Friday, April 29, 2011


After a few days spent moping and playing sad songs on the violin, I got back at it.  I picked up two new sheets of plywood.  I ripped them in half, stacked them up, and set to work.  After the last go at scarfing, I swore off using power tools to create scarfs.  So, I pulled out my assortment of hand planes and set to work.   I wish I had done it that way to begin with.  Long curls of wood materialized as I ran the plane along gradually receding edges of the plywood.   It just felt an artisan practising his craft using the time-honored tools of the trade.   And the results were perfect.  Why didn't I do it this way to begin with?  Why did I think a power tool could beat a well handled plane?  Never again will I use a power tool to cut a scarf.

I made several passes with the jack plane and then finished it off  with my block plane.

OK, now here are some 8:1 scarfs to be proud of!

There are times that I think power tools and wooden boats were never meant to be brought into contact with one another. Except for random orbital sanders.

I glued my newly cut scarf joints together.  How'd they turn out?  Perfect.  These has turned out exactly the way that the first set should have.  So good, that I've contemplating redoing the other panels so that they too are of the highest quality. But aside from the desire to attain perfection, I can't really justify doing this.  I've inspected the other long panels are solid.  And they may be ugly, but all those surfaces will be painted.  The godfather of stitch 'n glue boatbuilding, Sam Devlin, says that you have to set realistic expectations or else "you will find yourself bogged down by an obsessive desire to have everything perfect."  So, I think I will leave well enough alone.  But still...

Continuing the re-work, I laid out and cut the new side panels, sanded them, and set about re-fiberglassing them.  With the keel and building cradle in the shop, I am a little short on space in the shop, so I only have room to fiberglass one panel at a time.  So, right now I have one done.  The other will get done in the near future. And then it'll be back to sanding.
Deja vu...Haven't I 'glassed panels just like this before?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Not just a disaster.  A big disaster.  A big, unmitigated disaster.  I was just getting back into the groove, and then, bam! 

What happened?

Well, I have been doing what were to be the final preparations before starting to assemble the hull.  The bulk of the work has been sanding.  And sanding.  And sanding.  I started with sanding the bulkheads and floors. 

Sanding Bulkhead #1

I can only take about 2 hours of sanding at a time, so I changed things up and laid out, cut out, and assembled the building cradle. 

Assembling the building cradle

The completed cradle

Then I sanded some more, but having the completed cradle sitting in the shop was too much of a temptation.  So, I lugged the keel into position and dropped it into the cradle. 

At this point, you are probably wondering "what about the disaster?"  We'll get there, but first, a philosophical interlude.  I've done a little thinking about it (and a little research to back up my thinking), and I have concluded that, for Pocketship, the act of dropping the keel into the cradle officially constitutes laying the keel.  Quite a moment for pondering existential thoughts.  At one moment, there was nothing...just a collect of boat-related parts that I'd been working on.  Just hunks of wood, really.  But, by a simple act of bringing two of those parts together, like the moment of conception, something new was created.  In that moment, there was no physical change to hunks of wood that make up the keel assembly, yet it was transubtantiated; the essence of those hunks of wood were forever changed.  It won't float yet, but given time it will grow, change, take on a character all its own and eventually take to the seas.  As of April 10th, 2011, I officially have a boat in the shop.

The keel, in place, the boat, under construction.

This all was pretty exciting, and after trying to sand a few more minutes, I caved in, and dropped the starboard-side bilge panel into place, and started stitching it to the hull.  Stitching is a pretty simple process.  There are matching hole in the keelson and bilge panel.  Into each hole, a wire stitched (mentioned in the previous post) is inserted.   The panels get aligned and the loose ends of the stitch are twisted around each other, thus holding the parts together so that later, the seams can get glued together.  Stitch and glue. 

At this point, I really would have liked drop in the port side bilge panel and stitch it up too, but doing so wouldn't leave and room in the shop for sanding.  So, I resumed sanding.  As the week went on, I managed to get all the bulkheads and floors sanded.  This just left the side panels.  And these would only require light sanding thanks to my use of peel ply.  The hour was getting late, but I figured that I would at least set on of the side panels up on sawhorses before calling it quits for the day.  That's when the disaster struck. 

I laid hands on the middle of one of my side panels, hoisted it over my head, heard a snap, and felt my heart sink to my shoes as the scarf joint parted.   I really hadn't been happy with the quality of my scarf joints, in terms of appearence, but didn't really suspect any structural problems.  After all, I used a ton of thickened epoxy, which should be stronger than the surrounding wood.  What happened? 

On inspecting the scene of the crime, I found that a large percent of area the joint had plastic wrap in it.  I had used plastic wrap while the glue in the joint was drying to keep the squeeze-out from sticking to anything that it shouldn't. Apparently, in jiggering the pieces around to get them aligned, the plastic wrap had worked its way into the joint.  Epoxy doesn't stick to plastic wrap, so my scarf joint on that board had almost no strength.  It is a miracle (of sorts) that I didn't break sooner.

It is also a miracle that it broke when it did.  Had it held a few more days, it would have become a permanent part of the boat.  I can just imagine spending months and months building the boat, only to have it break in half when I roll it over to fiberglass the outside of the hull.

I'm considering recovery options.  At this point, the only thing I can think to do is buy some more plywood, and start over on the side panels.  This time, I'll cut the scarfs the right way, with a hand plane.  I also need to inspect the other long hull panels and see it they have to be redone too!

In the meantime, I'm going to spend a few days moping.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Poking along

Progress is still slow in the world of boat building.  I've been putting along, trying to get the point where I can start stitching the hull together.

Since last post, the sailing hardware package arrived.  Well almost.  The box containing the sail track is still on a walkabout across the country.  Apparently, there had been a little confusion on this order, but thanks to Ed and the other guys at CLC, it all got straightened out.  Thanks guys.

All the blocks, rigging, padeyes, and doodads a guy could ever want.

In an attempt to get into the groove, I decided to tackle something mindless and easy....preparing the stitches.  I bought 150' of steel wire and started cutting this into 3-4" lengths.  For the most part, would then bend them into something resembling large staples.  The staple shape makes stitching things together much easier and minimizes the amount of fighting you have to do with the stitches. 

Measure and cut a length of wire.

Bend it into a staple.  I've found that using a DVD case as a mould makes the perfect staple.

The finished product.

A whole bunch of the finished product.
 I've also been coating the bulkheads and floors in epoxy.  The last coat is drying even now.  The next step will be to sand, sand, sand.  I'm not really looking forward to that, but it has to be done before the hull can be assembled. 

Floors and bulkheads waiting for epoxy.

Roll on the goo.

Two coats on each side is all it takes!

Now for the really exciting part.  Over the course of the last two kayaks, I constantly struggled with keeping the shop clean as I work.  Boat building generates a lot of used gloves, paper towels, mixing cups, stir sticks, brushes, odds, ends, fiddle and faddle.  There are many times when you are working to fast to keep ahead of epoxy that's about to kick, and in your haste to not ruin your project, a lot of that flotsam ends up on the floor of the shop.  I've tried cleaning up after each session, keeping garbage bags handy, hanging bags from the wall, on, and on, and nothing really seemed to work.  Bags were too small, too hard to open, not conducive to easily putting rubbish into, and so stuff still ended up on the floor.    To illustrate the insanity...
It is a rudder, and a waste bin!