Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Yarrrr.... Thar be punkins!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thanks, Russ!

Ok, what do YOU do with your canoe?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wonderful Wednesday

This Wednesday, I couldn't be wordless. It just wouldn't be fair to the builder.

Just so everyone doesn't go thinking that decorating canoes is a new innovation, I want to post some pictures of a canoe built by master builder Steve Cayard. (Here is a story about him and one of his students, David Moses Bridges from the Portland Press Herald.)

You need to recognize a few things about this canoe. The first one is fairly obvious. This is a birch-bark canoe. These boats are made from all-natural materials (bark, spruce root, cedar, etc.)

These boats are made using mostly traditional hand tools - axes, crooked knives, digging sticks and the like. They are not built over a form - the beautiful fair shape is a result of the skill of the builder. They represent the zenith of the Native American's boatbuilding technology and are objects of beauty and utility. Take the time to look at the detail on Steve's boat - particularly the designs that have been etched into the winterbark on the canoe.

The workmanship here is just stunning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tech Tip Tuesday

Today's Tech Tip Tuesday post is about safety. Unfortunately, safety gets glossed over in many woodworking/boatbuilding circles.

This past week the issue of safety hit a bit too close to home. A former co-worker, good friend and student of mine had an accident while using a table saw. Perversely, I consider him to be very fortunate as this was an accident that he will recover from and he is all in one piece. Below are two pictures of this person's hand. They are not pleasant, but they are an excellent reminder to pay attention to safety.

Before the accident, he'd been to woodworking class and had lost a pair of glasses in the parking log at the school. He returned to get them and found them damaged on the ground in the leaves. He arrived home to do some more woodworking in the garage where his tools are. Before he could do that, he had to move the truck that he keeps in the garage. The truck didn't start and he first tried charging the battery. It didn't start. He then added some gas and fired the truck up. At this point, he's tired, and distracted thinking about the glasses and the truck.

This is his view of the incident from the email he sent me:
Basically I was rushing and didn't take the time to make the necessary safety components to make a safe cut and tried to wing it. Well I "winged" it when the part bound up and flipped over dragging the back of my ring and middle fingers. The index got a little cut too but that was a nothing cut.

Safety is the most important concern in the shop.

If you didn’t get that, I repeat - Safety is the most important concern in the shop.

Be sure to read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions and safety recommendations for any equipment that you use. Use common sense and proper safety equipment, clamps and fixtures when working. You’re going to want to be around in one piece to use your canoe after you finish it!

You want to protect yourself from the inherent dangers of the boatbuilding process – there are many of them. You need to protect your eyes from debris, your ears from loud noises, your body from the tools, chemicals and particulates that you will be exposed to during the building of your canoe. Also, do not work when you are tired, angry or distracted – these are some of the most likely reasons for accidents and mistakes. Work when you are well rested, focused and are not rushed. Never, never, never use tools while under the influence of alcohol or medications that may impair you.
  • Wear appropriate eye protection, ear protection, gloves and a dust mask as necessary.
  • Wear gloves or respirators as necessary.
  • Do not wear loose fitting clothes or dangling jewelry.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots.
  • Don't work in a messy shop.
  • Don't start a power tool with loose items nearby.
  • Don't expose more of a cutter than absolutely necessary to do the job.
  • Don't put a portable power tool (i.e. router) down while the cutter is still spinning.
  • Make sure you know where others are when you working with tools.
  • Communicate.
  • Plan ahead before you make your cut.
  • Don't work with damaged cutters/blades/bits.
  • When passing a tool, make sure the recipient has a firm grip.
  • Retract blades or tools below the table after use when practical.
  • Don't make a cut with an "iffy" set-up. If it makes you uncomfortable, it's probably "iffy".
  • Disconnect power when changing bits or blades.
  • Hand tools can be as dangerous as power tools.
  • Use the right tool for the job.
I could really go on and on and on... If you have good, specific suggestions to add, I'd love to include them here.

Please, be careful.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Feature Strips : Another Way

Another way to make feature strips is to use strips of different widths and different contrasting woods that have already been molded with cove-and-bead features.

This method has one big drawback. You're only making one feature strip at a time, so you need to do it twice. This is time consuming. You also need to pay attention that the strips are the same (if that's what you want...)

Ted Moores uses this method in his book, Kayakcraft, and makes a pretty "Indian Blanket" sort of pattern using strips of similar widths.

For starters, 'tho, here is a very simple strip:

Two wide pieces of Spanish Cedar with a narrow strip of Basswood between them. Not difficult and not really time consuming.

Here is another slightly more complicated strip. It's made from two continuous narrow strips of Spanish Cedar and alternating pieces of Spanish Cedar and Basswood with 30° cuts on the ends. Here are the cut pieces ready to assemble:

And the finished product:

You can change the whole style just by changing the type of wood:

Spruce on the edges would be a completely different look - not my tastes, but it is intended to show what is possible.

You can mix up widths, cut directions, wood species, wood figure, etc. and get all sorts of neat effects. If you stack two rows of the same wood with cuts in different directions you can get arrowheads, diamonds and pretty much whatever you can dream up.

A couple of caveats about this method:
  • If you are making a row with multiple types of wood of a particular width - say 1/4" - mill all of this stock at one time. This way, you will not get any nasty gaps after trying to make two separate runs of 1/4" stock that are just slightly different widths.
  • Stagger joints. Butt joints or even a bunch of beveled joints that are stacked up will make an area where either the bend of the feature strip isn't fair or there is a weak area. Avoid this.
  • Don't make the feature strip too wide. It's fairly easy to build up a feature strip that doesn't want to follow the curve of the hull forms. If you want a complex strip with lots of detail, use narrower strips to achieve this goal.
  • Use a "type setting board". This is just a board a bit longer than your canoe and about 5" wide with a narrower strip screwed to it along the length of the long edge. This is then covered with packing tape or wax paper so you don't glue the strip to the board. Basically, you use it to organize the parts of your features strip and then clamp the pieces together when you're bonding the feature strip together. If your board is wide enough, you can stack the feature strips for the left and right side of the canoe on top of each other so that you can make sure they are the same. (Just DONT glue the left and right strips together!)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

Scientists find way to erase memories in mice

By Will Dunham Will Dunham – Thu Oct 23, 4:40 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It seems like a movie plot, but scientists have developed a way to erase specific memories in mice while leaving others intact and not damaging the brain.
By manipulating levels of an important protein in the brain, certain memories can be selectively deleted, researchers led by neurobiologist Joe Tsien of the Medical College of Georgia reported in the journal Neuron.

While some experts have suggested there could be value in erasing certain memories in people such as wartime traumas, Tsien doubted this could be done as it was in mice. Tsien also questioned the wisdom of wiping out a person's memories.

"All memories, including the painful emotional memories, have their purposes. We learn great lessons from those memories or experiences so we can avoid making the same kinds of mistakes again, and help us to adapt down the road," Tsien said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
The study focused on a protein called alpha-CaMKII involved in learning and memory. The scientists manipulated alpha-CaMKII activity in the brains of genetically modified mice to influence the retrieval of short-term and long-term memories.

Mice that were made to recall things such a mild electric shock at the same time that the protein was turned up in their brain seemed to lose the memory of the shock while not forgetting anything else, the researchers said.

"The human brain is so complex and dramatically different from the mouse brain. That's why I say I don't think it's possible you can do the same thing in humans," Tsien said.
"However, if that happens in my lifetime, I wouldn't be surprised either," Tsien added.
The 2004 film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" explored the idea of selectively erasing memories. Two former lovers undergo procedures to wipe out the memory of one another after their relationship falls apart.

"If one wants to get rid of a bad relationship with another person, and is hoping to have a pill to erase that person or relationship, it's not the solution," Tsien said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sometimes the best feature strips...


Confused yet?

You don't have to have a feature strip to have a spectacular canoe.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a student who made a canoe with a gradient shading. I have a student who heard this and sorted her strips by color. She's got a feature strip, but she also has taken the darker strips for the "football" at the bottom of the canoe. She's got a gradient going from dark and getting just a bit lighter as it goes towards the keel area of the canoe. Here's a picture:

I think this is going to look pretty spectacular when she gets it glassed.

Some people also have a contrast between "topsides" and "hull" which is neat as well. There are many, many ways to have a distinctive boat with unique stripping methods. It's all up to your imagination!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Like a charm.

Yes, you're seeing double - blades, that is.

The first year that I taught cedar-strip canoe building, we had some plain steel blades that we were using in a patternmaker's table saw. The progress was painfully slow. As the saw blade would warm up a bit, it would cup and then bind the board being cut. On top of the fact that it was a poor set-up, it was frustrating for the students and it wasted stock because it required the boards to be jointed to get a straight edge on the stock. At the time, it took about 3 hours to rip enough stock for a canoe.

The next year we improved the situation with a Freud thin kerf blade. It was much better as the damping and expansion slots prevented cupping of the blade. The carbide tips and undercut teeth help things go well in the saws at the school. We were cutting one strip at a time and the blade, at .093" thick wasn't bad, but it was slow. We resorted to the same method last year, but used a .062" thick blade intended for use in a circular saw. We wasted less stock to sawdust, and it wasn't bad, but still was slow.

This year, I got serious. I had a brass spacer made to go between two of the .062" thick Freud thin kerf 7-1/4" blades. We set them up in the saw with a stabilizer disk. As you can see in the picture above, we've got a new zero-clearance insert to deal with the gang-sawing assembly. The featherboards and sacrificial fence aren't new, and work well. This year it took 30 minutes to cut a boat's worth of stock. Much better.

Our next improvement is going to be either a power feeder or some of the one-way feed rollers to help crowd the stock into the fence and down to the table.

A final picture of a happy student ripping stock!

Friday, October 17, 2008


A slight detour from the subject of feature strips this evening...

As I wrote in a recent post, my DW is working her way through a 10 pound bar of chocolate. This, however, is not necessarily bliss, as I discovered the other night. As I came into the kitchen I was treated to the following scene: There is a glass of red wine on the counter and she is hunched over this massive bar of chocolate with what looks to me at first like a knitting needle trying to poke rows of holes into the chocolate. From the noises she's making, this is an obvious effort physically and is beginning to become a frustration.

As I get a bit closer, I notice that she has one of my nice Teflon-covered shish-kebab skewers and is trying to stab rows of holes in the chocolate the way a stone mason drills holes in rock to cause a weak spot and break off a slab of the rock. This is, apparently, not a very successful method as the tip of the skewer is beginning to take on a very serious and permanent bend.

It is at this point that I decide to step in and save the cooking utensils.

Lemme see.

What can I use to break this monster up?

I've got a couple of axes, but they really aren't clean enough to do the trick.

My circular saw is sort of overkill and I'd probably spray chocolate dust everywhere.

I go and get my tool bag and retrieve this:

After a wash with soap and water, I take a crack a the monster bar of chocolate. I get a cut no more than an eighth of an inch deep and the friction melts the chocolate dust, nearly freezing the saw in the chocolate bar.


A little more poking in my tool bag results in this combination:

Another quick trip over to the sink to wash my chisel in soap and water and I'm in business again. This time with much more success.

It's certainly one way to keep the harmony in the house!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Here's one I made earlier...

Ever watch one of those cooking shows where they get done with cooking the recipe and they put it in the oven only to draw out a perfectly prepared version?

Well, here is a feature strip that I made earlier. It was intended for a very small boat, but I wasn't happy about the way it was all tying together, so I took it off the forms. In the pictures, I wet the wood with some water to enhance the contrast. This feature strip was built up with the glue-up method that I discussed in last night's post.

There are only three types of wood here. The "eye" and the banding is made from Poplar. The darker wood is Spanish Cedar and the surrounding wood is Western Red Cedar. To give you an idea of the scale of this, the narrow white banding that makes the design "pop" is about 1/16" wide. Do note the variation in the Western Red Cear - it runs from whitish to brown, but is all cut from the same board.

The following images are from the Newfound Woodworks website. They are particularly good because they show the variation within a particular type of wood - in this case Northern White Cedar and Western Red Cedar. Keep in mind that it's sometimes possible to get contrasting color out of the same type of wood!

Wordless Wednesday

Gee, I wonder what's on the menu today....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One way, two strips.

The method of creating a feature strip that I'm going to present is nice because it can be used for building a canoe with either cove-and-bead strips or beveled strips. This method also makes two strips from one assembly. The example that I'm going to show is a very simple strip, but you could do something more complex by making up the strips from short sections with square or beveled ends. You will want to try to stagger the joints in your strip to avoid making a weak spot. The images that I'll show are for the cove-and-bead version, but I'll explain the difference for beveled strips. For simplicity, this feature strip is being made for a boat that will be stripped with 1/4" thick strips.

Here's my build up of the feature strip "sandwich":

The image above shows three strips that have been glued together with carpenter's glue. The top and bottom strip are Spanish Cedar and the center strip is Basswood. My goal is to get two 3/8" tall strips of the Spanish Cedar and a 5/8 " tall strip of Basswood. All three strips are 7/8" wide and as long as I need for the boat I'm building. The bottom Cedar strip is 3/8 tall, but the top one is 1/2" wide. This is because I'm planning to cut a cove in the bottom and a bead on the top. When I cut the bead, I'll lose 1/8" of the face, so I have to make that strip a 1/8" taller. If I was making this for beveled construction, I'd make both Cedar strips 3/8" tall. That's the only difference.

At this point, I want a good surface to run against my table saw's fence. I'll plane or joint the face to the right so it is smooth and square with the bottom.

Now that I have a good edge, I'll set the table saw so that I'm cutting a 1/4" width between the blade and the fence. I'll have the teeth of the blade just protruding through the top of the strip. I'll also have featherboards to hold the sandwich in to the fence and down to the table. Below is a picture of that operation. Virtual featherboards and virtual guards have been virtually removed...

Now that I've cut my sandwich, I've got a strip that is 1/4" wide, 1-1/8" tall with square corners.

I'll repeat this operation so that I have two of the strips shown above. If I was making strips for a boat being built with beveled strips, I would be done at this point.

However, I'm making a cove-and-bead strip, so I'll need to use my router table to put the cove on the bottom and the bead on the top. Just a quick tip here: I'll use a scrap of wood that is the same width and thickness as my feature strip to set up the router table. I do this so that I don't ruin my carefully made feature strips.

You can see from the picture below that the Spanish Cedar strip at the top and bottom will be the same width on the exterior of the hull. At this point, I've got two feature strips that are ready to mount on the forms.

At this point, I've got two feature strips that are ready to mount on the forms.


A bit later, I'll show how to make feature strips from strips that are already molded with cove-and-bead.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Feature Strips : Part 1

So you've decided to build a canoe and you want to "personalize" it.


Anyone who decides to build a boat puts a lot of themselves into it. It's a pretty emotional and somewhat ego-driven process. You are building the boat. You will be paddling the boat. You want the boat to look good because of what it says about You and Your craftsmanship.

There are many ways to do this of course, but one of the more common ways is to add a feature strip to the canoe. Your canoe doesn't have to have a feature strip, but most people seem to want one. A feature strip is a section of your strips where you have chosen to have woods that create a pattern or design that makes it unique. It can be very simple - a single strip of wood that contrasts the rest of the hull. It can also be very complex with lots of detail, contours or artistic touches. You could easily spend more time making the feature strips than stripping the remainder of the hull.

It's really not that difficult to get spectacular results. There are some things you will need to consider before you start.


You will need to have a plan - and it will need to extend beyond your feature strip to your vision of the whole canoe - seats, stems, thwarts, decks, gunnels and perhaps even to the paddle. (You've built the canoe - you ARE going to make the paddle, aren't you?!?) The choice of woods and the design should tie the whole boat together. It shouldn't just be a whole bunch of different woods that don't go well together making the canoe look like a badly made patchwork quilt. The elements of the canoe should go together. The best canoes that my students have made are those where they have a plan and a vision of what their finished canoe will look like. Usually they've made sketches and notes so that they know what the design and materials will be and are then able to follow the plan they've created.


If you're not an experienced woodworker, you probably don't want to go overboard designing a feature strip with Fleur-de-Lis for the length of the boat in exotic woods. To some degree, you may be limited by not only your own skills (and patience!), but by the tools, material and time available to you. Sometimes a simple strip is very elegant. One canoe that I thought was particularly nice had a single narrow stripe down the side that contrasted the rest of the hull.

Another limit is width. You don't want the feature strip to be so wide that you can't twist it to make contact with the hull forms. If it's much more than about 1-1/2" wide. If it's going to be wider, you probably want to break it up. I had a student build a strip that was about 2-1/2" wide. It didn't want to lay down on the forms and even snapped at one location and had to be repaired.


Pick softwoods. There is good reason for this. When your hull has been stripped and you are starting to fair it, the block plane and spokeshave will remove material fairly evenly. However, when you go to sand the hull, the hardwood will wear away more slowly than the softwood leaving grooves that make the hull looked rippled. Not the mark of a well-made canoe.

Pay attention to the color of the wood, the grain of the wood and the figure of the wood. You can use all of these to give you a beautiful result.

I usually recommend that students pick at least two species of wood that contrasts with the main hull material and with each other. For example, look at the two different woods in the picture below:

Both of these woods are suitable for making feature strips. The piece on top is Basswood and has a uniform, almost creamy color with very little distinguishable grain. The brown piece that it's sitting on is Spanish Cedar and it has a nice grain and color to it - it reminds me very much of mahogany. Both of these woods will contrast very well with a hull made from Western Red Cedar.

Generally, I recommend that my students build their hull from Western Red Cedar, Northern White Cedar, Atlantic White Cedar or Redwood. Other choices, although more difficult to find, would be Sassafrass, Cypress, or any other lightweight, rot-resistant softwood which isn't resinous (like White Pine with pitch pockets...)

Good accent strip materials include those listed for the hull as well as Poplar (be wary of green heartwood - unless that's what you want) and Basswood for lighter colors, Spanish Cedar, Peruvian Black Walnut (It's a "soft" hardwood. Go figure that one out...) are good for darker colors. For the more unusual, Alaskan Yellow Cedar or Spruce can be very yellow in color, Western White Cedar for another light color, or even Douglas Fir for the texture (although a bit hard and heavy) are options.

It is possible to add your own colors, but be careful. In the picture below are two pieces of the same Basswood board. The upper one is as it was cut from the board. The bottom picture shows a piece that has been dyed with aniline dye - in this case a water based aniline dye. You can use water based or alcohol based aniline dye and there are supporters for both. The reason these are used is that they don't have petroleum based solvents like oil based stain that you would use on furniture. If you use the oil based stain, it will contaminate the surface and you will have difficulty getting the epoxy to penetrate and bond to the wood. This isn't good. Also, be careful with the use of solvents generally - some are "recycled" and may be contaminated with petroleum based solvents. I've heard of bad experiences, but haven't had any myself.

I warmed both the dye and the wood and soaked it for a few minutes. The piece on the bottom has a cut made through the strip at a 45 degree angle so that you can see how far the dye penetrated the wood. To give you an idea of scale, these strips are about an inch wide and an eighth of an inch thick.

When the strip gets faired and sanded, most of the dyed surface will be removed. The dye would need to penetrate the strip much more deeply than this to be effective. This would take a very large container for a full length strip and a very long time. To be honest, I wouldn't want to try to dye selected strips ON the hull before glassing. I think it could be a disaster.

We've got a plan and we've got our materials. Tomorrow, we'll explore one method of building up a feature strip.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I've been trying to write a blog post about putting feature strips in a strip-built boat for about 2 weeks now. Part of my problem is the fact that I don't have good pictures of strips in progress. This is one of those posts were a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

The other issue is that this is one of those times when there are many, many ways to approach this task - I could write a week of posts and just scratch the surface. The post I was writing was getting far too large. I guess I'll try to break it up into smaller bites and present it over the next week.

I'd appreciate any feedback you all may have to offer about these posts!

Thanks go to icanhascheeseburger for the picture.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't be afraid of the dark.

My DW and I are both looking out for our health. We're each having our anti-oxidants - just in different ways. For Christmas several years ago, my DW got a 10 pound bar of Ghiradelli dark chocolate. She finally cracked it tonight and started it (She wanted to let you all know that she HASN'T FINISHED IT YET!) Let me just say, a 10 pound bar of chocolate is MASSIVE.

My anti-oxidants are coming in the form of a nice glass of Guinness. Guinness - It's good for you! ;-D

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

The End of an Era

In Greenville, Maine, there is a restaurant named The Black Frog. The Black Frog is famous, or perhaps infamous, for their Skinny Dip Sandwich. From their menu:
Skinny Dip: Thinly sliced prime rib served in a baguette roll with au jus on the side for dipping. If you run down the long dock naked and jump in the lake, the sandwich is free......10.95

That's right - if you run down their dock into Moosehead Lake naked, you get the sandwich for free. Well, you used to be able to. Apparently there had been some complaints regarding naked patrons jumping into the lake. (2 or 3 per week, according to Leigh Turner, the proprietor) To pressure Mr. Turner, the town selectmen denied him a liquor license. However, if he dropped the free sandwich promotion, they told him that they'd have no trouble renewing his license.

Do be sure to check out The Black Frog's menu. It's a very good read. For instance, the "Sammiches" section starts out with this little ditty:

All sandwiches are served with a choice of hand cut fries, curly fries or cole slaw, plus a pickle. We think it's a pickle - it's green anyway - could be a very old smelt.

Do go read - you won't be sorry you did!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


In my canoe building class, I teach people to build Mac McCarthy's design of the Wee Lassie and Wee Lassie II canoes.

There is a reason for that.

At the school where I teach the class, the workshop is fairly small and is in the basement of the building. The basement is reached via a set of stairs from a lobby and you have to make some fairly interesting turns to get a strongback down into the shop. Across the parking lot from the building is a small barn. In this barn, we get to store materials and boats in progress. This is important as we cannot leave the boats in the shop during the week as it would interfere with other classes, and it would be too difficult for my students to schlep their materials back and forth every week.

The Wee Lassie is about 11'-6" long and the Wee Lassie II is about 13'-6" long. Both boats are 28" wide. The Wee Lassie II gets down into the basement with a bit of difficulty. Once all the material has been milled, we move aside some of the power tools and can just fit 6 canoes in the shop to work on them.


I've had a student who purchased plans for a Newfound Woodworks Osprey kayak. It's roughly a 16' long, 24" wide kayak. I have real concerns about getting the boat in and out of the shop. Also, because of the differences in the form from a canoe, I've got serious concerns about storing it. It's a neat project, and I think it would be fun to work on, but I think it is too big and too "different" of a project to try to wedge into the class. I worry that it will be a distraction. Kayak builds are also much more involved and I don't think that the student could finish the boat in the allotted time. I've got some plans for some smaller kayaks and would like to propose them, but I still think that building a kayak in a class for canoes would still be an issue.


I have yet another student who purchased plans for a Sandy Point Boatworks Bufflehead canoe. At 14'-6" and 33" wide, it pushes the limits of size, but not technique. We'll have to see if we can fit

If you're tempted to build a cedar strip kayak, I highly recommend Ted Moores' book Kayak Craft - a thorough study on the subject. Also, Newfound Woodworks and other sources have great DVD's to walk you through the process.

Wordless Wednesday