Real work

I’ve had 2 days working with Jim, it’s going great. Here’s the first little project.

What you’re looking at is the mast of a Herreshoff 12 1/2. The light area is a patch we let into the mast to fix a spot where the boom had pulled out of the mast. Turns out that at one point in the past someone has screwed in the boom fitting with 4 small screws angled inwards for strength instead of using long screws. When the boom got really stressed, these screws didn’t just pull out, they now pulled out a chunk of wood since the angling served to essentially pry up a shallow strip of wood. Now why on earth would anyone do that? a) they’re lazy or b) they’re a bonehead or c) both a & b. I opt for c. We routed out a curved groove in the mast and found the remains of the original 4 screws buried deep in the mast. Apparently what happened was that these screws probably broke off as they got old and fatigued a long time back, and the person who tried to replace the boom hit the old screws when driving in the new ones. Rather than extracting the old screws, plugging the holes, and then re-drilling with proper sized screws, they just shot in short screws at an angle. And then it all went to hell and required us to fix it.

Here’s the patch after sanding it smooth. The wood will be lighter than the mast wood, but varnishing should help it blend a little.

I also made tons of spiles (I know, it’s the same word as spiling, but it’s different) which are essentially giant toothpicks to stick into holes. There’s a copper wear plate up near the top of the mast that’s nailed in to protect the mast from the yoke of the upper yard. We had to remove it to check for rot before undertaking the patch… who wants to patch a rotten mast? Only a scurvy dog.

But, if you’re going to be a good boat builder, you anticipate problems and address them now. When we took the copper plate off, we had a ton of nail holes exposed. We could have filled them with epoxy, but that’s not a certain thing, as epoxy often spans the top of the hole without really penetrating. The solution is to fill the holes with spiles (or as we call them at IYRS, donkey toothpicks) soaked in epoxy.

Cut the excess off. Sand everything flush. Coat the exposed end grain of the spiles with epoxy. Sand again. NOW you’ve done it right, and water can’t penetrate into your old nail holes. Furthermore, you’ve now got fresh wood to nail into should you nail the copper plate back on exactly in the old place.
No pictures of the stem project yet, but those will come. I’m heading in tomorrow early, so it’s time to hit the hay.

Lucky guy

Last Sunday a couple came into the shop while I was working. We got to chatting, and after a while the guy says, “we’ve got this time share condo on the water for a whole week, but we can only use it for the weekend. How would you like to have it for the rest of the week? It’s huge, has a pool, a sauna, and a jacuzzi bath!”

I said, “well, ok.”

It was a very nice place, and it was wonderful to have a king sized bed instead of my little rabbit warren.

There’s the Pell bridge beyond the fishing docks. Not a bad little view, eh?
Then on Wednesday, an excellent shipwright returned my call about working for him part time, and he agreed to hire me. I went in today and had a great time. He’s the kind of boss to just hand you a project and trust that you’ll ask for help if you need it. At the same time, he also gave some very good pointers about things I wouldn’t have thought about, so I didn’t screw anything up. I’ll try to work for him a few more days before the holidays as well. I think I’m going to learn a ton there. He’s already got me working on a project that I’m blown away by… scarfing a new segment on stem onto a Herreschoff 12 1/2. This is a job that takes HUGE precision as far as I can tell, and involves a lot of very tricky cuts. Nothing like jumping in with both feet!
Then on Friday we had a yankee swap (gift exchange) and I ended up with 5 lottery tickets. I thought my luck was so good that I’d score huge. I ended up with $2. Ok, it’s not a fortune, but it’s not bad really. Beats a poke in the eye.

The work so far…

More planks! This past week has been quick, slow, quick, slow. Like a dance step. We have our first broads and both our stealers on now. Definition time: the first broad is the first plank next to the garboard, and stealers are 2 planks that go in the place of one. They’re called stealers because early shipwrights were a thieving lot, and they used to snag any bit of wood they could. However, they were also much shorter statured back then, so they couldn’t grab a big long board by themselves, so they had to opt for the shorter ones. Hence the name. Ask me about my great deals on bridges next time you’re in town.

Here’s Kev spiling out his first broad. Mine is clamped into place, and you can see how it stops about halfway down the boat. That’s so we can practice putting in stealers.

Here’s a reason why it’s good to know about how wood moves. If you think your planks will swell when they get wet and seal up any tiny little places where you didn’t get a perfect joint between planks, you’re generally right. HOWEVER, if you know your wood mechanics, you recall that wood swells mostly across the grain. Take the board shown here on the left:

This board is quartersawn. You know that because the rings go almost straight up and down. When this board swells, it will tend to swell along the line of the grain, in other words, this board will get Taller, not Wider. If the grain has been running side to side (called flatsawn), the board would swell into the board next to it, and it wouldn’t get much taller at all. Why is this important? Because if you can’t count on a board to swell into its neighbor, you have to make it fit tight tight tight.

We do that with a light light light. You can see the light under the boat here, and in the center of the joint, you can see a little crack of light between the boards. It looks big because of how the camera deals with light, but it’s about a paper’s width.

Here’s a close up.

Gotta fix that puppy.
And I did. Took a long time though. I got cocky after the second garboard went on so quickly. This put me in my place again.

Did I mention about caulking bevels before? If I didn’t, you can clearly see how one looks in profile in the photo of the quartersawn plank.

One of the things you want to do before putting on your caulking bevel is to make the edge of your plank perfectly square to the plank’s face. This is hard at first, because you’re smoothing and fairing the plank with your hand plane. Keeping it dead square to the face takes some practice. So, you check for square often, all along the length of the board. There ya go, pretty square.

When it’s out of square, you have to remove some of the wood from the high side to flatten things up. Again, you’re dealing in shaving widths here, so you use tricks to guide you. The easiest one is to look at the shavings as they come out of the mouth of your plane:

Ignore, if you will, the fact that the plane is not facing straight down the board. It’s called a skew cut and it’s not relevant to this particular bit of minutia. In this case, I’ve angled the plane just a bit up and to the right (hold your right hand straight out in front of you and parallel to the ground, now tilt it to the right a hair by lifting the thumb side… that’s what I’m talking about), and you’ll see that the plane is only taking a shaving on the right side of the mouth. That means I’m cutting one side of the board more than the other. The previous cut had made the board edge slope down to the left, and this begins to fix that. With practice, you hardly need to do this… you can feel one degree of bevel off of square.
Ok, I’ve now got the first stealer cut, fitted, and ready to screw down. These planks don’t need to be steamed because they hardly have any bend to them. They’re the easiest planks on the boat, so they go fast.

Ah, but not so fast me hearty! The first stealer’s easy, but the second stealer requires you to make the outer edge (the “non-marrying” edge) continue a perfectly fair line with the 1st broad. So, when you put your 2nd broad in, there won’t be a little flat spot, or dip, or hump where the first broad transitions into the 2nd stealer. Seems easy, but it requires you to be vewy vewy careful. Kev made a mistake with his second stealer: he spiled it all properly and then planed down to his spiling marks, but then when he went to fit the plank, every shaving he took off of the marrying edge to make it fit just right meant that the non-marrying edge moved that much closer to the center of the boat. The result was that even though he had a perfectly well shaped plank, it ended up being about a 64th of an inch inside of the fair line that continued from the back of the 1st broad. In other words, it made it impossible to fit the 2nd broad tightly, so he had to re-do the 2nd stealer.
Oy vey. I need movies. Too many words.

Here, rest your brain with this picture of a cute puppy.

That’s Loki, and he’s a good boy.

Now we get to talk about butt blocks. When you’ve got planks that butt up to each other, you need a way to stabilize and waterproof that joint. Here’s the situation in a picture. This is the right end of the 1st broad and the left ends of the 2 stealers meeting up together in a butt joint.

You can see that the planks are screwed into the frames, but if there wasn’t a butt block in between the frames, the ends of the planks could flex, and as we all know by now: Flexing Is Bad and Lets the Bad Water Into the Good Boat.
So, we put a butt block in between the frames and under the planks. We screw the planks down tight to the block, and coat the inside with bedding compound. And as always, we put in a caulking bevel so we can caulk this joint later.
Lastly, let’s look at another way to spile.
Instead of using a compass, you can use a spiling block. This is simply a rectangular block of wood with a little handle on top. You place the block on your spiling batten, take one corner of the block and have it touch the plank you want to have your next plank form to. Then you draw the outline of your block on your spiling batten with a little arrow indicating which direction the block was touching a plank on. Despiling is easy, just put the block onto your little outlines, and draw a dot where the corner of the block is. Here’s a photo:

The block is sitting on the spiling batten here, and the batten is sitting on a board that will be cut into a plank. You can see little circled dots on the board? If you look at the outlines in pencil on the batten, you can see how the dots are where the lines from the outlines would meet (i.e., at the corner of the block). Once again, connect the dots, and you’ve got a plank outline.

Whew. That’s a lot about boats. Next one will be about other news.

One step back, two steps forward!

The garboards got steamed up last week and Kevin’s went on without a hitch. He’s got a good eye for this stuff. I spent about 5 hours fitting and futzing to get mine to fit just right, and when I came back to it the next day it’d dried out and shifted about an inch to the left. I was all set to force it into submission, a technique called “edge setting” when we realized that my plank was about 1 1/2″ less wide than Kev’s. Ok, that’s a major problem, it totally blows the symmetry of the boat. And it looks bad too.

Here you can see both our garboards (remember? that’s the name for the first plank next to the keel. If you remembered that, gold star!) clamped down. Notice that mine (the one on the left) has a green clamp on the bottom left pushing up against a block of wood? That little clamp is exerting trememdous pressure against the plank to force it up to the keel. Kev’s just lies along the keel sweetly like it should. You can also see that Kev’s looks a little fatter near the middle of the boat… that’s the width difference.

The solution? Chuck it and start again. Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit.

Continue reading “One step back, two steps forward!”