August 11, 2014
As a boy, I liked to watch those suspenseful war movies where the brave men of the bomb disposal squad had to disarm that bomb or torpedo or rocket by cutting just the right wire or getting the fuse out without it touching anything. They always seem to have succeeded, since I can’t remember any being blown to kingdom come.
But as I gazed at the 14 nine-foot strips for each of the stem laminations, the cold sweat of the bomb disposal boys came on, since I had just 42 minutes to get them all covered with epoxy, into the clamps and screwed onto the laminating jig. At 42 minutes, West Six 10 epoxy turns to gel, after 50 minutes putty, and in an hour it’s pretty close to rock. I would never have attempted doing the stems in a single lamination without Six 10, a new miracle epoxy that comes out of a caulking tube without spending time on mixing resin and catalyst, adding bonding agents and spreading out with a tiny brush.
So I coated the laminations with plain, unthickened epoxy to provide a stable gluing surface (not a time-sensitive job) and simply squiggled Six 10 out of the tube with about 3 inches between the top of each squiggle. Then I smoothed the epoxy out with a chip brush and piled them up on the jig. I was at 35 minutes when I started clamping, working slowly from the middle towards the end, bringing the laminations down to the L brackets a little at a time. But at 40 minutes, when I felt the epoxy getting to maple syrup consistency, I grabbed a big 36-inch bar clamp, put it on the end of the laminations and brought them on home.
The final step is the most satisfying: just before the final clamp tightening, I take a rubber mallet that I’ve had for years and whang the edges of the laminations down against the table to get them nice and even. There was too much glue squeezing out on the inner stem, so I went with 5 inch squiggles on the second and got my time down to 31 minutes.
Then a couple days drying in the clamps to make sure I wouldn’t get excessive springback followed by smoothing up in the surface planer, running like a wild man from front-to-back and side-to-side around the machine, bringing that big, handsome curve through in one piece.
No, those aren’t all my clamps. I think the way to measure the boatbuilding hierarchy, with our students at the Connecticut River Museum at the bottom of the pyramid and Greg Rossel and Harry Bryan at the top (sorry, inside baseball), is the number of clamps they own. A beginner might have 20 clamps, a guy who’s built a couple boats 50, a pro has a wall with probably 200 or 300. I’m at about 75, making me a low intermediate on the clamp scale.