The mats arrived (mostly) undamaged, the sprung floor is completely done, and I’ve got some great advice for those of you considering building home mats now. The work left to be done is to cut the mats down to size, tape them, clean everything, and enjoy.
There are a few great lessons I’ve picked up from this project though, and I think it’s worth sharing them with any of you who are considering building a floor-system and mat at home for grappling. My next post is going to be a step-by-step instructional where I’ll lay out what I feel to be the best way to build a mat based on my experiences. For now, my lessons and complaints:
The first big lesson was foam height. I stuck with the 3″x3″x4″ blocks that the Denver Judo document lays out. The problem is that they also describe 3″ cubes. For my design the 3″ cubes would have been better. An extra inch lower would have helped with the ceiling height and helped keep the mats in better since the 2″ thick mats are being held in by about 0.5″ of wood right now. There’s also the suggestion on the site that 3″x3″x2″ blocks work just as well. Don’t let the suggestions confuse you, use the appropriate height for your project, but if you’re framing in your sprung floor with 2×6’s the 3″ blocks should leave you 1.625″ of board to hold in your mats (too much for 1.5″ tatami, enough to have some overspill still with a 2″ mat).
The second major lesson was foam layout. Instead of using the pattern provided by Denver Judo I did a much simpler layout. My layout is one foam block per square foot via a simple grid pattern (the first blocks are centered 6″ in from the edges and then every foot is the center of another block). Use the Denver Judo pattern. It’s a lot more work, but right now the edges of my floor dip a bit. It’s not a big deal for me – I shouldn’t be in the last 6 inches of my mat space or I’m going to hit my head on wood and concrete anyway, but it feels weird every time I step on the mat and it’s super noticeable on the corners. Use the 27 block per OSB sheet pattern. My 32 blocks per OSB sheet pattern, simple as it was, is too stiff.
Using the right tools
The third lesson is that circular saws that run on batteries are worthless. With 5 hours of charging an 18V battery I got 8 linear feet out of the saw before it needed to charge for another 5 hours. When my sister brought over her Ryobi circular saw that plugged into the wall everything went super fast. If you have access to a table saw and a chop saw you can do this whole project in 6-8 hours with 1-3 helpers no problem. A circular saw works, but make sure you have one running off an outlet.
The fourth lesson is one you’ve probably seen put up here and retracted a few times – my trouble with Dollamur’s customer service. I’ve complained and then retracted it because I’ve wanted to give the company the benefit of the doubt and a bit of the blame rests on me. I stand by what I’ve said so far though – ordering mats shouldn’t be that hard, go through the Swain website if you need Dollamur Flexi-roll mats (5’x10′ or 6’x12′) so you don’t have to call for help. In the end the mats showed up in a reasonable time frame, but they sent me the tatami textured tape instead of the smooth (despite my invoice and all the calls) so I get to call them yet again to try to fix this. I can’t well use tatami tape with my smooth mat, it defeats the purpose of getting a mat without the tatami texture. I would recommend the Flexi-roll mat from Dollamur as a product, just not Dollamur as a company due to all of the confusion.
I haven’t tried Zebra for personal use, but if anyone has had better luck with them, input would be appreciated. As far as other mat options (puzzle mats, tatami mats, wrestling mats), I’d recommend you investigate each and make your own informed decision.
The mats will also get minor damage from shipping that you have to expect and accept. My mats arrived with a few flaws that seemed major at first, but since Dollamur charges you for return shipping if the mat isn’t bad enough to be unusable I had to default to the side of accepting the flaws. It’d be interesting to find out if Zebra uses a better shipping company or accepts return shipping for minor flaws. My dents/cuts can all be covered by the vinyl tape (once I get the right kind) and I have left over ethafoam from the floor that I can cut to fill in the gaps as necessary. It’s a pain, but really, given how Dollamur phrases the policy on refusing shipment, there’s little choice but to patch up the mat myself.