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:

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, October 10, 2011

A return to the Swedish Behemoth.

DW was recently listening to NPR and discovered, much to her horror, that IKEA was going to be revising their iconic Billy shelving system.  The were planning to increase the depth of the shelves by two, count them, two, inches.  The cause of this reaction was the fact that we had been planning to remake the kid's playroom into a study when they'd outgrown the playroom.  We just hadn't planned on doing it quite this soon - maybe later next year or the year after...

This was not to be.

We had a carefully laid plan for the room after a previous trip to the Behemoth.  We started by turning a corner of the playroom into DD's study area.  Her bedroom is really too small to add a desk, so we put a desk, chair, rolling file cabinet and a wall shelf in the playroom.  It's quite a nice workspace, really.  I tricked it out with some LED lights attached to the bottom of the shelf, a nice leather desk pad and matching trash can and a molded insert for the upper drawer of the filing cabinet for things like pencils, pens and the like.  I'm actually a bit jealous, as DW and DD both have a good dedicated workspace, and I'm usually left with the dining room or kitchen table.

At any rate, we'd planned to add a set of Billy shelves for books and things as well as some comfortable chairs for reading.  That was the plan at any rate.  There was some concern that the additional depth would take up more room than we'd like in the future study.  We decided that we wanted the 'now' version of the shelves.

I figured that I would kill two birds with one stone - I would get the book shelves and some items for DW's Christmas present at the same time.  (No, I'm not telling what it is!)  I created a list and carefully monitored the stock at the IKEA store that we normally visit with the idea of picking it up on a Friday evening after work.

On the appointed day, with the stock levels looking good, I left work a little early and hopped in the car to head down to IKEA.

Thank heavens for good instructions...

After a less than ideal commute down to the IKEA store - nearly a 2-1/4 hour ride through some nasty rush-hour traffic, I arrived at the store and headed in with my list.  I knew exactly what I wanted, so I started with the small items in the "market" and worked my way into the warehouse to pick up the shelves, some doors and some glass shelves.  By the time I had loaded the cart, I figure I must have had 500 pounds or more on the cart - and it was unwieldy to say the least.  As I approached the check out, maneuvering carefully, to see that there were only two registers open that weren't self check-out.  As I approached the register, the cashier switched off her light, but told me that I'd be her last customer.  (WHEW!)  I thanked her when I finally got to the register and she put on a flawless Swedish accent and said something to the effect of, "We strive to provide the best customer service!"

After checking out, I went into the parking lot to load the purchases into DW's RAV4 which I had brought specifically for the trip.  I had folded down the rear seat before going into the store and slid in the smaller boxes without any problem.  I then tried to load in the taller bookshelves.  First of all they were very, very heavy - I just managed to get them out of the rack and onto the cart myself.

They didn't fit.   I took the passenger front seat and slid it all the way forward and managed to just barely fit the package with the tall shelves in.  Then came the doors - I knew they were longer boxes and couldn't see how I was going to fit them in.  Ultimately, I was able to slide them in between the front seats on edge.  I barely had enough room.

At this point, I hadn't had any dinner and it was approaching 7:30 PM.  Being that IKEA has a decent and inexpensive cafe, I went in to get some dinner:

Yes, that is what I had for dinner.   The food is one of the few things that doesn't seem to come with instructions.

As I returned to the car for the ride home, I hopped in and turned the key.  The passenger seat was pressed forward in such a way that the sensor thought that the seat was occupied and proceeded to chime at me that the seatbelt wasn't latched for the passenger.  It did this twice and finally gave up.  However, on the trip home, every time I slowed down for traffic or a stop, these heavy boxes would shift forward again, setting off the seat sensor again.  Only after I got home did it dawn on me that it might have been possible to pull the seatbelt across and put it in the latch to let the car think that the seatbelt was engaged for the passenger, but with all the stuff in the way, I doubt that I could have done it easily.

That weekend, I decided that I'd better put them together to see that I had all the parts and that I didn't need to return anything to the store.  I proceeded to assemble it all in an afternoon.

DW helped me bring it all into the playroom/study and I got it mounted to the walls and wired up.  After all the hassle, I think it looks nice:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Approaching Completion

We're having a last semester of strip construction before we move on to something else.    The 'something else' will be a new build method that will be quicker and less expensive for students.  More about that later, 'tho.  The decked canoe above is a hybrid - unusual for the class - with a cedar strip hull and a marine ply deck.  We're wrapping up the trim on this boat with a coaming, rub rails and some bow and stern details.

We also glassed the inside of the canoe above.  Truly a good glassing job.  Trim is the only thing left.

The student who started on the Wavy Gravy finished stripping last weekend so we were able to pull all the fasteners and start fairing the hull - but not before we got the plane irons razor sharp.  The fairing goes pretty quickly and is a pleasant process, really.  The better you can do fairing, the nicer the hull turns out and the less longboarding time will be required later.  I'm told there are people who love sanding, but...

The cane below is so close to being ready, I'm surprised the builder can't taste it!  Fortunately she wasn't in class this week.  I say 'fortunately' because she was in New York with her son and daughter-in-law welcoming a new grandchild! Congratulations!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011