Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To Hull with It

One of the jobs this summer was to seal the hull below the waterline. As I have mentioned before on these pages, Adagio (ex DESIREE) was on the hard for about 15 years. There were areas such as the rudder and keel that you could see straight through to the other side.
Looking through the Rudder

Hacksaw blade through Stem
Now, any wooden boat out of water for a long time will dry out. And there are infinitely worse cases than I have here. In fact, I have been repeatedly amazed that she is still extremely fair given her time out of the water. However, I want the seams to be as good as they can be because when she hits the water, I expect her to drink in the water like a desert bloom.

Cracked, Brittle and Old Compound
Earlier inspections concluded that she was not in need of refastening or recaulking, but it was clear that the old seam compound had become hard,
brittle and loose. My concern was that, as she swelled, this old, rock-hard compound would prevent the natural swelling of the cedar planks. So, we endeavored to take out as much of the old compound as we could and replace it with new, malleable seam compound. Not a hard job, but laborious, to be sure.

Once and awhile, men such as myself are blessed. On this particular occasion, however, the blessing came - as it often does - in the form of my wife, who, actually enjoys sitting under the boat and reefing out all this old compound.  Now to be clear, she also enjoys peeling sunburnt skin off of others, so maybe this isn't so surprising, but imagine . . . a wife who enjoyed such a task. Whatever conclusions you draw from this are your own business, but to cynics such as myself it may go a long way in explaining whatever she saw in me.
Tiger Sloop

So, out with the old and in with the new. We reefed out the old compound and primed the seams with red lead primer.

After that, I added in new compound. The plan was to use Interlux's brown seam compound made specifically for below the waterline for the seams between the cedar planking. I chose it based on online reviews and my own good fortune with Interlux's palette of paints. For the oak keel I decided to use "Wet Patch," a roofing tar.

Initially, the seam compound went on OK, but it seemed hard to work with to get into the seams effectively. I solved this by using a mixture of the Interlux seam compound and the Wet Patch. Not only did the Wet Patch make the seam compound much easier to work with, but it extended the life of a can of otherwise expensive seam compound (and Wet Patch is the much less expensive product!)

When I was trying to decide on the best way to do this, I asked around to respected boatbuilders here. I also researched the online forums for wooden boat construction. What I found was that ten people will give you twelve different answers. And then it hit me. People of all abilities have been building wooden boats for centuries. There is no, one "right way" (although there are some materials that are universally panned. e.g "Life Caulk" below the waterline).  The point is, you can't go too wrong. If you don't like it, change it next year. The key is to get something in there that will allow the wood to expand as it swells while filling in all the small gaps so that the cotton caulking won't work too hard.

messy seams
The traditional way to get the compound in the seams is with a putty knife, cleaning the excess up right away with an Acetone soaked rag.  If you omit this second step, you will be re-sanding these
Red Lead primer
seams to remove the hardened excess and that's just more work than you need. I point this out only because I forgot that step even though I knew better. Not to worry, though. It will be smoothed out and painted over and underwater, so no one sees it or will know about it (except the four people who read this blog).

Red Lead primer over all and she's ready for a coat of bottom paint next Spring.

Boats are never "done," and I will be working on this one for a long time. But it is with great satisfaction that I write that the "to do" list is now shorter than the "done" list and I have every expectation of having her in the water next summer.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Name Boards, Trailboards & Just Plain Boreds (with Winter)

The last two winters in New England have been beautes! Total snowfall this winter was over 9 feet which set new records around here - five and half feet of it fell in February alone. The good news at the boatyard was that the snowdrifts were so high, no boat was in danger of tipping over in the hellacious wind.  At worst, they might heel a bit, but nothing more.

Well, with winters like that, it's good to have lot's to do in the shop. This was a winter of organizing and doing a lot of little things. Two of those things were, carving a name board and reconditioning the trailboards.
Goofing off at the Drafting Table
Carving a Name Board

I took this project on because I wanted to learn to how to do it. To those who have done this, or who do it for a living, what I am about to reveal is not new. For the rest of you, it is Gold: Make sure your tools are honed to a razor's edge. Or, as we say in the New England woods, "make shuwa yah chisels are wickahd shahp. My lesson learned here is that if they are not, it will show up in your work directly.

So I learned how to sharpen chisels (and planes, scissors etc.)  - a useful skill and one I will use repeatedly. There are several very good resources on the web for those interested in learning more about this, so I won't go into it in detail here (although I provide some links below). I will only say that if you want a good job (and why do it otherwise), the tools must be sharp.


Planning the Name
At any rate, since I didn't know what I was doing, I decided to savage a piece of pine rather than mahogany first time out. From Home Depot then, I got a four foot plank of white pine and started to outline the edges of the board and consider the letter spacing.

Beveled Edges
The goal here was to focus on the technique of carving the letters and I resolved to keep things pretty simple (no fancy carved scallop shells or mermaids - I will save that for the mahogany).  The letters were printed from "Word" and then transferred to poster board to make a template.

Next, using a small hand-held router, I gave the edges a simple bevel.

The Name Starts to Appear
This is where the pine board is savagely attacked by what I thought were sharp chisels. It was here I learned that "sharp" has to mean "really, really sharp - no kidding."  But that is why it is a practice piece.

Oh, one other piece of breaking news: you can't carve through a field of knots on a pine plank and expect it to come out looking good. Your chisels can be sharp enough to split light and it won't be enough.  Academically, I knew at least that much, but it was interesting to see it in action.

There are also a number of videos on carving letters. Again, the techniques vary and you just have to find the one (or ones) that fit your style, but they are instructive to be sure. Once the letters were cut out, I thought, well, what if I just painted this up (it's knotty pine after all)? My original idea for the final product was varnished mahogany with gold lettering, but since this was knotty pine, that wouldn't do.

So, what would it look like with the traditional gold on black?  Even if it never sees the ocean, it might look good hanging in the shop. This, by the way, is how projects take on wings and a mind of their own.

Stong shory lort, after a couple of coats of primer I painted it black and trimmed the edges and letters in gold.  The sheen comes from the two coats of varnish I applied over the whole thing when dry. I have to say, I was pleased with the result - it certainly passes the 10 foot rule - and given the size of the punch list still to go, it is quite possible that this savaged piece of Home Deport pine will adorn her stern for this season anyway.


Adagio's trailboards were much like the rest of her. Fundamentally sound, but in need of some repair and reconditioning.

The port trailboard had a piece missing from the trim - no doubt from an anchor fluke that got away while hauling and took a divot out of the trim.

So, I shaped a small scarf out of some scrap lumber and fitted it into place. Three clamps, glue and 24 hours later, it is fit to start shaping to the curve of the trailboard. It took awhile to get the taper right, but it was either that or shovel snow, so time was of no consequence.

On the left, the scarf is fitted and tapered.

On the right, the finished job (what appears to be a white smudge at the left end of the board is really a reflection from the light). Interlux Sea Green with white trim and gold vine design. Very slick.


When my children were young, they enjoyed a book called "If you give a mouse a cookie." The story went on to describe all the things that will happen after the mouse gets his cookie (he'll want milk, a place to nap, a game to play after his nap and so on). It describes the interconnectedness of things.

And so it is with boats.  In order to do these projects, I needed to re-condition my chisels. This required a shelf for my bench grinder and storage for the various whetstones. To build the shelf required paneling the wall and running wiring to the socket and then, once the chisels were sharp, I needed a chisel rack to keep them handy (BTW, that chisel rack is Sitka Spruce left over from the mast work).

So, the moral to this story is, don't eat the cookies . . . and keep your chisels sharp.

1. Paul Sellers has a series of very good videos on a variety of chisel and plane related projects and techniques. In this one he takes some fairly inexpensive chisels and makes them worthy: 
2. M. Scott Morton of Highland Woodworking uses a slightly different method than Sellers, but does a good job showing the flat of the chisel:
3. Harry Bryan is an old Maine boatbuilder and does a series of very good videos for OffCenter Harbor. This site requires a subscription (which anyone interested in classic craft should get) so it might not be available.
4. Carving Letters:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Origins of the Compass Rose

The compass rose has appeared on charts and maps since the 1300's when the portolan charts first made their appearance. The term "rose" comes from the figure's compass points resembling the petals of the well-known flower.

Originally, this device was used to indicate the directions of the winds (and it was then known as a wind rose), but the 32 points of the compass rose come from the directions of the eight major winds, the eight half-winds and the sixteen quarter-winds.

In the Middle Ages, the names of the winds were commonly known throughout the Mediterranean countries as tramontana (N), greco (NE), levante (E), siroco (SE), ostro (S), libeccio (SW), ponente (W) and maestro (NW). On portolan charts you can see the initials of these winds labeled around the edge as T, G, L, S, O, L, P, and M.

The 32 points are therefore simple bisections of the directions of the four winds (but the Chinese divided the compass into 12 major directions based on the signs of the Zodiac). For western apprentice seamen, one of the first things they had to know were the names of the points. Naming them all off perfectly was known as "boxing the compass."

There is no absolute standard for drafting a compass rose, and each school of cartographers seems to have developed their own. In the earliest charts, north is indicated by a spearhead above the letter T (for tramontana). This symbol evolved into a fleur-de-lys around the time of Columbus, and was first seen on Portuguese maps. Also in the 14th century, the L (for levante) on the east side of the rose was replaced with a cross, indicating the direction to Paradise (long thought to be in the east), or at least to where Christ was born (in the Levant).

The colors on the figure are supposedly the result of the need for graphic clarity rather than a mere cartographical whim. On a rolling ship at night by the light of a flickering lamp, these figures had to be clearly visible. Therefore the eight principle points of the compass are usually shown on the compass rose in black which stands out easily. Against this background, the points representing the half-winds are typically colored in blue or green and since the quarter-wind points are the smallest, they are usually colored red.

© Bill Thoen, 2013 (all rights reserved)
Reprinted with permission


Cartographical Innovations:  an International Handbook of Mapping Terms to 1900
ed. by Helen M. Wallis and Arthur H. Robinson. - Tring, Herts: Map Collector Publications in association with International Cartographic Association, 1987. - ISBN 0-906430-04-6. (This was really quite good, and full of interesting history and details about maps - Bill)
by David Greenhood. - The University of Chicago Press, 1964. ISBN 0-226-30696-8