Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday : Staple-less (MMMmmm...)

To be quite honest, staple-less construction of a strip-built canoe isn't all that difficult, really. It is, however very time consuming. Basically, you put the strip on the boat and using various different methods, you keep the strip in place until the glue sets. After the glue sets, you can apply the nest strip.

Simple, no?


There are a few difficulties that come into play.

First : Where do you put your first strip? In the class that I teach, the fist strip we put on the forms tends to be the feature strip, which is several inches down from the shear line when you build the boat. (Actually, it's UP from the shear line because the boat is upside-down as you build it.) It would be much easier to start at the sheer line. (at the lowest point of the sheer) Personally, I like the strips on the hull to be "horizontal" and not follow the curve of the sheer. I think this makes the boat look "bent". It offends my aesthetic sense of style, so I avoid it. (Ok, so I'm finicky.)

Second: How do you keep the first strips in place so you have something to push against when clamping? Some people simply nail the first strip in place - even when doing "staple-less". What we have done is to make "L" shaped brackets that will get screwed to the plywood forms. The long leg of the bracket can be about 4-6" long (depending where on the boat it will go - brackets at the bow and stern need to be a bit shorter) and the short leg can be no wider than the first strip to go on the hull. In the case of a features strip, this is usually less than 1-1/2" or 2" wide. Looking down from the top of the bracket, they are cut so that the inside edge is parallel to the strip at the station where it will be located. Carpet tape then gets applied to the inside of the short leg of the bracket for friction. You make sure that the bracket holds the strip tightly to the form and that the strip is fair. Clamp the bracket. Then screw the bracket to the form with 2 screws. Done.

Third : How do you apply subsequent strips? This is done several ways. The most recent issue of WoodenBoat (Issue #202) has a builder who uses fishing line to hold the strips down on the forms and in contact with the adjacent strips. I haven't tried it. If you're interested, buy a copy of the magazine and have a look. Another way is to make small plywood brackets that look a little like Pac-Man. They're circular and have a wedge shaped opening. You clamp the brackets to the form (one at each form) and then use two tape-covered wedges between the bracket and the strip to force the strip against the form and the adjacent strip. Why tape-covered? To keep the glue from sticking. If you're using cove-and-beaded strips, the wedge used to hold the new strip against the adjacent strip needs to have a mating contour so as not to damage the cove or bead. (depending on if you prefer cove up or bead up) A third way I've seen is people using the "L" shaped brackets and C-clamps. I've also seen people build a bit of "scaffolding" around the outside of the hull to push against. Others have used pieces of cove-and beaded strip and blocks with line to tie them down. Still others have used inner-tube tires. There are a million ways to skin this cat. You'll need to find the way that works for you.

Fourth: How do I finish the bottom? We build the bottom of the hull in halves, referred to as the "Football" You build all of the one side past the centerline of the hull, remove it , build all of the other side, trim the both halves to the centerline and glue them in place. Note something very carefully here. I said "remove". That means that you don't glue one of the strips at the turn of the bilge. To hold this in place, we've glued blocks to the strip that isn't going to be glued to it's neighbor and then screw this to the forms. The blocks are then carefully cut off when the finished half of the football is ready to come off. I've also had a student tape the first strip of the football in place. Creativity rules.

Fifth: How do I hold the strips together between the forms? Strips will, invariably, try to separate between the forms. One of my students came up with an ingenious solution. He got some cheap plastic spring-jaw clamps. He applied a short length of inner-tube over the ends of both tips (so as to form a "U" inside the jaws) The length was short enough that he could stretch the inner tube over the strip as he installed the clamp without it bottoming out in the clamp's jaw. Clever.

Last but not least : How do I work up to the sheer line? You can either strap the boat down to the form or apply heavy weight to the now assembled bottom of the boat to keep the hull on the forms and use the methods from the third section to build to the sheer.

By no means are these the only ways to accomplish these tasks. It's only limited by your creativity. If anyone else has some other methods that have worked for them, I'd love to hear about them!

Only mildly sacrilegious

I like beer.

I do.


Mostly I prefer ales, stouts, porters, hefeweizen, IPA, Belgians, bock... I think you get the idea.

However, lager generally isn't my preferred drink, but this tickled my funnybone:

Our Lager which art in barrels,
Hallowed be thy drink.
Thy will be drunk,
I will be drunk,
At home as in the tavern.

Give us this day our foamy head,
And forgive us our spillages,
As we forgive those who spill against us.
And lead us not into incarceration,
But deliver us from hangovers.

For thine is the Beer, The Bitter, and the Lager.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Ever have one of those days?

I did on Sunday. Murphy's Law just seemed to be working overtime around our place.

Quite frankly, Murphy is an SOB.

With Spring in the air, all of the springtime chores have kicked in. On Saturday morning the weather was beautiful and we had our canoe building class outside. The last of the strips were put on the second boat (YAY!) SWMBO had invited a friend of SWMBO Jr. over to have a sleep-over on Saturday night, so I spent my afternoon running errands to get fertilizer and things for the lawn, food and drink for our guest and her parents who would join us for Sunday lunch and a movie for the kids to watch. I'd wanted to get some chores done but Saturday was pretty much shot.


So, on Sunday morning, I got up and got some stuff done after breakfast. (cleaned the winter tar off the car, and prepped stuff for lunch) I cooked a great lunch (...if I do say so, myself) and we had a great time with our guests.

Then Murphy took over.

I was going to edge the garden beds. I went to get out the necessary tools. I got out the edging tool and a shovel. Then, I got the garden cart and wheeled it out. The rubber peeled off the rim of the cart. Geez... Not going to be doing edging, I guess.

Next task on the list. Get out the pressure washer to do a bit of clean-up. Hook it all up get started and pull the handle along to where I'll be working. *SNAP* The plastic quick-disconnect that feeds water to the thing from the hose snaps off. Guess what I'm not doing.

I was going to work in the back yard, but my son decided to go down to play at the end of the street where I was going to need to keep an eye on him. No working in the back yard.

Ok. I guess I'll finish cleaning and waxing my car. No, wait, I don't HAVE my car, SWMBO took it to take herself and SWMBO Jr. somwhere as our guests were parked behind her vehicle.

Alright, I guess I'd better clean SWMBO's beast. It's been unloved all winter long. I pulled out the floor mats and got the shop vac out. Turns out there is a cut in the hose.


Duct tape. If you can't fix it with duct tape, you're not using enough.

I got the car vacuumed out and started washing. I then accidentally stepped on the nozzle's lever and proceeded to liberally hose down my crotch, making it look like I'd wet my pants.

With an afternoon like that I was almost afraid to go to the bathroom.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Making Mistakes

The words below were not written by me, but by an amateur boatbuilder who is working at building a Goat Island Skiff designed by Michael Storer. His words ring eerily true to anyone who has done any woodworking at all, let alone boat-building. I would also like to re-itereate one very important point - If you're not making mistakes, you're not doing much.


"I started keeping a boat journal to send to my brother who is leaving for the big sandbox soon. I posted this in the bilge last week but thought you might appreciate it here also. I will use the line about BTUs not mistakes soon. Thanks in advance. (BTUs - mistakes becoming firewood)

Confession time: I am not a professional boat builder.

After this morning I have a pile of wood which would claim to be tortured by power tools if it could speak. I'm not so sure who was torturing who. Regardless, I now have a frame and transom in clamps and other bits cut out for a one sheet skiff. Its a warm up for the garage and I before starting the GIS. My most technical carpentry accomplishment in the last ten years would be repairs to the chicken coop. I have never had to rely on woodworking to pay bills. The coffee tables I built in college could have doubled as engine stands, with slightly lower esthetic standards.

Things we have learned today:

It takes twice as long to dress an edge that was cut without setting up a jig as it does to set up the jig.

Gorilla glue is slick for the amount of time it takes to set the clamps then it is sticky: this may seem obvious to you in your comfortable chair right now, but when you put the glue on and clamp, everything moves. The natural tendency of the neophyte is to stick a finger in there to square things away. As soon as it is touched it becomes sticky, transferring itself to clamps, clothes and working surfaces, kind of like a cold virus.

That whole measure twice cut once is for professionals only: I'm not going to explain this one, but I have plenty of kindling right now. And I'm short a 1" x 2" x 8'.

Either my chop saw cuts every angle correct except 20-degrees or Herb (boat designer) has been screwing with people. The other option is that I don’t know what I'm doing. (cant be, see above)

two by fours which were bought perfectly straight will warp horribly as soon as they come into contact with a flat concrete floor, possibly even the bed of the truck.

I've learned a lot more but I think you get the idea. Tomorrow morning I will probably be trying to figure out how to unglue my clamps from my boat bits in time to enter the chili contest at the local pub.

Feb 3, 2008

I was lucky and didn’t glue any boat bits to other items that should not be part of the boat. Cleaned shop. Wrestled with the two sides and the stem piece. They go together at a compound angle so there is no way to lay anything flat. The pieces won, next weekend we will have a rematch. I think I will have to use screws. Don’t make me fire up the chainsaw."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday

After yesterday's post, it's probably a good time to talk about the methods that you can use to build a strip canoe. I want to talk a bit about how the strips are actually applied. It is a topic which most books seem to gloss over, but is at the heart of the process.

When building a cedar strip boat, you need to hold the strips in place on the forms while the glue that holds the strips together cures. You also need to keep them from moving on the forms and changing the shape of the boat that you're trying to build. In my class, we recommend that beginners hold the strips on the forms using staples. This, however is not as straightforward as it may seem.

You need to understand the terminology of the staples. They have two legs and a crown. The dimension that you see when you purchase a staple is the leg length. The crown is the segment that connects the two legs. For our application, we're looking for 1/2" crown width (or there about) At the bottom of the legs are the points or teeth. Chisel point teeth that cut the wood rather than crush and bruise the wood give better results. The thickness of the staple material varies from "lightweight" to "heavyweight" I like to use "heavyweight" staples as they provide more holding power. I also prefer stainless steel or monel staples to avoid putting rust stains on the boat if it your are building in a damp environment, or it gets wet somehow. On top of this, you need to be sure to be getting the right type of staples so that they work with your stapler. Never would have thought that there was so much to staples, did you?

There are many different types of staplers. Some are manual, some are electric and some are pnuematic. All will work. Manual ones are easier to deal with as you don' t get tangled up in the cords or hoses. Of the manual ones there are light and heavyweight staplers. Personally, I prefer the kind of stapler made by Powershot - it applies the lever's force over where the staple comes out which makes it easier to use.

Now that you have your staples and the stapler, you need to keep from getting the stapler all clogged up with glue. To do this you simply put a strip of masking tape on the bottom of your stapler. Easy. But, you also don't want to drive the staples so deep that the crown of the staple leaves a dent in the hull. To prevent making these dents you build up a stack of masking tape strips just adjacent to where the staples come out of the stapler. It will require some experimentation to get the required thickness. When the depth of the staples is right, the crown of the staple is just above the surface of the strip so that they are easy to remove later.

Staple length is also critical. I use 9/16" long staples at the forms and where the the strips meet the stems. If I need to keep the strips together between the forms, I use 1/4" staples so that I don't break through the cedar strips. The reason for this is that if you break through the back of the strips, little chips come out and make small craters on the inside of the hull.

When you're putting the staples into the strips, you want to put them in neat rows on the forms and minimize their use between the forms. These neat rows don't draw the eye so much as irregularly placed staples. Also, put the strips in the middle of the strip. You don't want to straddle the joints between the strips as it will prevent the strips from following the contour of the forms.

Next week? Staple-less.

Pick a name, any name.

One of my students is a graphic artist and a closet wooden boat lover. When he heard that I was going to be offering a class in cedar strip canoe building, he was really excited.

While he was very passionate about wooden boats, he didn't have much woodworking experience and occasionally would be a bit nervous around the tools and would also be a bit discouraged with his progress. I thought that he did quite well, and came a long way with his woodworking skills as he built his canoe.

Staples are used to hold the strips in place while the glue cures. He used LOTS of them. There were jokes going around the class that he had so many staple holes in his canoe that it would never float. He had staples at the forms, between the forms and anywhere he felt that the strips might be lifting. And then, if he was in doubt, he added a few more staples. The canoe had so many staples, it was actually heavy to lift when moving back and forth to the barn before and after class. I think it took three of us the better part of a class period to remove all of the staples before fairing the hull.

We finally decided that the boat should be named The Arrow. Not because of the fact that it was going to be a fast boat, but because of these:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz...

I think that most offices tend to run on a significant amount of coffee - preferrably good coffee. At my workplace, we used to have a coffee vending maching that used powdered stuff and it was terrible. So they upgraded to one that actually ground the beans and then added the powdered stuff. Better, but not great. Then we upgraded to a single cup Keurig coffee maker.

Much Better.

My DW's workplace also got the same machine, but they have different types of coffee from what is offered here. One type from Coffee People is this:

That's right. It says jet fuel. Is it ever! My DW brought me a few pods of the stuff to try. I tried one out yesterday. I had the sensation of being a nervous rabbit about an hour after my cup of the stuff.

And so, let us pray the prayer that our Folger's taught us to pray, saying:

Coffee Drinkers Prayer

Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me productive in wee hours:
It leadeth me beyond the yawning masses.
It restoreth my buzz:
It leadeth me in the paths of conciousness for its name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal:
For thou art with me; thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of The Starbucks:
Thou anointest my day with pep; my mug runneth over.
Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the House of Juan Valdez forever.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Update : Older Than Dirt

Heard tonight at the dinner table from my 5 year old son:

"Mommy, Daddy : why after the Anything Goes movie (Musical we saw,
not a movie) got done did they take pictures of all the people who were
there 100 years ago?"

8-O (AKA : OMIGOD!, OMIGOD!, OMIGOD! - If I wasn't so shocked, I
don't know if I should be laughing or ticked off!)

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday!

I've decided that it would probably be a good idea to post the occasional boat-building tech tip for those of you who might be looking for that kind of thing on this site. (In addition to drivel about my existence)

Today's Tech Tip is going to be about types of wood for feature strips:

A feature strip is just that - a pretty feature down the side of your hull that allows you to express your individuality and creativity. It can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it.

Recently, I've been reading about people who have used expensive and heavy hardwood to make what are known as 'feature strips' for their strip-build boats and have been displeased with the results. There are two main problems. One is the relative weight (not usually significant if the feature strip isn't big and the wood isn't Ipe. The other is the "ripples" that appear in the hull next to the feature strip as you are sanding the wood.

The reason for these ripples is the fact that the hardwood feature strip sands away much more slowly than the Cedar (or Redwood, etc...) that is used for the rest of the hull. This results in the removal of more of the Cedar softwood next to the feature strips. To avoid this problem, simply use softer woods for the accents, such as Spruce, Fire, Redwood, Poplar, and contrasting Cedars. Piece of cake!

Older Than Dirt.

I have, of late, come to the conclusion that I am older than dirt. It's been coming in dribs and drabs, but the signs are unmistakable.

For instance:

  • I haven't been 'carded' to buy beer for ages.
  • The gray hair is showing up. (GO AWAY!)
  • The fact that this year is a "milestone" birthday
  • Running into a classmate's 'little brother' only to realize that he has a 16 year old daughter
  • I say things like, "Remember when XXX was where YYY is?"
  • I probably disgust my children in taking about "When I was a kid..."

Today at work, one of my co-workers pointed out that his last mortgage payment was coming up this month. I replied that I have another 27 years to go and that I'd be paying till I was "old and gray". Another kind co-worker pointed out that I am "old and gray". Thanks, Andy - startin' to frost around the edges yourself, old boy!

This weekend, I took my family to see a musical at our local high school with friends of mine. We put on the exact same musical - 25 years ago! EEEK!!!

In most ways, I don't feel any older than I did when I was 15. (Ok - the occasional twinge in my back when I over-do things) I'm still really a kid at heart. Only my toys have changed. When you get older you tend to know a bit more. You may also think you have more freedom when you get older. In some ways that's true, but you also get saddled with more responsibilities. People just expect more from you. You may find that you have some of the same worries and insecurities that you did when you were 15. Then again, some of the insecurities can be a bit different. Now that you're older, people look up to you for answers. (Who? Me? I'm just a KID!)

A friend who is many years older than I am summed it up quite well. He once professed that he was just 15 years old with 50 years of experience!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Look out Annette Funicello!

"I've ticked off most of the free world and now I'm going to DISNEYWORLD!"

-Hugo Chavez

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I don't know if you've ever played the game "Operation". It's basically a game where you are the surgeon and draw cards to tell you what body part to take out of the patient. The surgical tool is an electrified set of tweezers and if you touch the sides, the patient's nose lights up and a buzzer sounded to let you know that you didn't succeed.

While making my son's lunch this morning I decided that it's actually training.

For parents.

I was making him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was trying to get the knife to the bottom of the nearly empty jars without touching the sides and making a mess. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was playing "Operation" and was waiting for the buzzer to go off.