Archive for January, 2011

Last Saturday I took a one day class at our local sustainable small boat center; the RiversWest Small Craft Center. The center is a small member driven organization which you pay minimal dues to join ($50 per year), and which works to support the local sustainable small boat community through a variety of avenues, including the use of their library, tools, hosting classes, and with an additional monthly fee the ability to use one of their bays to build a boat.

This was the first class I have taken with them, and I was looking forward to learning some different techniques for tool making while also getting to know more of the members. It was taught by Randy, a member at RiversWest. The goal of the class was to make a Hock style plane blade with chip breaker, a marking knife blade, and a pair of skew chisel blades. Next month there will be another class where we will build a wooden plane body. For the plane body, there was the option to build a regular blade or to spend a little more time and make either a scrub plane or spar plane blade. I chose to stick with a straight blade during the class, though I would like to also build both other types at some point.

We started with several foot long lengths of 01 tool steel and cold rolled steel for the chip breaker which had been purchased from McMaster Carr. All the students had made basic jigs before the class which were used on the bed of a belt sander to establish the correct angles of the different bevels we would sand down in each of the blanks. My jigs were made from scraps of 2×4 and bits of leftover 1/4 inch thick cedar strips from building Abigail. The jig plans can be seen here.

To make the plane blade, I first ground the 30 degree bevel. With the bevel ground so that only about 1/32nd of and inch remained flat, I used the jig which had been made to drill a hole for each end of the slot in the middle using a light weight oil to keep the bit well lubricated and drilling each hole slowly. The next step was to drill a series of holes between the ends that either slightly overlapped or almost overlapped to remove the bulk of the material from the slot. A rat tail file was used to link the holes, and a flat file was used to straighten the sides. I was surprised at how little time it actually took to straighten the sides. The 45 degree bevel was ground next on the chip breaker. A hole was then drilled in it and tapped with a 1/4×20 thread tap. To dress things up, we used pennies to mark a radius on the back corners of the blade and chip breaker and those were ground. With that, the plane blade was ready for heat treating.

Next, I used the other jig to grind the bevels for the skew chisels and marking knife. The jig worked very well for the skew chisels, but left what seemed like an awfully obtuse angled spear front on the marking knife. To sharpen the angle of the marking knife spear point I held one side of the jig closer to the sanding belt to the other. That allowed me to change the angle of the edge to the side of the blade from about 60 degrees (so that where the two bevels came together the angle was about 120 degrees), to about 45 degrees, which resulted in about a 90 degree spearpoint which still seems a bit more obtuse than I would like, but I will give it a try and if it needs to be adjusted, I can do that. Though I did not get to it during the class, the sides of the skew chisel will need to be relieved near the blade, and I will need to grind the tang narrower to fit better into a handle.

Originally, the goal was to begin heat treating the blades during the class, but there was a wiring issue which would not allow us to plug in the oven we intended to use. That portion of the class will be completed in two weeks.

All told, I’d say the class was a success. My blades look great, and I look forward to being able to use them.

Here is Randy working on his chip breaker:


We cut some of the blades by hand before the bandsaw arrived:


Here are my blades:


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There is some more finish work to be done, and I want to make a sheath for it, but over the weekend I was able to attach the handle to my knife without breaking anything. Thanks to Dave for his comments on how to attach the handle. I got back to work on the knife and successfully attached the handle before recieving the comment, but I really appreciate the suggestions! Some of the ideas he proposed were ones I had used, there were others were things I would like to try if I find myself making another knife.

Here is what I did:

My first step was to create new wood scales (apparently this is the technical term for the pieces of the tang on each side of the blade). I had some of the same scraps of walnut that I had used to make the spline weights, so I cut them to rough size and then drilled the rivet holes in them, using the existing holes in the blade as my template.

My next step was to make the rivets. I decided (this was also suggested by dave) to round over one side of the rivet before using the rivets to attach the scales. To do this, I drilled a hole in a scrap of oak that was just a bit shorter than the pieces of soft drawn copper wire I was using as rivets. I placed each of the pieces of copper in the hole and used a regular hammer to round over the top. The pieces ended up being a little bent along their length, so I gently hammered each of them straight again.

Next I clamped all the pieces together. The copper was slightly narrower than the holes, so instead of relying on them to align the parts, I used the drill bit to align the pieces as I clamped them together. By making sure the holes were more nearly vertical, it seemed like I could minimize the leverage which could split the handle. Next, I added clamps with pads of wood which were in the front to back direction of the blade, which would apply pressure to resist any forces to split the handle again. Next I put each of the rivets into their holes to test fit them, and cut or ground them down to their final length. The length I cut them to would have very little extra material, or more importantly, length which could act as a lever to split the handle.

The extra prep work left me feeling pretty confident that things would work better, so I started pounding them over. I used the back side of a splitting wedge held in a vise as my makeshift vice, holding the knife with one hand and hammering with the other. The sides I had already rounded over sat only slightly proud, so I was able to concentrate on just one side. I found that by using the edge of the hammers face, I could round the rivet over much more efficiently and with less force than by using the flat part of the face. I had to shuffle the positions of the clamps occasionally to get better access to rivets, but it was never too awkward. When that side of the rivets was finished I flipped the knife over and did a little finish work on the side of the rivets that had already been rounded over to better fit them into the slight countersink I had given the holes. The new procedure seems to have worked out great. Dave recommended that I ditch the leather and also that I epoxy the scales on, neither of which I did, but if it turns out this handle is not as durable as I would like, I can always go back and try those ideas.

The handle has been shaped, sanded and has a coat of salad bowl finish on it now (its what I have laying around). I will be applying more coats of finish and making a leather sheath for it. When the sheath is finished I will add a post about that process.

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New years goals, here we come. Progress was made on both the Coho and the six hour canoe over the weekend.

On the Six hour canoe, we attached the keel with screws and silicone sealant to the bottom of the boat, and it looks great. Here is Emily drilling holes in the bottom of her boat.

Emily smoothed the fillet of sealant with a finger while wearing gloves, as per Joseph’s recommendation and it looks great.

Joseph applied the last of the epoxy fill coats last week and began sanding the epoxy smooth. We also had the chance to flip it over and see the kayak right side up for the first time.

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Progress on knife

I got the blade hardened and tempered yesterday and then tried to attach the handle. I had done all the work on the blade to date with the metal fully annealed. To harden the blade, I used a bernz-o-matic torch that uses mapp gas and oxygen. Its cheap and reasonably easy to use. I was able to heat the blade from about halfway up the tang to the end of the blade to a nice red glow at which point I quenched it in water. To temper the blade, making it tougher and less brittle, I put it in my over and heated it to 480 (Please note update below) degrees for about 25 minutes.

Where things unravelled a bit was rivetting the handle. I am trying to use soft drawn copper wire for the rivets, and my drill bit is slightly larger than the wire. Due to the imprecise fit, and trying to alternate between pounding the handle on one side of blade and then the other, the copper ended up bending off to an angle and splitting the wood. I am also using leather pads between the wood and the blade to fill some of the spaces where the blade is not completely flat, and that may also be allowing the handles to move more easily and cause problems. I have some ideas for what to do next time to prevent splitting. We’ll see how it goes.

Important Update(!): After using the knife for odds and ends over the last few weeks, it looks like I tempered it at too high of a temperature. I don’t know if temper heats for a desired hardness vary with different grades of steel, but 480 was clearly too hot for my knife. If I were to do it again I would probably try 375. All that being said, the knife works fine, it just looks like I will be sharpening it more frequently than I would like.


Back to the drawing board.

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The Pygmy Coho has been an interesting project for me to have going on in my garage. It is not my project or my boat, but I have also helped work on it and since it is also in my garage, I feel some sense of ownership for it. So imagine the satisfaction I felt when I returned from spending the Christmas holiday on the east coast and the outside of the hull had been fiberglassed! What fun! Its like my project is working on itself! Only, its not my project and it won’t be mine when it is completed.

Here is whats been done since the last update.

Tubes of tape were created on the bow and stern which were filled with thickened epoxy to build up material which could be shaped.

A lovely view of the bow with the thickened epoxy sanded to shape. The hull has also recieved its final bare sanding here.

Joseph, with the assistance of my younger brother Simeon, applied a seal coat of epoxy to the hull.
Check out those nicely lined up stitch holes.The fiberglass was laid out and trimmed a few days later.Joseph and Matthew did the wet-out-coat on the fiberglass.On January 1, Joseph and I did the first additional coat of epoxy to fill out the weave of the fiberglass. Here is Joseph working with epoxy.

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Happy New Year!

Starting this new year, I found myself considering the year ahead in a different way than I usually have. In the past I have considered goal an occasionally chosen some sort of New Years resolution, but resolutions have never really my style. I tend to come up with goals as I need them throughout the year, and using the new year as a time to come up with a resolution has always felt a little artificial somehow.

This year, however, it seemed like a good milestone to mark, and it was fun for me to consider my goals for the year while visiting Emily’s family on the east coast. Here are my resolutions: Within the next two months I intend to finish the six hour canoe, and to help Joseph finish the Pygmy Coho. When those projects are finished, I want to get to work on a skin-on-frame kayak. A skin on frame kayak is something I have wanted to build for a long time, and the relatively low cost to build also appeals to me as it could help me save for my next project. For Christmas I received the plans to Iain Oughtred’s Whilly Tern, and by next fall I want to begin building it. It is going to be a boat filled year, and I intend to chronicle the progress here.

With the goal of building these boats floating through my head, it only seemed fitting that I should begin the year by going out and paddling the boat I finished last year. I headed out on the Upper Columbia Slough and put in off of NE Airport Way near NE 166th. I began heading up stream, against a slight headwind and in open water. After a few minutes I started encountering some pieces of ice being blown by the wind. I paddled around them and continued on. Pretty soon, there was enough ice in spots that I would point my bow between them and go slowly enough that I would push the pieces to each side. It was pretty enough that I didn’t want to stop. Well, I got far enough that there was so much ice, I decided to stop, and allowed the wind and flow of water to push me back for a while. I watched a nutria for a few minutes while quietly drifting, and then I encountered a spot where the ice had packed in solid where it had been loose before. There was no choice to get back to the car except to push my way through it and break the pieces of ice as I went. Now, none of it was very thick, but it still didn’t make me feel particularly comfortable. I was feeling a little worried about scratching the varnish or possibly even disturbing the fiberglass, but it was still kinda fun and I feel like every so often you have to test your gear to see how it will hold up. I paddled back to the car, and when I arrived at home the boat was dry and I could see it was unharmed. All told, it was a nice adventure to start the new year.

Happy New Year folks, and I hope you will all be able to have as much fun with projects and little adventures as those I intend to have this year!

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