Final Frames; Burial at Sea

September 20, 2014   Hours sent building to date:  131

Finished the final frames — 25 and 27.  Transom is next, then onto a totally new phase, setting up the strongback.

Sawing up frames gets pretty repetitive after a while, so I’m glad to be moving on.  That’s one of the few frustrating parts of amateur boatbuilding or amateur anything else, I guess.  You climb and struggle up the learning curve to where the competent people are, then you simply leap off to the bottom of another curve.  I am finally  pretty decent at these sawn frames, but will probably never saw up another one.

Knocked off early today to help Ray perform a beautiful burial at sea driving his wonderful Lyman 26 Ebony.  It was a great day and a very moving moment for a family committing Mom and Dad’s ashes to the deep.  The site was magnificent.  Wish I could show you a picture without intruding on the family’s privacy.  I was sweating bullets trying to support Ray in getting everything respectful, beautiful and right, but I think we pulled if off.

Here’s how this works.



Last frame under the cockpit.

Frame 25 — last frame under the cockpit.

Frame 27.  The hole in the middle filled by a support piece is where the outboard motor goes.

Frame 27. The hole in the middle filled by a support piece is where the outboard motor goes.


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Time; Frames 21 and 23

September 16, 2014    Hours spent building to date:  117

I had a group of people at the shop over the weekend, and they asked the same question everyone else always asks:  “How long do you think it will take to build the Tardis?”

I really don’t know.  I think at the pace I’m going, I can have the hull planked and glassed by Christmas.  Then I have to figure out a way to get her turned over and on a trailer, and things get pretty iffy time-wise after that.  Finish work always seems to stretch on forever.  Electrical and plumbing are pretty complex even on a boat this size.  I will be counting on others for the engine/steering install.  So if I could have the boat ready to go somewhere South for final details and a short cruise by the middle of October next year, I would be delighted.  A spring 2016 launch is more likely, but I don’t know — I’m loafing along at a summer pace, but the boat is really coming together.  Over the winter with nothing else to do, I should be able to hit the gas.

What I CAN tell future builders is how long it TOOK to build the Tardis, since I’m keeping pretty close track of the time spent actually building the boat.  This does not count Internet research, parts ordering, general lollygagging, blogging, etc.  I was in the shop all day today, but ran into a problem with a misprint on a frame measurement and switched over to Connecticut River Museum projects, so only 2 hours counted against Tardis.  I am now dating these posts and adding an hour-meter.

Frames 21 and 23 got done even working around mast-building for the CRM.  What was hard at station 5, is much easier at frame 23.

Frame 21

Frame 21

Frame 23 -- under the cockpit

Frame 23 — under the cockpit

In our "spare" time Ray and I have been helping the Museum boatbuilding students make Bevins masts

In our “spare” time Ray and I have been helping the Museum boatbuilding students make Bevins masts

Mast Builders hard at work

Mast Builders hard at work

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Frames 17 and 19; Butts

September 9, 2014   Hours spent building to date:  103

Back to the boring stuff — done with frames 17 and 19.  They are toward the aft end of the pilothouse above the fuel tanks.

I have been very wasteful of my plywood, cutting everything I can from full sheets for strength, but producing a lot of big offcuts.  Mindful of the fact that I wasted a sheet with my mistake at 8.33 and wanting to have a full sheet left for a planking mistake, I decided to do frame 17 using three smaller pieces.

This means I had to connect the pieces into one big piece somehow.  There are three methods that I know of:

– Gluing together with epoxy and strengthening with biaxial fiberglass tape — a “butt joint.”

– Gluing together and bridging with another piece of plywood for strength — a “butt block.”

– Scarfing by cutting wide, shallow angles on either side of the two pieces and gluing them on top of one another to give the appearance of one piece.

Scarfing is the elegant solution, and very strong.  But it would require tricky layout — measuring for the scarf, measuring for the frame, cutting the frame, cutting the scarf, and hoping it all fits.  And no one if ever going to see these areas in the hull, so strength is what counts.

So I used a combination of one and two — a butt block on the front and tape down the backside. And in this case and areas where I had to join two full sheets, I picked areas with a lot of other structure — the keel, fore-and-aft-girders, doublers.

Should have checked this with Mark, but it sure seems strong to me.  Some of the single sheets are still a little flippy, but I think I could stand on 17 without it breaking.

Frame 17

Frame 17

Frame 19

Frame 19

Butt Block at 17 -- a girder goes into the slot on the right.

Butt Block at 17 — a girder goes into the slot on the right.

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The Playlist at Frame 19

Sept. 8, 2014   Hours spent building to date:  103

My favorite by far of all the boatbuilding blogs is “Sundowner Sails Again.”  Tate and Dani are talented, self-taught boat restorers and wonderful young people who let you into their lives a bit so you can understand the relationship between their “real” selves, the Sundowner refit and their voyaging plans.  The first Sundowner post I ever read was about Dani’s shoes:

<a href=”“> Sundowner Sails Again | Addicted to shoes </a>

From the moment I read it I knew I was REALLY going to enjoy the Sundowner chronicles.

So after I finished measuring up the most recent frame, with the IPOD and speakers providing one Tardis Hit Parade song after another, I thought, “A playlist that has Ozzie Osborne and Ozzie Nelson in the same set could help explain an old advertising guy’s recent addiction to plywood and epoxy.”  So I have reconstructed the Playlist at Frame 19:

Dwight Yoakum — “Honky Tonk Man”

Rosemary Clooney — “Here’s That Rainy Day”

Ozzie Osborne — “Crazy Train”

Xavier Cugat — “Perfidia”

Frank Sinatra — “I Took a Trip on a Train”

The Mowgli’s — “San Francisco”

Lyle Lovett — “That’s Right You’re Not from Texas”

Benny Goodman — “Rose Room”

Connie Francis — “Among My Souvenirs”

Johnny Cash — “Big River”

Artie Shaw — “The Carioca”

Ozzie Nelson — “The Jersey Bounce”

Pat Boone — “Love Letters in the Sand”

Sydney Anderson — “That Old Feeling”

Perez Prado — “Mambo Number 8″

Perez Prado — “Cherry Sweet and Apple Blossom White” (since the IPOD has the entire Perez Prado oeuvre, he comes on a lot)

Jerry Lee Lewis — “Crazy Arms”

Ella Fitzgerald — “Lush Life”

Bob Crosby’s Bobcats — “South Rampart Street Parade

Interpretations and theories about my musical taste as it relates to boatbuilding are most welcome.

(My son says I let the cat on the keyboard while iTunes was opened and I am so technically challenged that I don’t know how to delete the songs.  That is not true — I just deleted Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” since he once made it the only song my IPOD would play.)



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Frame 15; Saws Review

September 5, 2014   Hours spent building to date:  98

I have worked my way back to frame 15, which sits under the driver’s seat and fridge.  The holes are for lightening and running plumbing and electrical.  Just noticed in posting the picture that it still needs slots for heavy fore-and-aft girders that run from the cabin all the way back to the engine.

Since all this sawing is pretty boring reading, I thought I would talk a bit about the saws themselves.  When I first received the plans from Mark, I saw all the straight, angular lines inherent in a Vee bottom and knew that my 30-year-old Skilsaw was not up to the job.  So I went off the deep end and bought a Festool 55, a precision circular saw from Germany that really lives up to its billing.  It is quiet, smooth, and safe.  The blade only comes out of the housing when it is cutting. The only time I’ve ever seen it is looking up into the saw itself.  The amazing thing is the Festool’s ability to cut perfectly straight lines by riding on an aluminum sled that sits tenaciously on top of the wood using some sort of anti-slip neoprene-like plastic on its bottom.  The cuts come out chip free and are better than the “factory” edge on the plywood itself.

Since my wife occasionally reads this blog, I will cover the cost factor in woodworkers code: 7X good circular saw at HD.  But worth it given the safety factor and precision.

The Festool is heavy, though, so for a short or curved cut, a bought a Rockwell Versacut, since my old 12-volt DeWalt’s batteries were shot and it just didn’t have the poop for 3/4 ply.  Another star.  The little 3-inch blade will cut the sweeping curves inherent in boats with no problem.  It makes a pretty smooth cut, and again, has a plunge feature that makes it really safe.  About $100 online.  I don’t think you need a 7 1/4-inch circular saw if you have this one.

My old Porter Cable jig saw is working just fine for curves.  I bought a bunch of Porter Cable “clean cut” blades for ply on sale, and they are much better than the hardware store or HD alternatives.

Every once in a while you want to finish a cut or do a short notch without plugging in, so a Japanese pull saw works great.  I got mine from WoodenBoat.  The cost of these has come way down, and they are much handier than a dovetail or back saw.  My students at the Workshop were amazed at the speed with which they could cut softwoods with this saw and it went from boat-to-boat all weekend.

These are great tools and I am glad to have them.  But I think one of the great things about Mark’s design is that if you want a look that is a bit more rough-and ready than what I’m going for you could build this whole boat with a $49 Black and Decker jigsaw from Walmart.


Frame 15

Frame 15

Tardis Project Saw Collection

Tardis Project Saw Collection

Big Dawg in Action

Big Dawg in Action

Lest we forget -- my faithful old Sears bandsaw that I use for all the fiddly stuff that no other saw will handle

Lest we forget — my faithful old Sears bandsaw that I use for all the fiddly stuff that no other saw will handle

The saws have been working really hard

The saws have been working really hard



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Bulkhead 13; Jig Special Report

August 30. 2014   Hours spent building to date:  76

The big bulkhead at station 13 is done.  This separates the main cabin from the head and sleeping area.  It is 3/4-inch plywood and demonstrates why I will never build a boat bigger than this — it is the absolute most I can carry without serious bodily harm.

Feels good to get this one done.  Even big plywood boats are a lot like the skiffs I’ve been building — sides wrapped around a substantial central frame. In this case there are two — stations 13 and 21.

I also needed some light work after the stress of the boatbuilding workshop, so I built jigs for the 60+ slots you have to cut into the frames and bulkheads for the stringers — big long pieces of wood that tie the boat together fore and aft and provide 76platforms for the planking.  Measure, drilling for a jigsaw and cutting over and over again would be time-consuming and boring.  So I made a marking jig and a drilling jig that speeds things right along.  I also have the same type of tool for the sheer strake and carlins (pieces at the top that accept the deck beams).

The stringer slots are made stronger and wider for the planking glue-up through the use of doublers — plywood half-moons that have their own slots.  Again, cutting 60 of them would take forever, so I built a drilling jig to put a hole right in the center of 6 X 6 squares, a cutting jig to hold the squares exactly three inches from the bandsaw blade to cut the circles, and a sled for the table saw to cut them in half.  It still took about a day to manufacture all this, but I feel compared to any boat I’ve ever built that Mark’s design and technique allow me to move a lot faster.  An extremely positive review of the Olga 28 by Bob Stephens in the September WoodenBoat magazine said exactly that.


Bulkhead at station 13 -- over eight feed wide and almost 6 feet tall.

Bulkhead at station 13 — over eight feed wide and almost 6 feet tall.

13 with doublers installed

13 with doublers installed

Slot marking jig

Slot marking jig

Hole-cutting jig

Hole-cutting jig

Slot after cutting

Slot after cutting

Doubler center hole jig

Doubler center hole jig

Doubler circle-cutting jig

Doubler circle-cutting jig

Doubler cutting sled

Doubler cutting sled

New business idea -- plywood poker chips for ginats

New business idea — plywood poker chips for giants

Doubler doubling

Doubler doubling

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Busman’s Holiday

venue 2

Took a week off from boatbuilding to build boats — my great friend Ray Gaulke and I were the organizers of a family boatbuilding workshop from Friday afternoon to Sunday at the Connecticut River Museum.  With wonderful help from Chris Dobbs and the museum staff and some great volunteer instructors, we launched four CRM 12’s (a modified Bevins Skiff) on Sunday afternoon.  The boatbuilders were skilled and enthusiastic, and we all had a great time.  But I am beat –son John and I drove down to Virginia to pick up the skiff kits from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation on Monday and through cleanup today it was nonstop work.

But to see the kids rowing off in their boats — what can you say.  For a person who loves boats and boatbuilding, to share that experience was indescribable.

ernstoff rowing

williams rowing

mcdonald's loading up

mcdonalds almost done

scouts putting on keel

ernstoff framing

on blocks day 1

fitting center frame


fitting transom

fitting stem

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Sticks and Nails Will Break My Bones

In my past life, I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about market research results, client presentations, whether John would get into college.  Now I worry a lot about deck camber.

Decks have a curvature so they shed water (and look good) and the degree of curve is called “camber.”  The curved beams that go under the deck change a lot in length and shape as the deck changes, but the camber should be pretty close to constant in adjoining beams or the decks won’t lay down right.  You can’t achieve constant camber just drawing it out by curving a thin piece of wood.  It doesn’t form a true arc and the ends are too flat.

There are very scary mathematical ways to plot out deck camber, but after days of study, I chose the simple “sticks and nails” method.  If you put two nails at the ends of your deck beam measurement,  join two sticks in a “V” at the height you want your beam, hold a pencil in the V and trace back and force, a perfect arc with constant camber should result.  I learned this from the extraordinary boatbuilder Douglas Brooks

But it took me three times to get the camber right at station 5.  Once my sticks were too short — they have to be twice the length of the beam, so I needed 14 feet of sticks.  Once the sticks were too thin, and they wouldn’t hold the curve.  I did it the third time, but had this giant contraption running clear across the shop.

Then I was asking Mark about camber at another area, and overnight he went to his computer, measured it out and sent me a drawing.  I used his drawing on station 5 and it matched my “sticks” method perfectly. That’s the way to establish deck camber on the Olga 28 — 1-800-Mark.

The sticks and nails jig

The sticks and nails jig

Where you put the pencil

Where you put the pencil

Nails and mark

Nails and mark

Lousy picture -- nice curve

Lousy picture — nice curve

Doug's catboat -- now THAT's deck camber!

Doug’s catboat — now THAT’s deck camber!


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8.33 X 2 = $115

I was zooming along cutting frames and bulkheads when I made what I thought was a little mistake on 8.33, the end of the bunk area.  I cut to a grid line instead of the sheer line — the top of the hull.  It was just 2 inches off, so I cut off the offending 2 inches and redrew the lines.

It look pretty good, but not quite.  So one more measurement, and I discovered one side was 5/8 inch wider than the other.  On a boat, that’s a lot, and the curve at the top seemed off, too.  Somehow all the angles had changed.  So after thinking for about an hour of ways to patch/compensate, I gave up and threw out $115 of plywood and a half-days work.

I think my problem was drawing too many lines and measurements on the plywood.  On bulkhead 11, I just drew the lines I needed to cut out the frame, erased any extraneous, and it seemed to go much easier when it was time to cut.

After sitting at a desk for 40 years, it’s hard to describe how good I feel after a day in the shop.  I sleep like a log, I can’t wait to go back every day.  If I had to do this for a living, of course, I would be in constant worry about the poverty that is part of the boatbuilder’s life.  But I guess in those 40 years, I paid my dues to the worry-Gods.


8/33 -- second try.  This is the back of the bunk area.  L shape is the top of a small dresser.

8/33 — second try. This is the back of the bunk area. L shape is the top of a small dresser./*

Bulkhead at 11 -- I can barely carry it.  This is the entrance to the sleeping area.

Bulkhead at 11 — I can barely carry it. This is the entrance to the sleeping area.

After just 5 bulkheads the shop is a mass of boat pieces, offcuts ad sawdust.

After just 5 bulkheads the shop is a mass of boat pieces, offcuts ad sawdust.

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What Tardis Will Look Like

Mark has given permission to post the Olga 28 arrangements and profile drawings.  So this is what Tardis will (should?) look like.  Click on the pictures and they will get bigger.

When I write about “Station 5″ or “Station 8.33″  it means I’m talking about something at 5 or 8.3 feet from the bow.  The boat is 28 feet long, so there are 28 little station marks on the drawing.  Just count back to orient yourself.

If you really want to follow along, or are thinking about building any kind of large plywood boat, Mark sells very nice “study plans” in a PDF format for just $10 a set.  There’s a link to his site to the right.

arrangements plan 2

Profile View 1

Profile View 2a

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