Thursday, February 28, 2013


So, one of my readers and a fellow wooden canoe enthusiast, Fitz, is an active member of the Norumbega Chapter of the WCHA.  I had finally made plans to attend the most recent annual meeting of the chapter in early February - I'd put time aside for it even.

Mother Nature had other plans. 


The meeting was re-scheduled for a week later, but unfortunately, I had other plans...

Maybe next year?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tech Tip Tuesday

Questions, questions...

One of the things that I find with some of my former students, is that they're not.

This is a good thing.

What do I mean?  Well, very often, my students embark on a new boat or the restoration of an old boat.  Many of the skills that they've learned in my class are transferable to building a new canoe or kayak or restoring another boat.

What I usually find is that in my class my students get a good overview of the building process.  They also get the opportunity to learn from challenges and mistakes.  I get people from various backgrounds with varying levels of experience.  Often, the students are not only learning how to build a boat, but are also learning to be woodworkers as well, learning what the hand and power tools can do.  When they finish their boat and leave the class they've done all the things to build their own boat, but they are still growing.

After the students "graduate" they often call on me with questions about something they've done and forgotten how to do, or would like help doing.  They sometimes ask me questions about things that I may or may not have experience with.  If I have knowledge, I tend to share it if I can.  Sometimes it spurs me to learn something new, myself.  Sometimes it sparks a post here - like this one.

The big thing is that - like me - my students continue as students, polishing their skills and expanding their knowledge, but remain connected.

Never stop learning.

As I said above, this is a good thing - a very good thing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Boy, wasn't THAT the truth.

I'm referring to my post from last Thursday.  It was quite an accurate post, really.  Based on the weather reports, I'd already cancelled my class for Saturday morning.  I think it was only the second or third time since I started teaching that I'd had to cancel a class for the weather.  The reports, however were pretty dire and I figured I'd rather be safe than sorry and have my students holed up at home.  I needn't have cancelled the class - it was taken care of for me.

On Thursday evening I stopped for a few groceries and things I knew I might want for the weekend if the weather turned really bad.  For the most part, we're well prepared for most anything that Mother Nature could throw at us as we have quite a bit of camping gear and we've learned a few lessons from some of the hurricanes and previous snow storms that have passed through.  The grocery store was like a mad house.  I also stopped by the local liquor store to make certain that DW wouldn't be without red wine as I wasn't certain how much we had.  Heaven forbid we run out of wine.

On Friday morning, I took this picture:

As you can see, there were some traces of snow around the edges of the road and at the ends of driveways from a previous storm, but for the most part, the grass is pretty much visible everywhere.  The car?  Clean as a whistle.   DW, DS and DD's schools were cancelled the nigh before so they were all staying at home.  I then drove to work - I figured that I could get in a few hours of work before the storm arrived and come home for about lunch time.  By the time I got to work, not a flake had fallen.

At about 10:30 AM, some light snow began.  I stayed at work until about 1:00 PM.  There was maybe about an inch or so of snow on the ground by that time.  The forecast said that we were supposed to start seeing heavy snow and wind start around 3:00 PM and I wanted to be off the road before that weather arrived.  It usually takes me about a half hour to get home in good weather and this was no exception as traffic was light.  When I got home, I was informed that the Governor had banned any non-emergency travel from 4:00 PM until further notice.  Surprise, surprise.

DD and I disappeared down to the basement to work on her kayak frame as there really wasn't much to see in the way of weather.  We got quite a bit of clean-up and sanding done.  Coming upstairs before dinner time, there didn't appear to be much more accumulation - maybe 2 inches of snow, tops.  I was figuring the storm was going to be over-hyped by now.  We made some pizza for dinner and the kids watched a movie before heading for bed about 9:00 PM.  There still wasn't much on the ground - maybe 4" or a bit more, and wind was beginning to pick up before we went to bed.

My car looked a bit different in the morning:

The little black dots are the caps on the end of the roof rack and the blue thing is the wing mirror.  It's hard to see, but the snow is well drifted up the garage door.  

What a difference 24 hours makes.

The view out onto the deck wasn't much better.  It'll be a while before I grill again, I think.

We'd gotten the family snowshoes for Christmas and DW and I decided to go out and take a look around the neighborhood to see the state of things.  It was still quite windy, but not snowing anymore.

 Probably one of the best modes of transportation for the day, but not ideal.  You still would sink in up to the knees as the snow was fairly light.  You can see how much the pole basket sank into the snow.

The sights weren't encouraging:

"Some roads may be impassable".  


This is our street - it is untouched.  The main street in the neighborhood was plowed - a little over one lane wide.  What's difficult to see from the picture is the berm of snow that was nearly 4' tall.   Pretty much just a featureless white landscape.  I figured I'd better stop fooling around in the snow and get to work moving the stuff.

The trusty 8-1/2 horsepower Husqvarna was pressed into service.  The snow was deeper than the snowblower's auger housing.  For some of the time, I wasn't sure if it was a snowblower or a submarine as I cleared snow.  It took multiple passes of the same area to clear the snow in our driveway.  After getting the driveway clear, I headed down to the next door neighbor's house while the rest of the family tackled the sidewalks with shovels.  Our next door neighbor's husband passed away this Fall and we've been trying to help out with the other neighbors.  I met the neighbor on the other side of her and between the two of us, we got the driveway and sidewalks clear and I went back to finish up the sidewalks and to clear around to the oil fill in the back of the house.  

Eyeing the snow on the roof, I got out the roof rake and cleared that up and moved the snow that fell on the driveway and the front walk.  After a quick lunch of leftover pizza, a small 1 ton truck with a plow started to clear the street - and got stuck.  A payloader came a while later and cleared the street and got the truck out.  A bit more snowblowing cleared the berm pushed up by the payloader at the end of the driveways.  At this point, I realized that I'd burned three tanks of fuel in the snowblower - I usually can clean up any snow that has fallen with one tank.

We'd gotten 21" of snow, but had gotten off lucky - parts of Southern Connecticut, Eastern Massachusetts, Coastal New Hampshire and Maine had 30" or more of snow as well as high winds and tides.  Hamden, Connecticut recorded 38" of snow!  It will take many more days to restore power and move snow in some communities in New England, but it will happen, slowly but surely.

Oh, and by the way, I want to get my hands on that #*$&@ groundhog!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tech Tip Tuesday

Class has been ticking along with the students getting their frames near completion.  The canoe plans came from S. Jeff Horton's book on skin-on-frame building that's available on Amazon - he's even got a second book available.  

Before you take issue with what I write here and think that I'm throwing Jeff "under the bus" as it were, I'm not.  I think he does some interesting things and offers some good designs, but I think he lacks some experience with other canoe building traditions.  Even he states that he's not really a "canoe guy" and I think that hampers him in designing a skin-on-frame canoe.  I do think that for our application, we've made some improvements to the design in terms of functionality and aesthetics.

He's got what looks to be a great shape for the canoe, but I take issue with a few of his construction details.  First, in his design, he notches the bottom of the frames where a plank boat would have garboards to put in floors.  First, the notching weakens the frames significantly.  While Jeff shows a slightly raised seat in his design, we really want the paddler to sit as low as possible in the canoe. This would have the paddler's butt in any water that might be on the floor if they were sitting that low.  Last but not least, the fabric rides right on the floors, which doesn't allow the fabric to flex over obstacles that you might encounter in the water, resulting in potential damage to the skin. 

To avoid these issues, we didn't notch the frames and will lash a floor to the top of the frames which I think will be a practical and more attractive solution.  It should look very much like "duckboards" used to in a traditional canoe.

The other thing that I've been thinking about for quite some time is how to make the gunwales more traditional in their appearance.  When building a wood and canvas canoe, the ends of the inwale and outwale often have a graceful taper to them and the stem is mortised to allow the gunwale to pass by and give a nice triangular area for the deck to sit within. 

On Jeff's canoe, he has the deck as a "cap deck" which lets him hide the fact that the inwales aren't well fitted.  He claims that this type of woodwork is beyond most, but I think that's a little simplistic.  To be honest, I've been thinking about this for a while and last weekend, we made a test cut on the first boat.

We started by placing the inwale in place and clamping it to the end of the stem.  We made a horizontal mark at the bottom of the inwale.  We also marked the centerline of the stem face.  Using a bevel gage, we took the angle that the inwale met the stem and marked from the centerline to outside faces.  A vertical line completes the marking.

 Using a handsaw, we roughed away the material and finished with a chisel.  Here is the result:

The next step was to take the inwale and taper it from a 1/8" thickness at the end of the stem to full thickness at the first form.  We repeated this for the outwale and made a tapered spacer that went between the inwale and outwale.  The length of the spacer was such that the thickness of the outwale was 7/16" where the spacer ended.  There is an important reason for this - we'll be using 3/8" long staples to attach the fabric to the outwales and don't want the staples poking though into the scupper openings.

I think that the tapered ends look very nice.  We still have a bit to go on this idea yet - Jeff's scupper blocks were irregularly spaced, so we're going to deal with that.  To do that we'll cut down the frames by about half an inch or so in order to hide them with pieces of the Western Red Cedar used for the gunwales allowing us to make more uniformly spaced scuppers.  Also, the stem ends will be cut down and the breasthooks tips will be notched underneath to allow only the deck to be seen, not the end of the stem frame.

More to come!