Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Grinding along

Progress, for some unexplained reason, has slowed to a crawl the last couple days. Mostly I have been staring, muttering, going back to the house for more coffee and, ever-so-slowly, figuring how best to do hatch interfaces, deck joints, etc., in such a way as to make everything come out nice and smooth and looking like that's how it was supposed to be. Mmm hmm. Maybe a snack will help. Maybe someone has emailed me. Better go check. And so on.

As I said a few days ago, I think I just finished the really hard, confusing pieces. I said that again the next day, and again yesterday. Maybe tomorrow I will say it once more. There are only eight more wee sticks to cut and the deck framing is done. Really.

Decking dories is a funny thing. It's pretty handy if you are going to run Grand Canyon or maybe a high-water run in Cataract. But other than that, you really don't need it. It weighs a lot, takes up all sorts of time and materials to do, and is that much more stuff you can damage and have to fix. There's a lot of good reasons the Oregon and Idaho boats are mostly open.

Monday, November 28, 2011

String theory

Well, a shipment of stainless steel came in this morning, so I replaced a mess of rusted out 1/8" gunwale bolts with new 1/4" stainless steel carriage bolts this afternoon, then fastened in the boards I made yesterday. 

Next I started figuring out the supports for the front deck. The boat originally had some astonishingly lame brackets hanging off the front walls about halfway between the front bulkhead and the bow post. These apparently served to help hold up the front hatch frame. They were made of wee 3/4 x 3/4 inch sticks, beveled to nothing at the top where they were screwed to two flanges which stuck out into space to hold the deck frames. I doubt they did anything at all, but it seemed like a good place for some support. Here's how they looked:

Here's how they interacted with the original framing. They were barely attached to anything on either end. I think it was the decking that held it all in place.

I decided to go industrial and put in a forward rib, which was relatively straightforward. Then I wanted to make a single three-planed arched brace instead to the two cantilevered arms, but in order to do that I had to figure out the magical points in space where said new arched brace would go. That's where the string came in.

In the next picture, the string is stretched taught between the bow post and the bulkhead corners. The level is clamped into place even with the tops of my new ribs. Using squares and pencils and rulers, I defined the shape of the new arched brace, then marked it out on a scrap of 1/2" marine plywood left over from the last boat. I measured two or three times. Yup. the rise was exactly 2-3/16" from the base of the level to the string. 

So I cut it and tried it for fit. Yup. Exactly--precisely--one inch short. Hard to believe I measured it three times and read "three inches" as "two" each time. Other than that it was perfect. So I made another, precisely one inch taller.

And it was perfect. So I screwed it in and quit for the night. Four sticks by 8:30 p.m.--a mere twelve short of my goal. C'est la boatbuilding.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The trunk

An unspectacular day, but I finished all the framing in for the boatman's seat and the giant rear hatch, which has some ever-so-peculiar angles.

This is the only section of the boat that was in good enough shape to preserve any of the interior framing, which did make things go a bit smoother. Thirteen pieces in by 7:30. Woo hoo. I am awaiting hardware before I can fasten these ones in. Now on to the even more peculiar front hatch.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Side hatches hatching

It's getting down in the freezies at night, so the little pufferbelly has to get ripping in the morning to warm the shop up. I love it when it gets to breathing fire in a fast, rhythmic pulse. Now we're cookin'.

A long day of head-scratching finally came to fruition this evening, with the side hatches framed and guttered. My goal was at least ten sticks installed today. Number sixteen went in about ten pee em. I only made a couple of real dumb mistakes--none irretrievable.

That's almost it for the really hard thinking. I might get some major dumb work done tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Growing new guts

I've been running around a lot this week and Betty Boop has not been getting my full attention. She is, however, slowly growing new innards. I keep awaiting a sponsorship from either DeWalt, or my clamp guys, Highland Woodworking. They sure get a lot of product placement on fretwaterlines.

The shop and the Boop are redolent with Port Orford cedar and mahogany. Yum. There is finally enough interior structure that I think I can roll her eventually and pull off the floor without her falling to pieces. That's good because I finally fell through the floor last night.

Although I am reproducing the eccentric decks of the old Boop, I must confess I am building her guts with about half as much lumber as the old craft. There was a lot of redundancy in her, due mostly to the fact that Hayes and Testerman, the previous owners, hadn't been down this road before. It takes a lot of chin-rubbing and a little bit of swearing to whittle the structure down to essentials, but I think future owners and repairers will be grateful.

I salvaged a couple pounds of brass screws from the deconstruction, many of which are returning to the Boop.

A test placement of a potential transom design. Boop Oop a Doop.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turning the corner

Jim Hall came by for a day of big fun in the boatshop. We started off making sweet smells, milling out the new Port Orford cedar floor ribs and installing those. Jim scarfed in a new bottom for a rotted rib.

After a pizza break we started making the new bulkheads and screwing them in. The first was the trickiest, as it had to arch up to meet the front decks--which are not there at the moment--so we had to hallucinate where they would be and cut to that. Mmmm hmm. We called it a success and celebrated.

The second bulkhead also required a small celebration.

As did the third.

It was close to quitting time but we were having too much fun and thought we'd clean up the boatman seat real quickly by taking off an extraneous plank. That turned into a bit of a project...

...during which we began feeling like archaeologists, uncovering a lower seat level from an earlier civilization. From what we could tell, this was the original seat when Ronn Hayes ran it as the Betty Boop. Larry Testerman must have raised the seat about four inches, and built up higher oarlocks as well.

Interesting. But to hell with it. With some careful analytical thinking and the help of the Jameson whisky we determined that Larry's higher seat was probably a good call. We removed about another fifty pounds of shaky, rotted wood and got down to the floor. 

At this point we elected to banish ourselves from power tools and admired our handiwork. Here Jim is giving scale to the pile of rotted wood removed so far.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A bigger can

In the 1970s my college/river-running pal Tim Cooper and I bought a dilapidated old five-unit tenement here in Flagstaff. That's where we learned a lot of bush-league carpentry and mechanical skills, and learned to, with minimal tools and expense, make the best of some really bad situations. Nothing was ever simple--it nearly always turned into a far greater project than we anticipated. Our slogan became, "Once you've opened a can of worms, the only way to get them back in is to get a bigger can."

That's where things stand with the Betty Boop. I keep finding things that I wish I wasn't finding. I try to ignore them, but I can't. So I keep digging. And prying. And yanking. And, oh, did I mention that there is also a special level of hell reserved for the sumbitch who invented silicone seal? And for the people who buy a dozen tubes of it and schmear it all over the inside of every seam in the boat? Arrrrghhh! They do not get it, that water comes in from the outside, hits their wretched silicone barrier, and travels back and forth within the seams, eventually finding a way in anyhow, but in the mean time, rotting the boat to bits. But in spite of the damage it causes, it won't come off with any known tool.

Okay. Enough venting for the day. Here is what I found when I pulled off the front seat this morning.

Oooghf. That doesn't look too good. I hope I don't catch what this boat has.

No problem. We'll just pull that out.

Okay, we'll take the boatman footwell and the side-hatches out too.
And three floor ribs that are just a little rotten.
(But don't those new gunwales look nice?)

Okay, four floor ribs.

I'm hoping to get the floor ribs replaced before I fall through what's left of the floor. Then the bulkheads can go in and I can rebuild the front decking. I am thinking that is the order of things, as I don't want to take much else out lest she begin to lose her integrity and I lose track of her proper shape.

Did I say integrity? Oh never mind.

The rear framework is all rot-free, so it should be a lot less traumatic. Might even be able to salvage some of the framework and the final bulkhead. Once she's all re-decked, the floor can be replaced. And maybe a little bit of the inner chines. Just a little bit....

Yes, I know it would be a lot easier to build a new boat from scratch. And it would come out better too. But hey, it's the Betty Boop ferchrissake. An historical craft. And an hysterical boatbuilder.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Elemental Edith

Edith is getting some love this month. She's in the local It's Elemental craft show. She got a fresh rubdown of Linseed-Turpentine-Varnish the day before she went in, so she's glowing and smelling sweet. At tonight's opening, folks were surprised to hear she'd been in the water, no less Grand Canyon, Cataract, and Lodore. "Aren't you afraid you'll scratch her?"


A short day in the shop. I pulled the clamps off the outer gunwales and cleaned them up a bit. They held the curve quite nicely and look good. Then I put on the inner gunwales, clamped them up, and am letting them kick until tomorrow. Here they are in the afternoon light.

I am conducting a few experiments with different brands of penetrating epoxy, in order to determine which one I want to saturate the exterior plywood with. Results so far:

Progressive Epoxy EPS-155 soaks in all right.
Restor-it (CPES) soaks in instantly and deeply--it is almost like water.
WEST System thinned with a little lacquer thinner does not soak in well at all.
WEST System thinned with a little xylene eats up the mixing cup instantly and pours into your shoe.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A special place in hell

There is a special place reserved in boatbuilder's hell--I am quite certain of this-- for people who glue their outer gunwales to the side of the boat. Yeah, yeah, I know it seems like a good idea at the time--makes 'em strong and clean and fair and fine. But for god's sake, doesn't anyone think the boat may someday need to be taken part to be worked on? And when you try to get the damned gunwales off, what fails? The side of the boat, that's what. That poor, sad, tired 1/4" plywood just wants to fly to bits.

Argghhh. So wherever you are, Keith Steele, I am sending you to detention for the day. Thank heaven the gunwales were a bit rotten or I'd still be down their cursing you.

Okay. Enough venting. I cut all the rot out of the gunwales today, scarfed back the clean ends, and cleaned up the tortured sides of the boat. Then I milled new gunwale parts out of delicious clear Port Orford cedar, making my boat smell like the other place--boatbuilder's heaven.

I might have considered replacing the entire front ends of the gunwales, but the aforementioned boatbuilder not only glued the outer gunwales on, but screwed them from the inside out. Which is an interesting technique. Another oddity is that the bolts that hold the two gunwales together at the ribs are not the standard 1/4" bolts, but eeeny teeeny 1/8 inch machine screws, which are now quite rusted and will be replaced with 1/4" stainless steel. Maybe that's how things worked in 1967.

Then I impregnated the tortured plywood walls with resin and filled in the divots, covered that with waxed paper (I don't want to go to boatbuilder's hell) and glued on the new outer gunwales. MaƱana the inner gunwales.

Folks drop by to visit now and then and gawk at the rotted wreck of the Betty Boop, shaking their heads. "Hopeless" is the usual verdict. This makes me smile. Maybe it's my eternal optimism, or maybe it's just boneheadedness, but I really don't think it's that bad. But I may change my tune in a week or so...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pretty good shape for the shape she's in

The last week has been full of tell-tale signs of my dread of starting what promises to be an epic adventure: rebuilding the Betty Boop aka Great Thumb, Sore Thumb, Great Thump. I dug into her one day in September, recoiled, and have been avoiding her ever since. So all week I have been doing very important things like sorting my wood pile, vacuuming, messing with sticky drawers, raking leaves, responding to months-old emails, and just about anything else I could do to put off the inevitable. But at 3 p.m. I succumbed. Game on.

I figure we'll start up front, where the worst of the rot seems to be. That way if I discover something that's just too godawful, I can start the bonfire sooner. Here she is with the decks in place.

Decks off.

Framing off.

Bizarrely-placed bulkhead removed (where the pale yellow turns to bright yellow).

Look! There, on the gunwale: traces of the original Betty Boop red.

View from the back.

Just a touch of gunwale rot.

Well... as my old friend the used car salesman says, "She's in pretty good shape for the shape she's in." She's in bad shape, but the good news is that the rot seems pretty well confined to the floor and one small section of all four gunwales. The sides and all the frames and chines seem just fine. Amazing, and a great relief. The decks are toast, but we knew that already. The plywood simply gave up after two too many decades in the New Mexico rain and sun and snow.

So I guess the plan is to replace the front third of the gunwales, rebuild the decking as I move from front to back, then roll her and put on a new floor. She'll never look like new, but that's good: if she did, that would mean I failed to preserve her character and heritage. My current thought is to replicate her decks with only a few exceptions, where the structural integrity is just to goofy.

Tonight's miracle happened when I fired up the computer. I'd been wondering how to replicate the wacky old sash latches with something close enough but solid. Snappy modern Southco latches would work fine, but it's a 1967 vintage historical craft. Hmmm. By chance I opened up one of a million emails I've been getting from the woodworking companies and boom, front and center: solid brass sash latches of the very same style, on sale, 99¢, marked down from $6.99. I think I bought them all.

Tomorrow's adventure: scarf on new gunwale fronts--can I do it without removing them entirely? Stay tuned...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Punt Party

On Saturday night Wild Rivers had their end-of-season party, which included eating Lupita IV, the 2011 food-scrap-eating pig, and welcoming the Boxcar to the company fleet. Here are a couple shots of Andy Hutchinson and I putting on the last paint and the name (nixed, I am afraid).

I guess she'll have to get her name done later. Here's a shot in the cool Sunday morning sun.

And Monday morning, driving home through Monument Valley into the winter storm warning.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Punt paint

This just in from Kristen, capitalizing on the last warm day in Bluff. As my friend Lora says, for such an ugly little boat it's pretty good looking.