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Posts Tagged ‘Skin on Frame boat building’

Several weeks ago I wrote a post in favor of exploring new places. Sunday reinforced my opinion that when you go out to a new spot in your boat, you never know what you’ll find, and that’s where a lot of fun can be had.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, Bruce called and we started talking about where to go. We had talked earlier in the weekend and decided to go out, but we hadn’t decided where to go or even which boats to take. After chatting and weighing the options we decided to go check out Caterpillar island. Neither of us had been around it before, though Bruce had sailed past it last summer. The island lies on the north side of the river, across and a few river miles down river from Kelly Point Park where the Willamette meets the Columbia. I would take my skin on frame kayak, and Bruce would be in his Guide Boat.

We put in on the Columbia Slough, headed out to the Willamette and across the Columbia. As we traveled we talked about different experiences we’ve had on the Columbia and different options for quick overnight getaways. We reached the entrance to the channel that goes behind the island, and turned into it.

What a fantastic little backwater. The range of craft we found was broad to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more unusual mix of old work boats and various types of pleasure craft in one place. There was an old barge that looked like it might have had an earlier life as some sort of small WWII era ship that was latter cut down to use as some sort of barge. Then we encountered the catamaran below. I suppose I would describe it as looking like one of the shuttles from Star Trek. It had this really interesting frame for an awning built up on top, but it looked like it would have had masts and sails at one point. Now it sounds like it may have birds living in it, but restored I think it would still turn heads on a waterfront, even if mostly from novelty.  As we continued our water borne mosey down the channel we encountered a variety of old work boats including this small tug.  Then we came across this pair. At first I thought they were just some sort of random shanty boat, but then I got a better look at their profile, and immediately recognized the shape.  The name on the back of the second one confirmed my suspicion. The design was almost certainly influenced by the work of Sam McKinney or even built by him. The name is a reference to both how far the tides reach back in the Columbia and to the title of a book Sam wrote called “Reach of Tide, Ring of History.” It is a lovely book which would be of particular interest to anyone interested in the history of the northwest and of the Columbia River. In it he tracks a journey in a small boat with a cabin from the Columbia Bar upriver. That journey might have been taken on one of these boats. Through the journey he recounts he weaves in a mixture of history related to the dangers of the Columbia Bar, and of the various fishing, canning and logging villages which popped up on the river once European settlers arrived and most of which dissapeared just as quickly. He relates different parts of the Lewis and Clark exploration as he is passing the locations where parts of their journey took place including a particularly miserable 4 days spent pinned to the base of a cliff on the lower Columbia with weather too foul to move and not enough land to pull all the boats ashore. He weaves in history of the native people in the area as well as his own memories being sent by his mother down to a fishing village for a summer to live with his grandmother and to work on a fishing boat. Its a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. What an incredible surprise to come across two boats which might have been the vehicle featured in this book!  The channel fit the definition of backwater to me. It was quiet and seemed like the sort of place where many sorts of people were pursuing a wide variety of dreams and where they were coexisting quietly. There wasn’t the sense of affluence you find in some marinas, but with the variety of odd craft, many old and many well kept, I had the sense that many peoples dreams were represented by the various craft we were passing. These old tugboats, fishing boats, sailboats and pleasure craft and the various floating homes were all owned by people with aspirations to whichever lifestyle fit their demeanor. The fact that some were in wonderful shape while some were clearly in need of some attention spoke to the frailty of those dreams. Regardless though, it seemed like a delightfully peaceful backwater to pursue those dreams. Those thoughts were reinforced by the raccoon I saw washing his hands in the water on the shore opposite the boats and also by the turtle we saw sunning itself on a log. Bruce described the turtle as doubly surprising because we were able to get close enough to get a good look without it spooking and dissapearing into the water, and also because it appeared to be a relatively uncommon native variety.  As we paddled and rowed out of the channel on the north end of the island we were greeted by another surprise: This big old wooden rudder sticking out of the sand and mud. Check out the size of that pintle and gudgeon. What at first appeared to be a row of pilings, perhaps to tie up a large raft of logs to transport to a mill when that was still common practice, turned into the remains of a large wooden ship. The diagonal boards were the planks at the up-turned ends of the ship. The large gap between the stern post and rudder post must have housed a large propeller at one point.    We decided it was a good moment to get out of our respective craft and investigate. I found the bow pointed into the channel and barely poking above water. Clearly it has been there for quite a while.  I climbed up on what remained of the stern to get a better perspective looking down at the rudder and to get a sense of the size the ship had been. You can see Bruce standing off to the right below for a better sense of scale.  Currently I’ve been unable to find any information online about what this ship was or how it ended up embedded in the sand on the end of a small island in the Columbia River. I’ll be sending e-mails to some folks I know to see if they know anything. With a little luck I’ll be able to learn a little more about what this ship was, but regardless, it was an amazing thing to come across unexpectedly.

I’ve long felt that there is something about islands that promises a sense of adventure. There seems to be some sense with islands that fantastic discoveries are possible. I know that Sam McKinney would have agreed with me. Maybe I just heard too many pirate stories as a kid, but this afternoon of paddling close to home seems to suggest that its a feeling which is well founded. 

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UPDATE: The weather has clearly not cooperated. The show is rescheduled for next Sunday, the 16th of February.

As I sit here typing and frequently glancing out the window to watch the snow blowing around, I am also getting ready do head back down stairs to put a final coat of linseed oil on the next three whale sculptures, and its happening none too soon! On Sunday( weather permitting), Boy’s Fort will be having an open house to kick off a month of featuring my whales (along with the work of one other artist)!

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I’m pretty excited about to be sharing them, as they represent the most ambitious artistic venture I have yet undertaken. By my estimate, I’ve put somewhere in the vicinity of 400 hours into building them, and I think I’m justifiably proud of them. They might not be what folks might call “high art” or something like that, but I don’t really care. I think there is a subtlety of line present in them which is striking. I like the honesty represented by a building process which has hidden nothing: There is no glue or metal included in any of them, but you can see every place where pieces are notched together, you can see where the pegs are, and you can examine every lashing. I like how movement is suggested by the curves in the different pieces, and how the shape is suggested by the framework.

I also enjoy seeing how much joy people of such disparate ages get from seeing them. When I was showing the first one to some former teachers of mine, I had middle school age students walk up to me and just stare at them for a minute before asking “did you make that?”

I suppose its been my hope for a long time to inspire people in a wide variety of ways. At different times I have hoped that someone might be inspired by some sort of endurance challenge I have undertaken, or perhaps to appreciate the natural environment in a new or different way through stories I have told or pictures I have shared. I’m not sure how the whales will inspire people. Some folks might be intrigued by the woodworking side of things and be fascinated with how it was crafted. Some people may appreciate the idea that a whale, which has such a symbolic status within the environmental movement, has been made out of materials which are either reclaimed, or which are sourced from a family owned and sustainably operated forestry project. I think that some folks might just appreciate the grace of the lines and simply enjoy the beauty. Regardless, I think there are a lot of ways that people for people to enjoy them, and I look forward to seeing the response they get on Sunday.

And now for the details, for those who happen to live nearby! Boy’s Fort is located at SW 9th and Morrison in downtown Portland. The open house will go from noon till 5pm. I hear there will be refreshments. If you live nearby, please wander in and say hello!

Pictures of the last few nearing completion:

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And now for the requisite New Years post! Unfortunately, this post is not being written after a leisurely paddle on some calm waterway perfectly suited to the sort of reflection and contemplation this holiday seem to usher in. Nope, because last Friday I had a minor foot surgery and I am currently on crutches and spending entirely too much time in bed with my foot up, and entirely too little time in my shop or on the water. Thankfully I should be off the crutches again very soon, and though it may be off to a questionable start I’m imagining the year will only get better from here!

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So as I look forward toward this year, what specifically am I looking forward to? Here are a few of the highlights:

1)     Teaching for the Wind and Oar Boat School! Back in November I mentioned that I might have some exciting news to share, and thi is it! Towards the end of January I will start teaching a class with another instructor, and it looks like we will be building an Arch Davis Penobscot 14. We’ll be working with a group of high school students and pulling out the embedded math and science as we go while also teaching trade skills. Its pretty wild for me to see my bio and picture on their website. As far as I’m concerned its pretty much the perfect job and its going to be awesome!

2)     On January 12th Boy’s Fort will be having an open house while featuring my artwork! I’ve been hard at work building my whales, and given my current slow moving state, I may not get very much sleep in the week and a bit leading up to this event as I continue finishing some more of them, but this is going to be crazy! In the past woodworking has generally been a hobby for me with the occasional commission to build furniture. This is the first time that I have invested myself so deeply into such an artistic venture. Its going to be great to see them all displayed together, and I’m pretty excited about it.

3)     As soon as the last of this first series of whales is completed I get to start focusing more of my energy on building my Shearwater! I’ve got all the frames laminated and have been picking away at it bit by bit, but without a whole lot to show for it yet, but I’m looking forward to settling into more of a rhythm with it and seeing it take shape. With all the laminating of frames and such on the front end I knew it would take a while to see the shape take form, but by the end of the month, I plan to have some exciting updates to share.

4)     I’m looking forward to the time I’m going to spend on the water and the things I am going to see. Allow me to share an anecdote related to the sort of paddling I am particularly looking forward to:

A few weeks ago I got out with Bruce from Terrapin Tales again. We went out to a part of the Columbia I had not been on before and which I will purposefully be vague about. I was out in my skin-on-frame kayak, and he was out in his guide boat. Our first interesting encounter included two Sea Lions. We saw the first initially from a distance off our starboard beam. Then he started heading towards us. While we crossed the river, I found myself in the rather interesting position of having his progress narrated to me by Bruce who initially marveled at how big he was, and then conveyed that he was getting close. I was periodically glancing over my shoulder and the last time I saw the splash as it dove again, he was only about 15 feet behind us. Gonna admit, that made me a bit nervious, but it was also pretty cool.

Later during the same paddle we stopped on an island with a wide shoal extending towards the shipping lane. Even about 80M out the water was only about 4 feet deep, and because the water was moving slowly and the suspended sediment had dropped out you could see every ripply on the sandy bottom. He left the island a minute or two before me and was rowing slowly to let me catch up when he called out “Sturgeon!” As I paddled to catch up I initially saw two of them which were about 2 or 3 feet long. As I continued paddling, I soon had about two dozen on the bottom below me and after proceeding a little farther there were so many Sturgeon stacked on top of each other that I could barely see the sandy bottom even though it was only about 4 feet down. Fish from about 2 all the way up to several individuals that had to have been about 7 feet long. Just incredible. I had seen Sturgeon jump on just a few occasions but never been able to look down at them and see them clearly with the spots down their sides. I was completely blown away. I’m still working to learn more about why there would have been so many concentrated together like that, but here is one article that was sent to me afterwards describing their behavior. Really neat stuff. Who knew they were so social?

Oh, and I also had the chance to test row Bruce’s Guide Boat. Good lord, I want one.

Anyway, as I continue considering the new year I may formulate some proper resolutions. Perhaps they will even follow the SMART nmeumonic that Liz talks about from her own grad school experience ( Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). Whether I do or not, right now I am enjoying the fact that after such a difficult year, I can see so much to look forward to.

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Wow, it has been too long since I’ve offered up an update, and many good things have occurred in the past two(!) months.

I have gotten started on the Shearwater, though to be fair progress has been slow. One bit of advice I recieved prior to beginning was that although the plans come with full sized patterns for most pieces, the patterns were not necessarily as accurate as one might like, so I went ahead and lofted it full sized on my basement floor.

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With all my distractions, the only other step I have completed is laminating the first of the three frames. If you look closely, you can see the galvanized steel straping with handles on either end that I used as backing straps to support the outside of the curves while bending the pieces of wood into place. I came up with this solution because I was worried the fir I was laminating was more brittle and stiff than I could safely bend otherwise. One way or another though, bending this piece went quite smoothly with the assistance of my lovely girlfriend.

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Perhaps my chief distraction from boatbuilding has been the whales that I’ve been working on. After finishing the first one in September, I have since completed a second which is shown below. The first two are currently up for sale and hung in a local store called Boy’s Fort. A few days after taking them in, I wandered back to see where in the store they had decided to display them. I found them hanging, one behind the other, as if they were swimming together. They were suspended below some duct work that clearly must have had vibrations traveling through it, because their pectoral fins were bouncing quickly up and down. I think the proprietors might have been nervous about what I would think of this, but I thought it was hilarious. Whether you are interested in seeing the whales or not, I recommend wandering into the shop. Its got a fun mix of art and various products made by local artists and crafts people. Its located at 9th and Morrison in downtown Portland.

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After finishing the second, I adjusted the building jig and set about building the third. That one is currently just a few days from completion. For the third one, I have the tail dropped low. Its going to be a very different shape than the previous ones, but I am excited to see what subtle curves emerge. In many ways, for me building these whales centers around an exploration of curves, both subtle and dramatic, that can be expressed through this particular method of construction. My favorite lines are the most subtle ones, though. The curves that only emerge after you have looked at them a while and find yourself seeing something new when you look at them from a certain angle.

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In other news I have have been getting to know some of the folks at the Wind and Oar Boat School to see how I can get involved. With a bit of luck I may have some exciting news to share in the coming weeks, but in the mean time I thought I would share two pictures from sailing with them last Friday on the Willamette. I went sailing with their director Peter Crim, a board member named Norm, one of their instructors named Josh and a member of a partner organization named Worksystems Inc. We took out the Francois Vivier designed Ebihen 16 built by students last summer, with a few last details completed over the past few weeks. Its a lovely boat, 16 feet in length on deck with an impressively long bowsprit , and a remarkable amount of space in its cockpit for such a small boat

We put it through its paces. Afterwards we found out that the wind had been blowing an average of 28.5 mph with gusts towards 34 mph, though earlier we had also experienced relative calms. Among other things, we marveled at how much the bowsprit could flex. What was more difficult to see while we were on the boat was the flex of the mast. We sailed it at various times with 3, 4 or 5 people on board and both with and without water ballast. For most of the sail Peter was at the helm, and I distinctly remember glancing back a few times when we had gotten really heeled over and seeing a big ol’ grin spread across his face. We did manage to break a two pieces, including one side of the gaff jaws and we popped the joint between a riser and one of the frames. Nothing that can’t be fixed pretty quickly, and at least from my standpoint a thoroughly worthwhile shake down run. It was a great start to the weekend.

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Later in the weekend I had the pleasure of getting out on the water in another beautiful boat, the Row Bird, with Bruce from over at Terrapin Tales. I was excited to get out on the water with him in his beautiful boat for a sail, but as you can see from the picture below, the wind did not last! Instead we enjoyed a row on a beautiful late fall afternoon. For those of you who know me, you won’t be surprised that although I haven’t spent a lot of time doing it, I enjoy rowing.

One thing that sticks out for me about the afternoon was looking at the sketches he shared with me that he had done of the new pedestrian and light rail bridge that is being built between the Ross Island Bridge and the Marquam Bridge here in Portland. If you look at his blog you will find that he shares his sketches from time to time. The ones he pointed me to were a sketch of the bridge he did recently and another he did about a year ago of the same bridge in progress. It was great to look back at his own record of a project I have traveled past by kayak so many times. Looking at them got me thinking. Though I always have a sketchbook going, they are typically utilized primarily for drawing out ideas for things I would like to build or odds and ends like that. It has become rare that I draw my surroundings, but what better way to spend part of a quiet afternoon on the water, when the light has settled over the landscape in some particular way, than by taking out a sketchbook and some combination of pencils, pens and watercolors? He pointed me towards a website that served as a sort of inspiration for his own sketching, which I later spent some time checking out, called Urban SketchersThis isn’t an activity my current boats feel particularly well suited to, but as I pick away at my current build, it seems like one more way to look forward to using the boat I am producing. I like Bruce’s philosophy towards getting out on the water, and if you haven’t looked at his blog before, I recommend it. 

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Last week I finished the whale! As usual, it took longer than expected, but I think the results are worth it. Bending the ribs into place was an interesting challenge. As expected, I broke a number of pieces before getting them all into place, and had to experiment with different thicknesses especially near the front where the cross section becomes flatter. The ribs are pegged at each end and lashed in the same way that the stringers were lashed on my kayak. To finish it, I first fumed it using ammonia cleaner for eleven and a half hours. I oiled the entire thing with two coats of linseed oil, and finished things off by waxing outward facing surfaces. It was a great project, and I’m happy with the results.

A few pictures of it fully assembled before and during finishing.image

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And here it is completely finished. Currently, it resides on my living room wall, though I’ve been thinking about finding a show to enter it in.
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Though at times it has felt slower than I might have wanted, progress on my whale sculpture has been steady. After getting the first two stringers bent onto each side and notched into the nose piece, I started work on the pectoral fins and the sides of the tail. To bend these pieces I used jigs with a series of intermediate blocks I could clamp the thin pieces of oak to. I built these blocks as two piece steps to raise the forms off the bed surface to provide better access for the clamps and to add the additional pieces which would be used to stabilize the shapes. Instead of steaming these pieces in a steam chamber, I put a large brownie pan partially filled with water in the oven and turned the temperature up to 230 degrees( forgetting a pan partially filled with water in the oven also happens to be a good way to confuse the roommates). I put the pieces of oak in the nearly boiling water for about 4 minutes before bending them into shape. Like the other parts of the whale, only dowels and lashings are used to hold things together.

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Currently, I am still figuring out short to trim the tips of the tail pieces, but clearly there is considerably more material present currently than I will want on the final product. Regardless, I am pretty happy with how these pieces turned out.

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Here it is with all appendages  temporarily clamped in place, and before I bent the final two stringers were added to the belly of the whale. If you look closely, you will notice that i took the nose off and changed the orientation of the lashings on the front. Having them vertical simply didn’t look right. 

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Currently, all the stringers are zip tied into place. The last big step will be adding the two piece rib hoops that the stringers will be permanently lashed to. After that I will be able to remove the inner framework that the stringers were bent around. The next steps are going to be pretty exciting to see! With a little luck another update should be coming soon!

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With graduate school FINALLY winding down( Its been a long year), I started asking myself what I should start working on as a boat builder without the space or money to begin a new boat. Here is my answer!

As I built my skin on frame kayak two years ago, several things occured to me: First, that the the frame of a skin on frame ends up being a beautiful work of art. Second, that steam bending is awesome, and third, that the frame looked awfully reminiscent of the skeleton of some sort of animal. I decided to start building an idea that has been floating around my head since first building my kayak. If it goes well, perhaps I’ll build more, but initially I’m working on building a framework to evoke the shape of a humpback whale. The construction methods will combine the techniques use in West Greenland skin on frame boat building with European boat building methods. I decided to make it about 4.5 feet long, broke out my battens and drafting ducks, and set myself to work!

To draw out the whale I began by searching for pictures of Humpback whales online. In particular, I was looking for pictures that were directly from the side, or that were from above. I was able to figure out some basic proportions from these pictures which guided me as as I figured out things such as where the widest part of the whale would be, and what its width should be compared to its length. Though I have heard that these whales tend to be somewhat flatter on top than on the bottom, I took a bit of artistic liberty and assumed an oval cross section. I drew in where I wanted cross sectional pieces to be, and an articulated backbone. I knew an oval could be drawn with a loop of string and two nails, so I did some math to figure out how wide to place he nails, and how long to make a loop of string to draw each oval cross section and started cutting pieces out. Everything is bolted together so that after all pieces are bent into place, I can completely take the jig apart inside the framework and remove it piece by piece.

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The profile drawing( with a few things in the way).image

The nearly completed building jig.

Currently, I have bent the central top and bottom stringers into place and dowelled them to the nose and central tail pieces. The  I stringers are Oregon White Oak I bought when building the kayak. The nose and tail pieces are from an old 2×4 from the Rebuilding Center that has relatively tight grain. I am keeping sustainability in mind, and it has been great fun starting to see the shape emerge. More to come!

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The first two pieces steam bent into place.

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Testing the locations of the next two stringers.

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