Topside Stringers

November 20, 2014  Hours spent building to date: 363

With fairing finished, time to return to some real boatbuilding — which in turn led to more fairing.

The topside stringers are the long, thin members that provide a bonding surface for the topside planking.  They are curved for roughly the forward 15 feet of the boat, so the slots that they go in have to be beveled (faired) in relation to the angles on the frames to produce a nice, flat, surface for the planking.  That meant over a day’s work with rasp, file and in a few stubborn areas a Fein multitool saw to get everything squared away — I mean angled away.

The straight aft stringers are 1.5 deep and 1-inch wide.  They are fabulous vertical-grain douglas fir from a stash of at a local lumberyard that knows what I’m up to and pointed me to the right pile.  On one 3 1/2 inch board that I was cutting down to make a stringer I counted 43 growth rings.  That tree had been growing that piece for 43 years for the Tardis.  I went back and did a little more fairing after that trying to get things perfect for that one piece of wood.

The laminations for the curved parts were 1/4-inch strips 17 feet long.  Ray came over to help me get them in the slots, since  they flopped around like linguini after about two minutes in boiling water. We thought about laminating the stringers on the boat, then taking them out to get the tricky angle with the stem just right.  But with Ray holding tight, I was able to get a pretty decent cut with a Japanese saw, so we just glued them on.  The laminations are just butted up to the stem and a support block.  I thought about cutting some sort of compound angle pocket in the stem to receive the laminations, but went with the high epoxy approach since a) I didn’t want to weaken the stem b) that would require craftsmanship.

The string and 2 X 4 supporting the forward clamps in the pictures give the forward laminations an extra bit of twist to get them lying just right.  Crude, but it works, and whatever works when 17 feet of laminations are turning to rock is good with me.

(The Tardis Project is proud to note that Olga 28 designer MARK SMAALDERS has joined as a follower!)

 

Stringer strip lamination factory

Stringer strip lamination factory

Shop is full of long, long pieces of wood

Shop is full of long, long pieces of wood

Start of the stringer lamination -- more clamps to come

Start of the stringer lamination — more clamps to come

The Twist-O-Matic

The Twist-O-Matic

Had time  to start sheer clamp lamination -- down to the 30-year-old C-clamps by the end of the process.

Had time to start sheer clamp lamination — down to the 30-year-old C-clamps by the end of the process.

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Motor Mount

November 15, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  338

Motor mount is in!

Motor mount is in!

 

The engine mount is attached to two more heavy stringers that run about five feet in from the transom and form the sides of the motor well.  They are 3/4-inch plywood, so the well assembly is 1 1/2-inches thick — pretty hefty to handle the two-inch thick mount.

Fitting and measuring the mount by holding it above my head while standing on my tip-toes wasn’t going to happen, so I wrapped a couple cleats in packing tape to make “ramps”  at the correct angle, so I could slide the mount up into the boat and clamp it into place while making adjustments.  Then, considering I had about $100 worth of plywood and epoxy invested in the blank for the mount, I made a plywood template by tracing around the well sides, stringers and keel.  It fit right the first time, so I traced it onto the blank, and cut out the mount — very slow going through a two-inch lamination.

Ray came over to help me slide the mount up into the boat, while I handled the mount and its insurance policy — 316-stainless steel lag screws running through the well sides and two inches into the mount.  I really trust epoxy, but not having the motor mount shake loose and put the engine in the drink will be worth (I hope) the jewelry-level price that West Marine charges for these things.

Then it was back to fairing to get the mount and engine sides perfect angled to accept the planking.  I am really tired of fairing, and with a two-inch lamination to bring down, I decided to exercise the nuclear option of stock removal — a disc grinder with a wheel meant for metal.  This tool will really carve through wood, but is so aggressive that it can really get away from you.  I was grinding away on a thick piece of oak on the Jericho Bay skiff  one day, when I lost my concentration for five seconds and was suddenly half-way through the planking.  But I was extra-careful and finally, FINALLY the back half of the Tardis is as fair as it is going to get.

Short week, since I went with Molly on a business trip to Boston to check out the USS Constitution before she goes into dry dock for three years.  To a wooden boat nut, Old Ironsides is a combination of Chartres, the Blue Mosque and the Taj Mahal, so I want to follow the project closely whenever I can get up to Charlestown.

 

Ramps for the motor mount

Ramps for the motor mount

Motor mount template

Motor mount template

Motor mount dry fit

Motor mount dry fit

Insurance

Insurance

Motor mount faired in

Motor mount faired in

Aft end of the boat is ready for planks

Aft end of the boat is ready for planks

Masts coming out.  This is not how they id it in 1797.

Masts coming out. This is not how they id it in 1797.

Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides

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Routine Day

November 7, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  326

Bottom stringers are finished

Bottom stringers are finished

Nothing big to report — just a lot of the small jobs that lead to a big boat.  And a few tidbits for the followers that are coming in from the WoodenBoat Forum.

Finished up all the bottom stringers.  Now that I know how to do them, they look great – but I will probably never have to do another set of bottom stringers again.  I have spent a lot of time over the last few days fairing the stem to a V to accept the planking.  This is a big deal — I have focused on it even more than the keel/frame fairing because you need a big, flat piece of wood for fastening the ultra-curvy-twisty front planks and because it really defines the shape of the boat.  This is much more pleasant than planeing plywood, however, because nice curls of wood come off as you work, and they smell like the fir forests where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  I am leaving a little more wood than Mark’s plans show so I can get full wood-to-wood contact with the two-inch outer stem, which I want to leave as beefy as possible given my tendency to ram things while docking.

(English teacher needed:  Is there anyone out there who can tell me the gerund (had to reach back to fifth grade for that) of “to plane.”  Planing doesn’t look right, nor does planeing.)

Also took a big step by laminating the motor mount.  It dawned on me yesterday that this and the motor well sides would have to go in now, or installation would be blocked by the topside stringers and sheer clamp.  The mount  is four laminations of 1/2-inch ply, epoxied and screwed together from both sides.  I countersunk the 316-stainless screws so I can leave them in.  I could hang a small building or a tank from this thing, so I think it will take a 300-lb outboard.

Building notes:

The plans say you can cut the stringer notches while making the frames or after setup. DON’T WAIT UNTIL SETUP.  You will be standing on a ladder trying to cut awkward angles for days.  You can be perfectly accurate by waiting, but Mark’s plans are fine even with me doing the measuring and cuts.  My stringers hit 90% of the slots right on, 5% needed a little work with the rasp, and the rest needed a slight saw trim.

The plywood and epoxy are murder on plane blades.  After roughing out with the power planer and belt sander, I tried my Stanley #4 jack plane, but it was just too heavy.  So I went down to my Stanley block plane that has been souped up with a replacement blade from Lee Valley Tools.  WoodCraft also has an incredible blade from Germany for these planes.  I highly recommend this — the plane bodies from Stanley are fine, the blades are so-so.  I used to lust after fancy Leigh-Nielsen or imported planes, but I think taking a decent plane and throwing out the blade it came with produces the same result for about $100 less.  There is a lot of advertising for the “low-angle” versions of these planes.  Boats are long and skinny, so you don’t do much end grain.  A regular angle is less money and fine for general-purpose work.

I sharpen every 20 minutes or so when working with plywood.  My wife used to sell advertising to Norton Industries, and when they found out I built boats, they gave her a pair of really nice waterstones.  I hollow-grind the blades  on a slow grinder, set the angle with a Veritas gauge, then for the next two years or so, I just finish them on the waterstones.  I keep the waterstones soaking in a sealed plastic box with a drop of bleach to prevent growth.

Look at the shops of Harry Bryan or John Brooks or Doug Hylan.  They don’t have $500 Rockler sharpening systems.  They have a couple stones and know how to use them.

 

Stem fariring

Stem fairing

Motor mount lamination

Motor mount lamination

Tardis sharpening sytem.  Cost = free!

Tardis sharpening sytem. Cost = free!

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Stringing Along

Now that the stringers are in, they have to be faired to meet the planking.  That led to one of those situations that if I was doing this professionally would lead straight to bankruptcy.

As you can see, the under berth stringers basically stop right in the air — they are hooked to nothing at this point.  So there was no way that I could think of to “scientifically” determine their shape or the bevels that would get them to lie against the planking.  I eyeballed it with a jigsaw and power plane, and I could get the practice plank to go on, but it didn’t seem right — I had to really shove the plank in, which meant there was pressure in there somewhere trying to bend it back out.

So I had to rely on the amateur-retired-guy method: plane, sand, fit; plane, sand, fit;  plane sand fit.  About four hours worth.

When I was a 22 year-old newspaper reporter, I could crack out 1,000 words about a drug murder in 15 minutes before deadline with no problem.  When I was a 45-year-old investment banking guy, I could crack out a 100-page offering statement to sell a company in about three days with almost no sleep.  When I was a 60-year-old marketing guy,  I could still do a PowerPoint to sell Mars Chocolate a boatload of advertising in under an hour.

Now four hours is a little pile of sawdust.  But I love it.

To reward myself I laminated in a forward small stinger to make the boat grow.

 

Final shape of the %^*(*$ under berth stringer

Final shape of the %^*(*$ under berth stringer

Forward stringer lamination

Forward stringer lamination

 

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Big Stringers are In

November 2, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  297

Tardis grows a little every day

Tardis grows a little every day

 

The big stringers that run fore-and-aft through the whole aft end of the boat are in after a lot of fitting and fiddling to get the “egg crate” slots all aligned.  My friend Ray came to help with the installation, since they have to go in exactly parallel to the keel or they bind in the slots.  It went so fast we also put in the stringers that go under the V-berth.

Since clamping to the V-bottom was not an option, we held the stringers in until the glue dried with aluminum clips fastened to what will be the floor of the boat when we turn her right side up.  As with all the other parts of the boat permanently installed so far, epoxy “tack welds’” have been used to hold the boat together until the permanent coving and tabbing with epoxy fillets and glass tape is done. The joints seem extremely strong already.

I am really being a spendthrift in the tack welding by using epoxy-in-a-tube with the unfortunate name of “Thixo.”  Ray and I ran through three tubes at $16.99 a pop.   Thixo is a private label brand of Jamestown Distributors, but my guess is that the manufacturer could be MAS.  I switched to Thixo from West Six 10 because it is about $4 a tube less and I can’t tell any difference in performance or application while using it. Still using WEST for everything else, which relieves my guilt as a 20-year user of nothing but WEST System products.

The time saving is huge using Thixo.  There is no mixing, no adding fillers, no putting into a plastic bag to apply, and it makes a really even bead, especially using Dani, my new power caulking gun.  Run a bead, zip over it with a filleting tool, done.  No matter which brand you use, I think epoxy-in-a-tube is a really great idea.

Ray Smoothing Out a Fillet

Ray Smoothing Out a Fillet

Engine Stringers Look Very Strong

Engine Stringers Look Very Strong

Clips temporarily holding stringers

Clips temporarily holding stringers

Epoxy "tack weld"

Epoxy “tack weld”

Stringers under the V berth

Stringers under the V berth

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Stringers

October 29, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  283

I took a break from fairing to add the small fore-and aft stringers in anticipation of putting in the big, beefy engine stringers which take the stress of the engine and run half-way through the boat.  As I scarfed short pieces into boat-long pieces and glued them in, the boat seemed immensely stronger.  Then I put I clamped in the engine stringers to check the fit, and the structure became virtually immovable as the “egg crate” effect began to make itself apparent.

Intellectually I could always grasp how lots of pieces of small, tough materials locked into one another with epoxy and glass would be very strong.  But seeing it and feeling it was quite another thing.  My 22,000 pound motorsailer Memsahib was tough purely because of the weight of its materials — a one-inch thick teak skin, 2-inch square frames holding the skin, 3-inch floors tying the frames to the keel.  Memsahib could stand a lot of compression stress (getting whanged against a dock in a storm) and what I think is called tensile stress (bouncing up and down waves without breaking in two).  But torsional, twisting stresses (confused waves or rigging stress from high winds) would cause her to “work”  as all the pieces tried to twist away from one another at their edges.  That would lead to leaking, not uncommon in conventionally built boats.

As I look at the stringers going in, and I can see how the egg crate works.  No matter which way you try to bend the structure or push the structure or twist the structure, there seem to be about the same number of pieces taking the stress.  And they are all held rigidly against one another — very rigidly by epoxy and glass.  I’m going to add yet another layer of strength by using a lot of “biaxial” fiberglass tape with the stress lines running diagonally to all the other structural members.

When Tardis occasionally launches herself off a wave and comes down, I know it will sound like a base drum and scare me half to death.  But I doubt that any water will get in, and that’s a good thing in a boat.

Fore and after stringers tying the whole structure together.

Fore and after stringers tie the whole structure together.

I'd say this is a Hermes-quality scarf (ignore the one in back of it).

I’d say this is a Hermes-quality scarf (ignore the one in back of it).

"Egg crate" starting to form.  Resists stress from all directions.

“Egg crate” starting to form. Resists stress from all directions.

Aft end of engine stringer.  Very high on both ends, and I don't know why.  Fine everywhere else.

Aft end of engine stringer. Very high on both sides and I don’t know why. Perfect on the bottom side and close everywhere else.

 

Stringers are starting to define the shape of the boat.

Stringers are starting to define the shape of the boat.

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Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff

October 26, 2014

Since frame fairing — turning frames with square edges into frames with angled edges — does not make for a really compelling blog, I thought I would post some pictures of the project I completed just before starting the Tardis.  Just before taking my Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff out of the water for the year, my friend Eric Bohman did a photo shoot with me driving.  Eric is an exceptional photographer and the pictures came out great.  Here are the shots and a writeup I did for WoodenBoat magazine.

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 5 Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 4 Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 3

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 2

When I first saw the announcement in WoodenBoat for “Design Challenge I” I was immediately drawn to the photo at its center. It showed Tom Hill’s Long Point Skiff, a boat I had always admired, running fast and handsome. But I was really intrigued by the green boat speeding along beside her. “Now that is one shapely craft. Looks like a miniature lobster boat,” I thought.

As time passed I followed the development by Aaron Porter and Tom Hill of the Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff and discovered that the “green boat” was the original from which the lines were taken for the strip-planked version. And I was secretly pleased that I had a pretty decent eye for a boat: designed by Joel White and built by Jimmy Steele isn’t a bad pedigree.

When I saw Aaron’s classified in WoodenBoat for that same skiff, I was off to Maine in no time with a check and a trailer, and I was proud to be the new caretaker of such a significant craft.

Structurally she was in good shape, but the bottom planking was pretty rough, and 40 years of hard use meant that the rails, seats and transom could use some work. Also, with Aaron’s agreement, I thought the boat would best be modified for life on a trailer with a layer of cold-molded cedar and fiberglass laid diagonally over the planking. I had trouble finding cedar locally, but wandering through a home center one day, I spotted a pile of 1X4 cedar decking that was almost perfectly clear and with a lot of work on the table saw turned it into 2-inch wide strips. They were set in epoxy and covered with Xynole polyester fabric that has proven to be extremely tough and a great surface for the glossy “Chesapeake Green” finish.

Material for the center console was easy to find: My son’s old made-in-Maine “Cedarworks” swingset was getting very tired, so I sawed it up into planks. (Don’t fret about that, he’s 20 years old and doesn’t do much swinging any more). The console was built from plans I had for the Long Point Skiff, which sort of rounds out the whole story.

Due to moving, building a new shop and taking a year off to go on the Great Loop in our Eldredge-McInnis motorsailer (www.memsahibsvoyage.com), the whole rebuild took about four years. But this July I finally got the rails, breasthook and quarter knees rebedded and into the water she went at Guilford, CT.

As Aaron has remarked, this is a fantastic sea boat. She climbs the square Long Island Sound waves with aplomb and very little spray. She is wicked fast with a 25 hp outboard that came my way, and did 21 knots in flat water the only time I had the courage to open her up.

And sitting on a dock with 50 white fiberglass center consoles, she can still stop people in their tracks: “What IS that, what a shape, looks like a little lobsterboat. Is it wood?”

 

 

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Keel and Plank Fairing

October 22,2014  Hours spent building to date:  250

Fairing is very boring, since you work and work, but not much on the boat seems to change.  But it has to be done, like doing the dishes or cleaning the litter box.

The first job was to turn the keel from flat into a ‘V”, since that’s the only way the planking will lie flat on a V-bottom boat.  Two days of planing, moving the ladder and countless up and downs and it looks pretty good.  A great big house builders power plane is just too heavy for this kind of work, so several years ago I bought the lightest plane I could find, a DeWalt 26676.  It doesn’t work really fast, but it doesn’t totally wear me out either.

Then with the flat part of the boat all ready, I could start on fairing the frames for planking.  Thought about adding the fore-and-aft stringers first, but if there’s a big error, they would have to be faired out, too.  All the aft planking looked pretty good to begin with, but there was once place where the “practice” plank rocked up and down, so the frame had to be knocked down some to match those on either side.  One required a 5/16 shim to bring it even with its sisters.  And there’s one spot where I can’t figure out what the hell is going on:  the plank lies fair on two frames, then shoots off into the air a half inch before heading down again toward the bow just fine on the next frame. I can force it to fit, but it doesn’t seem right.  I am going to practice-plank BOTH sides of the boat tomorrow in the same place, then run back and forth a half-dozen times to see if this happens and on both sides — and is probably right — or an aberration that will take a half-day of fiddling to fix.

I spend way too much time and energy worrying about silly stuff like this.  I should just leave the shop and figure it out the next day.  But after a lifetime of the normal school-work-wife-money-kid-health worries, I am luckily at a point where I am extremely low on normal concerns.   So I guess twisted planks have to fill up the worry-well.

 

The small DeWalt at work

The small DeWalt at work

This keel is now shaped like a V.  Really.

This keel is now shaped like a V. Really.

See.  Told you so.

See. Told you so.

This is how the planks are supposed to fit against the keel -- no gaps.

This is how the planks are supposed to fit against the keel — no gaps.

Before -- big gap, needs fixing.

Before — big gap, needs fixing.

After -- tight.

After — tight.

Looks like it's been snowing in the shop.

Looks like it’s been snowing in the shop.

Tardis from the rear.

Tardis from the rear.

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Backbone

October 19, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  232

The next step was to connect the straight part of the keel, the curved part and the stem all together to create Tardis’ “backbone.”  The first joint went great — planed down the angle on the curved part for the scarf joint, put it on the boat, joint was piece-of-paper tight.

Then I pushed my look on the keel-to-stem transition, thinking my 64th birthday would pull me through a heavy, curved, tapered cut on the bandsaw.  No luck.  I butchered it — the joint looked like a roller coaster.  Two hours later, and probably 10 times on and off the boat for fitting, it was finally acceptable.

Then a lot of planeing and sanding to smooth out the transitions, and the backbone was done, awaiting many hours of fairing.

My wife thinks it looks a little wimpy compared to the 6-inch thick chunk of teak that formed Memsahib’s keel.  But this one will be surrounded by stringers running the full length of the boat and some great big ones forward and aft.  Then the whole thing will be encased in fiberglass.  So in essence the whole bottom of the boat is the backbone.

The good joint (before trimming and smoothing)

The good joint (before trimming and smoothing)

Wood butchery 101

Wood butchery 101

Roller-coater joint two hours later.

Roller-coaster joint two hours later.

The Backbone

The Backbone

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Keel Is On

October 16, 2014   Hours spent building to date:  225

Cut the straight part of the keel to correct dimensions.  After a 20-foot cut in 1 1/2-inch old growth Douglas fir, even the Festool saw was running a little hot.  The keel  looked good and sat flat, so I glued it to the frames after getting everything as plumb vertically as I could.  That’s the idea behind putting on the keel now — the frames are pretty flippy just sitting there on their uprights and the keel should steady everything up.

Cut the strips for the curved part of the keel and glued them up.  The assembly was rocking up and down on the frames, and didn’t look like a great fit, but then I cut about 3/8-inch off the high spot and it fell right into place.

Then I had an inspiration that cost me a day.  I have done fiberglass sheathing a couple times, but have never done any tabbing — making a very strong joint between two perpendicular pieces of wood by filling the angle between the two with a “cove” of epoxy and covering the whole thing with fiberglass tape.  The engine stringers that are going in next are very heavy, so I want the frame to be rock solid, so I thought I would tab the keel to the frames using some 15-oz biaxial E-glass tape that I bought for another project, but never used.  Very strong, very high tech stuff.

I fooled around with various homemade coving tools for a long time, trying to get a compromise between a nice, smooth cove and one that was deep enough to add strength.  Finally cut a piece of West System plastic spreader to a roundish shape and the coves were okay, but messy.  Then I tabbed in the E-glass and found that when you “wet it out”  with even more epoxy, it really smooths out the coves.  I couldn’t believe how much epoxy 15-oz cloth soaks up.  The price of oil rose $1 today, and I’m pretty sure that was me.

Working overhead for hours on an unfamiliar task with epoxy dripping down on everything was exhausting, but that keel ain’t going anywhere.  And I won’t have to comb my hair in the morning — it’s all glassed into place.

Straight portion of the keel

Straight portion of the keel

Curved portion of the keel.

Curved portion of the keel.

Stepped laminations make it easer to cut the scarf when the glue dries. (Yes, I cleaned up the squeezeout.)

Stepped laminations make it easer to cut the scarf when the glue dries. (Yes, I cleaned up the squeezeout.)

Whole keel glued up

Whole keel glued up

Tabbing -- ugly but strong,  There are miles of tabbing to go, so I will get better.

Tabbing — ugly but strong, There are miles of tabbing to go, so I will get better.

The little white threads that hold the E-glass together doesn't seem to wet out like regular glass.

The little white threads that hold the E-glass together doesn’t seem to wet out like regular glass.

 

 

 

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