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Archive for the ‘Boat Building’ Category

Back in April I spent a couple of days at the Great Lakes Boatbuilding School in Cedarville, Michigan. I was there working on an article for WoodenBoatwhich you can read the the July/August issue, #251. The resort community of Cedarville is located in the Les Cheneaux Islands area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A small village whose population burgeons during the summer months, it reminded me very much of the 1000 Islands’ Clayton, NY, where I lived while working at the Antique Boat Museum, and South Haven, Michigan, where my family summered when I was young. The area has a rich boating history, and the nearby village of Hessel is home to the annual Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show.

The school was founded in 2005 by a local group who were inspired by a visit to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Washington State and wanted to offer a similar education opportunity to students in the midwest.

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All students take a one-year program, and an optional second year teaches more advanced skills. The schools facilities are also used to teach a range of workshops for the general public during the summer months when classes are not in session.

There are always a variety of projects on the shop floor. From left to right: a Hacker runabout; a Paul Gartside catboat; a flat-iron skiff; a fibreglass inboard launch and a Phil Bolger fisherman’s launch.

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The Bolger launch ready for planking.

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Students build the cold-moulded hulls of the Hacker runabouts, which are then shipped to Runabout Restorations in Guntersville, AL to be outfitted.

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Program Director Pat Mahon and second-year instructor Andy James currently teach 15-16 students but are looking to expand the program. Completed boats are sold (at very reasonable prices!) to help defray the costs of operating the program. It’s a good thing that I flew there and didn’t drive a vehicle with a trailer hitch, or I might have come home with the last thing I need, which is another boat. I was particularly struck by the Harry Bryan KATIE sloop that is currently for sale.

The Great Lakes Boatbuilding school is a wonderful place to visit, a worthwhile place to support and maybe something to consider for your first, or second, or third career.

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If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll probably have seen photos of the shop I built in the basement of our house in Peterborough, Ontario. It’s been a great place to work, with just enough space for the kind of small boats I like to build and restore.

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On their way in or out, the boats leave through the window (though I did once bring a 17′ canoe down in the front door, through the living room and down the stairs just to prove that it could be done). Here’s the planked-up Fiddlehead on her way out to be finished at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

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If you’ve noticed that the blog has gone kind of quiet lately it’s because of some major life changes that have taken place over the last few months. I had just gotten the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe set up in the shop and was starting to think about restoration when a new writing project came my way in the form of a commission from WoodenBoat, who wanted a feature article on Harold and Lorna Wilson and their Miss Canada racing powerboats for early in the new year. I was already working on the research for a new exhibit for the Canadian Canoe Museum on the subject of canoes and romance, about which I had been collecting ephemera for some time, and I was also going to write a museum Gallery Guide to accompany it. With those projects in hand, and the restoration pending, I was feeling comfortably well-supplied with things to do.

Then, I decided it was time to take a big step. After more than five years as the General Manager of the Canadian Canoe Museum, I was thinking that it was time to get back to the kind of work that got me into the museum business (research, writing, designing and building exhibits, working with artifacts) instead of the kind of work that General Managers do (board meetings, budgets, marketing, staffing and volunteers). When an opportunity presented itself at a museum just west of Toronto, I seized it, and in January of 2014 I started a new job as the Curator of the Halton Region Museum.

So far, so good, and everybody is happy now, except that we’re into the “M” word: “MOVING.” I’ve always believed that “good move” is an oxymoron most of the time, but that hasn’t stopped us from making a few of them. As we looked at new houses, I was hoping to finding something like our place in Peterborough, with an unfinished basement and a decent-sized window. Late in December, we closed on a beautiful new townhouse with just that. So, here’s a pre-project photo of the space where the new shop will go.

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Most of what I’ve done since New Year’s is just think about this, as opposed to cutting lumber, since the article and the gallery guide took precedence. However, the article’s now done, the gallery guide is at the printer’s, the exhibit opens at the end of April and it’s time to think about the new shop. Here’s the plan so far. Please forgive the rather ugly canoe shape–it’s not pretty, but at least it’s the right length and width. As you can see, I’m aiming for tight but functional, since the basement also has to accommodate my office and a laundry room/storage area.

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First step is to get the sub-floor down, and I’m just about to start that. The Ontario Canoe Company canoe is still first in line for restoration, but there’s a workshop to build first!

 

 

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In response to a post at the end of July about re-canvassing the 1937 Old Town, reader David Little posted an interesting comment in response to my use of epoxy as a canvas filler:

I understand the need to make things last longer…although it seems the previous traditional filler and paint lasted pretty long considering it was put on over 70 years ago….i do not subscribe however to taking the tradition out of traditional…i would not have gone to modern methods as a filler…the synthetic somehow doesn’t sit well with my view of tradition…just my thoughts.

His thoughts prompted some thoughts of my own, beginning with the words of a true expert on the subject.

Fiddler_on_the_roofAs the film opens, Tevye says:  “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” (boat builders and restorers might take some ironic pleasure in the other song the film made famous: “If I was a Rich Man. . .”) But what is tradition, and by association, what is traditional?

At a fairly fine and granular level, tradition means simply keeping things exactly like they were. In the context of boatbuilding, this might mean that a steam-bent rib of white oak should always and only be made from white oak. At a mechanical level, traditions can be founded on properties. The oak rib, for instance, is such because oak happens to be an excellent material from which to bend ribs. But, it isn’t the only one, so one also sees small boats with ribs made of ash, elm and cedar, among other woods, because they share the same mechanical properties. Substituting one of these woods for another might therefore be “un-traditional,” but it may not necessarily change the fundamental character of the boat, because the steam-bent rib is still doing what has always done.

However, if you were to make a change in the structure of that rib, you’re dealing with tradition in a different way. Let’s say that your steam-bent oak rib becomes a laminated epoxy oak rib. Now you’ve introduced a significant change and, I would suggest, broken from tradition, because the rigidity and strength of the epoxy change the properties of the rib. The outward similarity–someone looking at the boat would still see a thin bent rib–masks a significant change. In the same way, a glued-lapstrake plywood boat is still lapstrake, and therefore nominally traditional, but whatever the outward similarity, it is a fundamentally different structure with different mechanical properties whose component parts have a different working relationship than in a traditional lapstrake boat.

To me, one test to apply would be the Arts & Craft movement’s maxim “Truth to Materials.” If the component parts of a boat still bear the same mechanical relationship to each other as they did in the original, then, possibly with minor variations, the boat might be said to be traditional. That is, a lapstrake dinghy built with clench nails and rivets and steam-bent frames in North America is traditional with respect to the same dinghy built in the UK, notwithstanding that when the builder moved across the pond he found out that he couldn’t get the larch stock he was used to for planking so he substituted oak.

Thus, with all due respect to American Traders, who build this canoe, this is not traditional:

Trapper14What started life as a wood/canvas canoe, where a non-water tight wooden shell supported a layer of waterproofed canvas stretched tightly around it, is now a different kind of watercraft, where resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth not only keeps the wood water tight but is also mechanically and chemically bonded to it. Before the mail starts coming in, I’m not saying it’s not a good canoe, just that for all of its outward similarities to wood/canvas canoes it is a fundamentally different structure.

This, by comparison, is traditional, at least to my way of thinking:

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Yes, the canvas has been filled with epoxy, and not a mixture of silica, linseed oil and white lead. However, 1) it’s still cotton canvas; 2) it’s still not fastened to the hull except by tacks at the ends and gunwales; and 3) it still comes off in a couple of big pieces when it’s time to re-canvas.

Interesting topic to ponder. What do you think?

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I like food. No, I mean I really like food. And when I say that, I mean I like the whole food chain from top to bottom, beginning with marshmallow fluff and continuing through potato chips right up to really old asiago, punchy merlot and artisanal ciabatta with a roasted garlic, sundried tomato and balsamic tapenade.

I’m kind of the same way about boats, too. Sure, I have my preferences, but really I just like stuff that floats, and as they say, ” a bad day on the water is often better than a good day at the office.”

So, earlier this year when I received an email from Robin Jettinghoff at WoodenBoat that would allow me to broaden my boating horizons, I jumped at the chance. Robin asked me if I would review a boat for the 2013 edition of WoodenBoat Magazine’s Small Boats, and not just any old boat, but a classic little outboard hydroplane known as a “Sea Flea.” I said “but of course,” and she put me in touch with the good folks at Muskoka Sea Flea who arranged to get some boats together at one of their cottages. Mid-morning on a bright summer day, my son Benjamin and I arrived with our PFD’s, some cameras and a change of clothes. And then some boats arrived. And then some more boats arrived. And pretty soon, there were kids and grownups and little outboard hydroplanes everywhere.

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As well as being used by parents and kids, these boats are often built by parents and kids. Like so many dreams, they began in the pages of magazines like Popular Mechanics, or Science & Mechanics.

(more…)

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Along with the big questions, like “Why are we here?” and “What is the meaning of life?” I often ask myself “Why does everything take so long?” Many of my projects seem to go on and on and on. Here’s a case in point.

When I created the hard-chine plywood 16-30 canoe, I needed to put a yoke arm on top of the rudder. This is because the mizzen mast is between the rudder head and the tiller. The older cruising sailing canoe and canoe yawl designs often used rope or, on J.H. Rushton boats, delicate little brass chains, to connect the rudder yoke to the tiller yoke. Here’s an example from a Mersey canoe in W.P. Stephens’ Canoe and Boatbuilding: A Complete Manual for Amateurs.

Some of the canoe yawls used a bent tiller that allowed just enough space to put the helm hard over, as on Iris, also depicted in Stephens’ book:

Neither one of these works for the 16-30, since you need something to take out to the end of the seat with you. The original 16-30s used a rigid tiller rod connecting a single yoke arm on the rudder head to a tab on the crosshead steering gear. This is a modification of the “Norwegian Tiller,” which has a single yoke arm on the rudder head with a long rod extending forward. The 16-30 set-up is more like a bell crank (for those of you who used to fly control-line model aircraft), and this is what I used on the new 16-30. Here’s the rudder end:

And here’s how the tiller rod connects to the cross-head:

The original 16-30s often had beautiful soldered, brazed or forge-welded metal hardware, but I was trying to keep this affordable, which is where the scaffolding parts that make up the cross-head comes in. In order to brace the single yoke arm, I epoxied and bolted an aluminum L-bracket underneath and epoxied the two plywood pieces together:

It wasn’t the strongest arrangement in the world, but it lasted for several years and other new-generation 16-30s were outfitted the same way with no problems. Then, I went to Sturgeon Point. I’d been asked by the Sturgeon Lakes Sailing Club to come and give a talk on canoe sailing, which had been a big part of summer life there at the end of the 19th century. Here’s a typical summer scene from the photo collection of the City of Kawartha Lakes Archives:

So far, so good, except that if I’m going to demonstrate canoe sailing I should probably have a sailing canoe, no? I have dear old Clementine, the lateen and leeboard-rigged 1937 Old Town, but I don’t actually own a 16-30[!]. I’ve been too busy drawing plans and teaching classes and teaching people to sail them to get around to building one of my own. So, I needed to make a side trip to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY, to borrow 16-30 #2, Somethin’ Else, which I had built when I worked there a number of years ago. When I picked the boat up, I learned that vulnerable rudder/yoke right-angle joint had gotten a good knock, and needed fixing. I took it apart and put it back together again the same way and saddled up the Subaru to go to Sturgeon Point.

The day we were supposed to sail was pretty blustery, but I set the 16-30 up and launched anyways. As we waited for the other participants to come down, two of us held the fully-rigged boat off the dock. As the wind and chop continued to rise, a large wave picked the boat up and dropped her down hard right beside the dock, catching the protruding yoke arm and breaking the joint again. That was the end of 16-30 sailing that day, though an intrepid club member did manage to get Clementine out before a rain squall closed everything down.

So, the yoke was broken again and there didn’t seem to be much point in repairing it the same way. I thought about a bent piece of aluminum that would be wide enough to fasten securely to the rudder and could also form the yoke arm itself. First step was to make a pattern and get the piece out of some 5/32″ leftovers I had in the shop.

Next issue was how to bend the aluminum. A test on a piece of scrap revealed that the 5/32″ was too thick to do the usual vise-and-wooden-block method. The resulting bend wasn’t very satisfying.

I needed a better way to bend the aluminum, and I don’t have access to a metalworking shop or a big press brake. After a little consultation, I picked up a 4-ton bottle jack on sale and that, together with some threaded rod and odds and ends, produced what I hope will be a useful piece of equipment: The Bend-O-Matic.

The angle iron on the jack’s stem mates up with another identical piece that’s cradled in an oak block at the top. As the two are jacked together, the bend is formed:

It sure looks stronger than the old one. Hope to take it sailing soon, I’ll let you know how it works out.

And that’s how a simple “sure, you can borrow the boat for a little while but I think you’ll need to look at the rudder” turned into two repairs and a new piece of shop equipment.

Until next time. . .

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Back in the second post in this series, I was thinking about how to translate the arc bottom of the original sailing canoe into something I could build in stitch and glue. Using the original linesplan, I’ve modeled several different version of the hull in Delftship that allow me to make some numerical comparisons between them. All I’ve changed in each case is the number of chines and the underwater shape–everything else is the same (with the exception of some small changes to the bow profile to accommodate an additional chine). The design waterline and draft of 4″ are as on the original plans, and all these hulls are shown in a full bow-on view.

Here’s the original arc-bottomed hull, which displaces .117 short tons, or 234 lbs.

Here’s the same hull with all of the arc taken out of the bottom sections so that there’s just a straight section from chine to keel. This results in a significantly lower displacement of only .075 tons, or 150 lbs. How much displacement do we want or need? Well, I’d say something at least equal to the original hull. I’m also keeping in mind the displacement of my hard-chine 16-30 hull, which is .133 tons, or 266 lbs. From my experience in building and sailing those boats, they float pretty much on their marks with a sailor of average weight, so there’s a good comparison for what displacement we should shoot for in a two-masted, decked 16′ sailing canoe built in stitch and glue. I don’t think 150 lbs is going to do it.

Here I’ve added another chine and pulled it down amidships to make a nearly flat bottom. I may have overdone it on the extra volume, though, because now our displacement is up to .139 tons, or 278 lbs. I’m not sure we need quite all of that.

If I introduce just a little deadrise into the midships sections, leaving the ends unchanged, the displacement decreases to  .128 tons, or 256 lbs, which is pretty close to our 16-30 hull.

So far, so good. The next step is to add the deck and deck camber, put the bulkheads in the right places instead of just at a uniform 1′ interval and expand the individual hull panels. Then, I’ll buy some balsa wood and make a 1 1/2″ – 1′ model.

Until next time. . .

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As I mentioned in the last post, I started to do some work on the original linesplan for  the late 19th century decked sailing canoe Isalo to explore making the arc bottomed hull suitable for the flat panels of stitch-and-glue construction. I began drawing by hand, but then I decided to put the lines on the computer and see what I could come up with. To do this, I used a hull design program called DelftShip, a development of an earlier program called Freeship (which is still available from SourceForge). Both programs are powerful, full-featured naval architecture packages, and both are free. Once you figure out how to use them for canoes, you could also design yourself an oil tanker, passenger ship or tug if you’re so inclined. A professional version of Delftship with more features is also available for €150, with the latest version slated for release in late February. These programs have a steep learning curve, no pun intended, but are well worth the investment of time.

One thing they’re particularly useful for is projects like Isalo, because with them you can import a scanned linesplan of unknown scale, such as you might find in a magazine, and, as long as you know a couple of the principle dimensions, draw new fair lines on top of the original. There’s a handy tutorial about how to do this, based on, of all things, Leo Friede’s legendary 16-30 sailing canoe Mermaid on the WoodenBoat Forum. If you use this tutorial, go through it with the DelftShip manual in front of you, because author Bruce Taylor leaves out a couple of important steps whose absence will drive you crazy until you also read the DelftShip tutorial on Reproducing An Existing Lines Plan, which you can download from the company’s web site.

Even though I’m planning to add one or more chines, I thought I would start by getting Isalo‘s original arc-bottomed hull re-drawn in DelftShip. After a weekend’s worth of work, here’s what I’ve come up with:

This is the main Delftship window with all four views: perspective, profile, plan and body plan. Much as with regular lofting and fairing, you alternate between them, working iteratively on each one to gradually firm up and reconcile the lines. In each case, the starting point is the original linesplan in a background layer, on top of which you work with curves and the control mesh to shape the new lines.

Here’s the profile with the three main lines defined: the centreline of the hull [composed of bow, stern and bottom], the chine and the sheer.

And here’s the body plan, with the control curves [red] and stations [green]. Once you begin to develop the wireframe, you can add the other side of the hull and shade it to check on your progress.

 One of the most useful features for a project like this is that you can also run a developability check on the panels to see if they can be gotten out of plywood, which nominally doesn’t like to do compound curves, though you can torture it into shape to a certain extent. When you use that feature, the program adds red shading to show you areas that can’t be expanded into flat sheets.

DelftShip is telling me that the sections below the chine aren’t developable, which is not surprising since they’re still the original rounded arc bottom. The good news is that I seem gotten the topsides pretty straight, as it’s all green from sheer to chine. The next step is to go back to the body plan and make sure I’ve added enough curvature to the bottom to capture the volume of the original hull below the waterline. After that, I’ll  ask DelftShip to calculate the hydrostatics to get some numbers against which I can compare my multichine versions as they’re developed.

Until next time. . .

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