Saturday, August 29, 2009


Sailing canoes were popularized by John MacGregor and his adventures in his Rob Roy sailing canoe in the 1800's and the use of them for cruising and racing became very popular in the 1880's until about the 1920's. There are online versions of his book available online for reading if you're so inclined - A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on Rivers and Lakes of Europe. They're still used for racing and cruising, but the popularity waned and has slowly been coming back. Now these are decked sailing canoes, not open canoes and are a bit more seaworthy than the open boats.

W.P. Stevens was a proponent of sailing canoes who wrote about, designed and built them. There is some debate, but it appears that Mr. Stevens built a boat called Yakaboo that was sailed by Frederick 'Fritz' Fenger to the Caribbean. He wrote a book called Alone in the Caribbean about his journey.

At any rate, an engineer named Geoff Chick decided to build a sailing canoe in the tradition of the boats of the 1880's using resources that were available to him on the Web. He has written an interesting blog on the subject that is well worth the read. He utilized very modern tools and materials, but built what I consider to be a "traditional" design from it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I am NOT Picasso.

As I mentioned in last night's post, I've been thinking of putting some decoration of some sort on the kayak's Dacron skin after it has been stretched on and given the basic finish coat of polyurethane. I've had a bit of inspiration from various sources over the years.

First, there was the first people's art of the Pacific Northwest that David Hazen put on his canoes. David is well known for the book, The Stripper's Guide to Canoe Building, one of the first books on the subject first published back in about 1972. It has some interesting information and some interesting pictures of his boats. Here is one of his canoes, below:

In Robert Morris' book, Building Skin-on-Frame Boats, he shows two children with their kayaks which have been beautifully painted with orca and sea turtle motifs in what must be beautiful, vivid colors. I don't think that I have that kind of painting ability in me, however - at least not without a bit of training.

Another great inspiration came from Dave Gentry over at the WoodenBoat Forum. Dave has built a few skin-on-frame boats including one of his own design - the wherry on the right. The other two designs are from Thomas Yost's website and are a Kidarka on the left and a Baidarka in the middle. The Kidarka was for a friend's child and I particularly enjoyed the artwork that he painted on the kayak. Nice work. (Click on images to enlarge)

Then again, Dave also built the anti-artwork boat - a Wee Lassie style skin-on-frame canoe with clear PVC for the hull material. Neat, no?

The friend that I'm building the kayaks with was recently out in the Washington state and brought back this book which I've been looking over for inspiration:

There are many interesting choices in here and I think that enlarging the artwork would allow me to trace the outlines on the hull or make stencils from Mylar to wrap around the hull and paint. That way, I wouldn't have to be Picasso!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Life is what happens when you're making other plans.

-John Lennon

Tonight, this seems to be the story of my life. DW was supposed to be going out this evening with DaGoof's wife (DaWife) for knitting and "attitude adjustment" and I would be home with DS and DD. At any rate, that particular plan for this evening fell through and DaGoof decided to finally drop by and see the progress on the kayaks being built here. I'd also been planning on finishing up some DD's birthday present this evening (her birthday is next week). I'm planning on giving her a set of plans for a skin-on-frame kayak for us to build together. I've got the material already and she really, REALLY wants her own boat. Who am I to say, "no"?

After I finished up DD's present, I was going to review a book loaned to me on the art of the Pacific Northwest's first people. More on the book and the subject later. The teaser here is that I'm debating decorating the kayak.

DaGoof came over and we walked through the process from boat design to frame construction and fitting out. I'm finishing up coamings and foot braces before skinning the boat, but it's almost ready to skin. (Edited to add : I think he liked the look of the kayak. It's not that long - only 15', but it's relatively narrow. As DaGoof is a "Go Fast" kinda guy, I think he certainly appreciated that about it.)We had a good chat and made some uncertain plans for a paddle in the future with another friend and his wife. Subjects twisted and turned through home, family, work and paddling. We even found a spare rack to outfit his car with so he can move his canoe. A nice and eclectic visit all-in-all.

Plans are now complete after his departure and ready to print. I hope DD will like her present!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday

It isn't often that I have a specific tool that I rave about. Today, I'll make an exception about a tool that I've found to be very, very handy. It's called a Shinto Rasp. I purchased it from Japan Woodworker, but it may be available from other sources that I'm not aware of.

To be perfectly honest, I don't often find a use for a rasp in my woodworking, but in fairing stems, cleaning up epoxy and rough shaping of unusual contours, I've found this to be very useful. It's basically saw blades that have been joined together and put in a handle.

Because of the open design, it doesn't clog and need clearing in the same way that a rasp often does. This was particularly useful in clearing out hardened epoxy from places that it wasn't desired on the kayak frame. It has two different sides - an 11 TPI side and a 25 TPI side.

Coarse 11 TPI side

Fine 25 TPI side

Amazingly, it was able to be used on the edge grain of the marine plywood we're using, hardwood and softwood without tearing or chipping when using the "fine" side. The more I use it, the more that I like it.

"It's not clothes that make the man, it's tools."


Friday, August 21, 2009

A New Website for the List

If you are a paddler of any kind, this is a website that you must visit. It offers great information on gear, techniques, places to paddle and the like. It is chock full of information. Definitely a no-miss whether you are paddling a canoe or kayak and for whatever reason you choose to paddle.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Decisions, Decisions, continued...

Well, I'm narrowing things down a bit and am looking at designs that are offered by the folks at Bear Mountain Boats, Ted Moores' business. Most of these are based on older designs by Chestnut, a well known Canadian canoe manufacturer and have been re-drawn by Steve Killing.

I had been looking at the Cheemaun design by Rollin Thurlow up at the Northwoods Canoe Company and the Ami by Alex Comb at Stewart River Boatworks. These two designs are really intended for wood and canvas canoe construction, but they could be built as cedar strip canoes with a little bit of change to the forms. (Alex actually had the design to the outside of the hull, which is what you need for strip built.) However, I think I'll save these for the time when I build in wood and canvas.

The designs that I seem to be coming back to are the Prospector Ranger, the Freedom 15 and the Bob's Special. ALL of these are 15' long canoes that will be about 45 or 50 pounds and have similar prismatic coefficients and wetted area. The Freedom has a very modern appearance, relatively flat bottom and flat sheer line, but has a higher prismatic coefficient and wetted area - which will yield a slower boat. I like the underwater shape of the Prospector Ranger a bit better than the Bob's Special, but think that the bow and stern on the Ranger are a bit high and will likely catch the wind. This, however isn't a death knell - it's not that hard to lower the sheer a bit in the ends.

Could be a toss up, but I think the Ranger will feel more stable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When we last left our intrepid...

He was creating shavings and cut-off scraps while making sole pieces to fit on the floors. These are some thin pieces of 1" wide cherry. The pieces in the cockpit are 3/8" thick and those that go into the storage area behind the seat are 1/4" thick. At the moment, I've dry-fitted the pieces to see how they will go. Here's an over-view:

There are three distinct areas separated by the frames. The area at the top of the last picture is the cockpit and the area below that will be the main storage area. The area at the bottom of the image is secondary storage for longer trips where this might be necessary.

Detail of the cockpit sole:

Detail of the storage area sole:

The next steps will be to mark the placement of these sole parts and to finish sand them. After that, they will be bonded in place with the System Three Gel Magic and the rest of the frame sanded and finished with a coat of spar urethane.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

One of the things that I find myself doing before my class starts up is reviewing my tools, forms and procedures to see if there is anything that I can be doing to improve the class for the students.

This year, I've got a bit of a dilemma.

I have two couples who would like to build tandem canoes. This brings up some logistical issues:
  • Bigger boats and forms need to be moved out of the shop and into the barn on a weekly basis. They are heavier and more awkward to deal with than a Wee Lassie.
  • Bigger boats require longer stock. We like to rip full length stock, so we're looking at 16' boards.
  • Bigger boats are more expensive.
  • Because we move the boats on a weekly basis, the strongback has to be rigid. I'm considering some lightweight box-beam designs for a change.
In practical terms, I would like to get the students' input on the selection of the canoe. There are a handful of good canoe designs in the 15' range that I'm looking at, but they have distinctly different paddling characteristics. Picture having someone else pick out the car you're going to drive without knowing very much about your driving abilities and how you'll use the vehicle - without doing a test-drive themselves! For this reason, I'm looking at boats which are based on "tried-and-true" designs such as the Bob's Special, which is based on an old Chestnut design and several others which are based on Peterborough designs.

The other important consideration here is the protection of a designer's intellectual property - taking a copyrighted design will require a royalty to be paid for each design - or sometimes, a price for the first design and a smaller licensing fee for the additional boats.

Anybody got any good ideas?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday

In my opinion, the humble cabinet scraper gets a bad rap. To appropriate a "Bushism", they are highly misunderestimated. Basically, they are a piece of hardened steel that you turn a burr on the edge of. The burr is the cutting edge and can almost eliminate the use of all but the finest sandpaper in finishing. The cabinet scraper also excels at cutting wild grain where the direction of the grain reverses such as in a burl. They are best on hardwood, but some softwoods can be cut with a scraper so long as you use light pressure.

The scrapers above are a decent selection including some with curves for finishing moldings and different thicknesses. The thicker scrapers are for heavier stock removal and the thinner ones remove a bit less - the closer you get to the final finish, the thinner the scraper I use.

The thing that most people have a problem with is getting a good burr. It's fairly simple, so long as you follow a simple but consistant method I'll show you below. The items below are what I use to maintain my scrapers. On the top is a mill bastard file. This file is used to roughly square the edge. At the bottom is a sharpening stone and some lubricant for dressing the filed edge. The stone is used because the file leaves microscopic cuts which will give you a fragile, slightly serrated edge if you skip the stone before burnishing. The center tool is a polished burnishing tool - basically a very hard piece of steel. Some people use old drill bit shanks for burnishers.

Another thing that I find necessary when using a cabinet scraper is gloves. When using a scraper, you generate heat from friction. It can burn your thumbs and if you haven't built up good callouses, you'll regret not protecting your thumbs!

Here is a sample of typical stock that I use a scraper on. It's a narrow cherry strip for use in the kayak. It's fairly smooth, but you can see the saw marks from resawing this wood.

I pulled out my scraper and started to work. I was raising fine dust. This tells me that the scraper is dull.

So, I first remove the old burrs with the file, keeping the scraper square to the file. Some people use a small block to keep them square.

After the burr was gone, I polished the edge on the sharpening stone until it was perfectly smooth across the whole edge. Again, you want the scraper to be perpendicular to the stone so that you get nice square edges.

Lightly wiping the edge with oil, I then turn the burr in one direction applying firm pressure with the burnishing tool. Note the angle of the burnisher.

I then take the burr that I've created and turn it back at about 10° to create the hooked burr that will do the cutting.

The shavings at the bottom are made with the sharpened scraper. They are fine, lacy shavings that are rolling up in front of the scraper as it is used. As it is used, the scraper is flexed slightly to present a good cutting edge to the wood.

In no time at all, we have a nice smooth surface. This picture was taken at the same point on the strip that the first picture above showing the saw marks. This took less than a minute and maybe 8 passes along the strip. Note the "shine" in the wood and the lack of tool marks. A little bit more finishing; either with a thinner scraper or a fine sandpaper will finish things up and remove the slight fuzz seen on the edge.

If you haven't used a cabinet scraper, you owe it to yourself to try. It takes a bit of practice to get things to work well, but if you persist, I think you will be amazed at how much time and money you'll save.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What a tangled web we weave...

I was getting ready for work the other day and this web happened to catch my eye. It was just getting windy and I wanted to capture this fleeting piece of natural artwork before it vanished. A few of the strands of the web were already missing due to the wind.

There was no sign of the maker, but the workmanship (spider-ship?) was amazing - it's really incredible to me that spiders can create such intricate artwork. It used not only the plant hook, but also the hummingbird feeder for support.

The dew made it look like a jeweled piece of artwork.

(Click on the images to enlarge!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fantastic Plastic : Redux

A few weeks ago, I put up a post about plastic kayaks. (see here) Matthew Housekeeper from Soundbounder made the following comment:

You make some good points. The plastics introduce many people to the hobby.

This is undeniably true, however, I do have some problems with this. I hate to make a generalization, but people who tend to buy the small, cheap, "cute" rotomolded kayaks, usually have very little training or backround with small boats before they buy them. On the water, these tend to be the people that I see out without a PFD on. They are also the people who can be found in the way of other craft that may have the right-of-way on the water. Sometimes, they are drinking large quantities of alcoholic beverages on the water. They also seem to be the ones who are out in conditions that may exceed their abilities. I doubt most people in these tubby little craft ("But it's as stable as a rock!") have ever deliberately tipped the boat and tried a wet exit and re-entry under controlled conditions, let alone poor conditions.

This is not to say that all people who are out in plastic boats or even these little plastic boats that I describe above are poorly prepared or have little skills. I'm just making an observation based on what I've seen. There are also popular sea-kayaks, whitewater, and whitewater touring boats that are plastic and are paddled by those with excellent background, skills and abilities.

The point here is that these small, inexpensive boats, bring boating to pretty much anyone who wants to paddle. But you should still learn what you are doing out on the water before you venture out and become a danger to yourself and others.

To be equally fair, the same can be true at the other end of the spectrum with the fanciest, most expensive wood or fiberglass boats - paddle, sail and power. They have the money to buy the boat, but not the skills to deal with the situations that may arise out on the water.

Bottom line : if you're going to be operating a boat out on the water, please know what you should be doing, and do it safely.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Let's just say I'm trying to avoid the situation in the picture above. There was a hiccup in my build and as of yet, I'm not exactly certain what the cause was, but I have my suspicions. I was looking at the kayak and the epoxy bond joints between the port side stringers showed some strange marks - like stretching. I poked at the joints and they were a bit soft. The rest of the bond joints were checked and they were very hard, as they should be.

I decided that I'd be safe and remove the "gummy" joints. A sharp utility knife made quick work of separating the chine and sheer stringers from the forms. A sharp chisel then removed the remaining adhesive from the stringers and the frames to provide a good bonding surface with bare wood. A new batch of epoxy was mixed up and the repair was made.

To be honest, the only thing that could have happened would have been a mixing error on my part. The most likely errors would be either poor mix ratio or poor mixing (i.e. not complete). Temperature was definitely not an issue - it was in the mid 80's temperature-wise. The bond surfaces were new, dry and clean wood that has no contamination.

The adhesive in question is System Three's Silver Tip GelMagic pre-thickened epoxy adhesive system. I've been mixing the epoxy by weight on a digital scale - 10 grams of thickened epoxy to 4 grams of hardener. (It can be mixed either 2:1 by volume or 100:41 by weight, hence the 10:4 gram ratio) I have a rule when mixing epoxy - mix for at least 30 seconds before using, so I figure it was thoroughly mixed. The other consideration is that the GelMagic has a blue-tinted epoxy that shows a uniform color when properly mixed. The only thing I can think of was that I must have hit the scale when tareing out the weight of the cup.

Ah well.

Just remember - it is important to figure things like this out. You should learn from your mistakes, not repeat them. Better yet, learn from someone else's mistakes. As a friend of mine likes to say, if you're not making mistakes you can't be doing much.