13 May 2015

The Quest for Wood

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

Okay, so it wasn't so far away, but it does seem a long time since I started working on my bowsprit project. It was meant to be my big winter project, but here it is late spring and I'm just finishing up. What with working like a dog on a new iPhone project, shoveling snow, and snatching the odd spare moment to work on the bowsprit, I've not had time to blog, but on this beautiful spring day, I decided to take a day off and (start) to catch up. But where to begin? Where to begin...?

The story actually starts nearly five years ago, in October of 2010 in a galaxy called Georgia. Long time readers will recall that I discovered some rot in the end of my bowsprit and had to perform emergency surgery which shortened the sprit by over a foot. You can revisit those happy days by reading the blogpost called Bowsprit, but suffice to say I've been meaning to replace it ever since.

Midnight bowsprit surgery - 2010
The original sprit was built from laminated Douglas Fir. This time, I had my heart set on building the sprit from a single timber. The reason is simple: I meant to varnish it and thought a solid spar would look better than a laminated one. Also, I'd already had the pleasure of gluing up a spar -- two of them, in fact -- for the Blue Moon's 'new' boomkin. If you missed my boomkin saga, it starts with this post: A Bigger Bumpkin. Carving a sprit from a 4" X 4" timber would be a new challenge, I thought.

And, oh, I was right.

A better bumpkin - 2012
The original plans call for a 'spruce' bowsprit, so back in January, when my Christmas projects were done, and I finally had time to start on my new project, I started hunting for a clear (meaning knot-free) spruce timber.

Now, spruce is not a rare and exotic wood. It grows throughout the northern part of North America, from Alaska to Nova Scotia, and is one of the most used woods for construction 2x material. If laminating the sprit was acceptable, I could probably have dug through piles and piles of 2x6s, until I found two or three clear pieces I could glue together. But kiln-dried construction lumber just wasn't what I was looking for. No, I wanted a clear, air-dried, spruce timber. Something that, 50 years ago, I might have found fairly easily. But today? After calling a dozen small mills, and every marine timber business in the north east, I started to wonder if such an artifact even existed. But finally I thought I'd found one. A woman at Condon's Lumber thought there might be a 4x4 piece of Sitka Spruce in her warehouse. She quoted me a price which made my eyes water, but what did I expect for the last such timber on earth?

"I'll take it!" I said, but alas, she was mistaken. It had been sold long, long ago.

My spirits plummeted. Did I really live in a world where such a small piece of wood (relatively speaking) was simply unavailable? It seemed so, but I kept googling and dialing, hoping against hope to find a source.

Finally, I found an old article in the New York Times (Loggers look at a Tree and See a Boat) about a company in Connecticut called New England Naval Timbers. The article was about a Cornwall logger named Charles (Duke) Besozzi, who was "supplying select timbers for the grand schooner restorations and one-of-a-kind wooden yachts that are being brought to life in boat yards up and down the New England coast."

That sounded promising, though a bit grand for my little bowsprit project. I was actually too intimidated by the words 'Naval Timbers' to call Duke right up, but after running down every other lead, his name was the only one left on my list. I found his phone number, and gave him a call.

Turned out, he didn't have any clear spruce, or any other softwood that would serve the purpose. After kicking the problem around for awhile on the phone, he finally asked, "How about white oak? Historically, white oak was often used for spars."

My first thought was white oak would be too heavy. But after chewing it over a bit, I realized 1) it would only make a difference of 10 pounds or so, and I thought nothing of hanging a 35 lb anchor off my bow, and 2) the Blue Moon could actually use a bit more weight in the bow to balance the weight in the stern.

"I'm sure I can find a couple nice, clear pieces for you," Duke said, temptingly.

Well, that might have been true in the summer, or even a normal winter. But in February of 2015, all that beautiful white oak was buried under enormous drifts of snow. It wasn't until the first week in March, when the tide of snow began to ebb, that Duke and his crew were able to dig out and mill up the two pieces of white oak that I'd ordered. Helena and I jumped in our station wagon and drove up to one of the prettiest parts of New England to collect our bits of wood.


Historic Sailing Vessels... Yes.


The office
The offices of New England Naval Timbers might have been modest, tucked away, as they were, in the snow-bound woods, but their product was decidedly not. 'Prodigious' would be a better word for it.

Helena with Titan of the Forest

White Pine

Scattered though an acre or so of forest were massive piles of logs, such as the ones above. It was a marvel just to walk around and look at such potential, even more fun to imagine the boats one could build from massive slabs of air dried white oak and white pine. Like that open Mackinaw Boat that I hope will be my last boat... I could almost see it in that pile of wood...

But those dreams were for later. There was business at hand. Money was exchanged for lumber, and then it was time to hoist two pieces of wood onto the roof of my car. Two rather heavy pieces of oak: one 4"x4", the other 4"x6", both about 16-foot long. 

"Ooff!" I grunted, trying to pick up my end of the first piece. Jeff, the burly sawyer at the other end of the stick lifted up his end with one hand. 

"It's not that heavy," he assured me. 

Helena scrambled to help me lift my end and together the three of us hoisted first one, then the other even heavier piece onto the car.

The quest completed
Jeff helped me tie the wood securely to my rack -- it wouldn't do to have weighty javelins flying through the windshields of cars on the Hutch -- and then we reluctantly headed back to New York. The quest for wood was over, but as I looked at the timber's profile through my sunroof, I wondered how I'd manage to shape that massive balk into a slender, tapering spar? 

Next Up:

30 March 2015

Gripping Vice

We are having a late spring here in the northeast, which is a good thing because it gives me a bit more time to get winter chores done.

Here's what Huntington Harbor looked like on the first day of Spring. Cheery, eh?

First day of spring
On the project front, I'm finally gearing up to get my bowsprit done. I've got the wood (more on that next time) and am just waiting for a break in the weather to get started on that project. In the meantime, I've been getting ready.

One thing I needed last week was a metal-working vice. I have an old vice, stamped 1913 on it, which has been mounted on one of the rickety little tables in my shop. Between it's metal jaws and unstable platform, it was next to useless for woodworking, but I made do with it for many years.

Now that I have a good wood vice, and have experienced the bliss of working on a bench that doesn't move, I was determined to do something with my metal vice. But bolting it on to my bench wasn't an option. It would be too much in the way, and there was really no place for it anyway.

Luckily, I'd seen a nice trick somewhere, for turning a vice into a tool that can be brought out when needed and put away when not.

To get started, I needed a good size hunk of hardwood. Something wide enough to mount the vice on. About 4"x4" would do.

I didn't have an off-cut that size, but I did have some good chunks of seasoned firewood. So using the sled-and-bandsaw trick discussed last time, I quickly had it squared off. Not the kind of wood you'd want to build fine furniture with, but good enough for this job.

Metal-working vise mounted firmly to block of red oak
I bolted the vice to this block of wood using 2 1/2-inch lag bolts. I might as well have welded the vice to an I-beam. Real solid.

Then to use the vice, all I need to do is clamp the block of wood in my front vice.

Block gripped in woodworking vice
Voila! A rock-steady metal working vice that can be stashed on the tool shelf when not in use (which will be most of the time, of course.)

Why did I need a metal-working vice so urgently? A frozen shackle. I mean, it was really frozen. Still is, in fact! Even clamped in a vice, and bathed in Liquid Wrench, I could not get that shackle open. Complete and utter defeat.

Frozen shackle -- still frozen!!
Ah well, at least I have a good new tool.

Next job: a new bowsprit.

Next Up: Quest For Wood II

16 March 2015

Plane Talk II

With the body of the jack plane complete, it was time to tackle what, to me, seemed the more difficult job -- that of carving a suitable handle.

I set a high bar for this handle. I took as my model the handle of an old D-8 Disston saw that had long hung on the wall of my shop. Though missing a horn, the handle of this saw is still the most comfortable tool handle I've ever had the pleasure of holding. The craftsmen who built these old Disston saws put a lot of work into them, which is why even Disston gave up making them that way after awhile. But it shows what can be done if you spend enough time at it.

That is, assuming you know how to fit a wooden handle to a human hand, which I did not, but I was willing to give it my best shot, and wouldn't be happy until it was good as my old Disston.

My model for comfortable fit - and old Disston D8
I spent several hours Googling for instructions for fitting tools to hands, but found nothing... not one word. Evidently shaping handles is indeed a lost art, so there was nothing for it but to figure it out myself.

I began with the blank. I had a small scrap of walnut that looked about right. I re-sawed it to the correct thickness on my bandsaw, and then smoothed it. Of course I used my new plane, this time with the blade sharpened. The plane worked beautifully, as you can see, even without a handle.

Smoothing the blank for the handle

Then I glued a template for the handle to the wood and cut out the basic shape on the bandsaw.


Using template for cutting

That was the easy part done. Then it was time to start shaping the handle with various rasps I've accumulated over the last few years. None of them are very good, but they were all I had, and had to do.

To hold the piece at a convenient height, I clamped it in a Jorgensen clamp, and then clamped the clamp to my bench.

Add caption
Looking at the picture above, it's amazing what a mess I made getting this far, but...

Using the saw handle as my model, I tried to shape the handle to the right general shape, first using coarse rasps to rapidly -- but carefully -- remove wood.

Roughing out the basic shape

Then I turned to finer rasps to refine the shape. Surprisingly, this work went fairly quickly... I didn't track my time, but it was less than an hour, even proceeding slowly and cautiously.


Getting closer...
Then it was time to cut the tenon. I am by no means an expert at cutting such joints, but I did the best I could. I don't own a real tenon saw, or anything like one, but my trusty Japanese pull saw did a good-enough job.

Again, holding the piece in the Jorgensen clamp was a lot more convenient than trying to clamp saw the piece while it was clamped in my front vise.

Cutting tenon
That finished the roughing out phase. The handle was already more comfortable than many of my store-bought tools, but I still wasn't satisfied. Compared to the Disston handle, it was awkward to hold. I wasn't sure what was wrong with it, but the handle just didn't feel right.

But how to 'fix' it? I had no idea.

I again turned to my books and the Internet, looking for ideas, but no one seems interested in this fitting process, anymore. Again I failed to find a single hint, so was forced to figure it out on my own.

I sat in my 'thinking chair', holding the handle, trying to 'feel' where it was wrong. When I squeezed it hard, as you would when actually pushing a jack plane across a rough board, the handle felt 'uncomfortable'. This information was too vague to guide me, so I had to think more. Why was it uncomfortable?

After turning this question in my mind for several minutes, I gradually realized that there were several 'pressure points', for lack of a better term: points where the handle pressed uncomfortably against my hand. In particular, the handle pressed painfully at the heel of my palm, and on my index finger.

Since these areas were pressure points, I reasoned that if I took some wood off these points, the pressure would be relieved. This seemed logical, so I began shaping these two areas, alternately squeezing the handle (while it was held in the clamp) and rasping off wood.

Amazingly, this simple process worked. Very quickly, I relieved the two major pressure points, and then continued to squeeze and search for smaller and smaller pressure points, relieving each as I found it.

Sooner than expected, I eliminated all the pressure points, leaving the handle a perfect fit to my hand and completely comfortable to squeeze.

I don't know if this is how old-time tool makers did the job, but it certainly worked for me. And since, as far as I know, this is the only how-to on the Internet that says how to do it, I think it will just have to do.


The final handle.
Then it was time to attach handle to the plane. I cut away the back of the plane so the handle would not sit up so high, and then defined the location of the mortise for the handle. I did this by putting the handle on the plane, moving it around until it looked about right, and drawing a line around the tenon.

Very scientific!


Making mortice

I removed most of the material from the mortice on the drill press, then very carefully cut the mortice sides  with a chisel. I am really bad with chisels, and have botched several previous projects with poor chisel work, so took my sweet time with this one. Sometimes, all it takes is time.

To smooth out the bottom of the mortice, I used my home-made router plane. Obviously, I was not so concerned with handle shaping when I made this tool a few years ago, but it still did the job.


Finishing mortice with router plane
Then it was time to glue the handle in place. I might have used Epoxy in the past, but recently read an article in Wooden Boat magazine by an expert who maintains that TiteBond III is even stronger than Epoxy. So I used that.

There was one more step that I didn't take photos of: making a proper wedge to hold the blade firmly in place. I actually made three before I got it right. The first was a rough and ready one for testing. The second was a beautiful thing, made from a choice bit of teak, seemingly a perfect fit until I tried to tighten it up with a few light taps with a hammer. Too thin!

Starting again with a scrap of white oak, I finally got it right: thin enough a the end to fit under the bronze rod, but just the right taper so it held firmly at the right spot. The lighter wood looks nice to my eye, too.

All that was left was to give it a rub down with linseed oil, and to give it a final test. The blade was already sharp. I carefully adjusted it to take a very thin shaving, and gave it a whirl. The result: thin, full-width shavings.

The final test... thin, full-width shavings
Click the photo above for a closer look.

Bottom line, I am totally sold on these Krenov style planes and plane blades. The blades, in particular, are much easier for me to sharpen than the thinner blades often found on old classic woodies. The plane itself is much less clunky than traditional wooden planes, and feels solid and well-balanced in the hand.

Best of all, I can tune it to perfection. Using the piece of marble and several grades of sandpaper, I got the bottom of the plane perfectly flat. After a half-hour's use, the live oak looked slippery, it was so smooth. And indeed, it was slippery. No need to wax the bottom of this plane.

I intend to build a whole set of planes in this method, using whatever scraps of wood I find around the shop. Now that I know what I'm doing, it won't take more than a few hours each to build them. A worth while project, I think.

But no time for that now. I must have the Blue Moon off her winter dock and on her mooring by April 1st. Once again, winter was too short, and spring is here.

No wonder Norwegians are such happy people!

For details on how to build your own planes, check out "The Unplugged Woodshop: Hand-Crafted Projects for the Home & Workshop" by Tom Fidgen.

Next Up: Gripping Vice



09 March 2015

Plane Talk

I've mentioned my tool-making obsession a few times, so it will come as no surprise that I've decided to make a set of planes to go along with my new bench. Why make instead of buy?

The first reason is cost: if I just needed one plane, I'd probably just buy a $300 plane from one of the better tool manufacturers and be done with it. But I need several planes, and a few -- such as a concave spar plane -- that are simply not available from even the bigger tool makers. For the price of one plane, I can make a half-dozen of (hopefully) equal performance, if not convenience.

The second reason is something I read in the bible of boatbuilding, Howard Chapelle's Boatbuilding:
"Planes used by ship carpenters and boatbuilders are commonly those used by house carpenters and hobbyists. However, the older shipwrights trained to fine work will only use planes having a wooden sole, or planes whose whole body is wood. There is a good reason why the wooden plane, or wooden sole plane is preferred; these will cut smoothly in all wood, either seasoned or dry, whereas an iron sole will cause a plane to stick, or 'chatter' in green or wet hardwood. Iron plane soles will also mark work more readily than wooden-soled planes. Most of the wooden-bodied planes are made by the user, of beech, lignum vitae, live oak, or tropical hardwoods. The boat and ship carpenters seem to prefer narrow planes rather than wide ones. The planes commonly used are as follows: smoothing planes with bodies 8.5 to 10 inches long, bits (blades) 1.5 to 1.75 inches wide; jack planes 15-18 inches long, bits 1.75 inches wide; jointers 22 to 26 inches long, bits 1.75 to 2 inches wide. Spar planes are usually made with a hollow bit and sole, on various radii; they are usually about 10 inches long." (Page 592)
A set of planes such as Chapelle describes would easily set you back a couple thousand dollars, if you could find them. I'm hoping to make the set for approximately $300, plus some scrap wood, plus some time.

Okay, a lot of time, but that's quibbling.

The third reason should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog: it sounds like a fun project!

I decided to start with a jack plane, because it's a good all-purpose plane that will be useful for building my new bowsprit. I had a suitable hunk of live oak that I picked up at the Mystic wooden boat show a couple years back. It is an off-cut from some part of the Charles W. Morgan, which was rebuilt over many years at the museum:

The rest of my plane is on this ship! Somewhere!

The piece was roughly squared, but only roughly. So the first thing to do was to square it up. My first idea was to plane it square with my old jointer plane, but the wood was so hard, and my old plane so crappy, that I quickly gave up that idea and turned to a method of jointing on a bandsaw that I'd recently read about.

The basic idea is to get a piece of scrap plywood that is bigger than the piece you are trying to square up. The plywood must have one straight edge. You then tack the plywood to one side of the piece, with the straight edge sticking out a bit so it can register against the bandsaw fence, without the piece touching the fence.

In the photo below, you can see the first cut I made on the piece. The plywood is tacked to the piece, and the plywood's straight edge is registering on the fence. Then it's just a matter of adjusting the fence for width, and making the cut. Assuming your bandsaw is set up properly, the cut face will be straight and flat.

Now, many people will say that fences don't work with bandsaws because bandsaw blades famously 'drift' when they cut. I have two answers to this objection: 1) if your bandsaw is adjusted properly, the drift will be tiny and 2) if not tiny, it is possible to adjust the angle of the fence to the drift angle, thus compensating for the drift. My 14" Delta (Queen of the Shop), has a measured drift angle of under 1 degree. For such a short cut, I just ignore the drift angle.

Live oak blank lightly nailed to a sled
To make the second cut, tack the plywood to the just-cut face and cut again. Again, assuming your bandsaw is set up properly, the result will be two faces that are flat, straight, and true, and at right angles to each other.

From there, dimensioning the rest of the blank is simple.

With two sides squared to each other

Here is the plane body roughly dimensioned, with the two 'cheek' pieces also cut on the bandsaw. Note that the main body of the plane is slightly larger than the 1 3/4 inch plane blade. After cutting the cheeks, I rubber-banded the pieces together overnight to allow the wood to adjust, hopefully without checking too badly.

I don't know if this works, but I read it somewhere, and it seems logical... more or less!

With cheeks sawn
While the wood is resting, take a look at these two lovely blades. They are manufactured by Hock Tools in California and they are really nice. You can get either straight or curved blades. I got one of each for my jack plane for finish or rough work. They are much thicker than normal blades which is supposed to reduce chatter. They are roughly the same price as blades from quality tool makers like Lie-Nielsen.

Straight and curved blades
The next day, it was time to cut the main body of the plane to make the ramp for the blade and space for shavings to come out. To do this accurately, I banged up a home-made miter box. Store bought mitre boxes come with 45 degree angles, but I needed two other angles. With a home-made box, you can have any angle you want. You can also make the front edge long enough so you can clamp the whole thing in your front vice.

I just wish I had a better miter saw, but I'll get there eventually!

Another tip: note how I used wedges to hold the piece in the box. No more gripping the piece with tired fingers.

Custom made miter box.
Okay! so here are the basic pieces cut out, and laid together, just for the photo. Still lots of work to do, but so far so good.

The main pieces placed together for show
The blade ramp should be dead flat. To achieve this I dug a piece of marble out of the snow. My brother left it out in the driveway a couple years ago and I haven't known what to do with it, but it suddenly occurred to me that it was probably pretty flat.

Indeed it was. Dead flat, in fact, and very smooth. I lightly stuck some sandpaper on the stone, using a spray adhesive, and proceeded to sand the ramp flat, using several grades of sand paper. Worked a treat.

Sanding the blade ramp smooth and flat.
Then I needed to cut a slot for the cap iron bolt head. The hard live oak is NOT easy to work with a chisel, but I got it 'good enough' after a bit of work.

Cutting a slot for the cap iron bolt head
I used the same sand-paper-on-marble trick to sand the rest of the surfaces smooth while keeping them flat and the surfaces square to each other. This was so boring and tedious that I forgot to take any other pictures.

After that, it was time to glue the pieces together. This was so scary and brain-bandwidth consuming that I again forgot to take pictures. Besides, my hands were covered with Tite-bond III glue. What a mess! But not as bad as epoxy.

Anyway, once the pieces were glued together, I again did some sanding on the marble to remove all traces of glue.


After glue-up, sanding to remove traces of smeared dried glue.

Here is a peak inside the plane. You can see the throat is quite narrow. Much narrower than the throats of my old, poorly performing wooden planes. The small throat should vastly improve the performance of this plane.

You can see that I also drilled a hole for a bronze dowel that will be used with a wedge to hold the blade in place. I bought 3 feet of this bronze rod awhile back for some project which I've forgotten. Very handy stuff to have around.


And here is the plane with the bronze rod and a temporary wedge installed to hold the blade in place. I wanted to give the plane a test-drive before putting too much more work into it. Would it work? Was it worth putting a few more hours into it?

After adjusting the blade for a nice thin shaving, using the usual methods of adjusting wooden planes, I was very (very!) happy to hear the smooth, smooth sound of a fine plane making a lovely shaving.

It was a sound I'd only heard on Roy Underhill and Rob Cosman videos -- never before in my own shop, so it was almost a shock to hear it coming from the half-finished, very simple plane in my own two hands. Here are the first couple shavings to emerge from the plane, even before I made the final adjustments.



Oh, and I hadn't even sharpened the blade! I used it right out of the box, with just the factory-ground bevel. Even with an unsharpened blade and no handle, the plane worked better than any plane I'd ever used.

I was on the right track.

Next time, the more difficult job of making a really good handle for the plane.


Next Episode: Plane Talk II

26 February 2015

The Great Ice Crisis of 2015

If you've been following the new or -- worse -- actually living here, you've heard how unusually cold and snowy it's been in the northeast US this winter. But as much attention as poor Boston drivers have gotten, hardly anything has been said in the media about the lot of poor wooden boat owners, who have to keep their boats in the water all winter.

Liquid water. The kind boats float in. The kind of water that is hard to find when the temperature drops to 7 degrees F and the wind gusts to 30 knots. The kind of conditions that bring antiquated marina 'bubbler' systems to their knees. The kind of climate catastrophe that could bring on the Great Ice Crisis of 2015.

And that is where we pick up the story. Live from the arctic regions above 40 degrees north latitude...




I foolishly shot this video in portrait mode. For best viewing, click the 'full screen' button in the lower left hand corner.



Next Episode: Plane Talk

07 February 2015

A Steady Place

It doesn't look like it, but Spring is just around the corner, and as usual, I am woefully behind on my winter project list. Just last week, as snow accumulated on bare limbs, I realized that I needed to get a move on if I meant to get my #1 project -- a new bowsprit for the Blue Moon -- done in time for her launching in April. And while I started to gather plans, tools, and materials for that project, I made a final push to finish my nearly-done bench.

Spring's around the corner?
Most of the bench has been done since before Christmas, but work on the final piece -- the face and end vices, had to be put off while wind chimes and bird houses were built for presents.

The article this bench is sourced from called it a 'weekend project'. That was a bit optimistic, particularly after I made the decision to build the front piece not from 2x6s, but from hard maple.

As you can see from the photos below, the front piece is made of two long pieces of maple, with several short pieces in between, leaving gaps for rectangular bench stops.

I built this using rough-cut maple jointed by hand with my old wooden jack plane. The boards had quite a bit of wind in them, and it was quite a challenge to get them straight with my simple tools and (very!) limited skills, but with many cups of tea supplied by Helena, I finally got them straight.

Having the main part of the bench built made the job much easier, of course, because it was already a better bench than I'd ever used. Planing the faces was done with a simple stop clamped to the edge of the bench, and to get the edges square, I clamped the piece to the front of the bench with long bar clamps.

Planing with just a clamped bench stop
I had Helena hold a piece of white paper behind the second winding stick in the photo below to take this photo, so you can see how much twist there was in the board.

If you don't know, winding sticks are just two straight sticks you put across both ends of the board. If there is no 'wind' to the board, the tops of the sticks will line up. Otherwise, the far stick will be rolled up to the right or left, depending on which way the board twists. You can see here, the board twists counter-clockwise from close end to far end.

The technique I used to get the wind out of the board was to plane primarily from the front-left corner, to the back-right corner. This takes the wind out fairly quickly.

Using winding sticks to see how much wind there is left to plane out
The bigger challenge was to get the edge of the board dead straight, so it matched up perfectly with the top of the bench when clamped in place.

My key strategy with this was to focus on the inside of the edge, leaving the ends high, because I tend to round off the ends of edges. By getting the inside part of the edge flat first, I was then able to quickly plane the ends flat.

Since I'm not very good at planing, and my plane is... well... less than perfect, shall we say... this took a long time!

And then there were two more to do!

Planing the edge of the board... Not sure why I had the third clamp in the middle for this picture!
But in the end, all three boards were flat and straight, and I glued them up as per the instructions in the article. Then it was time to attach the vice.

Almost done!
The front vise was the main expense of the bench, because I wanted a good one. After looking at several, I chose the Rockler heavy duty quick release vise. I'd been waiting many years for a decent vise and I'd learned enough to know that cheap tools are a lousy investment. Even so, it wasn't very expensive, and after trying it out, well worth the little money they ask for it.

'Quick release', if you don't know, means you when you turn the handle a half-turn, the mechanism unlocks, and you can then pull the vice front out freely, or push it in. This makes the vise much easier to use, and even after only using it for a few days, I'm glad I got one with this feature.

The vise is fastened to the bottom of the bench front with four long lag bolts. I put washers under the vise for the back bolts to pitch the top of the vise a bit closer to the bench. This means the top of the vise closes first, compensating for any wracking, and allowing for a very tight hold.

The vise face, by the way, is a bit of scrap walnut left over from last year, when I made a bunch of cutting boards for Christmas presents. I love my 'scrap' pile!

Rockler front vise screwed to the bottom of the bench front.
At the other end of the front is Tom's innovative 'tail vise'. This is simply a big Jorgensen clamp with one jaw bolted into the front, and the other left free to move. I will show you how this works in a moment.

Innovative 'tail vise'
And here is the finished bench, with the front bolted into position with 5 very large lag bolts. The bolt heads are recessed into the bench, leaving the bench front flat for clamping.

I must say, in all humility, that considering its mainly built from 2x4s and plywood, it doesn't look half-bad! What do you think?

My new bench, finally complete!
More important, it is rock solid, and very heavy. One of the features I didn't appreciate until I moved the bench to it's home on the other side of my work shop, is that it's feet can be easily re-leveled. Just loosen the two 6' threaded rods that hold the leg ends to the center spacer, and the feet find their own level on the floor. Just tighten the nuts again, and the feet are firmly planted on the floor. No wobble. Not even a hint of a wobble. 

What a project!
Here I demonstrate how the tail vise (clamp?) works. You just slip a bench stop into the appropriate hole, loosen the clamp using the two handles, drop the board into position, and clamp it in place. Because the right jaw is free to move up and down as well as in and out, it is easy to position it just right on the board so it has a good grip, yet is out of the way of the plane.

Tail vice in action
The Jorgensen clamps are very powerful, so the board is held very firmly, without fear of crushing the end of the board.

The bench stop in the photo below is just the scrap of wood I used as a spacer when laying out the pieces in the front. I intend to make a fancier one out of some nice hardwood, but for the moment, it's working just fine.

The high-tech bench stop
And here is the front vice in action. You cannot imagine how long I've waited for a vise and bench that would make planing easier. Taking a few strokes with my old smoothing plane was quite, quite satisfying.

Trying out the front vise
Finally, here I am doing a bit of end-grain planing with my block plane. An impossible job without a decent vise and bench. 

End-grain planing
So, not quite a weekend project, but a huge step forward for my shop. I will be building a set of wooden bench planes to go along with the bench in future episodes, but now I must turn to the urgent task at hand -- building a new bowsprit. 





Next Episode: Ice Crisis

06 February 2015

Most Beautiful View


It's a sailor's privilege to see many beautiful views not available to landlubbers. Just a few from my own recent personal experiences: sunrise on Pamlico Sound, the long beach on the island of Abraao in Brazil, the wild cliffs on Ushant, but this week I found a view that tops them all, and it's one that will have all wooden boat owners nodding in agreement.

Again, it's a view never seen, no less appreciated by landlubbers -- or indeed most boat owners. But I'm confident that it's a view that will have other wooden boat owners nodding in admiration and perhaps jealousy... a view of the Blue Moon's bone-dry bilge.


Bone-dry bilge -- in mid winter!
(Gotta get in there with a vacuum!
The Blue Moon has always been a pretty dry boat, since it has none of the usual sources of seeping salt water. No leaky stuffing box, no through hulls, no holes at all in the hull.

However, it has always had a mysterious leak through the deck. For years I have tried to track it down, but I never caught the leak in action, even when I was living on the boat on my long trek up the east coast of the US.

Nevertheless, the leak was there, hiding for weeks at a time no matter how hard it would rain, and then unexpectedly showing itself with an inch of water in the bilge.

It's been particularly irksome in the winter where I have always had to worry about water accumulating and then freezing. I visit the BM at least once a week throughout the year to check her bilge and to mop up any water with a special sponge that I keep handy, to soak up every drop. Keeping the floorboards up during the winter is another habit I've developed, to allow lots of air circulation, and to make sure I don't miss any water.

However, this fall, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the problem was with the BM's mast boot -- the tight covering that prevents rain and snow-melt from dripping down the mast and through the deck around the mast. Why this never occurred to me before is a mystery, but I've been so obsessive about the BM's deck that I always assumed the deck was leaking some place and never considered the more obvious source of water.

At any rate, inspired by this guess, I replaced the mast boot and, voila, leak solved! There hasn't been a drop in the bilge since that day, and I can't possibly convey how good this makes me feel to normal, non-wooden boat owners.

I don't need to explain the feeling to the rest of you.


Next Episode: A Steady Place

07 January 2015

Electrifying Progress

Wow, this is my 250th blog post. Where does the time fly?

Well, the shop clean up is progressing nicely. I cleared away the pile of rubble at the far end of my shop, picking out the good bits and storing them away neatly on my new wood rack, and chucking out the rest.

Here's the good stuff stored away:

Nicely organized wood
And after a whole lot of bundling up, carrying to the street, sweeping, scraping, and scrubbing, here's the next wall ready for some paint.

What a difference already
Today I applied paint, and voila, practically a new shop.

Amazing what a lick of paint can do!
Isn't it great to see the results without having to do any of the work? I envy you!

Anyway, the clean up is coming along.

Catching up with another job I did over the summer... Here's another one that looks pretty trivial, but actually took a lot of time.

When I bought the boat from Bob down in Florida, he admitted that he couldn't make heads or tails of the Blue Moon's wiring. After owning her for several years, I was just as baffled. There were wires going everywhere, but none of them seemed to do anything.

Plus the fuse panel was in a really awkward position, behind the boarding ladder, on the side of the footwell in the cockpit, waaaaaay out of reach. To throw a switch  you had to remove the boarding ladder, get down on your hands and knees, and crawl under the bridge deck to get to it. What a pain.

In the end, I decided to rewire the boat completely. I ripped out all the old wire, moved the breaker panel to a useful position near the galley, and rewired the whole boat.

old fuse panel in a new place
I made the little varnished mounting panel, and added a feature I liked from Eric's boat: a volt meter. The meter is only on the battery when the button under the meter is pressed in, so the meter can't drain the battery accidentally.

I added a cigarette-lighter style plug out of the way on the side of the galley.

12V socket
For some reason, I was worried that this little socket would get banged around when I'm stowing things away under the cockpit (lots of storage space, since there is no engine under there!) so I kind of over built it.

3/4" oak braket
But, hey, it's a good hand-hold.

One of the main uses of the 12V socket, besides charging iPhones and iPads, is running my new electric cooler. I wanted to make the Blue Moon ready for spur-of-the-moment cruising, so wanted to dispense with the need for ice. I liked the electric fridges on both Eric's and Luke's boat, but didn't have room for a built-in. I thought this little portable Coleman might do the job.

I'm not 100% convinced it is a good idea, yet. I will tell you how I tested it on a trip out to the Connecticut River, in a future post.

12V portable fridge
I also mounted the charger for my VHF, which gave the radio a permanent home, and will help keep it charged so it's ready when (if???) I need it. My previous ad-hoc charging 'system'  left me without a working VHF several times on my trip up the coast, which was very inconvenient. Nothing like trying to communicate with a bridge tender by blowing a fog horn. Not recommended.

I have never needed a VHF on Long Island Sound, but you never know. Now I'm ready.

New home for VHF
I also installed a port-side bunk light. I have had a starboard side bunk light since Jacksonville, FL, but needed another one for my little bench and for who ever is sleeping in the new pipe berth (Helena and I fight over that, since it is the most comfortable berth on the boat.)

Port-side bunk light

Last but not least, I had to replace my cabin fan, but I can't seem to find a picture of that.

Bottom line, I can now turn on my running lights, or my bilge pump without crawling under the cockpit, and I have a couple of lights and a fan, and a utility plug to charge and run accessories. It isn't much, but it makes a difference.

And it's all neatly wired in a way that will make it easy to add additional devices when and if needed.

Oh, I forgot to mention that every circuit is protected by a fuse, of course.

All in all, worth every minute crawling around in the bilge, or screwing wire holders into awkward spot.

Bob would be pleased.




Next Episode: Most beautiful view

Copyright (c) 2009-2011 John Almberg -- All Rights Reserved


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