Saturday, January 14, 2017

Class act

And on it goes. Steam bend the outer chines and all the gunwales. Screw on the outer chines.

Disconnect the now useless strongback from the floor, flip the hull right-side up.

And now for the truly critical moment--determining the sheer line, defining exactly where the gunwales go to look and function best. To try to seek out what the eloquent nautical writer Peter Spectre called, "the heart-stopping elegance of the perfect sheer."
    As it turns out we have a lot of options here. We can go with the height of Andy Hutchinson's hand-me-down pattern which has always worked well. We can use the pattern Roger Fletcher gave me, traced from Jerry Briggs's original template. Or we could go with what our lofting, pulled from an original Briggs boat, says is correct.
     Or we could hybridize the three.  That's what we did. We went with the two-out-of-three consensus approach for the central third of the boat. Then we let the gunwales wrap onto the boat in whatever way they felt best. "Listen to the wood," as Roger and I learned to do back in 2001 building a recalcitrant replica of Buzz Holmstrom's boat.

The gunwales thought about it for a bit and chose something close to the original Briggs pattern. So after staring at that for a bit we shrugged, drew it, cut identical panels for both sides, recorded the pattern so we can build the next boat free-form, and bolted on the gunwales.

And there it is. Another in a long series of attempts to re-create the perfect Briggs boat.

Meanwhile I am actualizing a concept I have been cooking up for a couple years--a collapsable yet stable sawhorse--something that doesn't take up so damned much room. I think I got it. A bit heavy, but hell for stable.

BJ brought back the Thunder River, all dried out, and we slammed on the bottom glass--24oz biaxial glass with mat, and a 6oz cover layer, all at once. Boom.

And he's outta here.

And this morning our eight-day Briggs boat course began. Eight southwestern men who should know better actually showed up and we were off to the races. We took the numbers we generated for the strongbacked Briggs last week and re-lofted them this morning. As always we found a few errors and made a couple small adjustments. The lofting looks really sweet.

Then we made about a hundred dollar's worth of Port Orford sawdust, which our friend Heather will take away and distill into essential oils.

What remains is some beautiful Port Orford cedar planking, which we further cut down into ribs.

And cut on into the tapered, beveled side ribs.

Meanwhile on the other side of the shop we planed and ground 8:1 tapers into five sheets of 1/4" plywood for the side-panels. By six-o'clock we had one side panel glued up into a 20' sheet, finished a round of beers, and called it a day. 
     A hell of a day at that. Really: introductions, orientation, full lofting, cut all ten sets of ribs, scarfed all side-panels and glued one up. And still had time for a one-hour pizza break, and time for me to confuse the hell out of everyone as I tried to explain (incorrectly at first) how to draw the transom and bow post and determine the proper rolling bevel angles. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Meticulously building a strongback for one minute's use.

Roy and Shane spent much of the day truing up the strongback, getting each and every frame (and the transom and stem) plumb, square, level, centered and true. When they would get it right I would come by and find fault for a while until we finally got her as ready as we could get her.

The whole reason for this being that we have at least three different concepts of what a "real" Briggs side-panel looks like. I want to come up with one that I believe in. So we have lofted up this boat off accurate lines we took off Briggs hull #33--one built in 1981 near the end of Briggs's run of 36. We figure Briggs had it down to a science by then. Or not. They are all a little different, some a lot different. Is there one true Briggs? Not really. Of course I went ahead and threw in a wee tweak of my own--adding a teeny 3/8" rocker to what is normally a perfectly flat center section of a Briggs. So this boat isn't really a Briggs either.

Anyhow, We laid out the various patterns for side-panels on our 20' sheet of 1/4" plywood and cut out a blank a bit bigger than any of them. This we clamped onto the strongback.  After several painstaking days of building and truing the strongback, we marked 24 points on the side-panel blank: the chine and sheer points of all ten frames, the stem, and the transom. That took maybe a minute to mark. A minute--and now we are done with the strongback.  

Taking the blank over to the table we battened out the points and cut two finished sides with the frame intersections marked. It is now a free-form boat build. The strong back is no longer necessary, because with properly marked side-panels, there is only one shape the boat can assume. And the strong back, no matter how meticulous we were, will have variations between the two sides. At this point our two identical side-panels are more trustworthy.

And on go the sides. 

Meanwhile, the small figure in the back room is our friend Kate, a local boat gal who just graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in printmaking. She has a crazy plan--to build a McKenzie drift boat, but before assembling it, make each sixteen-foot side-panel into a giant woodcut and make prints from them. So the side-panels are 3/8" thick in order to give her an extra 1/8" to carve away and still have structurally sound 1/4" sides. In this shot she is building her frames off the lofting.

 Kate scarfing her side-panels.

Gluing them up, cutting them out.

 Drawing on her frame lines for assembly.

And roaring off to New Mexico with two sixteen-foot panels strapped to her car. She'll be back later to finish making other parts--meanwhile the wood-carving begins.


Where was I? Right. Building the perfect Briggs again. The sides are on. And it looks fabulous. They usually do. For this one we meticulously computed the angles of the transom, stem, and frames where  they meet the side-panel. Turns out the angles at the top and bottom often vary by up to seven degrees, due to the fact that the chine curve and sheer curve are converging at different rates and angles. Standard practice is to split the difference--if it is 20 degrees at the sheer and 14 degrees at the chine, cut the rib at 17 degrees--which more-or-less works on the ribs but can cause a bulge or a pinch--or both--at the transom and stem. This time we actually cut twisting bevels--or "rolling bevels" as they are called--in not only the stem and transom, as we did for the last few boats, but every frame as well. Turns out it's a lot easier than we thought, and Janek was making short work of it. Did it matter? Kinda. The joints look truer, and the curves look sweeter. But I am biased.

It is hard to capture the essence of a rolling bevel in a photo, but you can sort of see it here, as the panel of plywood twists onto the stem.

Well, it looks just fine. So now we are steam-bending chines and gunwales, and clamping them to the hull to cool into the proper curves.

Once we have jammed the inner chine strips in, we mark the bottom, compute the screw placement, and spend a while cutting and drilling.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another fine year

It is late afternoon on the last day of a big year at Fretwater Boatworks. We completed a couple Briggs boats, two sweet lapstrake boats, lots of repairs and upgrades, and still took the entire summer off for seven Grand Canyon trips, a couple runs down the Rogue, and a few weeks teaching and learning in Maine. We are well on the way toward another Briggs hull as the big pine cone prepares to drop downtown.

Earlier today fretwaterlines received its 200,000th view. So exciting. With all the hubbub in the news about those evil Russian hackers, I am fascinated to see they are real. Check out who visits my site: The number 2 and number 3 most hits come from Russia and the Ukraine. Last month a full eighth of the hits were from Russia. Dirty hacking commies. But at least Janek and I know who to blame now when things go poorly in the shop.

BJ brought the Thunder River by to attend to a few insults below the waterline. Five trips and the bottom still looks great.  But he is electing to commence his slide down the slippery slope of fiberglassing. It's a mixed blessing--less damage from routine wear and tear, and no chine seepage--but increased risk of rot issues and other pernicious developments. 

The recent snows collapsed BJ's tarp while he was frolicking up north, so Thunder River, now ground to raw wood, is going off to the drying shed for a few weeks before we throw on the glass.

Meanwhile we are pressing ahead with a new Briggs hull. Janek is tapping in the wedges to squeeze a scarf joint for the floor.

And we are doing enough of a design refinement on this boat that we have decided to build it on a strongback in order to make sure the lines are just right. First step is painting over eight years worth of gradoo on the floor so we can see all our lines.

Next we draw the center line and all the station lines so we can plumb any part of each set of ribs.

And up we go, with vertical risers at each station. We can pull precise heights off the lofting and end up with an upside-down boat, free-floating in space, virtually perfect off our drawings.

And if it is not perfect, I'm pretty sure the rat-bastard Russian hackers are to blame.

Happy New Year to you all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Here we go again

Sitting in my coffee chair, watching the shop warm up on a cool wintry morning. Plotting possible courses for the day to unfold. But that's never how they unfold. Chaos is my leader.

 Let's see. With Omo essentially rebuilt it's time to put the bottom back in shape.

And repaint her hull. Paint dries a lot quicker up by the ceiling where the warm air hangs out.

What boat wreck?

A couple shots from our sailing adventure last week.

On to the next project. For the last thirty-five years since Jerry Briggs built his last Grand Canyon dory, many of us have been trying to nail down the exact lines. We have missed badly a few times, gotten really close on other attempts. But never totally nailed it. And as it turns out, it is un-nailable. There is more subtle variation in the fleet of thirty-six than we thought. Early ones have taller bow posts. The intricacies of assembling, even on Jerry's old jig, gave latitude for individuality in the shape. So which one is the real Briggs boat? All of them are.

This week we re-lofted the lines we took of Andy Hutchinson's Cottonwood, Briggs hull #33, built toward the end of the era back in 1981. We were as faithful and precise as we could be except one wee tweak. I added a 3/8" curve to the normally flat center of bottom.  Greg Loehr, my surfboard guru, insist that the water will be far happier about this. I think he's right. Perfectly flat surfaces upset the flow. And besides, it just looks right on the lofting. Hell, I don't know. But That's how this one is being built.

Another difference--this time, instead of relying on a handed down side-panel pattern (which differs markedly from a side-panel pattern Roger Fletcher gave me of Briggs's old template) we are going to build the boat on a strong back and see what the side panel shape really wants to be. And record that for the next boat.

So will this be the ultimate? Nope. Another attempt, and undoubtedly another sweet Briggs boat. But in the end, simply another unique member of the family.

With the lofting done, it's time to start the boat. We begin by milling up some precious Port Orford cedar. Janek is taking that mainline nose hit as the sweet scent explodes out of the shavings. Memories of old dory hatches, days of my misspent youth, southern Oregon, Buzz Holmstrom, building boats. Electrifying.

Then we chop the cedar into bits, building all the frames. We went ahead and lofted out the actual angles that the rib edges should be cut to in order to meet the side panel properly. From stem to stern we found many of them change markedly from top to bottom, creating a rolling bevel. We sorted this out last year for the bow post and transom with great results, but this time we are cutting rolling bevels on the ribs as well. Probably wont make a difference, but hell, why not? Never been done.

With classes looming next month, it is time to begin stocking up on supplies. I dropped a couple thousand bucks in Phoenix getting foundry supplies. Look at all that gold bullion!

And a couple thousand more in plywood, shipped in from the coast. It doesn't look that exciting, but that stack will build several beautiful boats.

Time for another cup of coffee and a little more staring out the window. What will today bring?