canoe, part 5: shaping the stems, starting with the planking

After the mold was set up the inner stems were attached (with clamps) and had to be shaped to receive the planking. I did this with a plane, most people not working inside a living room, simply use a sander. A difficulty lies in foreseeing the edge that the stems need to have. With sanding its not a big deal to shape the stem only for an area of four or five planks and then see what shape the next area needs to have. with a plane its really difficult to do that…

After the stems are in the right shape where the first plank goes, a pretty scary part starts. Planking. Especially the first plank got me nervous. From here on every plank will sit on the next, so the first plank really has to sit at the right spot, have the right bend towards the stern and the two opposing planks have to be exactly symmetrical, the length to the centre the same, so that after  planking all the hull, the last planks are actually sitting in the middle. As is so often the case, everything is much easier once you start. In the beginning the most difficult part is to handle the long planks. Flex clamps are king here….After stapling the first plank to the mold stations, the end is glued to the inner stem.

the first plank. yeah.

the first plank. yeah.

canoe, part 4: setting up the mold

In January 2013, I had the molds ready and the stems too and now there wasn’t any excuse anymore to not start building the strong-back and putting the molds onto it. I could of course have prepared for my defense of the dissertation, but….yeah, whatever.

So, it was time to occupy the living room with what looked to many like some kind of dinosaur skeleton (although to be honest I don’t get it). When a good friend of mine came over one afternoon and saw the monster, he looked at me with total amazement and said, “so you are really doing this!”. Obviously a lot of people still thought I was making jokes…

in front: "the monster" in the background: a flatmate

in front: “the monster” in the background: a flatmate

Building a strong-back is just about getting a stable foundation, how you do that is pretty much up to what wood lies around, or how much you want to spend on it. After the strong-back is set up the mold stations have to be positioned in the right spots, I used one foot of in-between space (instead of one foot from centre to centre) because I wanted the canoe a little longer than in the plan (I should have made it as long as my planks would have gone). When I had centred all the mold stations on the strong-back I set up a string across the top of the whole mold (the keel-line). To my disappointment the molds were no where near centred. I tried to do my best to reposition the molds and was really worried that the whole boat would become asymmetrical. Later, when most of the hull was built, I realised that the wood finds its way itself anyway and that a millimeter here or there doesn’t make a difference.

a not so strong, not so straight but very interesting for kids, strong-back

a not so strong, not so straight but very interesting for kids, strong-back

canoe, part 3: buying the wood and making the stems (bow and stern)

Because I knew that once I put up the strongback for the molds, space in our living room would be very limited, I wanted to do what I could before hand. That wasn’t much, but one thing was to bend and glue the stems. I bought most of my wood from Stefan Kraus, a guy who sells kits as well as everything you could ask for when building a canoe, kayak or row boat and is based in Southern Germany (not close, but close enough). I thought about making the planking strips myself for a very long time, but with a lenght of more than 5 metres, the first problem is to get wood of the right quality that length. Everything above five metres is very difficult to get. The next problem is, that in order to be able to cut the strips and to then run them through a routertable for the bead-and-cove edge, you need at least five metres to each side of the table saw/router table. Space, that I just didn’t have.
Apart from the strips, most of them in spruce or fir, some in mahogany, I also bought the strips for the stern and bow from Stefan Kraus. I chose ash because of its flexibility and good color. For all the other parts I bought a large plank of ash locally.
One of my big concerns was how to bend the wood. After a lot of research I decided that it would be worth trying to bend them after soaking them in the bath tub overnight. The only problem with this method is that it takes a long time for the water to get out of the wood again (since they are soaked rather than steamed). Since I was going away over Christmas this wasn’t a problem for me. I made the water as hot as I could and warmed it up in the morning before getting the strips out for bending.

Soaking ash for the stern

Soaking ash for the stern

To bend the wood I used all the clamps I could get a hold off. After the strips were bent around the mold with the clamps  as well as a temporary jig I made, I used cable ties to have my clamps available again for the second stern. I left this on for all of the holidays, but I think a week would have been more than enough drying time.
After the holidays I glued the strips together using epoxy. The stems are made of six strips, three on the inside, three on the outside. The inside is attached to the mold and then the long strips for the hull are glued to it. later the outside is glued to the inside, so when making the stems one has to put a layer of tape between the outside and inside part in order for it not to be glued together accidentally (believe me, stuff like that will happen).

The stern strips after bending

The stem strips after bending

 

a temporary jig held the strips in form for gluing

a temporary jig held the strips in form for gluing

gluing the stern with all the clamps available...

gluing the stem with all the clamps available…

 

 

canoe, part 2: making the plans and the mold

I picked the ranger (basically a prospector) from the canoecraft book and with the help of an imperial ruler that I got because it is too annoying to convert all measurements into the metric system, I started drawing the plans for the molds.

Drawing the plans from the tables in canoecraft

Drawing the plans from the tables in canoecraft

The plans were then transferred to oriented strand boards (OSB) which is pretty cheap and does the job (as we will later see, it doesn’t hold staples very well, which is a big downside). The method I used was to lay the plan out on the board, fix it and then take a ball-pen to push little holes in the wood along the lines of the plan. This worked really well.
Cutting out the mold is a science by itself, there are a lot of different ways to do this. What I did, was to cut out one half of the mold as exact as possible and the other half rough. when one half was perfect I screwed the two molds together (since the canoe has a symetric design every mold except for the centre one exists twice). Then i used a flush trim router bit to copy the perfect side of one mold to the other mold. after this I screwed the mold together turning one of the molds. This way I had one perfect side on each mold that I could use again to make the two remaining rough sides perfect. The process might seem long, but it actually works good and fast and there is no more sanding to be done afterwards (at least in theory).

canoe, part 1: a canoe in the living room?

As a child I spent considerable time on our family boat, a wooden schooner from 1935. Ever since, it was always my dream to build a boat myself and sail the world. While being in the final stages of writing my dissertation, the idea came to me, that with small kids, and living in the middle of Berlin, a canoe would be a large enough project for now. After watching all the videos of people building canoes that are out there, I bought the “canoecraft” book by Ted Moores. Throughout all of the final phase of writing my thesis, the book was there to be looked at in the evening and dream about actually doing this. Only problem, I had no workshop, except for little self build workbench in the hall way of our flat. After some thinking I came to the conclusion that there really wasn`t any other option than to build it in the living room. I had to convince my flatmates that our living room would still be functional and that I would do the sanding of the epoxy, which is pretty harmful stuff, when the canoe was stable enough to be lifted out of the window, lowered to the ground and sit in the little garden that friends had in our street. Eventually they said yes to the project, most likely because they thought I would never do it anyway. After submission of my thesis I started and proved them wrong.