08 April 2014

Packing for the Caribbean

Fiona, here we come again

All my students were surprised when I told them they were getting a vacation from piano studies. They were even more surprised when I told them "Yup, I am back on Fiona."

What? After all you went through? After all that suffering and night watches and stress?

Yes, it's like giving birth (sorry boys, I must go here for a bit, skip to the end of this paragraph if you can't take it!) In the hospital bed you promise, swear, vow you will never give birth to another child for as long as you live. But how soon you forget, only to find you back in that bed a year or two later.

The thought of being back on Fiona has not been on my mind for a while. Granted it was a great adventure, but as John said several times, a once in a life time adventure.

But how soon I was longing for another “child”. How soon I was telling John that another chance to be on Fiona, even for an overnighter, would be amazing.

So here I am again, looking forward to another adventure, another night being rocked to sleep, even another mid-night watching for small fishing boats and gigantic tankers. Seeing whales splash, flying fish jumping over our decks, cocktail hour back-dropped by a wonderful sunset. Have to admit, but I miss the adrenaline rush.

A while after we came back from our Brazilian leg on Fiona, we started to discuss what would we have done differently, what traps we would avoid, what we would bring, and more importantly, not bring. As I face the job of packing again, I wish we had written it all down. We actually did, but cannot find the list.

The first thing that springs to mind, is an extra pair of glasses for John. Probably because losing his glasses overboard was a traumatic and expensive mistake.  But what about all the other little/big things?

Clearly, we needed to reduce the enormous (and I don’t use that word lightly) number of things we brought on board… sleeping bags, life jackets, water boots, pillows, winter clothes, summer clothes, beach clothes, rain clothes. The list goes on and on. We brought so much stuff that one of the few times the Captain mentioned us in his blog, was about how much stuff we had brought on board and how much water we drank. I guess we did distinguished our selves from the pack in some way.

John just suggested we shouldn’t bring sleeping bags this time, because they are so bulky. Heck no. I am bringing mine. The cushion on the bunk is not that soft and I need that extra fluffiness. Sleeping should be comfortable. OK, after some arguing, John is probably bringing his sleeping bag too. How about pillows? Well, I left my favorite pillow on the boat, if it still there I just need a pillow case, maybe two.

Last time we loaded the pilot berth with gallons and gallons of bottled water. It competed with the space reserved for the rum. We are now considering bringing a Brita water filter. I just don’t know if the filter will remove the metalic taste from the water that is stored on the boat. I guess we can try. If it doesn’t work we can then go onshore and buy gallons and gallons of drinking water.

Maybe we're just soft... The Captain thinks the water tastes just right.

One of my regrets last time was not taken enough pictures for my scrap-book. The camera we used was John’s phone and he was very leery about getting it wet. Since we were in danger of getting wet almost all the time, we didn’t take many pictures. This time I am bringing my camera and snapping away!

I don’t think we will need winter clothes or foul weather gear, only light jackets and a cosy sweater.

Of course we will need mosquito repellent, sun block, hats, snorkeling gear (no, scratch that, Eric has them on the boat), bikinis, summer dresses for strolling on the islands, trashy novels, motion sickness pills and wrist bands. I am sure John’s list will include a lot more than casual needs.

Ok, time to stop talking and pack. We are leaving in 2 days.


From John: I'm not packing any bikinis!

Sometimes I wish I were a piano teacher like Helena. All she has to do is tell her students, "I'll be gone for a week. Ta!" While I have to slave away for two weeks, battening down the hatches on my business so my clients don't face any crisis while I'm out of reach.

So I've had to abandon most of my work on the Blue Moon til I get back. No matter. The weather has been awful, anyway. Hopefully by the time I return, the weather will warm up enough to use paint and epoxy out doors.


I did get the Blue Moon out to her mooring, though. And since it was such a nice day, I took her for a spin out to the light house, just to take a look at the bay, and to slough some of the winter growth off her bottom.

If you've ever wondered what Huntington Harbor (home of William Atkin's first boat house) looks like, take a look at this very informal video.

Next Episode:

31 March 2014

Where are they now?

It was 6 months ago that we bid Eric and Fiona farewell.

On that day, John and I left behind an adventure of a lifetime. After stepping off Fiona for the last time in Santos, we took a bus to bustling Sao Paulo, and a couple of days later we were back to New York and to our routine lives. Piano lessons were restarted, computer codes were again being written, and we were busy getting ready for the upcoming winter season. Soon, our adventure was a great memory saved in a scrap-book.

Leaving Fiona in Santos
Of course, for a time we became slightly famous in our little circle of friends -- “Ah! here come the world sailors” -- and we were happy to share our stories and re-live the adventure again, but soon even that faded.

Meanwhile, Captain Eric took onboard a new crew and continued his journey towards Antarctica. We followed him and Fiona on Facebook. Just like our blog posts, Fiona's came when they came, but when they did, we could catch up on several days adventures.

Fiona and her crew were having a real great adventure (read Eric's account) with a few mishaps in the Antarctic… broken steering, flooding, computer damage, pin holes in beer (I would consider that a real tragedy), fruit flies, gigantic waves breaking over the cockpit, 94 degrees of heat in the cabin, no wind, too much wind, Victor the vane damaged…

As always, the Captain kept his crew alive and well fed, with the happy hours on time and the good times rolling. It was good to know that the cruise was continuing and all was well on board.

Our lives continued on: visits to relatives in Brazil and Florida, piano recitals,  preparing the Blue Moon for a new season, laundry folding, phone ringing….

“Helena, Eric just called.”


“Eric! The Captain!”

OK, that was a shock. Eric calling us? Why?

“He's looking for crew for the Caribbean leg. About a week, April 11 to 18. Saint Martin to Puerto Rico. Only 190 nautical miles, but it will take a long time because he wants to anchor most nights."

That means no night watches, no cold nights wondering if I will be responsible for a shipwreck, double happy hour portions (since the anchor is down), maybe even showers and swimming with dolphins…

"Oh, that sounds good. Let's go!"

"But Helena, what about..."

Pffff, here we go again.

John and I were going to take off that week anyway. I had tickets to spend Easter with my family in Brazil, and John had plans to visit his mother in Florida.

Sooooo, after we thought hard and long (actually, I thought for about 3 minutes, and the more cautious John for about 2 hours) about Eric’s proposition, we called him back and signed up for the leg.

Yup, here we go again...


From John: Yup, my wife is crazy...

Next Episode: Packing

17 March 2014

Great Drawer Fisasco

Normally, I'm not a great believer in positive thinking. Helena finds this dismal attitude absurd, but in a world governed by entropy, Murphy's law, and people who seem to glory in creating as much chaos and uncertainty as possible, I figure it's a miracle when anything works out as planned.

However, when it comes to boatbuilding, a large dose of positive thinking is mandatory because of the profound leaps of faith needed to make progress on all but the simplest of projects.

The newbie boatbuilder discovers this as soon as he has to make the first cut into a valuable piece of wood. And even intermediate duffers, such as myself, run into it at practically every turn.

When I last left off, I was hesitating about cutting the hole for the drawer in my dish rack front, because I was afraid of destroying a piece of teak that I'd put an awful lot of work into. However, in planning my drawer, I realized it would be easier to make the drawer fit the hole, than make the hole fit the drawer. Safer, anyway. I could always throw away the drawer if it didn't fit the hole.

Armed with this insight, I gathered my courage, and took the leap, cutting the simple rectangular slot for the drawer. I did this by drilling a hole in the teak, and then using my saber saw to cut out the slot.

Cutting out slot in front for drawer
It really wasn't very tricky, yet somehow I managed to mess it up (positive thinking, bah!) In the picture below, the slot looks great.

It's not. It should actually be about a half-inch taller. I don't know what I was thinking.

Anyway, better too small than too big. I quickly enlarged the hole to the correct size.

Add caption
I then started thinking about the drawers. I was planning to use the same sort of dado joint I'd used on the rack itself, but on the day I started working on the drawers, I got an email with a link to video which made me think, "Ah-ha! Sliding dove-tails! Eureka!"

Yes, I really do talk that way when I'm on my own. Here's the video, which I highly recommend.

So, I ordered the dovetail bit (Freud 22-112 1/2-Inch Diameter 14-Degree Dovetail Router Bit with 1/2-Inch Shank) and while I was waiting built a pusher that would make cutting the dovetail slots a little easier and a lot safer.

This is the setup I ended up using:

Cutting blind dovetails in front of drawer
It's more or less the same as in the video. The pusher lacks the fancy handle, but after using it, I get why a handle would be handy.

It was actually pretty easy to cut both the dovetail slots and tails in the poplar, which is a softwood and fairly easy to work with. But I wanted the drawer front to be made out of teak to match the rest of the rack. That's where the trouble started.

Sliding dovetails in drawer body.

No matter what I did, I'd get a massive chip-out in the drawer front when cutting the slot. Here's the nice piece of teak I wanted to use:

Chip out when cutting slot in hardwood
And I didn't do this just once. After ruining the piece of wood shown above, I decided to experiment with the rest of the piece by cutting off the end and trying again.

"Surely," I thought in my most positive manner. "Surely it is possible to cut this slot if I just go a little slower."

Bzzzzzzzz pop!

"Blast. Maybe if I go a little faster..."

Bzzzzzzz pop!

"I know! I need to hold it down better. Let me clamp this feather board over it, so it's nice and tight against the router table. That will do it!"

Bzzzzzz pop!

"Double blast! Well, maybe I can try..."

Applying that sort of positive thinking over and over again, I eventually experimented that piece of teak out of existence. Nothing, positively nothing, worked.

So, I decided teak was out and oak was just the thing for the drawer front.

Bzzzzzzz pop!

Same thing.

"Ah, ha!" I said, suddenly struck by a bolt of cleverness. "I know what to do, I'll just cut the slot a bit at a time. In two, no, three steps! No way it will split out then."

Bzzzzz. No split. Bzzzzz. No split. Now, for the final depth... Bzzzzz. No split!!!

Oh.  Rats.

Why you can't cut a dovetail slot in three steps.

That's when I realized that poplar -- yes, that beautiful green softwood -- would make the perfect drawer front.

Draw glued together
You will note that my strategy of making the drawer fit the hole worked perfectly:

A perfect fit
There is a slot cut in the bottom of the drawer so it locks into the rack when closed. It's a fairly deep slot, so the drawer lock in good and tight, with a snug fit against the rack front.

If you click on the photo above, you can see the lock slot in the bottom of the drawer.
So, with the rack and drawer glued together, except for the bottom of the rack, to make it easier to get to the bottom of the rack, it was time to start painting and varnishing.

I decided to varnish the whole rack, and paint the drawer. I'll match the color of the drawer to the color of the galley (a flavor of warm white). With a bronze handle, the drawer should look pretty good.

Here's the rack, bottom, and drawer with sealer/primer applied. Hope to have it installed by the weekend.

If you have any idea how to cut a dovetail slot into hardwood without chipping out the end, please (please!) add it to the comments below.

Why doesn't everyone varnish everything?
One of the great mysteries of life...
Summer is coming all too soon.

Next Episode: Here we go again

05 March 2014

Careful Cutting

I like to work slowly. First, because of my 1st rule of boatbuilding: "Make mistakes slowly." If you are cutting at a rate of 1/32-inch per second, you have enough time to think, "H'mmm... am I wandering a bit off my pencil line? Perhaps I'll put a bit more pressure on the right side and... Yes, that's better..." Whereas, if you are buzzing through a cut more quickly, by the time you think, "H'mmm..." your next thought is, "Blast and tarnation!"

Ask me know I know that.

But also because cutting tools seem to work so much better when they can cut at their own pace, which is generally slow. This is particularly true with bandsaws, which many people claim cannot cut a straight line. For a long time I believed them (possibly because I owned a very terrible bandsaw and a so-so one before scoring my Delta 14-inch. The Delta wants to do the right thing, and it will if you just don't push it too hard.

The same is true with drill presses... For a long time I had a heck of a time drilling simple holes. Bits would burn, smoke would pour out of the holes, as if I were drilling into Hades itself, and sometimes the inside of the holes would actually be burnt black.

Silly stuff... none of that happens if I just take my time.

I cut the bottom of my dish rack out of 1/4-inch plywood using a Skilsaw. A Skilsaw is capable of cutting amazingly straight lines if you don't try to use it free hand. Since discovering this fact, I always clamp a guide to the work, and run the saw along the guide. The result: stress free cutting and perfectly straight, accurate cuts.

Bottom fitted into rabbet
The bottom panel was a perfect fit on the first try, but I cut the dinner plate shelf a smidge big, and then used a block plane to trim it down to a perfect fit. In retrospect, I think this was a wasted step, but I was a bit worried about cutting it too small by accident. I shouldn't have worried.

The dinner plate shelf clamped into it's slot
What did worry me was cutting the finger slots in the front panel (I'm sure there's a real word for them, so if you know it, please share it in the comments section.) I had a lot of work and a fair size hunk of teak invested in that panel, so I wanted to get it right the first time.

After considering several options, I ended up drilling a 1" hole at the bottom of the slot, and then cutting down to it on the bandsaw. This is where I really took my time, measuring everything 3 times, cutting the whole nice and slowly so it didn't burn the wood or blow out at the bottom, and then cutting down to the holes on the bandsaw VERY slowly, so the line was a straight as possible.

Cutting the... whatchamacallits... the slots
The result was, not bad. I rounded over the inside and outside edges with the router and was pleased enough with the results to make the other slots.

This might just work...
And here is the whole rack clamped together, with dishes installed. All the dishes fit beautifully, with just enough space around them, but no so much that they can rattle around.

Clamped together, with shelf under dinner plates
The exception is the bowls. The width of the bowls + divider + cup is about an inch less than the width of the dinner plate, so the dividers don't come out even. I knew this in the plan drawing phase and made a spacer which I'll glue to the back of the bowl section. That will hold the bowls snuggly.

That one low divider just slipped down while I was taking the pictures.
It will be level with the rest when it's glued up
Well, next time, I will make a start on the drawer. I don't actually want to cut the opening for the drawer until I see something that actually looks like a drawer on my workbench!

Call me over-cautious, but I'll believe in that drawer when I see it.

I wonder if this bandsaw has a slower gear...

Next Episode: The Great Drawer Fiasco

03 March 2014

The Art of Design

Well, with all the snow we've been getting, I haven't made much progress on Plan A -- redoing the Blue Moon's deck (see last post) -- but as they say, there's always a Plan B. While we wait for better weather, I've been working on finishing up my galley by building a small rack to hold a few dishes. At first glance, it seemed like such a little thing: a small shelf with dividers just big enough to hold a stack of plates, bowls, and mugs snugly, so they don't rattle too much or fly across the cabin when tacking.

I should have known better.

First, I realized I'd have to choose the dishes before building the rack, because the dividers would have to be laid out just so. And as long as I was actually going to buy dishes, they might as well be good ones. Good for sailing, that is. None of those silly plastic ones with signal flags around the rim that they sell down at your local chandlery.

Taking a tip from Ferenc Mate, I started looking for plates that were:

  • heavy stoneware, so they'd take some abuse, not slide around too much, and hold some heat,
  • with at least a 1/2" lip to help keep food -- even gravy -- in the plate,
  • without a wide overhang that makes it easier to tip over the plate
I'd never seen a plate like that (and Mate reports he had to have them custom made) but to my surprise, I actually found one at Target:

The perfect sailing plate?
As you can see, it's pretty substantial stoneware, with a 1/2" vertical rim with very little overhang. I'm pushing down on the rim to demonstrate how hard it is to flip the plate up. Try that with a normal plate with 1-2 inch wide rim. 

The plate is also relatively modest in size: about 10 3/4 inches across. Big enough for a meal, but not too big to stow.

The next step was to lay out the dividers. I marked off the dimensions of the rack -- roughly 20 1/2 inches wide by 12 inches deep by about 9 inches high -- basically by moving the plates around until they seemed to fit in the space.

Laying out the rack dividers
Of course, you need to leave enough space over the rack to pull the cup or bowl out, so I couldn't stack too high. I had to split the 4 mugs into two stacks, and I will probably have to live with keeping just 3 bowls in the rack, since there was no room for that 4th bowl. 

I first thought I could stand forks, knives, and spoons up in the small space remaining in the back righthand corner, but then realized I'd need to make a hole in my side deck to accommodate their height -- there wasn't enough space between the rack and the underside of the deck to stand up a knife! That's how constrained the space is.

I was also a little miffed by the wasted space over the dinner plates. The space was certainly big enough to hold a few forks, but I couldn't figure out how to store them over the plates. Eventually, I realized I could move the plates up a few inches, on a shelf, and build a small drawer under the plates for silverware. 

Now, I normally launch into projects with a few rough drawings, but this time I realized I would need fairly detailed plans. Getting all the dividers, shelf, and drawers to fit perfectly would not be easy. So I spent a great deal of time with graph paper, pencil, and rulers, laying out the joinery. It actually took 3 drafts to get it right. Here are some of the plans:

Front and rear panels

The drawer (will be longer than shown)
The drawer was the biggest headache, because I had to make it deep enough to actually hold the forks and spoons. A stack of 4 forks is surprisingly high. I had to redraw the plans a final time when I realized the drawer wasn't deep enough.

However, after several evenings work, I was finally satisfied enough with the plans to start cutting wood. I still have a big hunk of teak left over from the galley project, so wanted to use that as the face. After considering other options, I eventually decided on poplar for the sides and dividers, and 1/4" ply for the bottom and shelf. 

The front, back, and sides cut out and stacked together, just for fun.
I toyed with the idea of using dovetail joints to join the box, but after watching several videos on Youtube and trying to make a few joints with scrap wood, quickly decided that dado and rabbet joints would be just as good.

Rabbet for bottom
I used my wonderful new router table to make the rabbets for the bottom (1/4" plywood) and for the side joints. 

Since my table doesn't have a miter groove yet, I was a little worried about making the dados (grooves) for the dividers, but eventually realized I could make them on the table if I was very (very) careful:

Making dados without a miter channel in the table
Some readers will no doubt be horrified at the danger posed by the unguarded spinning bit... I must admit I thought long and hard about it myself, but with Helena standing by with 911 pre-dialed on her phone, I dared to use the set up above, using a long push stick. Somehow, I survived.

After a whole lot of careful cutting and routing, I tried fitting the pieces together for the first time, with a couple clamps to hold everything together.

First test-fitting
Amazingly enough, everything seemed to fit together. 

You will notice the odd shape of the left side. It is cut away to fit under a curved deck beam. Just to make it a little trickier. 

I then routed the dado for the dinner plate shelf. This will be a 1/4" piece of plywood, which will be glued into all 4 sides. 

Grooves for shelf
Anyway, that is as far as I've gotten with this little project so far. Let me know what you think! 

Next Episode: Careful Cutting

10 February 2014

The Third Temptation

I often struggle with the question: Which is the more dangerous Siren: the goddess of sailing, or her sister, the femme fatale of boat building?

"The Siren" by Richard Armitage
Wikimedia Commons
It's a false choice, of course. Without the sailing, there'd be no need for building. And without the building... well, the sailing would soon come to an abrupt and watery end.

Alas, there's a third Siren, not mentioned by Homer, but well known to later poets such as Apollonius and Hesiod. Some say her name was Thlxiepeia, others say Agalophonos. To many a poor woodworker, she's simply known as the third temptation: the beautiful, alluring goddess of tool making.  

There is something sublime about using tools to build other, more powerful tools. Indeed, isn't that the story of civilization, itself? Is it any wonder that men have dedicated their entire lives to building one tool upon another, building higher, reaching further...

My motivations were not so lofty. Not to put too fine a point on it, I needed a router table, and couldn't afford to go out and buy one.

No, that's not quite true... I couldn't bring myself to go out and buy one, when it would be so easy to build one.

I did allow myself ten dollars to buy a quarter sheet of MDF. This was just enough, I thought, to build a good size table.

I ripped it into two pieces for the base and the fence, and added a piece of pine for the bottom of the fence.

Just 3 pieces of MDF 
To make sure the 3/4" MDF stayed flat, I reinforced the back with some scrap 1x2 pine, glued and screwed to the bottom. I spaced the frame members to leave plenty of room around the router.

Frame glued and screwed to bottom to keep table flat
To make the hole for the bits, and for mounting the router, I used the sub-base as a template. The only tricky bit was cutting the hole right in the center.

I counter-sunk the mounting holes so the flat-head mounting screws would be just flush with the surface.

Using router sub-base to locate holes for router
I used a coping saw to cut two half-holes in the fence and fence base. MDF is dead easy to work with.

Holes easily cut in fence with coping saw
You might be wondering about a base for the table. Many woodworkers spend hundreds of dollars building a complicated cabinet, with dust collection, draws for bits, retractable power cord, recessed switches, etc., etc.

I don't have room in my shop for another large, stationary power tool. Furthermore, I don't expect to use a router table every day. I want to be able to set it up, use it, and then break it down and store it out of the way. Thus my fancy base will be... adjustable saw horses!

I adjusted the horses to their maximum height before clamping the table to them. This put the surface of the table at about 41 inches -- just about perfect for routing.

Adjustable saw-horses provide high, stable base
Notice how easy access is to the router. No problems here adjusting the router height, or turning it on or off.

Router is easily accessible for adjustments, on/off switch
After gluing the fence together, using a square to make sure the fence was 90 degrees to the table, I simply clamped the fence to the table. Nothing quicker or easier to adjust. Note how the frame on the bottom provides a strong place to clamp to.

Base of fence also has hole for bit
I finished the table with a couple coats of flat varnish: just enough to harden the surface of the MDF. I'm not sure this was strictly necessary, but I like to think it gives it a bit of protection.

The business side of the router table
After a pleasant afternoon's work, my simple router table was ready for a test. I installed my 1/4" round-over bit, pulled a piece of wood out of my scrap bin, turned on the router, and crossed my fingers.

Then, I uncrossed them, because it's awkward and probably dangerous to use a router with crossed fingers, but you get what I mean.

Anyway, it worked beautifully!

First test with piece of scrap wood... perfect!
If I ever need anything as exotic as a split fence, I could easily build one and swap this fixed fence out, but I don't plan on using my medium size router as a jointer, or anything like that. I think this will do me just fine for when I need to round over a small piece of wood, or... well, who knows?! I'm just starting to learn this interesting tool.

And speaking of rounding over small pieces of wood... That's exactly why I built this table in the first place. More on that, next time.

Next Episode: The Art of Design

05 February 2014

Non-Ugly Drop Boards

Outside, Huntington Bay is frozen and old man Winter is standing just offshore, sending storm after storm winging their way across the now white and frozen hills of Long Island; but down in my basement workshop, it's warm and I'm pressing forward with my list of boatbuilding chores.

Even small boats like the Blue Moon are too big to tackle all at once, so each year I try to choose the part of the boat most in need of care. Two years ago, it was the sails and rigging. Last year, it was the cabin. This year, it's the deck, and boy does it need it.

The Blue Moon's decks have always been a problem. They are 3/4" marine plywood over laminated deck beams, so they are plenty strong, but the Original Builder made no effort to protect the surface of the plywood, other than many (many) coats of oil paint.

That probably would have been good enough if it had been maintained properly. By the time we took over, though, she'd been baking in the hot Florida sun for several years. The paint was cracked, which let in water... you get the idea.

The worst section was the starboard side deck, which Helena was working on, back in 2010, in the photo below. We took that down to bare wood, filled the cracks with epoxy, then primed and painted with a modern marine paint. That has kept her going for the last few years, but that starboard side deck is still problematical, and the rest of it again needs some serious TLC.

There are also a number of leaks in the deck which have been plaguing me since Day 1. I want to eliminate those if I can.

Helena, hard at work back in 2010. Loooove that green color!
So, the big job for this spring is to redo the deck, anchor well, and cockpit in a way that will keep her looking good, longer, and minimize the amount of repainting I have to do every year.

For the deck and cabin top, I plan to take her back down to the bare wood, then fiberglass the surface, finishing it off with 3 coats of a good paint like Kirby, adding pumice as a non-skid material in the final coat.

The fiberglass will hopefully eliminate the leaks and provide a stable surface for the paint. I will be using the Gougeon Book (page 351) as my bible for this project.

For the anchor well and cockpit, I plan to use another idea I found in the Gougeon Book: the teak veneer deck system (page 351). In a nutshell, I will cover the cockpit seats and the anchor well with teak veneer, which will provide an attractive, non-skid surface, as well as drastically reducing the amount of work needed to keep it looking good.

I'm also going to build a sturdy teak grate for the cockpit well, which will again improve the looks greatly and eliminate the constant problem of wet feet. Because the scuppers in the well are 1/4" higher than the floor, there's always a bit of water sloshing around in the well. No more than a few ounces, but enough to be annoying. The teak grate will finally get my poor feet out of the wash.

I also want to replace my bowsprit and Samson post. Long time readers will remember that I had to lop a foot off the end of my bowsprit somewhere back in North Carolina. Ever since, the spar has been too short for its stainless steel whisker stays. I've been making do with rope stays, but it's time to replace the sprit. After building my curved boomkins, the straight bowsprit should be a snap. I plan to varnish the new sprit and Sampson post, to match the boomkin. Should look great when I'm done.

The tiny Blue Moon has 8 opening portholes that are black and green with age. Since I first boarded her, back on the Steinhatchee River, I've been wondering if underneath all that crud is a golden bronze ready to be brought back to its original splendor. I'm going to spend at least one day this spring polishing one of those ports to find out.

Finally, I need to replace my companionway drop board. The current one is made from painted plywood and the paint is so ugly and cracked that Helena refuses to even touch it. The only word for it is 'Eew!'

In a hurry to get started, I decided to use some scrap wood I had around to make the two drop boards. I thought I had more pictures of the process, but I guess I was too busy to take them. In a nutshell, I planed some scrap poplar down so it was thin enough to fit the drop board track (about 1/2"), and then used the old drop board as a pattern.

New drop boards

To help keep water out of the boat, I cut rabbets in each board, where they join.

Rabbeted joint
The only other tricky bit was cutting the slot for an eyebolt that sticks through the board to receive a padlock.

Marking location of slot

While test-fitting the boards on the Blue Moon, I slid the hatch shut until the eyebolt was against the board, and drew the outline of a slot that would take it.

I then drilled two holes at either end of the slot, to locate the ends of the slot.

Then it was a simple matter to cut the rest out with a coping saw.

Cutting the rest of the waste from the slot
I don't know why, but cutting this slot out was very satisfying.

Slot, cut.
And here are the boards, installed for a test fitting. If you click on the photo for a closer view, you will see why I'm itching to paint!

A perfect fit... Amazing.
To be honest, I'm not particularly happy with the look of the poplar, but it will do for now. I'll give it a good varnishing and it should last me until I have a more attractive piece of scrap wood lying around on a snowy winter day.

Next Episode: The Third Temptation

30 January 2014

Outboard Stand

As usual, I seem to be starting my winter boat projects far too late in the 'season'. The Blue Moon will be at her winter dock only until March, and I have a long list of projects, so I must get cracking. Luckily, I've already completed a few, including the one I'll document today.

One of my big goals for this year was to do my own outboard servicing. My boating budget has been getting killed in recent years by the amount outboard motor mechanics charge to do routine maintenance. I've always told myself "You're not mechanical!", but that excuse seems more and more lame these days, so after after paying last spring's ransom, I decided enough was enough. I bought the official Yamaha service manual for my long-shaft T9.9, and when my son Nick helped me haul the outboard off the back of the Blue Moon this fall, I had a sturdy outboard stand built and ready to receive it.

The service manual was not cheap ($80), but it is written surprisingly well, with lots of small words and pictures -- ideal for mechanical duffers like me. Not only did it seem to make routine servicing sound easy to do, after reading through a few of the procedures, I actually looked forward to working on my faithful little donkey.

But to work on it, I needed a sturdy stand -- preferably one with wheels, that would allow me to move the outboard around by myself. The T9.9 is a hefty brute, weighing over 100 lb. and it is no fun to carry, believe me.

After Googling around for some ideas, I found a video (see below) for a stand that met all my requirements. With a few 2x4's, glue, and screws, I soon had it banged together.

Sturdy little stand

I probably could have made it a bit shorter, but...

Much better than leaving it lying on it's side all winter
The original builder, Chuck, didn't call for gluing everything together, but I decided that glue and screws would make the stand extra solid. Not sure if it really made any difference, but the finished stand feels extremely stiff and stable. Just what you want in a stand like this.

I used fairly substantial casters, so it's easy to move the stand around -- even from the basement to the backyard. Exactly what I was hoping for.

If you are interested in building a great stand like this, here is Chuck's original video.


Highly recommended.

Next Episode:  Non-ugly Drop Boards

19 January 2014

Cutting Boards

I've often joked about Helena's co-opting my boatbuilding skills into the domestic arena, but actually I like the idea of building useful and occasionally beautiful things for use around the home. In a world rapidly filling up with cheaply made junk, it's actually a bit of a relief to rest your eyes on something that was made slowly by hand. And while I couldn't afford to buy a bunch of expensive, hand-crafted gifts for Christmas, I suddenly realized that I could afford to make them.

As long as I didn't count the time, of course!

Since my own collection of cutting boards were looking sad and bedraggled, I decided the perfect gift to make for loved ones would be a cutting board. So I started looking for a simple design that a duffer like me could build. I soon discovered that cutting boards, like boats, come in a dizzying variety: from rustic platters sawn from a plank:

What type to make? Simple?
To complicated end-grain boards:

Or complex?
Never one to be put off by complications, naturally, I chose the most complicated design I could find.

As in all woodworking projects, the first -- and perhaps the hardest -- step is sourcing the right wood for the job. As you will see, the board I selected required two different types of wood. One, I knew, would be hard maple. The other, I wasn't quite sure of.

It had to be a hard wood, of course. And one that wasn't oily or poisonous. You don't want deadly tropical oils leaching out of your cutting board into the Sunday roast. In the end, it was a matter of going down to my local hardwood vendor and seeing what he had in stock. After picking through his rack, I selected two rough cut boards, one of hard maple, and one of black walnut, both about 8 feet long, 8 inches wide, and over 2 inches thick.

I'm still enough of a newbie to enjoy just looking at slabs of rough cut lumber. There's something still in them that evokes the majesty of the whole tree, but somehow I forgot to take a picture of them, strapped to the roof of my car. Here is a pic of what's left of the black walnut board:

Remnant of 8' long board of black walnut.
I've learned the hard way to  let new wood gradually acclimate to the warm, dry environment of my shop. If I just drag it in from the cold, damp environment of my wood dealer, it tends to warp and/or end check badly. So first I leave it right next to the basement door, where it's most cold and damp, for a few days, then slowly -- over the course of a week or more -- move it step by step into the shop.

After the wood arrived -- unchecked -- in the shop, I ran it through my planer. This is sometimes a disappointing step... I can't say that I am very good at buying rough cut lumber yet. What looks great to me in the lumber yard often turns out to be flawed in unexpected ways. But in this case, I chose well and both boards were relatively straight grained and knot free after planing. Phew.

Then it was time to chop the boards into the right sizes. For the design I'd chosen (see this excellent Marc Spagnuolo video for details), I needed eight different sized pieces, 4 of each in both maple and walnut.

Since I wanted to make four cutting boards, I turned my shop into a production line, cutting four sets of pieces, all at once.

Table saw clamped to bench
I wish I'd built my little table saw stand before taking on this task, but I hadn't so had to clamp the saw to my work bench and run the wood through at an uncomfortable working height. Frankly, it didn't feel right and was probably more dangerous than it had to be. But I got the pieces cut without losing any limbs.

Then it was time to plane each piece to the right size. Because of the design, it was critical that each piece be the same thickness. This took quite a long time to do properly, but the results were worth it.

Trimming for thickness
Here are all the pieces needed to make four cutting boards.

All the pieces ready for gluing
As you will see if you watch Marc's video, the next step is to glue a set of strips together, in a certain pattern. I used the food safe, waterproof Titebond III glue, which is the standard glue for cutting boards, I discovered.

Pony clamps are perfect for the glue up phase
And here they are after being glued up. Note that the top of these boards is long grain. These boards, properly trimmed and finished, would make great cutting boards, but to build an end-grain board, you need to take the next step.

After first glue up
The next step is to cut the glued up boards across the grain into 11 pieces. These pieces are then turned on their sides to expose the end grain. Then, to complete the pattern, every other pieces is flipped end-for-end. These pieces are then glued together again. Note that since the end-grain is on the top and bottom, the gluing surfaces are long grain, which keeps the boards strong.

Original board, sliced into 11 pieces flipped on their sides to expose the end-grain
After the boards had been glued up the second time, came the hardest step of all: leveling the end-grain surfaces.

Because the tops and bottoms of the boards were now end grain, I could not simply run the boards through my planer. That would have made short work of removing the smears of dried glue and evening out the surfaces, but everyone -- and I mean everyone -- I talked to said this would end in disaster. Either the planer would cause massive tear-out, or it would throw the board against the concrete wall of my basement, through me, if I was stupid enough to be standing in the wrong place.

I wasn't sure I believed it, but I wasn't ready to risk the hours of work I'd already invested in the boards, not to mention the valuable wood. Plus Christmas was rapidly approaching. I couldn't afford to start all over again.

And anyway, at the end of Marc's video, he casually mentioned that because the end-grain surface was harder than normal, sanding would just take a little longer than normal. That didn't sound too bad, so I got out my random-orbit sander and went to work.

My first selfie... ready to do a little sanding.
Four hours later, my first board was done. Turns out, sanding the end-grain of hardwood is hard work.  The very reason you want an end-grain cutting board -- because it's darn hard! -- also makes it devilish to sand. I got it done, but it took far, far too long. There had to be a better way.

After doing a bit of googling, I decided to use my belt sander on the next board. With a 60 grit belt in the machine, leveling both sides of the board only took only an hour, but it took another hour with the random orbit sander to get the board smooth.

Also, with all that sanding, it was very hard to keep the board flat. It was all to easy to sand too much on one end or one side, sanding a rocker into the board. And one thing you don't want is a cutting board that rocks.

Plus, sanding is boring. Really boring. And it coated everything in my shop with a quarter inch of dust. There had to be a better way.

After a lot of research, I found what is probably the best way to finish an end-grain cutting board: to use a router and a home-made jig. I didn't own a router because, frankly, I'd never really needed one, but this particular job finally tipped me over the edge. Since I have a new rule about buying the best quality tools I can afford, I bought the standard mid-size router: a Porter Cable 690, and a Freud T-slot router bit.

This bit is over 1 inch wide and cuts flat on the bottom. To use it, I built a jig that holds the router and allows you to take nice, controlled passes over the board, flattening it with the top of the bit in a way that's hard to describe, but beautifully shown in this Fine Woodworking video

Cutting board flattening jig
The board is hot-glued onto the bottom part of the jig, so it doesn't move during the process.

Once the board is flattened, which typically takes about 3 passes with the router, each time taking perhaps 1/32", the board is quite smooth, so you can finish the job fairly quickly with a random-orbit sander and 120 grit paper.

The final stages... sanding, easing the edges, and oiling

Since I had the router, I also bought a Freud 1/4" radius round-over bit to ease the edges.

Now, one of the reason I hadn't bought a router up until now is that so many people warned me about how difficult a router is to control, how dangerous they are, and how a round-over bit would rip huge hunks out of the end-grain edges.

Bunk, bunk, and bunk.

After years of being afraid to buy one of these (very common) tools, I was amazed to discover how easy they are to use, and what a great job it can do.

I don't know if people are buying too powerful a router for hand use, but the Porter Cable 690 was quite easy to handle -- powerful enough to do the job, but not so powerful that it felt like holding back a wild animal. And the Freud round-over bit worked beautifully, cutting very smoothly and never threatening to tear out the end grain.

I'm sure they can be dangerous, if not respected, but if you are usually careful with power tools, as I am, I don't think they are any more dangerous than many. Certainly safer than a table saw, anyway.

I'm glad I finally got up the nerve to buy one.

Beautifully rounded-over edges

The final step was to finish the board. What you want is a food-safe finish that won't go rancid on you. You can use any sort of oil, like olive oil, for example, but they tend to go rancid, or so I read.

A more stable oil is food-grade mineral oil -- the kind you can buy at any pharmacy. This stuff is meant to be drunk by the tablespoon (something I vaguely remember from my childhood), so it's perfectly safe on a cutting board.

I put three coats on, straight, allowing the board to soak in as much oil as it could handle, then finished off with a mineral oil/beeswax paste that I cooked up myself. One of Helena's student's parent raises honey bees and provides me with bees wax. I just melted the beeswax and mineral oil together in a pan at a ratio of 1:6 (1 wax, 6 oil), poured it into a jar, and let it cool to a soft wax. This is easily spread onto the board, giving it a soft, shiny finish that is easily renewed.

In the kitchen, ready for use
Some people think this cutting board looks too nice to use, but I disagree! It is too good to NOT use. It's the best cutting board I've ever owned and now that I see how 'easy' it is to build them (not really, but...), I'm going to make a few more, of different sizes, shapes, and styles.

So that's it for my Christmas interlude. I've already started working on my first winter boat project -- new drop-boards for my companionway. More on that next time.

Next Episode: Outboard Stand

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