Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fretwater Foundry

As I mentioned in my last post, Sam Johnson, who taught the bronze casting course, showed us how to make our own foundry. Well, you can't show me something like that and expect me to walk the other way. Especially when Sam made me a screaming deal on a new crucible. Four days after I got back to Arizona I had acquired most of the materials I needed. Here I am mixing refractory cement and casting up the furnace in a used 30-gallon oil can.

Which then got its final drying cure in my oven. It is really heavy.

Harlan helped me weld up the requisite implements: tongs, a slag scoop, and a crucible grabber.

The blower apparatus is in the background here; ingot molds for any leftover molten bronze are in the foreground, sitting on some large ingots of silicon bronze.

A leaf blower from Home Despot supplies the pressurized air and lots of noise. And away we go.

Sam warned us about curious onlookers and the need for all to have non-flammable shoes and eye protection. I knew I kept that roll of caution tape for something.

While the bronze is melting we make up another oarlock mold.

Let the games begin.


Gratification is pretty quick in this game.

 Yup, it's an oarlock alright.

Which one is real?

Just for fun we tried to cast a piece of rope. To our amazement, it worked.

And the rest of the bronze gets poured off into my crucible-sized mini-ingots. For next time. Which is soon.

Ketchup Too: Boat School

Here's a bit more backlog of my boating adventures this year. In June, in a self-indulgent fit, I signed up for three consecutive one-week courses at WoodenBoat School in Maine. I flew into Boston, got a screaming deal on a rental car and headed north. The East is kind of small. Within a few minutes you are in New Hampshire, where they have giant roadside liquor stores with their own exits, where you can buy lots of tax-free booze. Then into Maine where you can buy a nice fixer-upper house for cheap.

Across the Penobscot River at Bucksport.

And into the tiny town of Brooklin, where Major Powell retired. He died in his cabin here in 1902.

And down the road a mile or two to WoodenBoat School. Here I set up camp for the duration.

My first course was in toolmaking for boatbuilders, with Harry Bryan—a notorious New Brunswick Luddite, boatbuilder, and toolmaker. Here's Harry putting a wicked edge on a chisel with his hand grinder. His very cool drill press is in the foreground.

Harry making a chisel blade out of a piece of scrap metal. He lives a long way from the hardware store and it's usually quicker to make the tool than go to the store. And the tool comes out a lot better than the crap they have in the stores now anyhow.

And here he demonstrates rabbet cutting with a standard chisel versus a three-sided homemade chisel fashioned from a lug wrench. Wow, gotta make one of those.

And how to do a scarf joint fast with a homemade slick made from a truck spring. It has a nice curve to it, so you can control your plunge much better. Gotta make one of those too.

Making these things involves a lot of different skills including de-tempering and retempering steel without losing your own temper. Harry's tools are the blonde-handled ones. Mine are the cherry-handled ones. What fun.

 Here are three of my treasures from that week.

My second week was bronze casting with Sam Johnson, whom I had met back in 2001 in Oregon when I was building my Holmstrom replica, Julius. My host Roger Fletcher had invited Sam down to give us a few pointers on lapstrake construction. Which he did. In about fifteen minutes he explained everything we needed to know to build the boat. Amazing. I figured a week with the guy might be even more educational. I was right. On the first day he laid out the rules, quickly and succinctly, and then fired the furnaces. Let's make stuff. Sam is on the left coaching the first pour.

I told Sam I had two goals for the week--to replicate a couple oarlocks, and to make a bronze bow-eye. Here's the first oarlock, about two hours into the course. 

An hour later, another oarlock and a bow-eye. Hmm. What to do for the next four days?

Well, for one, design a bad-ass stern-eye that will hold a few big ropes and carabiners. Carve a pattern out of wood.

Smooth it, paint it, and cover it with graphite so it won't stick to the sand mold. Re-shape it as necessary  until the mold will part properly.

Then make it. Grind it smooth and polish. I think I can hang my boat from the ceiling with this.

For the whole week we made stuff amid the roar and stench of the furnaces. Exhausting and delightful. And he also taught us how to make our own foundries for cheap. Tempting…

Of course it's not all fun and games. Sometimes we had to eat lunch on the lawn outside the school.

Or go row around in the beautiful boats.

Or visit old friends. This is the Whitehall I worked on last year. A couple of those strakes have my sweat and blood all over them.

Back to class. The third week was with Greg Rössel, who I studied with last year. This year I took his lofting course. Kind of dry stuff, but doing it with him was really educational. Here is Greg with a fishnet stretched over a boat model, demonstrating how moving one line affects them all.

Getting our ducks in a row. (My ducks are way cooler than these ones.)

Each team worked on one particular boat. I chose the Whitehall, of course, as that's the Powell boat that ran Grand Canyon. Each day brought a lot of new challenges and crises, all of which seemed to resolve by the end of the day.

On our last day I got to lead a team in pulling the lines off a silly little boat that is the subject of a children's book. They plan to use our lines to teach kid's courses in the future to replicate little Boatie.


Oh, and there was a fourth course as well. My friend Wick was taking a course in building Greenland skin boats, and they worked late each night, so I got to help Wick for a few nights. Here we are as the boat neared completion. 

I finally had to go back to Arizona and make a living again. Damn. But in about two weeks next year's boat school catalog comes out.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Craning my neck

With the main structure of the new eaves up and sheathed, I launched into a few other details that I have long wanted to do. One being to put a ceiling and a couple more hoists in the carport. Just to make it look better and be more functional. None of this is about need.

Roy stopped by and helped get the first few ceiling panels up, but the last four I got to do alone. I had a brainstorm and turned four of my three-foot clamps inside out to hold the panels up while I shot them into place.

The view from the boat loft. Cataract is all set to go on her next adventure.

The other thing I wanted to do was cover the dreary particle board gable with something cool, like maybe a wooden mural of Grand Canyon or something. Doesn't it cry out for something more interesting?

So I laid some no-groove siding plywood—which has a nice rough-sawn texture on the exterior—on the floor late at night and started drawing Grand Canyons.

The guys at the paint store were kind enough to sell me some generic semi-transparent stain and decant me some of each of the tints in separate cans, so I could mix up a bunch of different colors. And somehow, I don't know how, it worked. Here we are the following morning.

I nailed a couple split-twig figurine bighorn sheep up there for fun.

Color me happy. So far the only negative feedback has been from the Acorn Woodpecker whose favorite stash hole got covered up. He is now drilling a new hole.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spreading my wings

In the five years since I built my shop, I have been wishing the eaves of the carport were a whole lot wider. Each winter the avalanches and snowmelt have cascaded down in front of my door and into my woodshed, making glaciers and glare ice. This shot does not do it justice, but you can see traces of the winter snows a couple years ago.

And as we get older, that thing about falling down on the ice gets pretty serious. So I rented a gigantic crane thingy last week and am spending each day way up in the air schlepping beams, joists, and plywood into place. Here are a few shots from the crane extended up its full 45 feet. Two new support beams for the north extension:

North extension framed and sheathed, south extension framed in.

Margeaux enjoying a crane ride.

An unusual view of my house from the high lift. Interesting that twelve sheets of the galvanized roofing I put up thirty years ago decided to rust while the others are holding tough. You can just make out the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks in the background.