (so the angle was perfect), except flipping everything in reverse, to cut the tracks for the bands and finish recessing the open track. …hard to explain in words, sled pictured below. This was definitely our most clever cut, and even though the numbers added up, we were both holding our breath and moving very slowly on that one (I think dad actually submitted it to a wood working journal). The result is bands that run perfectly parallel and at center mass to the shaft. This part of the science project was complete: bands, shaft, and handle all perfectly in line. The Monobloc Twins are theoretically perfect with no force vectors except for straight back into the palm.
Sled used to cut the open shaft track and band tracks.
…and what about that palm? This is where science project and art make love again. It has become clear how crucial a custom grip is. I thought for a brief moment about doing the usual carbon fiber grip, however that just wasn’t going to fly on these guns. I used those techniques to make a custom grip to copy when carving the handle. I know there may be some skeptics regarding my ability to accurately reproduce a custom grip by hand carving, but if I may be blunt for a moment, carving an accurate reproduction of a grip into wood does not really compare in difficulty to an accurate reproduction of a face into stone. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the build for me. I had planned to add texture to the grip …but then I shot it. The grip fits my hand so well and the recoil is so linear that it doesn't need texture. The smooth surface unexpectedly helps to get on target much quicker in real-life hunting situations than with my other custom, textured grips. I think it is also important to note that even if the handle were to shear (it won’t, that padauk is like iron), the stock still could not hit you in the face. The hand actually rests behind the mass of the stock, not below it.
My version of a CNC machine.
Then, there is the issue of band stretch. Obviously, I wanted to build very space-efficient guns. I think that Abellan/Mythicon/Et Al do a nice job conserving an inch with their muzzles, at least for guns with two bands. For the twins, this is the one area that I did borrow from existing designs. My original plans called for no loading butt (sort of reminiscent of a Rob Allen), but ultimately my desire for an easier loading design beat out the macho drive to shave another inch off of the stock. …I decided I could always remove it later, if desired. Keeping the loading butt is one of those areas that really demanded I use padauk. With the handle raised 14mm on #2, I could afford exactly 10mm of depth for the loading butt in order to keep the handle inline with the shaft, as desired (which with the padauk is rock solid). The loading butt lines up with a flat section I designed on the back of the handle to effectively make a very large loading surface area (certainly the largest and most comfortable of any gun I own). I found that I did not need a rubber butt with this larger, effective loading area, although I likely would have needed one if I had axed the loading butt. As it turned out, the guns have 136cm of band stretch with a total length of 144cm.
Shaping the 2 band muzzle.
Let’s go ahead and address the trigger guard. I suspect this will be the source of consternation from critics, so let’s put it all out there. A wooden trigger guard on this design would have been unseemly and awkward, maybe impossible. Notice that the third ridge on the grip onto which a closed trigger guard would usually connect is much higher, relative to the trigger, than you will see on any other gun. This is a consequence of raising the handle relative to the track. One of the greatest design challenges was to make sure the gun still pointed naturally and that the trigger pull was not at all awkward. Again, this was all accomplished through very careful and thoughtful design of the grip. However, it did preclude the use of a “normal” style trigger guard. I decided on a trigger guard to match the muzzle. I did shape one to form a completely closed guard, but ultimately I preferred the slightly open guard, both aesthetically and functionally. Note that I placed the guard very carefully so that a trigger pull actually closes it. The slightly open guard also allows a free and unobstructed hold on the grip (which I greatly prefer, the increased control is noteworthy). There are pros and cons. I believe the advantages of the set up I’ve gone with outweigh the disadvantages, and I took reasonable steps to mitigate the disadvantages. I will also only be using these guns rigged for breakaway. If I were using a reel, I might feel differently. I can change to a fully closed guard anytime I please, but I don’t foresee this happening. Some will disapprove, I’m sure, but that’s just how it is.
A pull of the trigger closes the open guard .
The guts: I am an American shaft, American made, American mech guy. I see people going to extremes trying to make various euro mechs work, and that’s fine and all, it’s just not something I’m in to. I cased out a few of the newer, fancier mechs, but none fit the bill. I have a very specific trigger distance that I prefer. With my design, the hand sits behind the mech (plus there must be a safe amount of wood) and then the finger must reach the full length of the mechanism to the trigger. This is more difficult to accomplish with a reverse mech than with a traditional mech, but luckily an old friend- the Neptonics reverse mech- just barely fit the bill. I have never had a single issue - ever - with various Neptonics mechs (I’ve used every model they make (except for that fat one made for euro shafts)), and they have earned my loyalty. The reverse mechs can hold more bands than I’ll ever need to use, I’ve never experienced any galling when used with American shafts, and they allow me to use my beloved American shafts, but with the ability to jam a euro shaft in if I had to in a pinch. The pull is devastatingly reliable. It breaks like a glass rod with an American shaft in the same place every. Single. Time. In addition, Jerry and crew are right down the street from me in Tampa, so if I ever did have a problem, the solution is readily available. Lastly, this maintains the modularity of all parts so that in the event of broken gear I can keep at least 1 gun shooting on a trip where supplies may not be readily available.
Pinning the first trigger mechanism.
Most builders find padauk’s greatest weakness to be ballasting. The wood is so heavy and dense that by the time handles and grips and mechs and epoxy are added it tends to sink (basically making it useless as a medium for spearguns). For the Twins, this was padauk’s greatest strength. I started by weighing the muzzle, trigger guard, mechanism, and shaft. I then calculated the approximate dimensions and distribution I would need for the specific gravity of padauk to get the necessary buoyancy. I made my cuts based on these calculations and then removed wood one hand plane at a time until it sat exactly how I wanted in the water. Not having to add metal ballast allows the buoyancy of the wood to be distributed very evenly and neutrally. …I think the video speaks for itself.
Regarding the shape of the guns, they track very well around their proximal, larger bellies with very slick muzzles. The Twins are a 2.5” blade at the thickest part of the belly, but quickly taper to 1.5”x1” at the muzzles. They swing like nothing I’ve encountered in the spear world before. It feels like the guns sit on a turn table and pivot on a dime. Surprisingly, the stocks even weigh less than one of my minimalist, ‘square’ 1.25”x1.25” teak euro style guns (with Neptonics handle, epoxy, etc.) that is 5 inches shorter. With so much wood removed to create the blade shape, they actually have less mass than any square gun I’ve owned but with much more functional and imposing dimensions. They have all the advantages of a large-belly but without the additional mass.
Hand shaping the Twins' unique blade design.
Unfortunately (for me), I am a huge believer in hand sanding. It is the last and only real advantage we have over the machines. It is my firmly held belief that no computer will ever be able to shape a unique piece of wood and its unique grain the way that hand sanding can forge a board’s individual curves. I would say 95% of the entire build time (and money?) was spent hand sanding, specifically the curves in the handle and muzzle.
Methodically removing all tool and sanding makes by hand
Both guns were taken down to 3000 grit with no tool or sanding marks. Necessary? Of course not. But, it’s flatter, glassier, tougher, and easier to repair than any epoxy finish you'll ever see. I can see my reflection in the padauk, and it makes me happy.
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.”
The Monobloc Twins:
I took a sunset picture from our place every day for 42 days. Through clear and cloudy skies, here are the 42 unaltered images...
My buddy and I paddled 5 miles offshore to some Gulf reefs for good free diving and a few nice mangs!
All the prototypes have lead up to this; the final result of the OARACLE project. ...but this one gets a special name: Meet CETO. In Greek Mythology, Ceto was the goddess of the dangers of the sea. In the Search, CETO is a 17 foot carbon fiber masterpiece. This unlimited SUP was the result of a collaboration between Starboard and Juan Rodriguez that ended up becoming the prototype for the Starboard Ace GT. The Ace GT is a $5,000 board. This one found its way to the Search for little more than the promise it would be used to its full Search potential. CETO is a board that is built for heavy open ocean wind and waves, and I am happy to have her protection.
So, a little known story about my Search beginnings: Some of my earliest Searches were actually diving for shells with my dad and family in Sanibel. Now in Sanibel, when it comes to Searching for shells, there is one shell that rules them all: the Junonia. The Junonia is an exceedingly rare shell to find on the beach, so rare, in fact, that it has reached almost mythical status. Only a small handful are found on the beaches each year, and it is such a special occasion that the Sanibel newspaper publishes all finds, even if only a small piece of a Junonia is found. My dad and I spent full days and weeks scouring untouched island beaches in my childhood, but never found so much as a broken piece of a Junonia. I've been looking for the elusive shell ever since, knowing full well that many hearty shell Searchers go their entire lives without a find. Still, on special post-storm days like today on the Gulf Coast of Florida, my Searcher instincts kick in. I stop caring for the patterns of swirls and twirls of the tulips and welks, and zone in on that pattern of spots that I've never actually seen on a beach.
I've been hearing from a lot of concerned folks this year: What happened to The Search? Why aren't you surfing off of glaciers and chasing swells anymore? Well, truth is, this has been a tough year. Maybe the hardest of my short life, and it didn't leave much time for world Search travel. But, the real truth is that nothing can keep The Search down. The Search has always been as much about finding the perfect wave as it is finding beauty in your own back yard. We still managed to pull off some pretty cool Search Missions in 2015, and I honestly didn't have the time to share it. So in a few pictures, here is the 2015 Search.
We actually still made it back to the West Coast a few times...
Next Stop: Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, California. Steamer Lane is recognized as one of the few World Surfing Reserves, which is a rare honor given to a small handful of locations around the world based on consistency, wave quality, and surfing heritage.
Ocean City, NJ: Code Orange
Jan. 4, 2014
GOOD to EPIC
William Pearce, M.D.