Wednesday, February 15, 2017


The oar workshop went extremely well. The days were long and full of sawdust, shavings, and surprisingly few tears. Here is Bill shaping his blank.

More oars getting their shafts laminated.  We are looking for the thick ends of our oars to be well over two inches in diameter, but our ash and cedar stock is well under two inches. So we are gluing on added thickness--walnut, mahogany, tzalam, teak...

Tony octagonalizing his oar shafts. From there they go to sixteen-aeons, then thirty-two-aeons, then round.

Excelsior! Some very expensive fire starter. It is wonderful hearing the shop full of the sound of sharp planes cutting, seeing the floor pile ever higher with shavings.

Bill defining his centerline in the laser lounge.

Two-tone shavings--walnut on Port Orford cedar.

Such pretty things!

Cutting handles on Big Jim, the mighty band saw, while the wee level makes sure the cut is plumb.

Betsy sanding down her grips.

And yet more oars coming out of the factory.

As the final ten-hour day draws to a close, a spontaneous party erupts. A bit of gin to honor Martin Litton's hundredth, and a bit of dancing to celebrate friendship and the birth of a dozen new oars.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Martin Litton at 100

Martin Litton was born 100 years ago today and spent more than eighty years fighting for the environment. His legacy, in Grand Canyon and the West, is astounding. His greatest desire, when he left us some thirty months ago, is that we go out and do something, fight for something, stand up for what is right. Do not compromise. Now more than ever, we need to carry his energy and passion forward. "You have to," he once told me. "Even though it is already too late. But that is often when great heroic things are done--when you're going down with the ship."

(Martin Litton at 85--photo by John Blaustein)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Oar else

As I was about to drive south for a few days, my friend and Oregon boat mentor Roger Fletcher stopped by. We first met over twenty years ago, built the Julius about five years later in his shop, and have conferred on the arcane eccentricities of drift boats ever since. It was a pleasure to show he and his wife Sue my digs.

Then on down into the entirely different planet of Southern Arizona, where I was honored to speak about boats to an audience in Apache Junction. Does my hair look okay?

Look at all those people--the venue sold out and they had to shut the gates.  Almost seven hundred of them sat there and laughed at my lame jokes and stories. They'll know better next time.

Then back to the shop to start the first of two oarmarking workshops. Five folks with big hunks of wood should end up with some pretty nice oars by Monday evening. First we designed the oars, made patterns, and laboriously drew them out. Next we rough-cut the big, expensive ash planks.

Then snuck up on the lines with Big Jim, my wicked nice band saw.

These guys are mining for a nice oar inside of a bludgeon.

A new tool I found in Phoenix--a center-finding ruler. I wasn't sure if it was a good thing, but I bought it anyhow. Turns out it actually is a good thing.

Betsy and Big Jim vs. the mighty plank.

Pat and some big fat oar blanks. Tomorrow we start making them skinny.

Meanwhile the big snows of a couple weeks ago are melting fast and the creek is running for the second time in less than a year, after a nearly ten year dry spell.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Maine Attraction

For the last six years I have been going to WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine to learn all sorts of techniques for my obsessive boatbuilding habit. 

Last year I completed my slippery slide down the slope from student to assistant to teacher, and taught a course in building the classic McKenzie River drift boat--or dory. We built two boats in six days, and it was really an amazing experience.  We're all set to do it again in July, and you really should think about coming on Down East.

If you've never been to WoodenBoat School, you've missed a lot. It is situated on an arm of the delta of the Penobscot River near the tiny town of Brooklin (where Major Powell died in 1902). The school is on an old estate, is surrounded by beautiful grounds and a boathouse--with a fleet of amazing classic rowboats and sailboats that we get to play with after-hours. 

Food there is incredible. But the staff and faculty are really what makes the place--friendly, helpful, inclusive, and incredibly knowledgable. I could go on and on, and probably will come back and add more. I am totally addicted to the place.

Anyhow, we'll be building Woodie Hindman's classic design with cedar framing and plywood skin. It is the same process you would use to build a Grand Canyon dory, so if you're thinking of building either one--or something similar--but are intimidated by the process, this is the course for you. We will begin on day one by lofting the boat from lines in Roger Fletcher's Drift Boats and River Dories.

By day six she should be ready to float. In between you'll have been a part of every step of building one of these. On the final day, anyone interested in owning the boat will throw their names in a hat--the winner gets the boat for the cost of materials. Last year we built two, but that may have been a bit too maniacal--probably just one this year.

Here are a couple shots of the blue boat's winner, Jonathan, putting her through her steps. Amazing. This could be you!

Here is the link to the course on the WoodenBoat School page. Registration is now open, so ponder it and give a call if you're interested. Most courses fill well before summer begins.

Helpful hint: It is a long way to go for a one-week course. It's way more fun to do a couple in a row. I did three one year. What a blast.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Go pound sand

With the Briggs course over, the new boats are evicted into the snowy winter.

And we set to work building a second furnace. It is sitting on the stove driving out the moisture before we take it up to 2000 degrees.

We also cast up some sand rammers out of oak, 1-1/2" conduit, and molten lead.

The arena of operation is complete. Let the furnaces roar.

But first, a house concert. Julie Sullivan arranged for the incredible Jeff Scroggins and Colorado to play a show in my living room. What an incredible treat. Don't miss an opportunity to see these folks play.

Back in the shop we start each morning pounding sand molds.

And outside to the sounds of screaming leaf blowers and blaring jet blasts of flame, we pour molten bronze.

Somehow folks began slipping away to their "real" jobs before the end, and we did not get a chance for a group photo of all the castings. But here are a few washers coming out of the sand--turtles and stars.

Jon is casting the breasthook for his McKenzie boat.

BJ is casting bulb-tipped oarlocks that will be less likely to go through his leg.

And Janek and I are helping our friend Bruce develop a new style oarlock.

Hot, smoky, stinky, filthy, scary work. Hard to have more fun than that.