Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More than a little over the top...

Plywood is nice - but seriously - a love letter to plywood?


Love Letter to Plywood. By Tom Sachs

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tech Tip Tuesday

 One thing most people wonder about is where to find good wood for their boat-building project.  Let me tell you it isn't always easy.  Very often people wander into a "big box store" and wonder why they can't find what they are looking for.  Simple.  The big box is targeted at folks who are building homes, decks and sheds - not boat builders.  This means you're going to need to look a bit harder. 

Ok, so you head over to your "local" lumberyard that you found in the yellow pages.  Chances are they've got some of the wood that you might be looking for.  Perhaps a bit of Western Red Cedar or maybe some Douglas Fir, Cypress, Redwood and the like.  Plywood will be in abundant supply, but not likely BS1088 marine grade plywood.  Some brass hardware might be in evidence, a bit of stainless steel.

So now you delve a little bit deeper into the yellow pages.  You find a hardwood or specialty lumber supplier and you can now get a wide variety of domestic and foreign hardwoods - perhaps even some marine grade plywood, too.  Selection is usually decent, but the prices are somewhat high.

The next step is a difficult one for many woodworkers and boat builders, but usually a good one.  Sometimes it's an advertisement, sometimes it is somewhere you see when you are out driving, sometimes it's word-of-mouth, but however you find out, you go to the source - the sawyer and the sawmill.  Some sawmills are pretty permanent and organized operations like the one below.  Some are a bit more "fly-by-night" - a portable bandsaw mill located at a timbering site.   These are the connections that you want.  The closer you can get to the growing tree, the cheaper the lumber usually is, and the better selection you will get.

In my case I was looking for Northern White Cedar which does not grow locally to me.  However, I knew by word-of-mouth that this particular sawmill sold it - which surprised me.  I called ahead to see if they had what I was looking for and drove up to the mill.  The image below shows what I saw on arrival - logs, offcuts and stacks of lumber.  All a good sign.  The sawyer pointed me to a small stack of lumber about 10' from the saw.  It was a jumbled-up mix of short, generally narrow stock that looked pretty nice.  He also pointed to the pile to the right of the offcuts and said that I could look through both for what I needed - which was very kind of him.  (Note the hood of the car in the lower right)

Immediately to the right of the car, was the planing mill and the pile was between the stack of lumber you see next to the car.   I went through the pile and re-stacked it up on ties sorting it by width and length when I was done.  I then went to the pile in the back and looked through that - re-stacking the lumber when I was done.

Considering the quality (and small quantity) of the stock that I bought, I was pretty pleased with the price - $3 a board foot.  He was kind enough to lower the price from $3.50 to $3.00 for the longer stock I picked from the back pile because he was pleased that I had neatly re-stocked the lumber.  He also commented that I was welcome to come up and pick through stock anytime I wished.  I also took the time to speak with him about what he generally had to offer, how he seasoned his stock and how long the wood that I'd purchased had been milled and drying - all of this is nice information that you won't find in a lumberyard or big-box store.  He also quoted me prices for other lumber he had - all at attractive prices and good quality. 

The pile I selected from was to the right in this image behind the board.  Can't get too much closer to the tree than 20' from the bandsaw mill!  I later found out why they carried the stock I was looking for - they own mills in the northern part of the state where it grows and ship "local" stock from those mills south and vice-versa.  It does pay to go to where the stock is cut and talk to the sawyer!

Monday, May 21, 2012


Should be a Monday morning requirement. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For those of you visiting from other countries...

I've added a new button to the top right of the page - it will translate the blog into the language of your choice!

Oh yeah - I just noticed that Google translate has dropped a few translation options that it used to have including "Elmer Fudd" and the very helpful - at least for this blog - "Pirate". 

Sad but true.

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The likes of which are hard to find...

I'm pretty lucky - I have access to some great stock.  I have a friend who I've known for many years.  He was a co-worker of my father's and an assistant scoutmaster of our scout troop when I was young.  He's taught me much about the forest, wood and forestry management.  He continues to do so today.  One of the things that he taught me is that managing the forest is something you do for your children or grandchildren, as it takes so many years to get results.

This man and his father have both tended the stands of White Pine, Oak and Soft Maple on their property, pruning the trees when young and managing the forest itself for many many years.  On this property there are some White Pines that are absolute giants - pruned for clear stock 17' from the ground and over 36" in diameter.   Some of the stock that he cuts is in excess of 18" wide and as much as 24" wide. He has a portable bandsaw mill and selectively cuts logs from the property when they're mature.  Occasionally, he has some stock that he knows I'll be interested in and will give me a call - for example, a cherry log that became some of the furniture in my house, and some large cherry burls.  Alternatively, when custom stock is needed, he'll cut that too.

The boards that are in the picture above are White Pine - they'll be used for stringers on the skin-on-frame boats you've been seeing and will see more of here in future - with no scarfing required.  The two top boards are 16' long, 13" wide and four-quarters (rough) thick.  It is straight grained and flawless.  Underneath are two 14' long 10" wide boards, also four-quarters thick - one with a small knot 2" from the end.  You definitely don't see stock like that every day and I know that I'm fortunate to have it available to me.  It's almost a shame to cut it into narrow strips like we do, but I console myself that it's not the widest or cleanest stock that he has.

There are still people like this gentleman who are farmers, tree farmers or small businessmen who manage the land and cut stock.  You can be fortunate like me too.  All you have to do is ask around and look around.  If you find woodworkers, they usually know someone like my friend who can help you.  You'll also see notices in the paper or posted on message boards.  Keep your eyes open!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tech Tip Tuesday

To quote Steven Stills, "Well there's things I am and there are things I'm not..."  I don't think of myself as generally being good with a needle and thread.  Boat tailor?   I guess that's now a "thing that I am".  Let me just say, there is a lot of needle and thread work in the boat on the right.

First, I have to say, the process of skinning the kayak was not difficult once we had things all figured out.  It is time consuming and what information that I found was somewhat poorly illustrated or explained.  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it's something that you really need to see.

 In our case, the process started out with the frame.  For finish on the frame, we opted for a polyurethane finish as opposed to an oiled finish as some people choose to do.  We then applied wax to the frame (I refer you to my previous bout with Murphy...) and polished it.  The reason for waxing the frame is so the fabric not to stick to the frame when coated after skinning.  At any rate, we started with the frame upside down:

We then used a piece of 8 oz Dacron cloth to cover the boat.  The Dacron was selected over Nylon  because it will shrink a bit when heated which lets you get wrinkles out at the end of the process - more about that later. We simply folded it in half length-wise and laid it over the hull to center it.  We then used some thumbtacks to keep things in position.   We then pulled down a bit and tacked at the sheer clamp on both sides - on the bottom in the image below.   We then basted the cloth together at both the stem and stern to make a small, temporary pocket at either end while the cloth was being pulled tight from stem to stern.  (FYI : This cloth is available from George Dyson at Dyson, Baidarka & Company in Bellingham, Washington.  Mr. Dyson does most of his business by phone and is easily found with a web search.  He does have a Facebook page with contact info, but not a web site.  )

We then rolled the boat right side up.  For the next step, there are no pictures because our hands were full.   I can probably explain it better, anyway.  We took a long thin strip of wood - 1-1/4" wide and 1/8" thick and as long as the boat.  This was temporarily lashed to the top of the frame and carefully centered.  We then pulled the fabric from one half of the boat over the strip and cut the fabric along the far edge of the strip from one end of the boat to the other.  This meant that I wound up with a piece of fabric that was half the width of the boat plus 3/4 of an inch.  We then used a small butane torch to melt the edge of the fabric so that it would not fray.  We then repeated the process for the other side of the boat.  Note that whenever you cut the fabric you should always seal the edges.

At this point, I was concerned that the amount that we would not get the fabric tight enough.  I was also concerned about avoiding excessive pulls in the weave as it is a fairly loose weave.  We'd seen some pulling around the thumb tacks if we tried to stretch the fabric too hard or un-evenly from side to side.  To avoid pulling too many large holes, we opted for a method that many others have used.  They sew a piece of nylon line into the edges so they can pull on the nylon line, not the fabric.  This distributes the tension and gives a neat, finished appearance to the deck seam.

To do this, we cut two pieces of braided 1/8" nylon line that were just longer than the boat.  Using small brads, we tacked them at the very tip of the bow, centered, but about 3/8" apart.  Pulling tightly, we then tacked them  - again, centered, but 3/8" apart at the stern.  I then used hemostats (locking clamps picked up at a local "bargain store") to spread the lines at the front and rear of the cockpit opening to about 5/8" wide.  This resulted in the line spacing being "tapered" from center to ends.  The logic here is that we will fold the cloth over the top of the line so that we wind up with a deliberate gap.  As we stitch the two halves together, the cloth is pulled tight, closing the gap at the same time.

The cloth is wrapped over the line and basted with a running stitch using a straight needle.  Because we didn't want the stitches to show, we used white Dacron thread.  The stitches are about 1/4" long and very tight to the line.  This was done on both sides from the edge of the cockpit opening to the bow and from the cockpit opening to the stern.  Note the gap between the two sides here.

To stitch the deck together I opted to get waxed artificial sinew.  It's available from leather working and craft shops.  It is a synthetic thread with high strength and is available in a variety of colors.  I bought "natural" which is a yellowy-tan.

The deck stitching is accomplished with curved needles.  I think it would be either nearly impossible, or simply very difficult with straight ones.  Be sure to get needles with a large eye as the waxed sinew is challenging to thread through the needle.

Starting about 1/2" back from the bow,  I took a single length of the sinew with a needle at each end and came up from the bottom of the fabric just passing through the outside edge of the nylon line. on both sides.  This hid the start under the fabric.  You then start stitching diagonally across the gap, staying just on the outside of the nylon line (so the needle touches it!)  You repeat with the other needle and you get a crossed pattern like this:

The stitches are about 3/8" long.  You can see at the top of the picture how it pulls the fabric together.  You can also just make out the turned under edge of the cloth on both sides of the seam.  This cross stitching stops about 1/4" inside the cockpit rim (when put in place)  You pull the gap up tight as you're stitching.  The final stitches should go through the nylon line to hold things in place.  This prevents the fabric from sliding along the nylon line.  This process was repeated from the stern to the back of the hatch rim. 

Ahh...  The hatch rim and coaming.  We drilled a series of small holes - big enough to pass the needle and thread - about 1" apart all the way around both the hatch rim and the coaming 3/8" up from the bottom.  We located the rim and the coaming at the edges of the cross hatch and noted that there would be a small - maybe 4" section of center seam between the coaming and the hatch.  We stitched it so it just came 3/8" into both the hatch opening and the coaming opening, stitching through the nylon line at either end.  To re-cap here, we've got three sections of the deck seam completed so they end 3/8" inside the frames for the hatch and coaming.

We then cut the fabric at the stem and stern leaving 1/2" extra fabric.  The brads holding the nylong line and the basting stitches were removed and the edges were tucked inside the hull along the sides of the stem and stern being careful to keep a straight edge along the stem forms about 3/8" apart.  Starting where the cross-stitching ended at the tip of the deck, I cross-stitched the folded edges of the fabric together until I reached the end of the cut.  The bow is shown below:

The problem here is that this seam is now exposed and is a weak area that will get abuse from grounding.  This area was reinforced with a piece of the Dacron fabric with a simple hemmed edge on both sides,  yielding a 3/4" wide tape.  Starting on the deck about 3" behind the bow, this tape was whip-stitched to the fabric all around the edge.  When the bow was reached, a 4" long loop was incorporated and then the strip was stitched to about 4" past the end of the seam below.  The end result looks like this:

Contrast is a bit difficult, but you can just make out the seam around the edge.

Putting in the hatch and coaming rims is the hardest part of the process.  You carefully put the frame in place centering and aligning it on the boat.  It is then clamped in place with ratcheting strap (like for your roof-rack) around the hull, pulling it downwards to the frame.  You cut the nylon lines in the middle of the opening.  You then pull the fabric up along the inside edge of the rim, clamping the fabric to the rim as you go.  At this point, ti may be necessary to cut the fabric to allow you to pull it up at the edges.  To do this, cut radially from the center outwards in several places making sure not to cut closer than 1-1/2" to the rim.   It helps to work symmetrically from side to side cutting and clamping to avoid causing the rim to move.  Once you're happy with the result (minimal tension and wrinkles) you use the artificial sinew and a straight needle to sew the fabric to the rim with a running stitch through the holes.  I then cut the edge of the fabric leaving an inch or so above the basted line and sealed the edge.   The ends of the nylon line are also trimmed right where the deck seam ends. It looks like this:

Taking a small section of the nylon line, the extra flap of fabric is folded over the top of the line and basted in place like with the deck fabric.   It now looks like this:

Now, I go around the cockpit rim at least twice.  Stitching around the rope supported edge of the fabric as I go using a straight needle, pulling the edge up as I go.  Sometimes you need to use the needle as a lever to pull the edge up.  The final result is this:

Once this is completed for both the cockpit rim and the hatch rim - that is if you're installing a hatch -  it's time to shrink the fabric.  For this step a household steam iron and a meat thermometer were used.  The thermometer was to tell the temperature of the iron's sole.  The iron was filled with water and turned to a setting that yielded a sole temperature of 250°F.  Running the iron over the fabric and dispensing steam, the wrinkles were taken out of the fabric.  Once most of the wrinkles were gone (there were a few stubborn ones at the coaming edge...) the iron was re-set to a sole temperature of 350°F to shrink the fabric.  Starting with the bottom, we ran the dry iron over the fabric.  I kept hitting the fabric to listen to changes in the tension.  I didn't want to over-tighten the fabric and cause holes to open in the stitching.  I just wanted the fabric to be tight on the frame.

At this point, the fabric will be sealed with oil-based polyurethane and deck fittings installed.  It won't be long before they are ready to paddle.  

I should point out here that the skinning process was not instantaneous.  It took two people several two and three hour evenings of work to complete.  Just be patient and keep at it!