Thursday, December 31, 2009

A very happy...

...healthy and prosperous 2010 to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yarrrr!!! Pirate's Booty!

This was the scene of the chocolate massacre on DW's desk. Those are the empty foil covers and gold mesh bag of dark chocolate coins that Santa left in her stocking. I think she was trying to imply that the little USB man in the picture was the one to blame.

Yeah. Right.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Time Lapse of a Wood-Canvas Canoe Build

The following video is a time-lapse web-cam documentation of the building of a cedar and canvas canoe from scratch up at Northwoods Canoe Company up in Atkinson, Maine. It's owned by Rollin Thurlow. Rollin is also very well known for a book the he wrote with Jerry Stelmok (who now owns Island Falls Canoe Company, also of Atkinson) called The Wood and Canvas Canoe. This book, as I've mentioned before, is really the "bible" for anyone who intends to build or restore a traditional wood and canvas canoe. Both men teach classes at their own shops, the WoodenBoat School and other locations.

The video looks to be of a build with a student as the nearly finished canoe is being put on the roof of an SUV to take home. Well worth the time to watch.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve at Canoez' place. least after DS and DD have gone to sleep.

So THAT'S how he does it...

From Non Sequitur - probably one of my favorite comics by Wiley Miller - a truly talented comic artist and observer of the human condition.

Thought I'd post this year's arrangement to help Rudolf get off the ground to do his job : A seasonal selection from Ridgeway Brewing.

We have Foreign Export Stout, Reindeer's Revolt, Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf and Insanely Bad Elf. I thought there was also a bottle of Santa's Butt, but that seems not to be the case.

HEY! Where's the cap on the Export Stout? I think Rudolf has already been preparing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Preparations for Christmas have begun...

Christmas preparations have been sneaking into our routine for the past few weeks. They always seem so overwhelming at the beginning, but I've learned to try to start them before Thanksgiving. Usual tasks include shopping for presents for friends and loved ones, some sort of decorations outside, a wreath for the door, a fresh balsam or spruce tree for decorating, meal planning and food shopping.

Things have been a bit unusual for me at work. We had a company holiday party at a local restaurant at lunch time (which was nice, but a bit different from what I'm used to...) and vendors have been sending in small gifts during the past week or so - typically food.

Which brings up the following dilemma - when faced with a chocolate reindeer does one start at the antlers like one does with a chocolate rabbit's ears at Easter?


The children are also getting very excited about the pending visit from the big man in the red and white suit. The application below will need to be filled out and sent up to the North Pole in time for tomorrow evening. (Click to enlarge) Be sure to note the refreshment details section...

My Christmas request for Santa included a nicely restored E.H. Gerrish canoe in my stocking, but somehow, I don't think it will be fitting down the chimney this year. (Sorta tough to fit into a direct-vent gas fireplace - how DOES he do it?) Perhaps a nice well-balanced Cherry Grand Lake guide paddle, or some nice canoe-building tools will fit instead. I can only hope.

My DW is downstairs at the moment working on a glass of wine and preparing miniature mince pies which must remind her childhood Christmases. I'll be in the kitchen later tonight doing what prep work that I can for our Christmas luncheon. I hope your preparations are as easy and painless as possible this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not quite Tech Tip Tuesday

Today's post is a bit about what we've got going on in the shop where I teach. As we're winding down for the end of the Fall session, I've got boats in almost all phases of construction. I've got solo boats, a tandem boat and a sea kayak. My students ask me how I can keep track of things at the various stages, but it's getting to be second nature.

As you may remember from an earlier post, the couple building the tandem had cut and glued up the feature strip for their canoe. It came out rather nicely. At this point, the strip is about 2" wide and almost 7/8" thick. The pattern that you see on the face runs all the way through the stock. As I may have mentioned before, the blonde wood is carefully selected Poplar (Carefully selected to avoid the greenish streaks that Poplar can have.) and Peruvian Black Walnut - a very soft variety.

Because I have so many novice woodworkers in my class, we choose to use cove-and-bead joinery to ensure ease of assembly by my students. Unfortunately, I think that if we did hand-beveled strips, many of the students would be good at it by the time they were about half-way through their canoes. As we are interested in improving the speed of assembly and limiting the amount of final fairing and sanding, cove-and-bead seems to be the way to go. It isn't perfect as there are some points where the bend and twist of the hull make it difficult to keep the strips well seated, but this isn't a "show stopper". The strip you see above is thick enough to allow us to plane the surface that will show flat using a thickness planer, to remove any steps in thickness that have occurred during the gluing process.

This flat surface is important. We want this flat surface to run against the fence on the table saw. Using our piece of 1/4" aluminum bar stock as a gage to set the spacing between the table saw blade and the fence, set featherboards on the fence and table and we cut off two 1/4" thick feature strips. We are left with a scrap that is usually about 3/16" thick that would be ideal for inlay in a deck or for a detail on paddle blades that would match the feature strip on the hull of the boat.

The next step is to set up the router table. I've discussed the router table here before. (Side note : The router table gets such hard use that I've been designing one to have made from aluminum tooling plate with micro-adjustments to make set-up easier. I've been thinking I should write an article on the subject...) Because we only have two strips, we can't afford to make mistakes. What we do is to make two or three "dummy strips" from scrap that are about 18-24" long and are exactly as wide and thick as the feature strips. Using this, we set up the router table and mold cove and bead on the feature strips, winding up with this profile:

While this is a great way to get out feature strips, it's a bit time consuming. One caveat about making feature strips this way (i.e. off the forms) - a strip about 1-1/2" to about 2" is the maximum width depending on the amount of curvature that the hull has to avoid getting poor transitions to the remainder of the hull.

One student is finishing up the final details on her boat. The decks, thwart and coamings are in and the seat frame is to be mounted before final sand and varnish. In the picture below, this Wee Lassie II is getting seat blocks installed. I prefer to use either 4 seat blocks or two frame rails set in "Dookie Shmutz" (Thanks, Nick Shade, great name for the stuff! ) which is epoxy thickened with wood flour and fumed silica to a peanut butter consistancy. The process we use is to install a dummy seat and clamp the blocks to the top of the seat. Using a compass, we scribe the hull curve on the blocks and cut them out on the bandsaw.

The big trick here is to get the seat level side-to-side, at the balance point of the boat, far enough forward that the thwart isn't in your back and the seat tipped just a little bit forward to take the pressure of the back of your thighs when paddling. I also like enough clearance under the seat frame to get my hand under it to clip the straps on my Crazy Creek Canoe chair together. Makes a nice back-rest when paddling. We then screw the seat frame to the blocks. I do this to allow the builder to get the frame out for re-caning in the future.

The other boat that's coming along is the Osprey kayak. Although this photo doesn't do it justice, the deck is a shapely an sensuous curvature. There is a center strip of Butternut and the whitish island is Port Orford Cedar with it's lovely citrus-ey smell. The vertical element of the coming will also be Port Orford and the cap and coaming rim will be more of the Butternut. She's going to be a very pretty 'yak.

If you're wondering what the object is in the foreground covered with foil, it is a pan of brownies. My Saturday morning classes include what we refer to as the "10 o'clock Union Break". This is actually a very important part of my class. At 10 AM, we turn off the power tools and take a break to have coffee and snacks. We use this "quiet time" to bond as a group and to answer questions and solve problems that the students may have. It also gives the students a rest so that they returned refreshed and re-energized to do more great work.

Never underestimate the restorative power of coffee and a donut!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Calendar?

After Thanksgiving, we run over to a local grocery store that has some nice advent calendars for the kids. I've been thinking there need to be some for adults, too. I'm not the first person to think of this idea, however. Quite frankly, I like this approach for variety.

For some simpler ideas, we have the following:

Bachelor's Advent Calendar

Mexican Advent Calendar

Scottish Advent Calendar

I think more variety for 24 days is desirable, however...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rat Haus

I've been spending my time working on some traditional Greenland Style kayak paddles for friends in the shop. When finished, they look like this: ("Here's one I made earlier." - Think cooking shows.)

However, I've been distracted from this task. My daughter has made a request to create a new "house" for the gerbils (hereafter known as "the bilge rats" or simply "the rats") that she and her brother take care of. Mind you, I'm much more of a predator than prey kinda guy, but the bilge rats are OK.

In the past 4 months of having them, they've managed to mostly chew up a commercial "rat house". So, the DD has made a request for a new rat house, to be two stories with a balcony (not kidding, here) I took in some scrap poplar that I had laying around, resawed and planed the stock to about 5/16". Normally, this wouldn't attract much attention as people would think it was for drawer bottoms. I then started mucking about designing a house to the design brief that I had been given by DD. This began to attract some interest. You have to understand that I did this in a shop with other woodworkers around who were making fine furniture with hand cut dovetails and the like. It started out with the following exchange:

"What are you making?"

"Rat houses."

:::incredulous::: "Come again?"

"I said, 'Rat houses'."

"You're s*****g me, right?"

"Nope. I'm making rat houses."

Things got merciless from there...

("You got a permit for that?" "Gonna be shingle or board-and-batten" "The subs must be pretty small to run the plumbing and wiring." "Is that post-modern?" etc...)

Santa's workshop still has a bit of gluing up to do on the second house, but here are some pictures of the bilge rats and their new chateau....

One Quick-n-Dirty poplar rat house from Santa's Workshop...

Future tenants thinkin', "My, that new house looks tasty..."


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

The Beauty of the North Maine Woods
Photo courtesy of John "Fitzy" Fitzgerald
Wooden canoe nut and photographer.

I can't quite be wordless today. To me, that photo is what canoeing is about. A canoe is kind of like your own private time machine - not only does it take you places, but it might as well be taking you back in time before the world became such a crowded place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas is Coming!

Do you have all your shopping done?


Well, do you know someone who might like to learn to do any of the following?
  • Build a boat
  • Learn to sail
  • Cast bronze hardware
  • Learn blacksmithing and welding
  • Carve an eagle or name-board for your boat
  • Make a signaling cannon
  • Learn lofting skills
  • Develop some coastal kayaking skills
  • Build a pond yacht
Well, if you or someone that you know has an interest in all of this and more, then perhaps a class at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine would be a good present. This is their 30th year in operation and their 2010 class schedule is now posted on their website. It is a wonderful experience that shouldn't be missed if you have any interest in boats of any kind.

Just to whet your appetite:

Be sure to tell them that Canoez sent ya...

Oh, and hint, hint, hint... ;-D

Friday, December 11, 2009

We thought we'd coined a new word today...

That word is "crapaging".

I discovered after a quick search that we were not the first to coin this term. It has been put into print before in the Urban Dictionary.

Crapaging :

Any packaged goods of a very poor quality, use of inappropriate materials or lack of security in any shape or form.


"Have you seen the crapaging on this bl**dy parcel?"
"Can you scrape around for some crapaging for this one, mate?"

We figure that this can be either a noun or a verb - the material used in the act or the actual activity.

About a month ago, we got what is probably a very high-tech and expensive one-off carbon fiber enclosure for an instrument that will be mounted on the top of an airplane somewhere. it came in a plywood crate with wood trim - a simple, but decently made and rugged piece of packaging. The interior was a totally different situation. Inside of the box was a combination of, well, junk that someone seemed to have put into the box for padding so that they would simply be rid of it.

This included the following items:

  • Packing peanuts (anathema!)
  • Assorted pieces of bubble wrap (both size and type) well contaminated with packing tape in inconvenient ways.
  • Brown craft paper
  • Rigid closed-cell foam from some other packaging
  • Absorbent shop towels used for mopping up oil on drums
  • A folded-up Fed-Ex mailing box
  • A variety of pieces of thin cardboard
  • A used, padded mailing envelope.

I re-packaged the enclosure today to return to the customer. I must admit that I did re-use some of the original packaging. This includes the rigid foam, bubble wrap (sans tape) and the packing peanuts, if only to be rid of them - the packing peanuts, that is!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Sprit?

Today we had our first significant snowstorm of the season. It got me thinking about Christmas Spirit. Some people think that they need to show their spirit in a big way. For example, take the following pictures:

So, I take it that "He with the biggest", uhhmm... "ornaments", yeah, "ornaments" wins?

Well, it seems that not everybody is in the Christmas spirit...

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday

On the WoodenBoat Forum, a member posted a thread titled "Boat Building Safety". Ostensibly it was about about the canoe that he plans to build with/for his father and was discussing a picture of Ted Moores in his Canoecraft book. The thread was intended to discuss the WoodenBoat Hat as a "safety item". It brought to mind some safety items that are all too often forgotten in woodworking in general and building canoes in particular.

Wood dust has been noted as a potentially carcinogenic material. Some types of wood are toxic, some can cause allergic reactions, and airborne dust is both a potential fire and explosion risk. If you don't believe me, take a look at this MSDS sheet from JG Architectural Supply, a wood floor vendor from Maryland. After reading it, you'll wonder why the government hasn't recalled every bit of wood grown.

For the reasons noted in the MSDS, you should always have a good dust mask with appropriate filtration to protect your lungs, nose and mouth. Also, to prevent other hazards, a good dust-collection system to deal with dust and shavings created by power tools and a circulation filter to remove airborne dust are really great ideas. They not only help to keep the shop clean, but also help to keep the shop safe. A clean shop is a safe shop.

If you don't believe me that this is an issue, consider the following scenario from the building of a Wee Lassie canoe using three 8" wide, 12' long boards, nominally 1" thick (24 board feet of stock):
  • If you start with S4S boards that are nominally four-quarters of an inch thick (really 3/4"), and use a 1/16" thick saw blade, you will turn 3.5 board feet worth of stock into sawdust ripping the stock into strips. (You turn 1 strip to dust for every four strips you cut!)
  • When you mold cove and bead features on the strips, you will turn another 4.7 board feet worth of stock into dust and shavings. (You turn another strip to dust for every three that you mold!)
  • Finally, when you fair and sand the hull before glassing, I figure another 2.2 board feet into curly plane shavings and sanding dust. (About 1/16" of thickness removed from the whole hull!)
That's a total of about 10.4 board feet that have been turned into dust or shavings in the process - a really amazing statistic considering that you started with 24 board feet of stock in the beginning of the process.

While we are discussing wood dust, don't forget that you want to be protected from all types of dust including from sanding epoxy, fillers (Like fumed silica, glass fiber, micro balloons, etc.) and varnish. When sanding the epoxy before varnish and between coats of varnish, remember that wet sanding works well and keeps the dust to a minimum.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A New Feature Strip

My students who are building the Prospector Ranger have been working on their stems and feature strips for the canoe over the past two weeks. Both the inner and outer stems were laminated together the week before Thanksgiving and the parts to create the feature strip were cut out just last weekend.

They have chosen to use Peruvian Black Walnut for the stems and trim on the canoe. They've selected Poplar and the Walnut for the feature strip as well. Here's a piece of the center that was dry-fitted to give an idea of what it will look like:

As I said, the strip is only dry fitted. When glued together, the joints that you see should disappear and the glued up blank will be about 1-1/2" by about 7/8" thick and 16' long. We'll clean up one side of the blank so that it is smooth and cut two 1/4" thick pieces (for both sides of the canoe) on the table saw and mold the edges with cove and bead.

One thing to keep in mind that many people forget. When you cut the "bead" side of the strip, you lose 1/8" of the exposed face, so if you want the top and bottom strip to be the same width when finished, you need to add an extra 1/8"!

Both students are beginning woodworkers and with very little prodding created a pretty design for the feature strip and executed it nicely! I'm very proud of their work.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fantastic Historical Short Film

While I certainly cannot take credit for finding this film - a gentleman by the name of Bert Langley over at the WoodenBoat Forum found it. The film is about 15 minutes long and records the building of a traditional piroque (pirogue) by Cajun craftsman Abdon Allemon using traditional hand tools only. The film was made in 1949 by Arnold Eagle who was working with Robert Flaherty.

It is a true gem and shows the process from the harvest of the log to the launching of the boat.

Don't miss this one!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

(click on image for full size)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tech Tip Tuesday

From Wikipedia:

Portage refers to the practice of carrying watercraft or cargo over land to avoid river obstacles, or between two bodies of water. A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage; a person doing the carrying is called a porter.

The name portage is derived from the french word "portage" and the french verb "porter" : to carry. Early French explorers ventured in New France and French Louisiana encountered many rapids and cascades. The Amerindians carried their canoes over land to avoid river obstacles. The french coureurs des bois and trappers used the french word "portage".

Over time, important portages were sometimes upgraded to canals with locks, and even portage railways. Primative portaging generally involves carrying the vessel and its contents across the portage in multiple trips. Small canoes can be portaged by carrying them inverted over one's shoulders and the center thwart may be designed in the style of a yoke to facilitate this. Historically, Voyageurs often employed a tump line on their head to carry a load on their back.

I want to delve a little bit into the yoke used to portage the canoe. If you are going to carry a canoe on your own, a yoke is a helpful thing to have and, if you've ever carried a canoe for any distance, a good yoke makes for a more comfortable portage.

I know this from some hard experience. When I was younger, we went on a canoe trip in Maine and my paddling partner and I were paddling a borrowed aluminum canoe.

It was shiny.

It was hot.

It was noisy.

It was heavy.

It didn't have a yoke.

We arrived at a portage of about a mile and a quarter in the rain. We took our paddles and square lashed them to the center thwart and the thwart behind the bow seat. It looked a lot like this:

The downside to this situation is that your head is between the paddles and it's not really comfortable, even with the canvas "horse collar" life jacket to pad your shoulders and neck. I must say that I don't like this situation of having your head trapped like this - if you trip and take a tumble, you wouldn't want your head in between the paddles. A better way to rig it is to have the tips of the paddle blades pointing toward the bow and overhang the center thwart by about 4-6 inches, creating a yoke.

In the Paddle Making Blog, there is a neat post on traditional carry methods using paddles and a tumpline to create a portaging rig. It has some excellent illustrations showing the rig in detail - well worth the look.

Today, most canoes have a yoke. They vary in design quite a great deal. It is important to recognize that the fit of a thwart is very individual - much like finding a good pair of shoes or a pair of pants that fit just right. If they don't fit right, they can be very uncomfortable. Also, it is important the the yoke is located very close to the balance point of the canoe, but is preferably a little heavy to the stern. (If the yoke opening faces the bow, of course.) This keeps the bow up so you can see as you portage. Note the variety of the yokes shown here (not including the thwart at top, or the grab handle at the bottom...):

Padding is an important addition The heavily padded yoke shown below are similar to ones that were made by Joe Seglia on his canoes. Jerry Stelmok shows some great pictures of Joe upholstering the yoke in his book about Joe. They appear to have been fairly common in the Michigan/Minnesota area.

Another way to go if you don't have a yoke or want it installed only part of the time is to have a removable one like this one by Old Town:

More padding is always good:

The heavily contoured "ox-yoke" style canoe yoke can work very well if it fits the person carrying the canoe. Fit cannot be emphasized enough.

Some people add a third seat to the center of the canoe that has a yoke built in. These are available commercially, but this one is home-made.

The canoes that my students build are small solo canoes. Because they are intended to be lightweight, they have little trim. In the case of the Wee Lassie and Wee Lassie II, we usually have a cane seat, a single thwart located behind the seat, decks, scuppered inwales and an outwale. Before this trim is added, the fiberglassed hull is, well, floppy. The trim helps add rigidity to the hull and helps it hold its shape under load. This doesn't mean that it is the only way to build the canoe - - there are many ways to finish the canoe. It's up to you to choose.

Because these are light-weight canoes, you can quite literally throw them over a shoulder and go. Still, even with a light-weight canoe or one with a good yoke, the best modern alternatives are the myriad of folding carts that take the load off your shoulders. Do remember that if the portage trail is rugged, these carts may do you little good! Smooth trails are a must!

I still think that the method below is the best way to portage!

(Portage Wagon from the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY, photo taken by Mwanner. Just add horses!)