Donkey Toothpicks

Normal boat builders call these things Spiles. This is distinct from Spiling, or Spiling Batten. That’s why I like Donkey Toothpicks, a name coined by IYRS students a couple of years back that just stuck.

When you take out a screw, you may want repair the old hole so that you can screw into that wood again as if it were solid. You need something that’s made out of the same wood as the piece you’re patching. The thing we use to fill those holes are called Spiles, but for today, they’re Donkey Toothpicks (or DP’s) and today I’ll show you how we make them in bulk.

After taking off the garboard and first broad, we had a lot of holes left over in the frames. Approximately 800 screws came out of there. So, we needed to make a pile of DT’s. The frames are oak, so that’s what we made the DT’s out of.

To make a pile of DT’s, you’ll need a saw and a chunk of oak. I like using the bandsaw. First, determine approximately how long your DT will be, and approximately how wide it’ll be. Mark the length of your DT on the oak.

These are going to be about 1 3/4″ long. This is a totally rough measurement. I just looked at it, and made a mark on 2 sides of the wood.

We want these guys to be about 3/16″ wide at some point, so I make a series of tapered cuts that start a little over 1/4″ wide and taper down to close to a point.

Don’t get caught up in being precise here. These are toothpicks. Do it by eye. Trust your steady hand. Be the toothpick.

Then rotate the wood 90 degrees, and make the same series of cuts.

Now, cut your toothpicks free! I like to cut just below the line so that they stay barely attached to each other, like matches in a book of matches. However, in this shot, I cut a bit high and they all came apart.

No big deal, they just have a higher probability of scattering around, and you have to pick through them a little more carefully for the next step. That scrap of wood behind the DT’s is there to keep them from flying backwards and all over the place. I’ve since refined my technique, and now I hold them together in a bundle as I cut.

Oh, by the way, you can see I’ve made a little zero-clearance base here.

It’s just a scrap of plywood that I cut part way through and didn’t complete the cut. This keeps DT’s from falling down the throat plate of the saw and making a racket.

Once you’ve cut your DT’s, you’ll find that about 1/3 of them have the right shape. What you’re looking for is an elongated pyramid shape: square base and tapering to a long point.

The other 2/3 or so are other shapes, usually with flat sides, looking a bit like 2 flattened interpenetrating gyres. Yeah, whatever. Damned liberal arts education.

So, lots of sawing later, you end up with a pile of these puppies. Round them slightly by cutting the corners with your knife, and fit them into the old screw holes.

We fit them lightly in the holes without glue at first. Afterwards, we pull them out, dip them into epoxy and put them back in permanently with a little tap of the hammer. Since fitting the DT’s involves a little time spent rounding them, it’s best not to do this while your epoxy is sitting in a little cup in front of you slowly curing. It’s best to have everything ready, and then make up your epoxy and fly though the process, picking out a DT, dipping it, re-inserting and setting it, moving on to the next one.

So, remember, if you refer to Spiles as Donkey Toothpicks to any boat builder not educated at IYRS in the past few years, you’ll be met with the same face that Dubya had when he was told about the attacks on the World Trade Center while he was reading about the pet goat to school children.

blink.
blink.
blink.

Blogged with Flock

Madcap adventures

Ok ok, enough suspense.

The first thing that makes the relatively “simple” task of removing the garboard and first broad difficult is  that the screws are old and they’ve become brittle.  They break off or the heads strip out.  I’d say about a third of the screws snapped off as we tried to turn them, no matter how carefully we worked.  There’s a couple of things we did to try to minimize that. 

The first thing we did was try to make sure we had as clear a slot as possible when getting our screwdriver in there.  I used the auger bit of my swiss army knife a lot, but here’s a simpler solution.  Take an old screwdriver and grind a little hook on the blade:

That little hook fits nicely into your slot and will clear out any gunk keeping you from seating your screwdriver solidly in the slot. 

The second thing is to grind the face of your screwdriver flat.  If you look at the tip of your screwdriver, you’ll see that the sides taper down to the flat edge, almost like a wedge. 

If you hollow grind your screwdriver blade just a bit, you’ll get a flatter fit into the slot.  This will minimize the driver’s tendency to strip out the slot as you turn.

If everything goes to hell, the head breaks off, the slot completely strips, whatever, it’s time to break out the Unscrew-Ums


These handy things are simply rolled steel pins (you can pick them up at the hardware store as well as buying them from the inventor) with teeth ground into one end.  You chuck them into your drill and cut down on top of the broken screw.  The teeth are set to cut when the drill is in reverse.  When you do it right, the body of the screw goes up inside the hollow pin and you only cut away the little circle of wood immediately surrounding the screw.  This leaves the screw looking like a little rod stuck into the wood if you don’t go all the way down to the tip of the screw. 

We tried to only drive as deep as the plank and leave the frame alone.  This left the screw shaft sticking out of the frame.  The hope was that when we pulled the plank off of the now headless screw that we’d be able to grab the shaft with locking pliers and turn the screw out that way. 

Another problem with the garboard and broad removal was that the mahogany was Beautiful.  No kidding, over 80 years old, and it’s in pristine shape.  Not a spot of rot.  It was hard, tight grained, and highest quality.  Probably from the Philippines.  It did not go gently into that dark scrap pile.

Next up, the shellac.

What you’re looking at here is a thin layer of brown mahogany stuck to the lighter cedar planking below it with the yellow shellac.  That stuff (again, 80 years old) really holds.  Once we had all the screws out, we ended up breaking out the rabbet planes to gradually shave off the mahogany until we just got down to the cedar.  That took a while.

In many places, we could see the original builder’s pencil lines, marking where to drill the cedar for the screws that would tie the two layers of planks together.

Besides it being cool to see these original marks, it was impressive that they nailed their lines with the holes they drilled.  Dead center on the line, every time. 

So, we chopped, and drilled, and planed, and gradually the first broad came off the boat in little chunks.

Up forward, the shellac was not as big a problem, and the plank came off easily.

Not really sure what the deal was there.

Oh, by the way, take a look at that seam there.  The plank seams on this boat are almost light tight.  They’re just beautiful.  No gaps, wiggles, nothing.  They didn’t use caulking in these boats, so the seams really did have to be perfect.

They tapered the first broad down to a feather edge both fore and aft.  I was surprised to see that they put a fastener so close to the very end.  There wasn’t much wood holding that fastener in.

After the first broad was off, it was relatively easy to remove the garboard.  There were a few fasteners that we hadn’t found the first run through that slowed us down, but Scott and I had it off by noon on Friday. 

All so that we could see this:

Here’s a frame (left side) and floor landing on the keel.  You can see that the frame goes into a socket chiseled out of the keel.  This socket keeps the frame from moving fore and aft, and adds a little more support, but the problem is that it also traps the end of the frame in a small, wet place.  If there’s going to be rot, that’s the first place we look. 

Luckily, the frames were perfect.  No discernible rot at all. 

By the way, the groove at the base of the frame there at the edge of the red bottom paint is the rabbet.  You can also see a rough groove carved in the base of the frame and floor, called a limber hole.  This is designed to allow water in the bilge to run down to the lowest part of the boat where it will be pumped out. 

The problem with these limber holes is that they’re so small that they get easily clogged.

You can sort of see how this one has filled up with impacted dirt.  This renders the limber hole useless.  They really needed to either put larger limber holes in, or have the owners clean them out regularly (fat chance). 

Still, no rot, so the frames will stay.

After a few days of being under the boat, we were ready to clean out our piles of sawdust and wood scraps.  So, we delicately lifted the lady’s skirt, and gave here a thorough cleaning.

This prompted more than a few catcalls and cries of “Slut!” from the peanut gallery.  I swear, some people have no manners.  Poor thing was blushing like a schoolgirl.

And yet, from the right angle, you’d swear she was smiling as well…..

Blogged with Flock

What's wrong with Madcap?

Madcap, in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear before, is really a stunning boat. We’re returning her deck layout to original, but I haven’t really mentioned what else we’re doing to her I think. Well, in order:

  1. Replacing her deck
  2. Removing and replacing her garboards and 1st broads
  3. Refastening the planking

Now that seems simple enough. But, one thing I’m really coming to appreciate is that nothing, absolutely nothing, is simple on a restoration. I know, we all probably hold out this ideal of the perfect restoration where we know ahead of time what’s wrong, we accurately estimate it, and then we just do the job. Like changing batteries in a flashlight. When the inevitable snag hits, we are filled with despair and mutter things like, “Dammit, why does it always happen this way?”

I think it always happens this way. I think I’m coming to the light.

So far, removing the deck has been just about textbook. Things came off well, there was no unexpected rot. There were some instances of iron sickness (places where iron fasteners had rusted and ruined the surrounding wood) that will require replacing deck beams, but all in all, it’s been good. The beams on there now are sufficient to hold her hull shape, so we don’t have to worry about her distorting while she’s in the shop. So, crossed fingers, but this one seems to be ok.

Removing the garboards and 1st broads. These are the 2 planks closest to the keel. We’re removing the garboards because that’s the only way to see the ends of the frames as they are socketed into the keel. If they’re going to rot, the rot will start there.

Now, this particular boat is double planked. Here’s a rough sketch of what that means. You’re looking at a cross-section of the keel and lower planking.

The garboard is solid mahogany with a little rabbet at the top edge. The 1st broad (and all the outer planking) is also mahogany, and it fits into that rabbet. The inner planking is all cedar, and it butts up against the top of the garboard. The planking continues in this way all the way up to the sheer, where the final plank is a full thickness of mahogany.

Continue reading “What's wrong with Madcap?”

What’s wrong with Madcap?

Madcap, in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear before, is really a stunning boat. We’re returning her deck layout to original, but I haven’t really mentioned what else we’re doing to her I think. Well, in order:

  1. Replacing her deck
  2. Removing and replacing her garboards and 1st broads
  3. Refastening the planking

Now that seems simple enough. But, one thing I’m really coming to appreciate is that nothing, absolutely nothing, is simple on a restoration. I know, we all probably hold out this ideal of the perfect restoration where we know ahead of time what’s wrong, we accurately estimate it, and then we just do the job. Like changing batteries in a flashlight. When the inevitable snag hits, we are filled with despair and mutter things like, “Dammit, why does it always happen this way?”

I think it always happens this way. I think I’m coming to the light.

So far, removing the deck has been just about textbook. Things came off well, there was no unexpected rot. There were some instances of iron sickness (places where iron fasteners had rusted and ruined the surrounding wood) that will require replacing deck beams, but all in all, it’s been good. The beams on there now are sufficient to hold her hull shape, so we don’t have to worry about her distorting while she’s in the shop. So, crossed fingers, but this one seems to be ok.

Removing the garboards and 1st broads. These are the 2 planks closest to the keel. We’re removing the garboards because that’s the only way to see the ends of the frames as they are socketed into the keel. If they’re going to rot, the rot will start there.

Now, this particular boat is double planked. Here’s a rough sketch of what that means. You’re looking at a cross-section of the keel and lower planking.

The garboard is solid mahogany with a little rabbet at the top edge. The 1st broad (and all the outer planking) is also mahogany, and it fits into that rabbet. The inner planking is all cedar, and it butts up against the top of the garboard. The planking continues in this way all the way up to the sheer, where the final plank is a full thickness of mahogany.

Continue reading “What’s wrong with Madcap?”