Maybe it was in second grade (I don’t remember kindergarten or first grade; a real shame), as at least one author has made a fortune by claiming to have learned everything necessary for life during that first year of exposure to a public education. (Think I’m kidding? Ask the local librarian for a copy of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten first published in 1986.) Anyway, back in second grade I was told everything had to be done one step at a time. We’re certainly at that stage here in week 14 of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.
One of the things that becomes apparent as the Class of 2016 moves along is the Jedi masters—aka instructors—provide much more space for completion of our own mistakes. In other words, that measurement you missed, the bevel not quite right, or lofting that made no sense, well, now you get to try it out and then spend time fixing an original error. Hence the temptation to make every cut more than a little wide of that precious pencil mark. It’s a lot easier to sand or work with a plane than trying to figure out how you will add wood back onto a beam that just does not make the mark. This is where some of us get to be jealous of the contemporary students. They really do know how to adhere materials back onto a miss-cut plank. (Epoxy, the magic elixir for boatbuilders). Alas, I am a knuckle-dragger (a large craft student) where we don’t get access to epoxy, just the band saw or a planer. Not that this is a bad thing. Thanks to Mr. Edison’s contribution of electricity, we are now attacking 30 foot planks. For those tasks we have a stable of band saws and “Oliver.”
Have I introduced “Oliver?
Welcome to an industrial planer. Oliver likely came to life sometime in the early 1950s. Located on the leeward side of the Rubb Shelter, Oliver lives in a lean-to shed that keeps him dry while allowing for extrusion of endless sawdust and shavings. I know this because large craft students don’t get dainty planks and indoor work spaces. We are condemned to a life of timber loads delivered aboard semi-trucks and only transported about the work space with a lot of manual labor. As a result, we spent all Friday afternoon keeping Oliver busy by taking $8,700 of Douglas Fir from 1 ¼ inch to 5/8 inch. This is no minor undertaking, particularly when many of the planks are over 30 feet long and 14 inches wide and need to go through Oliver five times. My gym trip is rendered moot with my workout coming from chasing a lot of timber through Oliver and then cleaning up the subsequent mess. Fifteen industrial-sized garbage bags filled with shavings to be exact. I, and my fellow culprits, will smell like Douglas Fir for more than a few days.
Why all this labor? Because we’re planking a Folkboat!
Meanwhile, elsewhere in our Boat School world, the contemporary team has put its first round of epoxy into the Handy Billy and are starting to put planks on the submarine mold. Oh, and Jedi master Bruce Blatchley has a skiff that looks ready to launch, but more on that in a moment.
Up in the Rubb Shelter, Jedi master Leigh O’Connor is leading a charge on the pair of Whitehalls and has a sailing skiff thinking about splashing into the Pacific. The cold and rain have not slowed his team. They persevere and are crafting elements of their boats at an amazing pace. Apparently working in unheated spaces really does cause an increase in productivity.
Thinking of heated spaces, the small-craft crew is “building in heated luxury” (just kidding, it gets damn cold in there too) in the Westrem building working hard on lofting an 18′ runabout. Only the contemporary students live in warmth, something about the epoxy needing to set that swirls into more science than I am going to understand. It’s going to be interesting to see what rolls out of that shop come Spring.
And with that we come to the end of week 14—one step at a time. You must have the right lofting to build, the right timber milled to appropriate dimensions to plank, and the right surface and temperature to epoxy. But! You also need to know when it’s time to sit back and appreciate a finished product. And so we did, on Friday when Jedi master Ben Kahn splashed his team’s drift boat into the Pacific. Looks nothing like the other skiffs but serves the same purpose: Water stays out and occupants get to wander the other 70% of our planet’s surface.
One step, one step at a time.
My second grade teacher was right but it only took me 48 years to realize the wisdom of her lesson.
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.