Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gudgeons and gudgeons

I was pleased and relieved to finally find some rudder hardware that is designed for a double ender. A big bonus for me is that it's made out of bronze and not stainless steel. The rudder gudgeons and the sternpost gudgeons also seem to be very strong and heavy castings without looking clunky at all.

You boating types are most likely scratching your heads right now wondering why I have gudgeons and no pintles. You can't have one without the other, right? Well, that's what I thought too. Then I found Duck Trap Woodworking, an outfit in Maine that builds traditional wooden boats, including a very pretty double ender called Matinicus Double Ender. They are primarily boatbuilders, but of late they devote most of their time helping others learn how to build their own boats. They designed this rudder hardware for the types of boats they build. Here's how it works from their Web site (

"A piece of 5/16-inch bronze rod passes through all four fittings and acts as a hinge pin. Why no pintles? Because they have a uncanny tendency to become unshipped. Attached using the rod, should the rudder strike bottom, it can jump and then drop right back down in place. We've been using this system for years, and never had a problem."

This sounds good to me! I haven't liked any of the gudgeon and pintle combinations I've found - and I've been looking for months. I was beginning to think I would have to have something custom made. I'm really glad I don't have to do that.

I decided not to get the polished hardware to save a few bucks. But I'm also considering not polishing the hardware I got and leaving it more of a workboat finish. I think it might be more in keeping with the look I'm trying to achieve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's Alive!

I've often felt that building a boat is about as close as a craftsman can come to creating a living thing. Building an instrument, a violin say, is another instance where an inanimate object seems to take voice and become a living creature. But boats have movement, their own distinctive motion and reaction to the wind and water. The chuckle of the ocean passing by the hull of a wooden boat is amplified like a fine instrument amplifies the vibrations of bowed strings.

Last week, as I ran my hand along the inside of the hull after sanding it, I felt Ravn's heart beat. It was really the planks under tension amplifying the base beat of the music I was listening to, but it felt like a living thing under my hand. I've thought about it for days and can't get it out of my head.

I was telling this to my neighbor, Tom Dollar, who builds guitars, and he gave me a knowing look. As he ran his hand along the planks of the boat he said, "What you've got here is wood under tention, just like a big guitar."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bow Chocks

I spent the better part of a day making a couple of bow chocks out of purple heart. Most of the shaping was done with my patternmaker's rasp, a great tool. I think they look just right for the boat. Metal bow chocks, even nice bronze ones, just wouldn't do, but I did want the functionality of having a couple of chocks to keep anchor and dock lines from sawing off the finish from the gunwales and destroying themselves. So I spent the time and made what seemed to me to be right for the boat.

This is one of the wonderful things about building your own boat. It is also the reason building a boat the way you want it takes so damn long.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gunwales and inwales

I've come to accept that almost every step in the boatbuilding process takes twice as long as you estimate it will. Putting the gunwales and inwales on Ravn was the exception -- it took about 10 times as long.

Part of it was that I chose to use purple heart for the job. I had some nice 12-foot long strips left over from laminating the keel. I've also come to like the wood for how strong and hard it is. It also glues well. The downsides to the wood are that it does not work well with planes, chisels and spokeshaves because it tears out easily, it gives you the nastiest splinters of any wood I've ever worked with and it smells like -- I'm not sure what -- wet dog, maybe? It's pretty much on the other end of the spectrum from the wonderful pine scent many people associate with woodworking. Another feature of purple heart is that it doesn't take a set. This makes it a favorite of recurve and longbow makers who like to use purple heart to laminate the limbs of their bows, lots of spring and not a lot of memory in the wood. I think that will be a good thing in the long run, but it caused some drama during the installation of the gunwales.

I found out just how springy purple heart is after gluing the two sections of the port side gunnel to Ravn. I let the epoxy cure for a couple of days before I took the clamps (all 64 of them). Just as I stepped back to admire my work, "POP!" "Crack!" "BAM!" Starting from the stern, the gunwale broke loose and lunged at me. It hit the tablesaw instead and I was spared. The noise was loud enough that my wife opened the garage door to see what happened and if I was OK. I stood there in stunned silence and shook my head. I went in the house and didn't return to the shop for a couple of days.

I made a couple rookie mistakes gluing the gunwale. First, and most important, I didn't rough up the surface of the hull or the wood. The hull had two coats of epoxy on it and was real smooth. The second mistake I made was to glue using epoxy only with no additive in it. These were both things that I knew, I just didn't think about them. I was too busy cutting the complex bevels at the bow and stern ends of the gunwale and then measuring and marking the scarf in the middle. It's very exacting work that requires you to clamp, measure, cut, reclamp, mark, unclamp, refine the cut, then finally glue up. I was so focused on getting all the cuts right I totally forgot what I knew about making a good epoxy glue up.

When I returned to the shop I roughed up all the mating surfaces with 60-grit sand paper, mixed in the best adhesive filler I know of (colloidal silica one-to-one by volume) and clamped it up. I also decided to add six quarter-inch galvanized carriage bolts to each side of the boat. I had galvanized carriage bolts on the gunwale of my Chamberlain dory and they did a fine job for all the years I had the boat and will serve for many more decades I'm sure. The thing I want to avoid on this boat is any stainless steel. I'm not a fan. Give me galvanized iron or silicon bronze every time! Until the inwales were in place so I could through-bolt them to the gunwales, I always kept a few strategically-placed clamps on the gunwale just in case.

The inwales were laminated in three-eighth-inch strips: two laminates in the spaces between the frames and two inside the frame heads. I notched the top of the oak frame heads for the two inner laminates. It made for a strong, stiff structure on the sheer. Since I will mount the kabes for the oars, the shrouds and mast bench for the mast, and rope traveler for the main sheet on the inwales, they will need to be strong .