Painters, at least in the world of fine art, like to refer to their targeted surface as a “canvas.” Not surprising, in the old days canvas was stretched over a frame—normally square or rectangular—and became the surface upon which to design and paint a masterpiece. As you might recall from last week, we’re not working on canvas (its door veneer), but the artist’s terminology still is appropriate. When you have this much time into a project it’s “art”…or torture.
The latter set of sentiments depends on personal opinion. There are clearly students who find the lofting process a lot of fun. Wandering through the shops, I find boats drawn with multiple colors, carefully marking wood beams to reflect end grains. Then there’s the “survivalists.” This last group is ever so carefully marching through this exercise, but with much more expenditure of blood, sweat and toil.
I suspect some of this pain comes from our morning lecture. Jeff Hammond likes to stroll through his instruction as though lofting is just another trip to the grocery store (he’s been doing it for 34+ years). Some thought is involved in planning meals for a coming week, but the rest is automatic—purchase milk, eggs, butter and bread.
Well, ho hum for Jeff, not so simple from my perspective.
At this point we have managed to plot out and draw in lines for a half-breadth, plane form, and even sketch a transom. Victory!
Turns out there are “developments.” Developments mean drawing in dimensions for half rabbets, beards and potential ribbing. What was an already confusing collection of lines is now becoming a very complicated set of construction plans. My head hurts just standing back and looking at the 6 x 18 foot canvas. Hard to imagine the old-timers used to follow similar procedures for building a 50 foot yacht.
Every morning in the shop starts with a routine intended to facilitate progress.
(1) Find a collection of pencils
(2) Locate the pencil sharpener
(3) Stuff same and large erasure in coat pocket
(4) Grab hammer and bucket of nails. (Hammer and nails? Yup. Need to pound in a finish nail at critical points to line up a baton—no one free-hands a 16 foot line, or a 5 foot line for that matter. I bet we have driven over a thousand nails at this point in the design.)
(5) Now pick up the much soiled set of instructions and begin plotting another dimension for a boat builder.
Did I mention knee pads and socks?
With all this detail work laid out on shop floors, the last thing one wants is muddy foot prints across a canvas. Shoes and boots get shed at the front door. Some students spend their days in socks, others opt for slippers, moccasins, and even boat shoes. All in the name of keeping the canvas relatively clean. As for the knee pads, try spending six hours a day on your knees. Nice to have something soft between the floor and aging bones, even if you just turned 20.
And so we proceed through laying out lines for a design that likely amused no small number of sailors over the last 100 years. In essence, we are making the old new again, burning through a lot of number two pencils and at least 3 pounds of erasure along the way.
With coffee cup in hand, a stroll through the shop at the endo the day shows progress. Head cleared, it’s time to assume the “God’s eye” view. That is to say, you walk to baseline at the center point of plane form and look down. Very slowly you gage your masterpiece.
Are the lines flowing to fair? Does the half-breadth communicate a perspective from bow and stern? Can you still find the aft and forward points? And what about that pesky sheer line—is it lost in the butt lines, half rabbet and beard? Does all that make sense?
Surprisingly, it does in my head, at least for the moment. I’m told we get to repeat the entire exercise when constructing skiffs by the middle of December. Think I will head over to the store for another collection of pencils, erasers and finish nails.
Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop
when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid
sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.