Friday, January 29, 2010


Most people who don't have children don't understand those of us who do. Surprisingly, they don't understand our offspring, either. Even though they were children once themselves, they appear to have forgotten most of their own childhood and probably don't remember the joys of it or the trials and tribulations of their (very) patient parents.

I suppose those people who are young and single don't give too much thought to the bathroom, either. They just take it for granted. Parents of toddlers have to give it lots of thought.

For example, I was in the bathroom getting ready this morning and had just flushed the toilet and was preparing to shave when DS wandered into the bathroom in a dazed manner to use the toilet.

"What's that noise?", he asked.

"Uh, that's the toilet tank filling up with water." Being that I am an engineer by profession, I proceeded to explain to him the inner workings of the toilet and why it was filling the tank with water.

Then it dawned on me.

"Why did you ask? Have you never heard the toilet tank fill before?"

I got a particularly confused look from DS.

Probably not.

For the longest period of time, DS seems to have been imbued with some mutant predisposition that left him unable to flush the toilet. As a parent of a child this age, you must understand that this had both good points and bad points for DW and I. First, there is the obvious bad point of coming into the bathroom to find that the toilet has a "surprise" of some sort in it. Then, there are the good points. You can almost instantly determine both the gastric health of your child and know if he wiped.


Did any wiping occur? For the longest time, DS seems to have assumed that he has a Teflon bottom as he would tell us that he didn't need to wipe. A quick check of the laundry basket would always shoot this assumption down faster than a Scud missle over Tel Aviv.

'Skid marks'? Check.

C'mon kid.

We'd be ecstatic if he'd just use the papyrus as reliably as the kid below:

To be quite honest, I think that there is a distinct difference between the genders when it comes to potty training. I don't remember it being such a big issue for DD as she was growing up. As a matter of fact, it was the day that DS first came home from teh hospital that she managed to sleep through the night without a diaper and wake up dry in the morning. She just decided that was what she was going to do and did it.

At the moment, we have different issues with DD. She's at that in between stage. To borrow and excellent expression from one of DW's bloggy friends, Expat Mum ,(One of a group of wonderful ex-patriot, mostly British, blogging moms - do go visit her!) DD is turning into a...


While others find her to be a delightful and charming young lady when she is out and about, at home she can be much more, um, assertive.

She's decided that those things that she doesn't deign to do, she will not - and let you know that she won't.

In no uncertain terms.

At this point, her progress on the kayak that we've been building has ground to a halt and we're having a bit of a tête-à-tête in regard to the terms for doing the building work. As it is something that I know that DD wants to do, I've put a condition on when we can work on the boat. It's not extreme or anything. I've simply told DD that if we are to work on her boat, her room has to be clean. Not spotless, mind you - just neat. It still doesn't seem to be a great motivation for her even though I know she wants to work on the kayak.

I'm still looking for a motivational tool.

Got any ideas?

Oh yeah, I know what you're thinking, by the way - and no, it's not blackmail!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Maine Boatbuilder's Show 2010

It's getting to be that time of year again, so mark your calendars! The Maine Boatbuilders Show will be taking place in Portland, Maine on Friday and Saturday, March 19th and 20th from 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM and on Sunday the 21st from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The show is hosted by the well-organized folks at Portland Yacht Services located at 58 Fore Street - right on the water. It is the traditional harbinger of Spring for the Maine boating community.

For my canoe building class it has become a "field trip" that really offers lots for all. It is a chance to see large and small craft of all kinds, power, sail, paddle and oar as well as tools, materials and information. I think the opportunity to see and take pictures of all the professional joinery and hardware really gives them some ideas for finishing their own boats. I enjoy seeing the variety of small craft and traditionally built boats and some of the people that I know.

Don't miss it!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Interesting Quote...

"If there's a more difficult way to
do something, we'll find it."

- B. Volain

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tech Tip Tuesday

You can get curved wood several different ways.

One way is that you can cut a curved shape in a piece of wood. However, the grain has to be curved to get a strong part without grain run-out weakening the part. You can also have thin slices of wood that can be bent all by themselves and laminate them together over a form so that they hold their shape. You can also use a bath of boiling water to soften a piece of wood and clamp it on a form to hold it's shape while it dries. We've used a section of aluminum gutter with wood blocks sealed with silicone at the ends set over a camp stove! There are other ways as well, but the best way I can think of is to use steam.

Before I start in on this, be sure to use common sense and protect yourself from the steam - steam can give awful burns in a very short period of time as it holds a great deal of energy. Use gloves, goggles and protect bare skin. Be sure to know how to treat burns in case of an accident.

The hot water and steam work because they soften the ligning in the wood which binds the cells together. When the lignin cools, it "sets" holding the wood in position. Steam-bending is best accomplished by using green wood because of the moisture it contains, or air-dried wood that has been soaked before steaming. Kiln dried or treated woods don't work because the lignin has already been "set" by the treatment process. For steam-bending you will want to select your stock fairly carefully for straight grain so that it doesn't split out along the edges.

The process is best accomplished using steam as you need to maintain a temperature between 200 and 212 degrees Farenheight (93-100 degrees Centigrade) You need to have steam during the whole process. (i.e. you can't run out of water, and you can't add cold water to the boiler and "kill" the steam) You also want to remember the rule of thumb is to steam the wood for 1 hour per inch of thickness. This is, however an estimation and varies by wood species and . One thing you want to be careful of is to have the parts be wet throughout the process. When we steamed cedar ribs, we soaked them before the process and if we didn't put the ribs on the canoe fast enough, we'd have to wet them again with hot water on a swab so they didn't dry out and "heat treat". Once you take the steamed piece of wood out of the box with a pair of gloves, you need to work fast before the wood has a chance to cool before bent into position. It is good to support the outside of the stock with a metal band or to "stretch" the outside of the wood with your gloves to keep the part from splitting out along the grain.

Steam boxes don't have to be fancy affairs. You need a safe heat source that will continuously generate enough heat to provide adequate amounts of steam for the steam box. Propane fired burners such as those used for crab boils are common. If your heat source burns fuel, you want to have adequate ventilation or work outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

You will need a container large enough to hold enough water or be able to refill it somehow during the process. Ideally, you should be able to see how much water is in the container so it doesn't boil dry. The container should be tight, but not so tight that it builds up pressure and becomes an explosion hazard. New metal gas cans (UNUSED!!!), tea kettles and "Cornelius kegs" with the valve removed have all been used as boilers.

You will need a tube to route the steam from the container to your steam box. Radiator hose is commonly used. It's available from McMaster-Carr, and auto-supply houses among others for about $5/foot. You shouldn't need much as you want to keep this as short as possible to avoid losing heat in the tube.

Last but not least, you'll need a "box" to contain the steam. I've seen cedar boxes with loose-fitting end-caps. I've also seen plywood boxes with rigid foam-board on either the inside or outside. (Don't know how well it works on the inside!) Large boxes often have pigeon-hole like dividers to allow steam to circulate around many pieces. Another very common method is to use pipe - even plastic pipe. I'd avoid the traditional recommendation for PVC in favor of ABS pipe. PVC softens at about 140 degrees Farenheight (60 degrees Centigrade) and starts to degrade, structurally- not enough for steam! ABS pipe starts to soften at 212 degrees Farenheight (100 degrees Centigrade) and is a better choice. The ABS is commonly used as drain plumbing in houses and is commonly available. Like with the kettle, you want a little bit of the steam to leak out so that pressure doesn't build up. Also, you'll want to be able to slope the "box" so that condensation can drip down to a drain hole. Large openings are commonly plugged with rags to keep the steam in the box. Some boxes have holes in them so that only the part of the stock that needs to be exposed to the steam goes in them. There are many "custom" boxes - it only depends on your imagination.

The set-up below is the one we used at WoodenBoat. At some point in the future want to build one like this for steaming canoe and kayak ribs:


I have some long pieces to do for the kayak coamings, so I plan to work with two pieces of tubing. One with a single end cap so that I can soak the stock before steaming and another ABS one for the steam box. We'll have to see how it goes...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Breakfast in Bed

I was awoken this morning around 8:00 to the sounds of dishes clanking downstairs. As I rolled back towards the middle of the bed to get more comforter, (DW had pulled most of it to her side during the night) I realized that DW was still in bed as well. The sounds of crockery and drawers and doors opening and closing continued for a minute. A thought sprang to mind - is one of the children emptying the dishwasher?


The sound of rattling dishes, silverware and feet on the stairs filled me with sudden dread. What is going on here? Does someone not know where some of the dishes go and is bringing them all upstairs for guidance? More clanky sounds outside the bedroom door and it swings open. DD comes in with a precariously balanced tray. On it are two (very full!) glasses of milk, a bowl of cereal, two bowls holding halves of a grapefruit (cut in half with the sections) and a rather large mixing bowl containing diced green apple and clementine sections. DD had taken it upon herself to make us breakfast in bed.

This was an interesting mix of foods, to say the least. After thanking DD for our surprise, DW tucked into the bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. I started working on the grapefruit, notwithstanding the fact that my stomach doesn't seem to open for business until at least 9:30 in the morning.

About 10 minutes later, DD reappeared with two plates of slightly tanned buttered bread. We thanked her again, but noted that this was significantly more food than we were accustomed to at breakfast time.

As DD left the room for a second time, DW whispered under her breath, "She wants something."

Friday, January 15, 2010


I don't think think there is much I can add to the coverage of the unbelievable suffering in Haiti from this week's earthquake. Please give in support of relief efforts to the charity of your choice. Here are two - the images are clickable links.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I should be putting out Tech Tip Tuesday...

I was going to blog about some thoughts I've been having on building a steam box to be able to bend kayak coamings and canoe ribs, but I'm playing hooky tonight. You'll still get to read my thoughts - it will just be next week.

Actually I was feeding my brain. This evening, our local Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) has a NOVA program called Building Pharaoh's Ship. It was a fantastic show about a group of archeologists who were re-creating a traditional wooden sea-faring ship based on ancient murals and other archeological evidence found at Mersa Gawasis in Egypt. Queen Hatshepsut launched ships to travel down the Red Sea to a place known as Punt to trade for luxury goods.

The facinating thing about this boat is the construction method that they used. It was completely different from modern boat building in that there are no ribs in the boat. The boat has a keel and is constructed of planks that are carved to the shape of the hull. These planks are tightly fitted and joined using mortise and tenon joinery.

PBS has quite a few of the NOVA programs available for viewing online here. Hopefully this will be available online for viewing soon!

Seen on a bumper sticker last night.


Monday, January 11, 2010

A new blog on my reading list...

picture by Rolf Kraiker

Reflections On The Outdoors Naturally is a is a wonderful WordPress blog by Mike who has been around here of late and is occasionally found over at the WCHA forums. Mike's posts tend to be of a literary or historical bent as relates to canoes and canoeing. His posts are extremely well researched and source-linked with great depth. I highly recommend that you delve into his site and take a look.

Another fantastic part of his site is his very extensive links list on the left side of his page.

I hope you enjoy his wonderful postings.

Thanks Mike!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stow, stow, stow your boat, gently...

Wednesday's post has got me thinking about boat storage. Generally, people don't do a great job of storing canoes. They tend to get left outside under a tarp and forgotten about - that is if they're luckier than the boat above. Stored outside, right side up is about the worst storage situation for a canoe. They fill with ice/snow/water and both the immense weight and the expansion and contraction of the freezing water can do a great deal of damage to any boat.

What constitutes the biggest danger for storing canoes? In no particular order, I think the following are pretty big hazards - particularly for wooden canoes.
  • Water - Causes rot in the wood and mildew in canvas coverings.
  • Sun - Causes UV damage and bleaching. Breaks down both polyester and epoxy resins.
  • Wind - Ever see a canoe after a tree branch falls on it?
  • Snow/Ice - The accumulated weight of ice and snow can deform or crush a hull without much problem.
  • Fire - Pretty rare, but it happens with obvious results.
  • Critters - of all sorts. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, porcupines, etc. love to chew on the finishes and the wood. Mice often nest in canoes and can cause a great deal of damage.
  • Theft - It's a pretty canoe isn't it? Somebody else might like to get their paws on it.
  • Gravity - make sure your supports are strong enough AND are properly spaced so adequately support the hull so that it doesn't deform.
  • The Owner - Ever drop a canoe? Heard about someone forget the boat is on the roof rack and drive into the garage with canoe on the roof? Owners can do a remarkable amount of damage to their own boats just moving them around.
It's remarkable to consider that some of the best storage seems to be a little benevolent neglect. Some of the amazing finds of old canoes are those found up in the rafters of barns, boat houses and sheds. These are generally not temperature or humidity controlled places, but they do have the benefit of good protection from the elements and most of the critters.

I know some people who store their boats on top of their car - year round. Most of these people have plastic boats and don't have a place to store the boat so they just leave the boats on the car. For the most part, it seems to work for them. I definitely wouldn't try this with any kind of wooden boat.

While definitely not ideal, the picture below is a small step up from the one at the top of this post. This plastic canoe with metal gunnels won't suffer much from rot, but heavy accumulation of ice and snow can bend the metal keel reinforcement. Plastic experiences sun damage, so covering with a tarp is better. Be careful with your tarp selection, too - the blue polyethylene tarps aren't UV resistant and they aren't very durable or waterproof after a short while. There are special heavy-duty white polyethylene tarps with a UV resistant coating that are OK for covering your boat with. It costs a bit more, but isn't that expensive.

The next step up would be to store the canoe upside down on a set of saw horses and covered with a tarp. This is a bit better as it allows some air circulation and should keep the boat off the ground and away from some of the critters and the danger of rot from contact with the damp ground.

The eaves under a shed are a good place. An overhanging shed roof is great protection and not hard to add a little extension to the back of a garden shed. In the picture below, a shed roof has been improvised against a fence using wood frames covered with tarps to shed the snow and rain.

My personal preference is the garage - my boats are hung from the ceiling on pulley hoists. It's out of the sun, the weather and (hopefully!) the critters.

Be careful when selecting pulley hoists to buy the kind that has two lines - one to each pulley. This lets both ends of the boat move at the same rate. I've tried the inexpensive bike racks, but they only have one rope so one end or the other goes up first and you wind up hitting the floor or ceiling with the boat - not great. The boat hoists that I have were found at L.L. Bean, but weren't listed in the catalog or online the last time I ordered. I had to speak to customer service to find them. Harken, the maker of sailing hardware (blocks, etc.) makes a great lift called the Harken Hoister. It looks a bit pricey, but worth it. Here's my livery snoozing for the winter:

Racks on the wall or webbing straps to hang canoes and kayaks from the wall are great solutions. Below is a home-made wooden rack, a professionally made metal one and finally a webbing "rack".

I've got one kayak that's almost ready for skinning that's being stored in the basement - just a pair of hooks and a bit of small nylon line. The boat is so light that it isn't a problem.

Still, no matter where you store your boat, you will not escape one critter - Arachnia Canoeus. Arachnia Canoeus is the common canoe spider and many paddler's regular paddling partner. We pulled one of my father's canoes out this past spring to take DS for a paddle and it was crawling with literally thousands of them. We had to rinse out the boat before we could take it. I don't mind bugs, but it made my skin crawl. Yech!

Another good resource for information came from WoodenBoat who published a special edition of Small Boats Magazine in 2008 that included an excellent section on how to integrate small boats into your life including how to store them. It's still available from their store as a back issue.

There are many ways to go about this, but the best tips are to avoid the elements, and the critters, keep the boat's weight well distributed and don't store things on or in it. Also, don't forget to clean and stow your lines, lifejackets, paddles, skirts and covers properly!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Little less progress than desired.

Tomorrow is a return to work for DW and I and a return to school for DS and DD after a relaxing week spent mostly at home. Because this is the case, today seemed to be mostly dedicated to doing those things that we wanted to get cleaned up before the start of a busy week.

One of my least-favorite tasks of the year, the un-decorating from the Christmas holidays took place today. Somehow, I always find that I think the plain tree is as beautiful as the decorated one. Perhaps we'll have a live tree in a pot next year instead of cutting one so that we can leave it in the house for the winter.

The other cleaning that went on was the mess left over from cutting out the patterns yesterday and rounding the inside edges with the router. It's much better and safer to work in a clean shop. So, DD and I spent time making it look a bit less like a disaster area and more like a boat shop.

I'm re-using the fixturing that I made for the Sea Tour 15R. This wasn't too much of a stretch as the new boat is only 1' shorter than the Sea Tour. I was concerned that the end mounts and plywood crosses that I came up with wouldn't work on this design. To assure myself that it would work, DD and I set up the strongback on some sawhorses and marked out the pattern locations. We then put on the end mounts and plywood crosses in those locations and clamped the patterns to them. Using the same techniques as were done for the Sea Tour, we put on the sheer stringers. Things look pretty good, although a bit of trimming on the end mounts needs to happen to allow the chine stringers to pass by the end patterns. Still, it's looking like a boat.

We've got a bit more sanding to do before we start the major assembly, but not much more is left before we can get started in earnest.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I spent about an hour and a half in the basement late this afternoon. I cut out the patterns that DD marked out and rough cut from the marine plywood. IT was done with a hand held jig-saw and really isn't that difficult - just follow the lines. Tomorrow, we'll be able to use a Shinto Rasp to clean up the profiles where they're irregular and sand the edges. When this is done We'll use a palm router to round over the sharp inside corners and outer edge of the stem and stern where they touch the skin of the hull.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Project

I've been fortunate enough to have had the past week off. I apologize for not posting more, but I've been taking this vacation seriously. We've been spending most of the week at home just relaxing and doing as little as possible - it's the first extended vacation that I've had in more than a year, so I was enjoying it reading A Splintered History of Wood.

For DD's birthday, I went to Thomas Yost's website and slightly modified his Sea Pup design a bit for DD. She likes to paddle and I thought that something similar to the Sea Pup with some "training wheels" (i.e. outriggers with an ama on the flat rear deck) I drafted a set of plans and printed them out in full scale. I gave her the plans as a birthday present along with the offer to help her build her first boat.

So, earlier this week, DD and I glued the paper patterns to some cardboard that I had and cut the templates out. Today, we brought them downstairs to the basement and she traced them onto the marine plywood that I had left over from my previous SOF build.

DD has never used power tools before, so I let her rough cut the pieces from the edge of the sheet of plywood with a jig saw after some safety instruction. I'm pretty sure that DW was very nervous. To be honest, it was a bit scary, but she did well. She helped me to get the correct size Forstener bits to cut the holes in the stems and the inside corners on the frames, but the drill would have been a bit big for her to use, so I did the drilling. I'll use the jig saw to cut to the lines that she carefully marked - the cost for marine plywood is a bit steep, so I will do the cutting to avoid scrapping any of this very expensive Okume plywood! She'll do the sanding and we'll do the assembly of the frame together, but I'll need to get some smaller gloves for her for when we epoxy the stringers to the frame.