Monday, September 29, 2008

My barber is a comedian...

I had a meeting this afternoon to go to and when I got done with it, I picked up DS and took us both to the barber shop for a shearing. When we arrived at the barber shop the staff were paying rapt attention to the television.

Fox News was on.

My barber's first comment? "We don't normally watch Fox, but we couldn't find any news on."

"What's going on?"

"Yeah. I'm looking out for you. I'm checking out what happened to your 201K.", he replied.

"201K? Don't you mean 401K?"

"Not anymore."

Ouch. The graphic says it all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gettin' jiggy wit it...

Every year at the beginning of the school year, I look back at last year's canoe building class. I try to find those things that slowed down the progress of the class or were difficult for students to do. I then sit down and design jigs and fixtures to improve things.

The first year I taught, I made some thin patterns out of Masonite, featherboards for ripping strips and a router table for molding strips.

The next year, we added thicker patterns and a pattern bit so that we could make exact copies of patterns very quickly. We also added a Freud thin-kerf blade (.093" thick blade) for ripping strips and new patterns for another canoe design.

The third year, we added a "type setting" board that aids in the assembly of feature strips.

This year, we'll add a gang-sawing assembly so that two strips can be cut at the same time. I'm also working on in-feed and out-feed tables for the strip ripping operation. A third canoe design is being added to the livery as well. Before the end of the year, I hope to have an improved design of my router table.

When you do the same thing again and again, jigs and fixtures don't just make your job easier, they also make it safer and more accurate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday

Freud Diablo. A hell of a blade. No pun intended.

I'm picky about my blades. I've learned to be.


We use Western Red Cedar. It's not cheap and it's not as easy to get as it once was, so we can't afford to waste it. A typical table saw blade is 1/8" wide. That's half the width of the strips we're trying to mill. So, for every two strips that we cut, we'd blow one away as dust.

We started using a "thin kerf" Diablo blade - that was 3/32" thick. Better, but we're still blowing away a strip as dust for about every 2 1/2 strips cut.

This year we're moving on to use a Freud Diablo circular saw blade. It give just enough exposure above the saw's table to cut stock that is about an inch thick. However, the saw blade is only 1/16" thick. Now, we're only blowing away a strip as dust for every 4 strips we cut. Not bad at all, really.

To put this in perspective, typical blades are .125" thick. If you are making about 20 cuts from an 8" wide board, that is 2.5" of stock that you are losing from the board. If you're making 20 cuts with a .093" wide blade, you're losing 1.86". If you're making 20 cuts with a .062" wide blade, you're losing 1.25".

I really like the Diablo blades because the carbide teeth are wider than the Teflon-coated body of the blade with gives less contact with the wood, burns less, requires less horsepower and tends to stall less, giving you more consistent results. The blades also have laser cut dampening and expansion slots which reduce vibration and "cupping" of the blades as they warm up from use. The other advantage is that it's a fairly inexpensive blade at around $14 each.

I'm also having a spacer made so that I'll be able to mount two blades at the same time so that I can cut two strips at the same time. This should save a lot of time in the milling process. More on that at a later date.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A new challenge...

Tonight was the sign-up for a new session of my Wee Lassie canoe building class. It's not usually a dull time. I've been put in with three other instructors who teach what are primarily furniture-making classes - by far, a more popular set of classes. When the doors open, it must have been what nylon stocking sales must have been like at Macy's in the 40's.

It's a bit zooey, to be honest.

Three of my students are new. New students are always an unknown quantity - one of them I know but his experience is as a professional cabinetmaker - he should bring some interesting things and interesting questions to the class. Three of the students have taken the class before. Two of them missed a lot of classes and need to complete their boats. I know them fairly well and know how to help them best. The last is the builder of the Blue Streak. I've posted some of his work here before (A little bit over the top). His work is good and fairly meticulous. His comment to me tonight? "Now I've got to think up a better feature strip."

Apparently he's thrown down the gauntlet for himself.

No guts, no glory, no brains, no problem and no excuses.

This is going to be interesting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Final Saturday

The last day of class was a bit of a blur. We fitted the scupper blocks, inwales, thwarts and outwales on the three canoes in one morning. To say that we were all elated to get the canoes finished would be an understatement. The end results were very good.

The canoe in the foreground is the Wee Lasse II and the two in the back are both Wee Lassies. I don't know if you can see in the picture, but the deck shapes, accent stripes and deck stripes on each canoe are unique. By the time the picture was taken, we were just beginning to realize how sunburnt we all were. We'd been working outside all morning and hadn't put on any sunscreen.


When we got done, and got the canoes loaded on the cars, I had my first opportunity to get out on the water - I took the school's Charlotte out for a paddle on Blue Hill Bay. As you can see from the picture, the day's weather was gorgeous. I got in maybe an hour and a half paddle. It was wonderful.

I had a quick errand that took me into Blue Hill and I stopped for a few pictures near Blue Hill Falls (AKA the Reversing Falls) which were on my way there. The falls are the exit of a salt water pond. As the tide rises and falls, the water entering and exiting the pond produces a pretty impressive flow.

Nearby there were some very picturesque sights - I'll post them later for Wordless Wednesdays. I felt that each of the shots was worthy of it's own posting.

That night, I was taken to dinner at the Brooklin Inn by two of my students who were still at the school on Saturday evening. A wonderful time was had by all!

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Somebody posted this one today at the WoodenBoat website on a thread about International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Time to clean my monitor now...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Aye, me hearties, it's that time of year again. September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. You may think I'm joking, but I'm not. Two guys known as Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket started this event about 6 years ago and it became popular because it was mentioned by Dave Berry in an article he wrote.

Somehow it managed to catch on.

There are aids out there for those who are novice pirates.

These include:

Pirate Name Generators
English-Pirate Translator
Pirate Songs
Pirate History
Pirate Cartoons

The list on their website goes on and on and on... I take no responsibility for anything you find over there - there is some pretty strange stuff!

A quick update...

I made a post a while ago entitled "What's in a name". Keith Nyitray who was part of the subject, swung by with a comment to clarify my post.

Thanks to Keith for the correction and information! I was a bit rusty - I saw his presentation at Williams College when I lived in Southern Vermont. The year was probably 1990 or 1991...

Been a while!

Beware of Geeks bearing gifts...

After my lovely wife's comment on Monday's post, she might have to look out for the new earrings that she'll be getting for Christmas:

Wordless Wednesday

(ever feel like a fish out of water?)

Monday, September 15, 2008

My wife says that I'm a...

geek (plural geeks)

  1. (colloquial) An expert in a technical field, particularly to do with computers.
    My laptop’s locked up again. I need a geek.
    Do you need a hardware geek or a software geek?
I suppose it is an epithet which I sort of deserve. I'm an engineer and gadgets and gizmos are sort of my stock-in-trade, if you will.

As I mentioned earlier, it was finally time to update my old laptop. I got a new Macbook. A fairly basic, but nice machine.

So, I finally have got my new Mac up and running - which wasn't difficult at all. When I fired up the new machine, I simply hooked it up to the old one with a Firewire cable and it pulled off all my old files and applications. Piece of cake. I installed the updated versions of Firefox, iTunes and MS Office at the same time and am cooking along. Still, this is not what has her calling me a geek.

It's the new iPod Touch.

The Touch came along with the new machine and is basically and iPhone without the phone and camera. It's an WiFi device with a touch screen interface that's really slick. Very intuitive. It does some amazing tricks. First - if you're looking for directions, it seems to know your location from your IP address. It does email, reminders, calendars, music, videos, pictures, web browsing and specialized applications that you can download to the thing.



Actually, I think she's just jealous!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Another Friday

It seemed to have just been sneaking up from behind me. Friday, that is. We'd gotten all of the fiberglass work complete on Thursday. We had to cut the sheer lines on the canoe. It is important to do this because the top edge of the canoe is sharp from the fiberglass that was trimmed and has now cured. The now-cured edge is a bit like a serrated knife, so it is very important to either sand it down or cut it off altogether. We opted to cut it off as we were going to be putting in the finish trim.

We made up a seat frame using scrap that was clamped together. This would allow us to determine the length of the seat frames so that we could cut them and would also allow us to scribe the blocks that the seat is mounted to. We did these tasks and then mounted the blocks in epoxy thickened with wood flour and silica filler. This thickened epoxy is referred to by Nick Schade of Guillemot Kayaks as "dookie schmutz". Don't ask me where that term came from...

The thickened epoxy is nice because it fills and hides any gaps you may have. When I apply the thickened epoxy, I mask the hull around the blocks with tape so that I get nice clean edges after I fillet the epoxy around the blocks and pull the tape when the epoxy is still "green". It looks good. The seat was then cut to length and mounted. Decks, which we had glued up earlier were cut to shape and then fitted. Thwarts and rails were already prepared, but it was time for the Friday clambake WAY too early for what we were trying to do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday

Glassing the inside of the canoe tends to intimidate lots of builders with the "What do I do in the ends?" question. As I wrote in my previous post, I simply trim the fiberglass (Before saturating with epoxy) as close to the stem as I can get it.

One of the most important points that I try to make is that you don't want a nice smooth finish on the interior. There are a three major reasons:

  • If the finish is smooth, you'll wind up sliding around, particularly with wet feet.
  • If the finish is smooth, it's probably shiny and the finish can be blinding in the sun.
  • Extra coats of epoxy only add extra weight.
I usually try to wet out the cloth with one coat of epoxy and squeegee off excess epoxy so that the weave of the cloth is still apparent. I do the best job possible so that sanding will not be required. This gives a non-skid, matte finish even after a coat of varnish.

Scraping the bottom of the...




As you could see in the picture from yesterday's post, the canoes were 'glassed on the outside. The next step is to pull the boats off the forms and to scrape and sand the interior in preparation for more fiberglass. This is one of the parts of the process that I always enjoy - when the canoe comes off the form, it is fairly flexible and is amazingly light in weight at this point in time. Students are always in awe of how light they actually are. It's fun to watch their faces.

This is also the time that you find out how good a job you've done taping the forms. Either the boat comes off the form easily, or a bit of "finagling" is necessary. Usually there is one or two small spots where glue or epoxy has bonded the boat to the forms. A sharp utility knife usually fixes this.

In lots of respects, it is a good thing that they're in a good mood and are feeling confident, because the scraping and sanding of the interior really isn't too much fun. It's just one of those steps you need to go through to finish the canoe. We had some very nice sanders at WoodenBoat - some of the Festool random orbital sanders with individual vacuum systems. They were very nice to work with, but with three sanders with nearly the same RPM working at the same time, the harmonics were a bit interesting.

Scraping removes a majority of the high spots and glue that remains and the sander gets rid of the tearing and bruising from scraping. Perversely, the part of the canoe that you as the builder and paddler sees, usually gets the least attention.

We finally finished up the scraping and sanding the interiors just after lunch time and got the shop and boats cleaned up again. 'Glass was draped in the hulls and wet out from the center towards the ends. When near the ends, I simply cut the fiberglass as close as I can to the inner stem - usually within about an inch. I try not to wrap fiberglass over the inner stem because I don't find it necessary for strength and the cosmetics aren't really acceptable.

The remainder of the day was spent finishing prep of decks, thwarts and rail stock.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Like an ant in a syrup jar...

I guess I didn't really complete my story from my time up at WoodenBoat in in the middle of the summer. I sort of left folks hanging here.

To finish that tale up, I'll take you back to Wednesday morning of our second week building the Wee Lassies. As of that morning, the hulls were complete and we did a little bit of finish sanding to get them ready for fiberglass and epoxy. The process was very dusty between the sanding and cleaning both the boats and the shop before applying the epoxy. This is the point at which the biggest variation from the class I normally teach came into play. With a limited amount of time, we decided to hot coat the hull. Hot coating is a process where you lay up successive coats of epoxy before the prior coat has fully cured. It speeds up the process immensely.

We'd been given special access to some experimental epoxy from the folks at West System. It was a new version of their 105/207 epoxy forumulation. (resin/hardener) The 207 hardener we had was much clearer than the current product and a bit thinner, which aided the saturation of the 'glass. This was one of those times when taking a class at a place like WoodenBoat is really nice - first, we had access to this special material, and second, we had access to epoxy metering pumps (AKA : Goo Grinders...) to simplify the measuring of the epoxy. If you've ever got a project where you'll be mixing a lot of epoxy, get one!

Things went very well, overall and we managed to get 4 coats of epoxy on all of the canoes by the end of the day. Still, no matter how hard you try to work "clean" and to keep things neat, it seems that the epoxy gets everywhere. As a friend once remarked when working with epoxy, "I feel like an ant in a syrup jar."

Between the dust and the epoxy, I didn't bring my camera out at all that day, so no pictures.

Overall, it was a long, hard day, but by the end we had much to show for it. Here is a picture taken on Thursday morning:

I guess I'll have to admit that I'm amazed.

The English have a term for it - Gobsmacked. (From the OED : • adjective Brit. informal utterly astonished.)

I've been writing a blog about small boats and boat building (various and sundry other items as well...) since February of 2006. I started out over at Yahoo! 360° when prompted by my friend Jenn to start one. I'd never really thought about starting a blog. When the future of Yahoo! 360° looked "iffy" I moved over to Blogger in February of this year.

Three things really amaze me:
  • I haven't run out of things to write about.
  • I don't hear many comments from readers.
  • There have been over 1000 views of this page from 42 countries since February of 2008.
While I know not all of the views of this page have been from people who were looking for this page, I have heard from a few people who do stop by regularly. I guess two questions are in order:
  • Are you seeing the things you want to see here?
  • If not, what would you like to see here?
Post a comment and let me know!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Yet Another Shameless Plug

One of the members over at the WoodenBoat Forum, Dan (AKA Battenkiller) has built a Nymph double-paddle canoe designed by Nick Schade from plans published in WoodenBoat magazine issue #199. There were two articles on the build of this canoe in issues #199 and #200. The canoe is definitely influenced by the 'Wee Lassie' style canoes build by J. Henry Rushton of Canton, NY and was intended as an ultralight canoe in that vein.

Dan is in the progress of updating his blog on the building process and I recommend you go over and take a look at it at Breakfast with BK . Many thanks to him for sharing.

Here are some pictures that he posted over at the Forum. He and his wife did a beautiful job building the canoe:

Friday, September 5, 2008

About time, I guess.

Back in 2006, I wrote this little ditty:
Entry for February 17, 2006

Joy of computers.


My Mac at home is hopelessly out of date. I've been running OS9 since I got the machine and while it runs well, the browser and OS are incompatible with so many things I'd like to be able to do. (For example, access Yahoo!360 at home and have it not look like gobbledy-gook on the screen) Then again, upgrading is expensive and then I'd still be left with dial-up. (3-5 K/sec)

Still, time for a new 'puter and cable 'net.

A litte bit after I wrote this, we did manage to upgrade my machine to OSX (Which helped solve my browser gobbledy-gook issues) and a cable modem. ZOOOMMMMM!!!
Things were OK for a while and then in February 2007:


My wife's computer has expired.

As one website put it, "The computer was found unconscious and unresponsive."

And the fun starts here.

She'd been having problems with the machine over the past few months. The optical drive didn't seem to work any more and there were issues with the hard disk that would appear to be the cause of it's current demise.

We probably shouldn't complain about it as much as we are because the computer was a "free" Titanium powerbook that she'd used for work at her last job and was told she could keep it rather than turn it in because it was in such poor physical shape. The machine has a cracked case over the optical drive, a broken hinge and a lid that doesn't stay shut. (Consequently, the computer "sleeps" with one eye open...)

I'm not a wizard when it comes to the repair of computer equipment, but based on what I see, I think I can replace the hard drive and we can see if that solves the problem.


Failing that, I will use the hard drive that I ordered to upgrade the storage from 10GB to 80GB in my own machine (They use the same size and type of hard drive.) I seriously hope that this solves the problem, because I don't see spending about $1400 for a new machine right now.

The problem here is that we both use our computers heavily and that's one place where we don't share well. (No, darling, I'm using my computer....) Besides, my machine is only 500MHz and as I noted above - 10GB hard drive - already fairly slow and obsolete. It's probably about time for my own upgrade too, but I'm not prying another $1200 of my own out for the machine I'd like to get. Anyway, for the most part, even though my machine is slow, it does the things that I need for it to do. The only thing I'd like to get is a new optical drive with a CD-R and DVD for it, but that may be another story for another time.

Love 'em or hate 'em, but we can't seem to live without 'em.

Well, I managed to upgrade both machines. Upgrading a laptop takes a bit of doing. Fortunatly for me, I'm fairly handy and there were good instructions available on the web. DW's computer got a new hard drive and a new optical drive. My machine got a new hard drive, more RAM (576 MB from 320 MB)and an upgraded optical drive. At the same time, I also updated to the most recent Mac OS the machine would take - OSX - 10.4. I've limped along pretty well with my machine really.

Not long after this major upgrade, issues started to crop up.
  • I couldn't install iLife on my machine because the processor wasn't fast enough.
  • When typing text in Microsoft Word, the lag time was unbearable.
  • I've started to see serious delays downloading images from a new camera (USB 1.1)
  • I couldn't load Skype on my machine because the processor wasn't fast enough.
  • The display has been having brightness control issues.
Finally, this week, DW sent me an email touting one of Apple's discount buying programs that I'm eligible for. So, last night I finally bit the bullet and bought a new Macbook and got a free iPod Touch to go along with it. I figure I've done pretty well to get my old computer to last for 7 years. With the rate that technology changes, I thought that was a pretty impressive accomplishment. Still, this old iBook will not be put out to pasture. I'll strip it down and re-format the machine. It will get handed down to my DD so that she can learn some typing skills. I think once the wireless is shut down and the applications a bit smaller, it will be a bit faster. I hope it will enjoy its new life!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Overboard Brothers

Lake George on a calm day

My father was the one person who really got me started paddling. One of the reasons that we did lots of paddling was that my family was actively involved with Scouting. The Scout troop often took several paddling trips a year. One would be a weekend trip to a local river or pond and the other would be a multi-day trip to a bigger piece of water.

One year, we took a trip up to Lake George, New York and camped for a few days on one of the islands. For those who may not be familiar with Lake George, it's a big piece of water - about 32 miles long and between 1 and 3 miles wide and surrounded by mountains on the East and West shores.

On this particular trip, we spent most of our time eating, swimming, fishing and improving our paddling skills. The island we were staying on had about 10 camp sites on it and we were camped on the two sites that were on the north side of the island. The "shore" such as it was, was a large piece of rock that extended about 15' above the surface of the water. To the North, the nearest obstructions up the lake were some islands maybe 5 miles away.

On one particularly perfect weather day, my father and our Scoutmaster Tom decided to take one of the canoes out for a paddle. The weather was a bit cool and they went out fully dressed, but with life jackets on. They were planning to explore the group of islands that we were in to the South. While they were out, the wind whipped up in a fierce way from the North. Because of the Geography, the wind is funneled down the lake by the mountains. The lake was putting up some really big rollers - about 3-4' peak to trough. I remember the waves were breaking quite far up the large rock that made up the "shore".

At any rate, they returned and came around from the lee side of the island into the teeth of these waves. They were doing just fine until they decided to try to make a turn to get back to the dock. (BTW - the surface of the dock was awash at the time from the waves!) As they got broadside to the waves in this 17' long canoe, over they went. One of my friends and I who were in bathing suits grabbed another canoe and went out to do the rescue. We pulled the swamped canoe over the gunnels to drain the water, flipped it and put it back in right side up. We then used paddles to stabilize the two boats to let them climb back in.

After the fact, my father and the Scoutmaster were known as "The Overboard Brothers".

I guess The Divine Miss M just has it in her genes!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

A little surprise.

My oldest child's 9th birthday was this past weekend - "The Divine Miss M" as I refer to her.

So, Monday - Labor Day - was a "big day out" for the family. The weather was gorgeous - sunny and in the high 7o's, clear and dry with a slightly increasing breeze. We packed up the family, three of our canoes and a breakfast and drove up to a local state park with my father.

When we arrived, we brought the breakfast over to a table overlooking the water and started a wood fire. Soon, the smells of coffee brewing in the French press, hot chocolate, sizzling sausages, home fries and wild blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup were dancing on the breeze along with the aroma of woodsmoke. Leftovers? Nahh... You're all lucky I haven't got smell-a-vision installed. You'd gain 5 pounds just from that.

While we were having breakfast, the breeze freshened up a bit on the pond. No whitecaps or anything too bad, but...

After we got breakfast cleaned up, we drove over to the launch ramp. The three boats are all hand-made. The lapstrake canoe is a Charlotte, the small cedar strip is a Wee Lassie and the larger one in the rear is a Wabnaki. The Divine Miss M had only been on her own in a canoe once. In the fall she paddled the Charlotte in a small area of the same pond. She decided that she wanted to paddle my Wee Lassie, so I was paddling the Charlotte.

My father, DS and DW were in the Wabnaki. It was DS's first time in a canoe - ever. He was very excited. DW was excited too, but only because she's not particularly comfortable in a small boat.

We finally got out on the water and The Divine Miss M was trying to paddle with a Greenland style paddle that I made for her. She wasn't having much luck as it was a bit short for the Wee Lassie's beam. She then tried a larger paddle which she managed to work with. I was trying to stay close, shadowing her in the Charlotte and at the same time having a running tutorial on paddling as she tried to go along in a straight line. She was finding it a bit frustrating as she's very light and the wind was pushing her around a bit. Pretty soon, she felt she was getting the hang of things and was paddling fairly aggressively. I warned her not to get too cocky.

It was very sudden, really. She appeared to try to take a stroke, but the flat of the blade was not oriented correctly and as she tried to push, she got no resistance from the paddle as the blade sliced through the water - over she went.

The next thing I saw was the canoe's bottom and a floating paddle. The Divine Miss M was nowhere in sight. I had a moment of panic only a parent can have and began closing the short distance at an amazing speed. While I was paddling, I was relieved to hear her screaming very loudly from underneath the canoe - I knew she was OK if she was screaming. Little girls have this really piercing scream when they want to.

As I got to the boat and rolled the gunnel of the submerged canoe up to get her out from under the canoe she darted out and grabbed the gunnel of the Charlotte. She was going to haul herself aboard.

Not so fast, young lady! Let's wait for Grampa and he can help balance us while you get in - before you swamp a second canoe and the camera, wallet, key fob and dry gear!

It took me a minute to convince her to hold onto the canoe and float while waiting for my father come over. Amazingly - she hadn't lost her hat, her glasses or anything else. She finally stopped screaming once she got in the boat again. She was wet and cold, but OK. After being transferred to my father's boat, I went back and collected the loose paddles floating in the water and towed the swamped canoe to shore to empty it.

Amazingly, The Devine Miss M wanted to get right back into the canoe and paddle back to the put-in. I've got to give her kudos for wanting to get right back in the canoe. It was very brave of her, considering the scare she had.

She did learn some valuable lessons today:

-Always, always, always wear your PFD.
-Don't overestimate your skills.
-Don't paddle with your shoes on, you may need to swim, and it's easier without them.
-If you got over, stay with the boat.
-Even when the boat is upside down, there is (usually) air underneath!
-Always dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.
-No matter how warm the day may seem, the water can be COLD.
-Always have a dry change of clothes. You may not be going swimming, but Murphy may have other ideas.

No pictures of the after-capsize Miss M. She was a bit too ornery for them!