Woah… busy week!

The problem with letting a thing like this go for a week is that I look back and feel slightly overwhelmed.  Our lives just putter along at normal pace, and it’s only when you try to sum them up over a chunk of time that you realize that a lot of life has just happened.  So, since it’s been a busy week, let’s get to it with a minimum of coffee shop reflecting on the nature of things.

Ok, the nature of things is that permanence is an illusion. Done.

When there’s a pause in the action, I usually start casting about for something to do.  Once I was done fairing the planks, I thought that I should get to caulking them.  Let’s pause for just a moment to admire the work that was done before.

Notice how tight and perfectly even those seams are (forgetting for a moment the cracking in the seam compound).  The bungs are 3/8″ across to give you an idea of scale.  Work like that is one of the reasons that I want to do as good a job on this boat as possible.

I came along the top of the keel rabbet with a reefing hook to get some of the old caulking out before putting the new stuff in. 

This is the first time this cotton has seen daylight since 1924.  I cleared out the seam just a little forward of where my planks stopped.  However, after doing this, I thought, we usually caulk after everything is sanded and faired.  Caulking is really one of the last things to happen before painting the hull. 

Ok, stop doing that.

Let’s replace an old patch.

Some time in Madcap’s history, she banged into a few things below the waterline.  A few things above as well, but that’s another story.  Here, someone came along and cut out most of the damaged area in the deadwood, planed it kind of flat, and put in a rectangular patch.  They didn’t bed behind the patch, so it started to rot back there.

I cut a little deeper in to get rid of all the rotted and damaged wood, and replaced the patch.  I could have bedded it, but we decided to just seal it completely with epoxy and 403 adhesive filler. 

A little fairing and that’s done.

Working under the boat, it helps to have a little workbench setup to do your planing and fitting. 

A sawhorse and a few clamps work just fine. 

Aft of that was another large area that had been patched, so I took the old patch off as well to check the condition behind it.  You’re looking at the port side of the deadwood, just forward of the rudder. 

Might as well do all this stuff now while it’s easily accessible.  Took off the patch, luckily no rot, sealed it all up with epoxy as before. 

Tick that one off the list.

And while we’re under the boat, might as well fair those patches I put in the planks with the nifty router jig ages ago.


Up on top, the deck framing is finally done.

As part of the refastening process, we’re replacing all the keel bolts.  These massive bolts go from the top of the keel to the bottom of the ballast.  They serve the noble function of keeping the ballast and deadwood from falling off as you’re sailing along. 

The process is simple, undo the nut at the top of the bolt, hammer it down until it almost hits the floor, cut it off with a sawzall as it exits the keel, hammer down another foot, repeat.  If the boat was suspended over a giant pit, we could just hammer the bolts right out, but since we’re only about a foot off the floor, we have to do it this way.

It sounds easy, but it’s not.  Some bolts have corroded at the keel / ballast juncture where water crept along the seams.  When you try to pound those bolts out, they can split. When that happens, the pounded section of bolt can slide down alongside the other segment of bolt and jam in tight. It also starts to cream the deadwood.   This means that you have to reverse direction, and attempt to pull the bolt up using a slide hammer.

In case you haven’t seen one, here’s an image of one I found on line.

Ours has a pair of vise grips welded to the tip in place of the screw.  The basic idea is that you attach the screw (or vise grip) to whatever you want to yank.  Then, you quickly slide that heavy red weight up away from the screw, and, wham, it slams into a stop right before it gets to the grip.  The effect is just like a hammer blow in reverse: it pulls suddenly instead of pushes suddenly. 

Sometime we have to drill out chunks of old crapped out keel bolt.

Scott is drilling down into the keel bolt hole with this beast.

It’s a heavy duty 1/2″ drill.  I’ve always heard it referred to as a Hole Hog.  It has the torque of a freight train.

Eventually, all bolts succumb to our relentless pounding, pulling, and drilling.

And out they come below the boat.

We don’t always know if a given bolt is in good shape or not without removing it. And since we’re refastening the boat, we need to replace them all in order to say that in fact, we’ve refastened the boat. It’s tough when you remove a huge long bolt and it was in perfect shape, but then the one next to it might be almost completely gone. No way to tell. Oh well.

We needed to replace the keel bolts that terminated behind the rudder as well as those that came out of the bottom of the boat, so that meant we had to remove the rudder.

This will give you an idea of the number and location of the various keel bolts in the boat.

To get to the bolts behind the rudder, we had to lift the boat higher than it was.  The rudder post extends up through a tube into the boat from the top of the rudder.  The only way to get it out is to lower the rudder down enough to slide the post out of the tube. 

So, up goes the boat. 

We used the forklift as a safety backup more than anything else here.

We attached 2 chain falls to the forklift prongs, and then attached those to lifting eyes in the boat.

The boat leaned against the forklift just a little (you can see a cedar board between the boat and forklift mast in the first photo) to steady it, and the forklift just kept tension on the boat as we went up.  The real lifting happened using bottle jacks under the keel.

We’d jack up a little, insert wedges and blocks beneath the ballast, and jack up a little more.  Meanwhile, we’d also have people raising the poppets as the boat went up.

Poppets are those supports around the edges.  They mainly keep the boat from falling over.  They screw up and down.  This photo is from before we started lifting.  We’ve removed the staging from around the boat so you finally get a clear view of the whole boat.  You can see that the rudder is still attached.

Once we got the boat high enough to remove the rudder, we leveled the boat fore and aft as well as side to side.  This is called “setting her on her marks.”  We did that because some of the things we’ll be doing in the future are much easier if you can use a level to tell if you’re really making a part truly vertical or horizontal. 

Here’s where the bolts come through from the keel to the rudder post.

I spent a day making up new bolts from bronze rod stock.

New bolt on left, old bolt on right. We have a nice metal lathe with an auto feed, so I can make threaded rod.  Sweet. 

And that finished off the keel bolts. 


Next up, make the covering boards.  Covering boards sit on top of the sheer (they cover it… ahhh) and form the outer edge of the deck.  Sometimes they’re finished bright (i.e., varnished instead of painted) and that’s what we’re going to do.  We’re using mahogany for these fellows. 

They sit along this edge here.

We need to inset the covering boards 1/8″ into the outer length of the deck beams.  I could explain why we do this, but it’s getting late.  Sorry. Suffice it to say that doing this helps to stiffen the boat.  So, the next task s became working out the shape of the covering board, marking this shape onto the deck beams and knees, and then planing that area down to a smooth even slope so that the covering board will sweetly intersect with the outer edge of the sheer.

Hmmm, seems like a lot of work. 

We decided to break this task up into 2 parts: derive the shape of the covering board, and then use a router on a jig to cut down the 1/8″ distance. This saves us from having to do a lot of planing by hand, it makes the task go more quickly, and it gives us a very accurate and fair curve along the entire length of the boat. What’s not to love??

The covering board isn’t a constant width you see.  It tapers fore and aft.  It’s about 2 3/4″ wide at the ends, and 4″ in the middle.  That gives it a nice, sexy sweep.  We used a long, flexible strip of decking as a batten, and laid out a fair curve fore and aft.


When we were happy with the curve, we tacked it to the beams with finish nails so that it wouldn’t move.  This not only gave us the curve of the covering board, it also formed a fence that we used to rout out the deck beams, blocking and knees where the covering board would go. 

Next, we set up another rail on top  of the sheer. 

Now the router had 2 rails to ride on.  We made up a long router base with a wooden guide that was exactly the width of the router bit, and set the router to take a 1/8″ cut. 

And off we went.

As it went, it made a perfectly smooth, even, ramp from the edge of the deck beam where the batten lay to the edge of the sheer.  This gives the covering board a flat surface to sit on.


You can see how there’s a nice little groove cut into the breast hook, stretching back… that’s the groove that we routed out for the covering board. 

Mike spiled out the shape of the covering boards, and started cutting them out the other day.  Next, we fit the forward ends to meet in a nice mitered joint at the bow.  Here’s the starboard board in place. You can see the port board on top of the boat.

The distance is too far to use a single covering board for the whole boat; we’re using 3 to complete the length.  We join them with a nibbed scarf.  Here’s the end of that first board showing one end of the scarf.

Now comes the tricky part. 

The next board has to join up exactly to this board, so that you can hardly see the seam.  However, that board also has a chain plate that comes through it.  You’ll see what I mean in a second.

To lay all this out, I used a length of thin plywood to determine the shape and size of the cutout for the chain plate, and then marked and cut out the mating scarf on it as well.  This served as a template for making the cuts in the actual plank. 

Shawn used Mike’s spiling from the other day and cut out the plank already.  It’s my job to make all the cuts on the end of it to fit it to the first plank.  There’s the template on the end of the plank.  You can see the nibbed scarf shape as well as the slot for the chain plate.  I used this template to make all these cuts.

What we’re shooting for with the chain plate slot is a snug fit against the chain plate at the base of the covering board, and opened up a little at the top.  This allows us to pack in 5200 (flexible adhesive) and make a watertight seal where the chain plate comes through the covering board.

Oh, did I mention that chain plate doesn’t come through the plank straight up and down?  It comes through at this angle.  So, the 3/16″ slot that you cut has to be cut at exactly that angle.

I first cut the slot with a jig saw, using the tilting base to give me the angle of cut that I needed. But, jigsaw blades can wander a bit, and I wanted a cleaner, more accurate edge than the jig saw gave.  So, after roughing out the slot with the saw, I hot glued a little wedge to the base of a laminate trimmer to angle the bit just right right, and voila! Now I have a tool that will cut a slot at just the angle I need, and with the level of finesse that I want. Ooh la.

After I routed it, I cleaned it up, and opened the slot at the top a little more with one of the nice chisels that Jan and my friends bought for me at the beginning of this whole adventure.

Here’s what all this work was for.

The chain plate comes up through the covering board, and the fit is good and snug.

You can see where I’ve beveled out the top edge of the slot a bit for when we put in the 5200.  I need to touch it up a little more, but this is the initial fit. 

You can also see that I needed to tune up the way that the covering board fits here as well.  There should be no gap between the covering board and the sheer.

It turned out that I needed to plane down the oak knee inboard of the chain plate a little.  We couldn’t rout this area when we cut the rest of the edge with the router jig because the chain plate was in the way.  This area was done by hand. 

After I got the covering board sitting snugly on the sheer, I re-checked my layout, and cut the scarf.  This is the nerve-wracking part.  Everyone sees this joint, and so you want it to be dead-nuts furniture perfect. 

The initial fit is good.  You can see my scribe lines that I’ll plane down to tomorrow.  I cut to about 1/16″ from the line to give myself a little room for error.  As you plane the long, flat section, the ends will press into each other and make a tight seam.  That’s the idea at least! 

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a beautiful new tool that my buddy Lyons made for me.

This is a chisel plane that he made out of spalted maple.  A chisel plane is useful for planing right up into a corner, and it’s the perfect tool for cleaning up the inner corners of this scarf.  Not only that, but it feels excellent in the hand. 

I’m a lucky lucky guy.  Oh, have I mentioned this before? 

Well, it’s true, so there. 

Neeener neeener.

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Clever ducks and sore pecs

There’s a few folks around the shop who just love to come up with simpler, faster ways of doing things.   Usually this means coming up with jigs and other fixtures for holding oddly shaped parts while you’re working on them.   A lot of times when you see a good jig, you say, “Oh, of course, that’s the obvious way to do it.”  Take varnishing spars for instance.  Last year we just hung the spars in an almost haphazard way upstairs while we worked on them.

Moving around in there required ducking and dodging.  We were forever brushing against someone’s wet varnish and leaving marks.  The first year students this year came up with a much better strategy.  They started by setting up a couple of benches dedicated to varnishing spars.

The lights at the end of the spars give you a way to check the quality of your work as you go.   Continue reading “Clever ducks and sore pecs”

Thick bug poop

When you double plank a boat, you put something in between the layers of planking to seal the two together.  The traditional method is to use a heavy cut of shellac.  Some builders use canvas soaked in varnish, some have used 5200 sealant.  

Side note and ADD distraction:  If you seal your double planking with 5200, don’t get it NEAR paint that hasn’t completely dried.  Something about the paint fumes keeps it from curing, so it stays gooey and sticky.  Warren has told us about a number of times he’s been witness to this happening.  In once case, just having the ceiling planks painted a day before putting some 5200 in between the hull planking was enough to keep the tenacious goo oozing out for weeks afterwards.  White 5200 got all over the owner’s wife’s antique black dress when they went out to sail.  Word to the wise folks.

At IYRS we’re using shellac to seal in between our inner and outer planking layers.  In case you don’t know, shellac is basically bug poop dissolved in alcohol.  Ok, maybe not exactly bug poop, but here’s Wooden Boat’s Harry Bryan attempting to describe it:

It is secreted by the lac beetle as it feeds upon a species of acacia tree in India and Southeast Asia.  Tree branches covered with this secretion are soaked in alcohol, and the resulting solution is dried.  This produces thin sheets of shellac that are then broken up into flakes. 

Yeah, bug poop.  But enough on that.  You can find out a lot more about the marine uses of shellac in a couple of excellent Wooden Boat articles (#200 Jan/Feb 2008 & #76 May/June ’87). Continue reading “Thick bug poop”

Standing on the diving board

Sometimes a workday is just climbing up the high dive ladder getting ready for jumping.  Today was prepping for whipping out the first broad, and then tying up loose ends and finding other things to do in the meantime.

Warren had the excellent idea of steaming the boards for the broad ahead of time so that they’d expand before I cut them out.

Clever fellow.

I resawed one thick board to get the 2 half-inch thick boards I’d need, and stuffed them into the steam box.

While they were steaming, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to bung and paint the garboard to seal the outside face.  DUH.  I could simply use sealer.  And it dries quickly, so I could fasten the butt block on the garboard.

An hour later the boards came out of the steam box.  The steaming increased the board’s width from 10 1/8″ to 10 7/16″.   Continue reading “Standing on the diving board”

Oy! Always with the problems it seems!

It does seem that this little blog likes to wander off into “what went wrong this week” territory a lot.  It occurred to me tonight that it might seem like life at school is just an unending series of screw ups and saves.  The saves are particularly important because they show just how clever I am.  Yessss.  Actually, if I’m being really honest, they’ll show just how clever the whole group is.

The fact of the matter is, I think it would be boring to just have a journal of how everything is going swimmingly.  It would read like a car repair manual.  The really interesting stuff is the ways that things don’t go how they’re supposed to.  That’s what normal folks (and even abnormal boat builders) run into every day, and I love to see how people work around these maddening roadblocks that just rise up in the way of what should be normal progress.  My guess is that folks get into this business as much for the opportunities to test their problem solving chops as for the love of boats.

So, wanna hear about the Plank That Would Not Settle Down?  Sure you do.

Ok, pop quiz time.
You put a plank on the boat that has the inside face varnished.  Every night you cover the boat with a plastic tarp and put water underneath it to keep it humid.  You would expect the plank to:

a) do nothing, it’s fastened to the boat
b) warp, curling in towards the boat
c) warp, curling out away from the boat.
d) shatter into a thousand pieces with no piece larger than 2″ long.
e) serve as a mocking reminder to seal both sides of the plank.

Here’s the answer: Continue reading “Oy! Always with the problems it seems!”