Monday, February 28, 2011

Last day of the rib show

Well, tomorrow I gots to cover up that cool architecture, dad gum it. It sure has been fun to stare at. Today I finished milling out a pile of 3/8" cedar planking for the decks and oiled it up. Seems kinda skinny, but that's what the Kolbs had.

I also spent quite a while reconciling the deck arches to each other and the sheer, raising a few boards by an eighth or a quarter, belt-sanding a few others down in places, to where they all seem to be in the same plane. "Seem" is the key word here, as there is really no way to make them actually agree totally, since every one is a different radius. I'll be really interested to see what the decks look like once they are on.

While the juice was soaking into the deck lumber, I cut down the cockpit gunwale and cut the curved oak gunwale cap. It will be a showy piece in the final boat and it looked so good when I oiled it and screwed it on that it gave me shivers. Whee! So I did the other one. And the seat rails. And the seat.

It is a mighty big cockpit. Seems to have been the style back then, as the Powell boats before Galloway and the Nevills boats after them all had the same huge bathtubs that had the dual disadvantage of being an awkward space to store anything, but a huge invitation to swamping and bailing. Having run both a Powell boat and a Nevills, I can vouch for this.

The Kolbs, in their journals, describe their excitement when they got to Green River, Utah, because they received some waterproof boxes. These they could secure into the cockpit, so they no longer had to bury their cameras in the hatches. I am taking this tidbit of information as a license to build a couple nice water-resistant wooden side-boxes to put in the cockpit for the very same reason—convenience—but also to fill some of that great water-hungry void. I don't think I'll have much trouble making them match the look of the boat. There is also about a foot of space behind the seat that I can use to store soft duffel bags. That should eat up some more of the great pit and give me a backrest as well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Whisky and turpentine: not recommended

Judging by how I felt this morning, I am relatively certain someone snuck in while I was oiling the boat last night and switched the whisky and turpentine bottles. Ugh. Took the morning off to recuperate, then wandered down to finish fastening in deck ribs and grinding the sheer to match the tapering slope of the decks. We accidentally got one stick of red oak mixed in with all our white oak. Can you spot it?

Gary Perry wandered by yesterday—he came over a year ago and welded my boat-hoist rack together. That was fun to watch:

This time I enlisted him to help wreak my deck latches. (Isn't wreak the present tense of wrought, as in wrought iron?)(Well, it should be.)

He came by this morning with a sample and it looks pretty much like the original. I found the proper iron wing-nuts on the internet.

Then I stared at Edith for a while in the afternoon sun.

Maybe I should deck her in plexiglass.


Geez. It's really late but I have some cool pictures to post. We finished up the deck framing today and dragged Edith outdoors for a photo match with a 1911 shot of Ellsworth at the Racine Boat Company.

The original I cannot legally paste here, but here is a link :

Ellsworth Kolb at the Racine Boat Company, 1911

And our match:

We broke for the afternoon but I drew night shift duty (my boss is a tyrant). Starting around 6 p.m. I went after about a zillion little things that weren't quite right and needed fixing. Adjustments, patches, fills, tightenings, sanding... and around 11 started the inner oiling of Edith. At 1 a.m. I finished rubbing down the second coat and took a few photos.

Each and every frame is a completely different radius. They all play in concert to define the deck.

It breaks my heart that the next move is to cover all this up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Raising the roof beams

A full day in the shop. I cut out all the deck framing and Dan painstakingly fit each into the gunwales. 

Every day the boat looks a little wilder, a little more boaty. Soon we'll deck her over, at which point I think she'll lose a bit of her exciting geometry and become more of a pure form. For now, though, it is fun to gawk at the lines of all those ribs, of the deck framing wrapping around, each board curved tighter than the last.

Ah, the sweet light of a single incandescent bulb, once the operating room lights are shut down for the night...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deck Framing

Today was mostly an errand and life day, with only a few minutes in the boatshop. We did create the first of the arched deck frames and wiggle it in, however. Now that we've done one. we have a pretty good idea how to attack the rest. Nine to go.

Is this eccentricity?

Crawling around on the floor, drawing perpendicular bisectors to establish the correct curve for the bulkhead, which defines the deck. Music blasting at a pretty fair, though not quite deafening, pitch. Beer almost empty. Okay, second beer almost empty. Hoping to get both bulkhead curves defined, cut, and in before shutting down. Look up at clock. After midnight. Crap. I thought it was about ten. A good thing this shop is pretty sound-tight or the neighbors would have called the police months ago.

So is this what crazy old men do? Should this be termed eccentric behavior? (It happens often.) Should my keeper be concerned? Oh wait—I don't have a keeper. Whatever it is, I kinda like it. If you're going to live alone, you might as well run large.

One last snow-blow for the weekend storm this morning, then back to work. Here's the view out the front glass door of the shop:

With the inwales in, it's time to put in the bulkheads. These have to be scribed to both lapstrake sides at once, which is kind of fun.

Then the sister ribs go in against the bulkhead, sandwiching them between sturdy oak. I am starting to get used to turning my clamps inside out into spreaders. Damn, that's a handy feature when you remember to do it.

By the way, these particular clamps are fabulous and dirt cheap. If you don't have some, get a dozen right now. They are on sale at Highland Woodworking for $110 a dozen, and they have been holding up to my abuse for some time. I have eighteen more in the mail to me as I type. For truly heavy squeezing I have to go to the $35 high-end Irwins (the low-end blue-and-yellow Irwins are junk), but these Highland clamps are my favorite for 95% of what I do.

One of the advantages of having the boat right-side-up to work on is it keeps my tools in one place.

Anyhow, the midnight geometry worked and the curve has me intrigued. The radius increases as you move from bulkhead to transom. This should make for some fun cyphering tomorrow—every deck rafter is a different curve. If the plans are correct, it ends up looking just fine, but my mind is coming up with a pretty bizarre shape. No sense over-thinking it.

Oh—last night's quandary about whether to give in to Edith's desire to be wider has not been entirely resolved, but it looks like I may win on this one. She may still get an extra half-inch of girth in the stern hatch. We'll see...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Listen to the wood. Maybe.

The snow kept coming on through the night, although lighter and snow-blow-able. The heavy glop of the storm's onset, however, weighted down a lot of my trees to horizontality.

Back in the shop it was time to sand Edith's innards and begin placing the inner gunwale (also called an inwale, pronounced innel). I  steam-bent and glued up the inwales earlier, and sanded and oiled them last night, so they were ready to trim and install. It takes a pretty good rack of clamps to hold one tightly in place to screw it on. But the process looks pretty cool. Here is the second one going on this evening.

Ten years ago when we built the Julius, a replica of Buzz Holmstrom's beautiful, home-built 1937 expedition boat, Roger Fletcher and I ran into some serious design issues. As it turned out we had been trying to reconcile two set of photographs of the original boat, and the second set, I finally realized, had been taken after a subsequent owner had sawed two feet off the stern. Little wonder that our hull refused to come together. In the end, we quit trying so hard to force our ill-guided will upon Julius and let the wood bend the way it wanted to. And the wood defined the boat perfectly. We coined the phrase, "Listen to the wood." And Julius came out pretty nice:

Well, Edith has been telling me she would rather be about an inch wider than her namesake in the mid- and rear-sections. I keep clamping her into what the plans want and Edith keeps disagreeing with me. It isn't that I would not love to have an extra inch of buoyancy and leverage, and it isn't that she looks bad—she looks great. It's just that I am trying to make a fairly precise replica of what the Kolbs were using. I guess Edith and I will come to terms tomorrow when I put in her bulkheads. Here she is the way the plans think she should be:

At the moment, I suspect that Edith will win. The goofy way her predecessor's decks are framed don't appear to lend themselves to holding a boat in a shape against its will. Maybe we'll compromise and I'll just squeeze her in a little bit, so I can say she's "within an inch." And fr'chrissake, what's an inch matter anyhow? I want her to be happy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


There will be a slight delay in boat production while I deal with the ongoing slush storm. My narrow driveway swells to two or three times its normal size when there is snow to move off of it. My handy dandy new hand-me-down snowblower took one look at the four inches of slush and refused to even start. When I persisted and got her running, I actually heard her laugh out loud when I pushed her into the glunk. Then she quit. So it's back to the snow scoop and back busting. Forecast: six more hours of slush storm before the temperature drops to a honest snow level. But hey. The trees were getting thirsty.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Done deal

After a great deal of pacing, procrastinating, going to the bathroom, and other assorted important details, I took the Dewalt circular saw and cut the first sheer line. I'd say it's pretty damned close--a little touch up with the belt sander after the gunwales are on will be plenty.

Then I carefully transferred my measurements to the other side.

And cut that side too. I can definitely see where I want to make a slight adjustment, but at least it is very minor and is symmetrical. Next I cut the inner gunwales (inwales) and tried to clamp them into place. Oh yeah. They have to bend in a way they don't want to. Just like the danged strakes. Didn't I just relearn that? So it was back to the steam box.

With the inwales steaming away, the operating-room lights off, and the mood light on, Edith and I had a little quality time together. A little whiskey, a little provocative conversation...

Oh baby. She loves to pose in the nude. But enough of that. The steam box having done it's work, Edith is back in shackles for the rest of the evening while the inwales adapt to their new shape. 

Once the inwales are cooled off, I'll scarf them together and fasten them into the boat. 

And she is a boat. She would actually float now. Really well. For a long time. Wheeee!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Head scratchin, chin strokin, serious squintin, and shoulder shruggin

I popped the last of the ribs in today, drank a toast to them, and stared at the beautiful lines of dancing wood for a bit. Damn!

This afternoon we laid up the outer gunwale sticks. On this boat they consist of a thin, half-inch by one-and-one-eighth-inch oak cap—not a structural member at all. But their placement defines the sheer of the boat, and looks-wise, can make or break the aesthetics of the entire boat. I measured up off the floor every foot according to the drawings and clamped on some test strips. An eighth to a quarter one way or another makes an astounding difference. I think it is just about there, but it's damned hard to know. With all those clamps and the uneven extra protruding above my test strips, it's hard to picture just precisely how she looks. One brainstorm I had was to photograph her and then delete the distractions to see how it looked. No luck, as to get a good side view I had to suture ten pictures together, and the ensuing distortion pretty well defeated my purpose. Fun exercise though—check it out (It is really a lot more fair than the collages suggest.)

I also took this opportunity to squeeze the hull in and out a little here and there to get a bit closer to the plans. All in all, the whole thing isn't off by more than a quarter inch, which truly blows my mind. I got all the cross sections as close as I could, then affixed spalls (braces) where the two bulkheads go. When I removed all the clamps and spreaders, only one measurement changed, and that one I can re-compress when I put in the decking (plus, the inner gunwale, which is a true structural member, will help correct that one spot as well).

Tomorrow I cut the sheer line! I really hate to do it as she looks SOO cool with forty rib ends sticking up in the air. Send good, fair and true thoughts to Edith about midday tomorrow. Think about sexy sheer lines.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My wrists hurt

Wow. A hard day of steam bending ribs, squeezing and cranking clamps until either the board explodes or my wrists do. Then screwing them in. 36 out of 40 are in. The rest will be going in tomorrow morning.

Here they are coming out of the sauna:

And entering my torture chamber:

"You may wonder why I've called you all here," said the head clamp...

Four of the ribs are not steam-bent, but rather cut to fit the lapstrakes edges, as these anchor the forward and rear bulkheads, and I need to create a water barrier.

My wrists are in spasm from the high-tension clamping, but life is good. Soon: gunwales.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Night shift

I got some energy so ran a set of ribs tonight while I and installed those I bent this afternoon. It is kind of stressful work, trying to get that extreme a bend into those poor, poor sticks in the few moments when they are pliable, catching the impending fractures before they blow, squeezing the clamps with my aching arthritic hands, all the while trying to get all eight of them done before the last of them get overcooked and come to pieces. It takes about 45 minutes to run a batch of eight solo, once they are cooked. Although the ribs, once in place in the boat, do not look all that deformed, it is a pretty radical bend.

But while one batch is cooking (45 minutes to get up to steam, then another hour-and-a-half of cook time), I am trying to get the previous eight bent sticks out of their clamps and into the boat without busting something else. That involves drawing in the plumb lines, pre-drilling the hull, then clamping each rib in, counter-drilling, and screwing. And once they are all installed, I have to re-shape the bending forms for the varying contours of the hull so that I can bend the new ribs properly when they come out. Tick, tick, tick.

But hey. I'm not complaining. Just describing life at the boatworks. Three more shifts tomorrow, then it's on to something else. The gunwales, I reckon. And with each step, she looks ever sexier.