Saturday, December 31, 2011

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.

For Christmas this year, DD, who has been playing the flute in her school band for the past year and a half, received a lovely gift from her grandfather.  It is a Shaker-style music stand in cherry with ash pegs and tapered rails for the back of the stand.  It is truly an elegant thing, but these pictures don't do it justice.  I'll post some more pictures when the stand is complete.  I say that because of anything my father hates to do, it is to finish furniture.  He loves to build it, but hates to finish it.  He often says that he'd rather build two complete pieces of furniture than build and apply finish to one. Why? 


To get a good finish requires a good deal of preparation.  The music stand as received was in great shape - very little sanding was going to be required.  However, there were certain to be some random spots of glue left behind from the assembly process.  I had raised the grain with a damp sponge and gone over it with paper when dry before she'd received it, but I knew that I hadn't gotten all of the glue spots.  So yesterday, when she wanted to start finishing the piece, I told DD to take and sand it all over with some 320 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper looking for spots of glue and rough areas.  I told her to let me know when she thought she was done.

All-in-all, she'd done a good job and I only touched up a few spots that I could feel were still a bit rough when I ran my hands over the piece.  We're using Watco's natural oil finish on this as it is more forgiving than a hard finish for DD to work with.  She can wipe it on and wipe the excess off with ease.  As the first coat went on, she could feel some rough spots that were still there and we found some more glue spots that had been missed.  A piece of the 320 grit paper quickly solved those issues and banished any trace of glue. 

Here's the head, precariously balanced on a piece of cardboard with the adjustment pegs barely visible to the left.


Here is the base - still waiting for another coat or two of finish.

I try to impress upon the canoe builders in my class that preparation is the key to a good finish as well.  The couple building the Prospector Ranger 15 were a bit frustrated by the amount of scraping and sanding that they did before finishing the outside of the hull.  They spent about two and a half class sessions doing this work to prepare the surface.  They were tired and, "just want to be done".  So, after scraping, sanding and inspecting the hull, they brought it up to the dust free area upstairs from the shop and wiped the hull down with denatured alcohol to prepare the surface.  As they applied the first coat of spar varnish to the hull, the beauty began to shine through.

While people may think I'm a task-master when I tell them to go back and do a bit more sanding or a bit more scraping, I think they find that it is worth it in the end.  There's no substitute for good preparation.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all.  

Here's hoping that you don't get too many presents with "some assembly required"!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Talk about planning ahead...

Reuters photo by Stefan Wermuth

6 year-old Leo Park is really planning ahead (and kudos to Jeremy Paxton):

LONDON (Reuters) - A worried letter from six-year old Leo Park sparked a mammoth operation to test what is believed to be the world's first chimney specifically designed to accommodate Santa Claus.
The little boy's parents are having a house custom built and when Leo viewed the plans he was concerned that the chimney wasn't big enough for Father Christmas and his famous belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly.

As he was penning his traditional letter to Santa, Leo decided to also write a heartfelt missive about the chimney design problem to Jeremy Paxton, who owns the estate on which the new house is being built.
In childish scrawl the letter reads: "Dear Mr Paxton, I am worried that my mummy's house does not have a big enough chimney. I think Santa Claus will get stuck. Please can you help. Love Leo Park."
Paxton, founder and owner of luxury holiday home development Lower Mill Estate in the southwestern English region of the Cotswolds decided to commission a special formula to satisfy Leo's concerns.
Obviously size was the key consideration to ensure Santa won't get wedged tight on his way to stuffing the stockings and so Paxton enlisted a mathematician to take on the challenge and save the jolly old elf from turning red for the wrong reasons.

The Santa-friendly formula looked at risk factors of chimney entry, the size of St Nick's girth versus the width of the chimney at its narrowest point.

To test what they said was the perfect chimney, Paxton enlisted the help of a stand-in Santa Claus in full padded outfit, a crane, a harness and winch to put the new chimney through its paces.

Leo was invited to watch as the great experiment got underway.

"Go on Santa" he shouted out as the faux Father Christmas was lifted into the air towards the chimney.
A few seconds later and Santa was successfully lowered into the chimney of the half-built house, re-emerging shortly after to deliver a hearty: "Ho Ho Ho."

"I can guarantee that this chimney is big enough for Santa and all the presents," he told Leo.

An excited Leo gave a thumbs up to the St. Nicholas impersonator and rushed to hug him.

"I'm absolutely delighted not just that Santa fitted into the chimney, but that that little boy, Leo, said to me: 'That was the best day of my life' which made the whole thing worthwhile," said Paxton.
The Park family won't be able to inhabit their new holiday home until next December, just in time to get the milk and biscuits ready for their very special Yuletide visitor.

(Reporting by Georgina Cooper, editing by Paul Casciato)

Now then : will Santa be able to get a canoe down that chimney?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tech Tip Tuesday

I'm going to bring up cabinet scrapers again.   I've covered their care and feeding in this earlier post.  They are really a wonderful tool that many woodworkers and boat-builders ignore at their own peril -   particularly for anyone who does any kind of work with epoxy or other hard finishes.

My students who are building the Ranger had some issues when they were rolling on their epoxy to build the coating up to "kill the weave" of the fiberglass cloth.  I'm not sure if they pressed too hard with the roller or kept the epoxy in the cup for too long and it was starting to "kick".  At any rate, the end result was a surface with a great deal of "orange peel".  If you're not familiar with this, it is a texture on a finished surface that has the look of the outside of an orange - the fruit - with all of the requisite divots and contours that go with it.

I'll say this - I'm not a fond fan of letting my students sand on the outside of the hull with power sanders.  It raises an immense amount of dust in the shop, the sandpaper clogs relatively quickly because they tend to exert too much pressure on the sander to speed the process up, and they have a tendency to cut into the cloth without noticing.   None of these things are good.  Usually, the finish is good enough that a little hand-sanding will suffice to prepare the surface for spar varnish or spar urethane, depending on the type of epoxy used.

With the amount of texture on the Ranger's surface, this wasn't going to take a little bit of hand sanding.  It was going to take a lot.

Students tend to be a bit reluctant to try the cabinet scrapers as they're unfamiliar things to them.  They've been taught about them and watched me use them, but rarely use them on their own.  I find that the cabinet scraper does an excellent job of removing runs from the epoxy and leveling badly textured areas quickly.  It is nice because it makes curls of epoxy rather than dust which are a bit easier to clean up than the dust and don't settle like fall-out on every level surface in the shop.  It is also fairly fast and doesn't clog up the same way that sandpaper does.  It is a lot quieter than a power sander on a large, hollow hull, which makes for more pleasant working conditions, too.

I have a method to deal with this reluctance.

I borrowed it from Mark Twain.  (Think Tom Sawyer and white-washing the fence.)

Let me explain the method.

First, I give the students some sandpaper and tell them what needs to happen to prepare the surface of the canoe for varnish.  I let them sand for about 10-15 minutes which is much more tedious than it sounds.

While they are sanding, I sharpen up a few cabinet scrapers per the instructions in the previous post noted above.  I then take one of the scrapers and proceed to do a relatively quick job of preparing a large area of the canoe with the scraper.  This usually coincides with the point in time when they are getting fed-up with sanding.

When they see what an "easy" job it is with a cabinet scraper, they ask if I have some more scrapers they could borrow and, oh yeah, could I give them a quick refresher course on how to sharpen the scrapers.

Works every time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Again?

Dang.  Somebody either put me out of my misery today or bring me a triple espresso.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two-Fer Tuesday

Yup.  I'm pretty sure we do have mice.  As winter approaches, the mice migrate into the house looking for a warm, dry place and food to eat.  The first tell-tale indications are the sounds of little paws running along the ceiling in inaccessible spaces between the first and second floor and some attic spaces.  I've posted before about our local vermin - outside we have woodland voles who live outdoors around the foundation of the house and in the garden beds.  Indoors we have woodland jumping mice - your typical bulgy-eyed field mice.  They're cute, but they're destructive - and they don't pay rent.

They tend to congregate downstairs in the basement, which is an un-finished space.  I've had thoughts about putting in partitions and making a rec-room of sorts down there, but I have visions of this:

DW is concerned about the mice as well because we have a set of pantry shelves in the basement where we store groceries and other dry goods that get purchased in bulk or because the price is good.   If anything, the mice get into bags of rice and barley and sometimes will chew on boxes of baking mixes.  Actually, I think she's more concerned about sharing her wine supply which we keep on the pantry shelves as well:

Because DS and DD have gerbils, killing traps are frowned upon in our house.  The mice are pretty close cousins to the gerbils and the kids don't want to see us flattening mice with the old-fashioned traps.  I also find that they don't work that well and I have to finish the mouse off, or discover the the mouse has suffered some long-lasting and horrible fate in the trap.  I've found the Have-a-Heart traps to work pretty well, too.  Witness today's haul or the reason for the post's title:

We've now caught 11 mice in the last two weeks or so.   They get released far down in the woods away from the house to become part of the food chain again.  We've been amazed to watch them climb trees high and fast enough to put a squirrel to shame and run down to the edge of the pond, jump in and swim out to small islands of brush and trees.  DW is still convinced that we're catching the same mice over and over.   Personally, I think the place is just lousy with mice at the moment.  Anyway - I caught three in one night last week, so there are at least three of them!  Perhaps someone is dropping them off like kittens at a dairy farm!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The picture above is from the kitchen at work.  Our office manager is the person who tends to be saddled with changing rolls of paper towels.  She was out of the office for a few days before Thanksgiving and on the day after she left, we arrived at the state that is viewed above.  One last sheet.  I decided to do a little experiment and see what happened - so, I did nothing.  It became like a game, played with chess-like precision and cunning.  I watched as people came into the kitchen with their own paper towels from somewhere else.  I watched people shake their hands and dirty dishes off into the sink when they would normally just grab for a paper towel.  It was truly an amazing exercise in psychology, really.  It took several days before anyone bothered to replace the roll - and that was me the day before Thanksgiving.

The image below was taken at home and is actually the more threatening situation.  It is (was) a roll of toilet paper.  Literally one sheet was left on the roll - if that.  I'm not sure you could have even dislodged the sheet from the cardboard tube in the middle.  Ironically, there is a container in the bathroom next to this toilet which stores spare rolls of toilet paper, so it isn't a big deal to replace the roll, but generally, nobody could be bothered to change the roll.  For the longest time, I wondered if anyone in the house actually knew how to remove the little spring-loaded axle from the center of the toilet roll to replace it.  A really, really long time.   This happens at work as well - a lot - and I often comment that I feel really comfortable at work - it feels just like home.


I must admit, however, that recently I've been finding an even more curious situation in the kitchen and bathrooms at home.  Since the bilge-rats (gerbils) arrived, we discovered that they love to play with the toilet and paper towel rolls.  They run trough them and chew them to bits, being the viscous beasties that they are.  Household members have taken to giving these toilet rolls to the gerbils, and now you don't see the last sheet, you just find the bare naked axle or paper towel stand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

This one goes out to...


Mike seemed a bit thirsty today for some reason.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Progress from the Thotful Spot

One of the things that I was thinking about was how to finish the decks and inwales where they meet the stem ends at bow and stern.   There are, frankly, many ways to solve this.  However, I'm trying to make this relatively simple and elegant in appearance.    I went back and did a bit of research and reading and have decided to use a solution that Jerry Stelmok taught in his class.  On cedar and canvas canoes, the inwales are in place, but not attached at the stems.  After the canoe is removed from the mold, the decks are installed.  The joint where they meet is a mortise and tenon joint.  In the image above, the inwales aren't seen to let you see the joint.  A notch is made in the underside of the deck (the mortise) and a protrusion (the tenon) is left at the top of the stem.  As the inwales are fitted to the deck, they close in the sides of the mortise.  In this case, the tenon will be bonded with thickened epoxy.


The inwales and outwales will be tapered at the ends to give a more delicate appearance. After the hull has been skinned, the stem ends will be protected with a piece of brass stem-band that will wrap over the top of the deck.  The final screw holding the stem-band in place will be located through the deck and into the tenon.

More to come.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On my Soap-Box : The Holidaze

Over the past few days, Paddling Upstream has gotten a huge number of hits from a website that I'd not heard about.  That website is Pinterest.   And here is the image that brought all of this interest:

This image was taken at a mall in Florida by my friend Russell two years ago and he shared it with me on his Facebook page.  I've now seen it re-posted on Pinterest and Facebook.  To both his pleasure and his chagrin, this image seems to have gone viral this year.    He's pleased that its making the rounds, but a little disappointed that his 15 minutes of fame are anonymous. 

On to my soap box...

In honor of Andy Rooney's passing, I'm going to get up on my own soap-box to complain.  He crystallized everyone's thoughts on the issues of daily life so well.  I hope to be able to reflect those things that we've all been thinking of.

As I noted, I've posted before on this subject before, here.  At the end of September, I found myself posting a Facebook status update that my worst nightmares had come true:
It has finally come true.

I was in CVS this evening. There were witches, scarecrows, pumpkins, turkeys, and Santa Claus.

Merry Thanksgivoween.

:::rolls eyes:::

Horrendous, isn't it?  I think that both retailers and marketing people should come to realize that the public is getting fed up with the homogenization of holidays during the year.  There is going to be a back-lash from consumers one of these years, and I think it has begun.  Most of the comments that were attached to the image at the top of this post included things like "Darn straight!", "Right on!" and "Finally, a store that 'gets it'."  On a Facebook post with the Nordstrom's image, I saw this comment:

I love this!! I get frustrated with people who complain that stores advertise too early but yet they still go and spend their money at these places. People must learn to vote with their wallets! As long as these companies are making money they do NOT care what the public thinks! Nordstrom just got my business!!

I truly worry that my children will not know which symbols go with which holidays because of what they see in stores, malls and in television and print advertising.  I also think that we've diminished the meanings of the holidays - including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza (Or whatever holiday you celebrate, Festivus included!)  to candy, food and football and presents. It seems that parents now need to think much more about traditions, celebrations and how we keep them for our children.

While I love the holidays as much as anyone else, can we please just celebrate one holiday at a time?

Pretty please?

Election Day

Monday, November 7, 2011

It is a Disgrace

The image above is from Connecticut Light & Power's website this morning. (Click to enlarge) It shows the outages that still have not been resolved after 8 days.  It shows that there are over 61,000 customers without power.  While other locations in Massachusetts were without power until the weekend, CL&P says that some customers will not see power restored until Wednesday.  I know the damage was widespread, but this seems to be taking a very large amount of time.

I guess we should just be thankful that this out(r)age didn't happen in February.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A bit more progress...

I've made a bit more progress on the frame for the skin-on-frame canoe this evening.  I've got the forms mounted on the strongback and started to cut stringers.  I think I've discovered my second "boo-boo".  The chine stringers were intended to be fairly husky and while they bend well in one axis, they don't bend so well in the other.  I think I'll need to lighten up on this excessively beefy piece of stock.  I am liking the way the forms sit on the strongback for alignment.  It's a great deal more simple than trying to juggle frames in mid-air the way some kayak builders do.  

More to come.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Halloween

Ok, this is a bit belated, but it looks like Halloween will be a bit belated, too - like November 5th.

Why?  Well, we had a bit of snow this weekend.   As I'm writing, there are still about a million people without power still - 4 days later.

Let me take a step back here.  At the end of last week, the weathermen were making dire predictions of a very early season Northeaster.  We never have snow of any substance this early in this neck of the woods.  At any rate, I kept my eye on the news and made sure that we would be prepared for whatever might come.  Having purchased propane for the camp stove and batteries and drinking water in preparation for Hurricane Irene, I felt well prepared.

My canoe-building class was held as usual on Saturday morning and DW and I agreed that I'd clean the garage in the afternoon while she and DS were at a birthday party so we could get a car in the garage.    I got home from class and had a bite of lunch and then started in on the cleaning.  I had a bunch of things I wanted to put in the basement and moved them to the backyard by the hatchway.  I no sooner got ready to head down to the basement to open the hatchway when I noticed some "white" in the air.  I no sooner got the last of the things into the basement when the flakes started to grow in size.  It was just before 2 o'clock.  The flakes were HUGE - like about 2-3" in diameter and falling fast. 

I continued cleaning as the snow fell and put out birdfeeders for our feathered friends.  With the early snow, I figured food would be hard for them to find.  The snow continued to fall like white lead.  By about 4:30 in the afternoon we had several inches of heavy, wet snow that were bending branches severely.  We had been invited to a Halloween party by friends that was supposed to start at 4:00, but we figured it probably wasn't happening.  DW and DS arrived not much later and we started making dinner.  We ate and had cleaned up most of the dishes when the power went out.  Electric camping lanterns were pulled out and everyone went to bed a bit early.  Throughout the night we could hear the sounds of breaking branches.

We awoke to this:

Probably about 10 inches of snow.  We later found out that some areas had as much as 32 inches of snow from this storm.  Fortunately, the street appeared to have been plowed.  The more immediate issue was that the temperature in the house was dropping as we have oil heat which depends on electricity.  It was about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, but it wasn't that bad with the sun streaming through the windows.

I cleared the driveway and loaded up my car with the chainsaw and supplies.  My father, who lives across town, was likely to need some help with downed limbs and trees.  I hadn't even gotten to the main road when I had to pull the chainsaw out of the trunk to clear the road of downed trees with the help of neighbors.

On the drive over, there were branches and trees everywhere and the occasional downed wires along the side of the road.  To say it looked like a war zone would not be an understatement.  (Even four days later, there are still places where roads have only a single lane that is passable.)  There were several cars that had been crushed by fallen limbs or trees and some houses that were obviously damaged by more of the same.  On my way, I noticed that our local hardware store was open and I stopped in for a bit of 2-cycle oil.  They were doing a cash-only business using flashlights to find the stock in the store.  I must say, they were doing a serious community service. 

Arriving at my father's house, my expectations were proven right.  I spent several hours clearing downed branches and trees for my father and another neighbor until I ran out of fuel for the saw.  I could have spent more time, but most of the trees that were left will be fodder for professional arborists in the future.  When dealing with chainsaws and fallen trees it's good to know your limitations. 

On the way home, I saw this guy:

We skipped over Thanksgiving and melded Halloween and Christmas together.  This seemed to be a local theme.  I later saw another snowman with a Jack O'Lantern head that was playing a banjo at the side of the road.  DW pointed out a "snow-witch", too.

At home, we tried to keep a sense of normalcy going.   Halloween cut-outs that we'd made to go into the windows were put in place:

We also worked on our Jack O'Lanterns.  DD and DS drew up their own designs. I cut out DS's pumpkin - I think I'm getting good at carrying out the design intent - as well as my own. DD surprised me this year by not only scooping out the pumpkin seeds, but cut the face on her pumpkin as well.  Results were quite good - don't you think?

 We made a quick dinner and cleaned up before the light faded.  The family curled up under blankets with electric lanterns nearby to read some good books for a few hours before bed-time.  DS continued to complain that we didn't have electricity.  Mostly, he was complaining because he'd gotten a game for the Wii at the library, but couldn't use it!  We headed for bed around 8:00 and doubled up the blankets on the bed as the outdoor temperature was supposed to drop into the 20's. 

Monday - Halloween - the temperature in the house was about 50 degrees.  Bit nippy and still no power.  I made a pot of corn chowder for lunch and to share with neighbors who didn't have a way to cook.   As the only resource we had for information was a battery-powered radio, we hadn't heard much in the way of news about what was going on in our own town.  I went over to check on my father and he wasn't in.  While I shoveled some bits of ice off his driveway he drove in.  He'd been out to a local supermarket - which had power and was open!  Cool!  At lunch-time, DW and I decided to go get a few things we were running low on at the supermarket.  It would also be a change of pace for the kids and let them see the damage.

Back home, we put the Jack O'Lanterns out and had an early dinner to try to beat the darkness again.  The kids were dying to go trick-or-treating, so we lit the candles in the pumpkins to let people know we were home - and I headed out with the kids.  It was cold and very dark.  While we knew that some of our neighbors had left to try to find places where there was heat and power, we had failed to realize that probably 2/3 or the neighborhood had gone away.  At the third house, where we found people, they shared the news that the city had postponed Halloween festivities until the Saturday the 5th of November for safety reasons.  Good call - wish we'd heard the news sooner.

The kids are now looking forward to being able to trick-or-treat with their friends in the neighborhood on Saturday - and I'm looking forward to having truly scary pumpkins by then!  Hopefully by then, everyone will have the electricity to enjoy Halloween in warmth and comfort!

Wordless Wednesday

Friday, October 28, 2011

Baby Steps

I'm making progress on my prototype skin-on-frame canoe.  The canoe in question is 1/2 scale.  Why 1/2 scale?  Well, marine plywood isn't cheap and this model is as much to establish building methods as the feasibility of the design itself.   When I start a design, I usually take the offsets or whatever design I'm working on at the time and create a CAD model.  I'm fortunate that I have a copy of the CAD software that I use at work on a machine at home.  (The user license allows for this...)  Once my design has been created and checked visually on the computer for smooth curves and regular transitions, I usually create a Adobe Acrobat file of the drawing.  These files can be taken to your local print shop on a thumb drive - in my case, a local office supplies store - and printed in full scale on their large format printers.  It's not that expensive, really.  The other thing is that if you're getting multiple patterns from the same drawing, you may want extra copies - they can do that with either by printing more copies or large scale photocopies.

Once the prints have been made, I usually turn them into templates by bonding them to cardboard sheets (NOT corrugated cardboard...) with some spray adhesive.  In this case, I had a choice.  I could have adhered them directly to the plywood that I'd be cutting out, but opted not to in case I wanted to make changes or notes on the templates.

As you may note from my templates, I've only positively identified the location of the keel and sheer stringers on the canoe and will by seeing where the best location is for additional stringers around the turn of the bilge and on the bottom of the hull frame.  Mostly I'm concerned about how the stringers will bend and twist into place at this point.  Also missing are the concave cuts between stringer notches in the sections to provide clearance for the covering fabric once water pressure is exerted on the covering.

Tonight I managed to get the plywood sections cut out and ready to put on the strongback.  Earlier today, I made a trip to my conveniently located lumberyard and picked up a 2x4 for the strongback and a few pieces of poplar to be stringers, mounting blocks and floor-boards.  On the real boat, this will probably be pine or cedar for rot resistance, but for now, that's not an issue on the model After I got the lumber strapped to the car's roof rack, one wag at work commented on how fast and straight the trees grew on my car roof. 
More to come...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The World's Most Expensive Canoe

While you probably don't believe me, the canoe below is probably one of the most expensive canoes that I've ever seen:

Until this morning, I hadn't thought about it much.  One of my students commented on the thought and I started putting two and two together. (and two more and two more....)   It's sort of like the book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.  (If you haven't read it, you should - even if you're not 6 years old.)  It started out innocently enough - and built upon itself.  

Let me tell you a story.

About 2-1/2 years ago, a woman came to the first night of exhibition at the school where I teach.  At this exhibition, the students display the work they've been doing in their various classes, including our canoes.  This woman saw the canoes and returned with her husband the next day for the second part of the exhibition.  She insisted that she and her husband wanted to sign up for up-coming session of the class that would start in the Fall and that they wanted to build a tandem canoe.  When I informed her that we did solo double-paddle canoes, she still insisted that it should be a tandem.

As I'd had others interested in building two-seat canoes, I spent time over the summer choosing what I felt would be the best, most versatile design  - and one that we could actually get into the shop.  The canoe chosen was the Prospector Ranger 15 from the Bear Mountain Boat Shop.  After some real thinking about it, I figured out how to lighten both forms and strongback as well as lowering the forms so we could get it into the shop every week.

True to their word, this couple came to sign up for the class - the die was cast!

In the first session, they brought in stock to build the strongback and station molds, along with the Western Red Cedar that would become the strips for the hull.  They then proceeded to select one of the more expensive woods we use for accent strips - Peruvian Walnut for use in the feature strip and for all the major trim work but the decks.  The decks?  Oh, they're just from a piece of Mesquite - custom cut on a friends bandsaw mill, no less.  In addition to the materials they've purchased, they've also purchased hand tools necessary to build the canoe including saws, plane, chisels and the like.

We'll fast forward a little bit here...  After having two students sign up for a total of 4 semesters (that's tuition for 8 class semesters total at at this point...) we are in the middle of the 4th semester.  Glassing of the the hull's interior is nearing completion and seats are being built.  At this point, the couple realizes that they need a vehicle that will be able to carry this canoe as they don't feel the small cars they have are appropriate - and one needs replacement anyway.  So, they get a new car to carry the canoe.  Then something happens to the car - there was an accident under some concerning circumstances. (perhaps the car, not the driver...)  They decide they are uncomfortable with this vehicle and get a different, new, vehicle for the canoe.  Oh - and the racks to go on the vehicle.

At the end of the semester, a serious blow has been dealt to their plans.  The couple live in a condominium that is several flights of stairs up from ground level and don't have a garage.   The canoe was going to live in a garage belonging to friends to keep the friends' existing canoe 'company'.  However, the friends have purchased two plastic kayaks and now there is no space in the garage for the Prospector.  Brains are wracked for solutions, but none come to light.

Until August.

We had a nice summer picnic at the camp belonging to one of the other students to work on the caning of the canoe seats.  It is a lovely place on a pond not far from here.   The couple building the Prospector had a wonderful day at the camp and was enamored of the idea of a rustic little place on a lake somewhere.  

Fast forward to this Fall.

The couple returns to sign up for their last semester of boat-building.   We hear the excited news that the couple has purchased a log cabin on a piece of water a bit further away so that the canoe will have a home.

So, to tally:

Materials to build the canoe - Check.
Hand tools for building the canoe - Check.
10 semesters worth of tuition - Check.
Two - count 'em - two new cars to transport canoe - Check.
Log cabin at the lake to store and use the canoe - Check.

While I don't know the actual dollar total, all I can say is that at this point it is a substantial sum of money that has been expended here.  I hope they love to paddle!  

This morning, the subject of their planned launch party - to take place this June at the log cabin at the lake - came up.  Perhaps the last expense of their canoe-building odyssey.  I half-jokingly said that if they served no beverage other than champagne at the party (Dom Perignon at that...) that the party wouldn't be the most expensive part of the whole building process!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Well, we'll see...

I always tend to describe myself as being like a 40 watt bulb - I'm not necessarily the brightest, but I won't burn out prematurely like one of those fancy extra-bright halogen ones...  So, being the Bear of Little Brain, I have been in my Thotful Spot again.

While I love teaching my cedar-strip canoe building class, there are some concerns.  Chief among them is the cost and duration of the class - it is about $600-700 for materials and takes at least four, 14 week class sessions (time and $$$ both being a factor here...) for most students to complete a boat.  This makes the class too expensive, and quite a commitment in terms of time.  Also, it requires a bit of woodworking experience up-front or more build time to learn those woodworking skills.  It's not that they are particularly difficult to learn, it's just that the skills need to be acquired - and that takes more time.  

I'm looking to do something different.

I have several goals.  I want to be building boats that will be...
  • small and lightweight
  • inexpensive
  • quick to build
  • less demanding of builder's skills
To that end, I've been working on some Thomas Yost style skin-on-frame kayaks to gain more experience with this sort of building style.  Another person who has taken this idea and run with it is Dave Gentry.  He's got a variety of nicely done skin-on-frame canoes and kayaks and has done both reproductions of classic craft as well as some of his own designs.  I could definitely see doing some of his designs in a class like this.

After building the Yost-style kayaks, I've learned some things that I don't like about Yost's building method.  It's difficult to get the patterns square and perpendicular.  I did, however come up with a solution to this issue and would be comfortable to be building a boat like this in class.  Still, I'm a canoe guy - I like kayaks, but prefer to paddle canoes.  So, I've been working to develop a design of my own.

The image below shows the germ of the idea.  It is still missing some critical features, but the majority of it is there.  These are plywood stations for a non-traditional solo skin-on-frame canoe. 

They can easily be copied by a relatively inexperienced woodworker from master patterns using a router and a pattern bit.  It's a 13' long asymmetrical solo double-paddle canoe.  It's about 28" wide, has slight rocker, a little tumble-home to the sides and a shallow arch for a bottom.  The thing that I feel makes my design a bit different is that I'm using the stations themselves as the fixturing to assure that they are square and perpendicular to the main axis of the canoe.  After the stringers have been installed, the 'frame' part of the stations will be cut free from the 'fixturing' part of the stations to release the boat for finishing and skinning.  I'm even toying with the idea of integrating grab handles into the last two stations for carrying the boat (by two people...).  I'm concerned that even with the light weight of the canoe, a bit more or wider material would be desirable for comfort.

I have some more design work to validate the shape's stability and am working on a 1/2 scale model to figure out the construction details.  I think this is going to be interesting!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Safety First!

Last year the school where I teach replaced an older Delta contractor's model saw with the nice table saw shown above.  It is a SawStop brand table saw.  Before we go any further with this post, I wish to mention that I have no financial interest with anything to do with this product.  We chose the SawStop saw for several reasons.  First, it was a high-quality product and was we felt it was a good value.  Second, it's price was very competitive with similar saws in it's class for size and power.  Third, it has the SawStop's patented safety feature.

What is this special feature?

It has a safety device built inside that detects conductivity through the blade.  If something conductive - metal, wet wood, or the operator - is detected, the SawStop's safety device engages.  If you do actually wish to use the saw to cut something conductive, you can determine if what you are going to cut is conductive (before making the cut) and you can dis-able the safety feature if you so desire to make the cut.  (With a key - using instructions provided in the manual.)  When the safety device engages, a perforated aluminum shoe which is part of an expendable cartridge is pushed up into the bottom of the spinning blade by a spring, stopping the blade's rotation and causing the arbor assembly to drop the blade below the surface of the table.  This takes place in literally thousandths of a second.  Check out the time lapse video below:

We've had the saw for over a year now and it has been used without incident by students with a wide variety of experience. Until last Wednesday.

I received a call at about 8:30 in the evening on Wednesday from a fellow instructor to let me know that there had been an incident in his class and that the SawStop safety feature engaged. A student was making a cross-cut on the saw using the miter gage. We're not entirely certain of what happened, but we suspect that the piece of stock that she was cutting was a bit short and not well supported by the miter gage - it should have been backed up with a longer piece of sacrificial stock screwed to the miter gage. At any rate, we believe that the stock pivoted around the corner of the miter gage causing the piece to jam and kick back, taking the piece the student was cutting and her hand into the rotating blade.

A loud "BANG!" was heard by the class (...and likely everyone else in the building!) and the stunned student was standing at the saw trying to figure out what had just happened. The piece the student was cutting was damaged and a small nick was in one fingernail - no blood was drawn. The saw had performed as advertised and likely saved this student a serious injury. The student was shaken, but unhurt and (wisely) chose to head home for the rest of the evening. The cartridge and blade were changed on the saw and after some refresher information about safety in the shop from the instructor, the class continued.

We are all very pleased and relieved that this student was saved from what could have been a debilitating and life-altering injury. Plain and simple.

There is apparently legislation being introduced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require a device which functions similarly to the SawStop on all table saws. I think the time has come.

There has been quite a bit of discussion by both amateurs and professionals of late about these saws that was spurred by a lawsuit that was filed against Ryobi (I'm not picking on Ryobi - I'm sure there are other lawsuits against other manufacturers, but this one has been quite prominent in the news.)  People who are complaining about the judgement and the FTC requirement say that they are concerned that these safety devices will make people complacent about proper, safe use of these saws.  I've not found that to be the case, personally - when the blade spins up, it's still a 'gut-check' for me.  Students that I've watched working with these saws still treat them with the respect that they deserve.

I strongly urge you to go look at this previous post.   Everything in this post bears repeating and there are probably things that should be added, too.  There is an image in the post which is a bit difficult to look at, but I think it is a good reminder of why you need to be safe in your shop and why these safety features on table saws are important.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Riding the "T"

Tomorrow is another run into Boston on some personal business.  Seems I have been in the Boston area quite a bit of late - for work as well as personal stuff.  DW has been down that way more often than I have of late, but I think she can sympathize with my sentiments here.   When we go into Boston, we try to avoid driving in to town.  Why?   Boston traffic is, uh (I'm being kind here...) difficult.  Particularly at rush hours.  Also, Boston parking is either scarce, inconvenient or expensive.

When heading into Boston of late, we prefer to take the MBTA, or the "T".  It's much easier to park in their long-term lots and grab a subway train into town so you don't have to worry about getting lost, stuck in traffic or not finding adequate parking.  We've been there often enough that we got Charlie Cards:

The Charlie Card is a convenient way to ride the 'T' as we can load up a bunch of fare money on the card and not have to worry about trashing a paper ticket.  The other thing is that you pay an extra surcharge to get a paper ticket!  It's actually $0.30 cheaper per ride with the Charlie Card than the paer ticket.  The story behind Charlie and the naming of the Charlie card is a long one - too long to relate here, but I'll give you this link to the back-story over at BostonTeen.

Along with this goes the fabulous version of the song performed by the Kingston Trio: