Monday, January 30, 2012

The Hatchet Job

As I was saying...

...the hatchet job was looming - cutting out the hatches.

Oh boy, I was scared of cutting hexagonal hatches - into that very curved surface of the front deck in particular.

One wrong move could mess up many weeks of painstaking work. Of course, there was the option of not cutting hatches at all and I certainly gave this option serious consideration.

In the end though - if the job was done well - it really would look quite nice not to mention being practical.

Wouldn't you rather stuff lunch and sundry items into a hatch instead of having the errant apple and pretzels roll around in the cockpit whilst performing exotic Eskimo maneuvers?! Right, I thought so.

I talked to Joey and discussed tools.The manual called for use of a powered jig-saw... and I had purchased it - but found the use of it on the curved surface totally unnerving.  Joey recommended the small Japanese saw with the little tooth in front for the straight cuts and a bonsai saw for the curves.

For days I sat on my hands, made excuses, did other stuff and generally avoided any thought of cutting into my precious wood work.

Finally, I plucked up enough courage and took the plunge. I graphed the hexagon shapes on the hull, surrounded the shape with frog tape and grabbed saw and courage by the throat..

I followed Joey's recommendation and started on a straight line with the Japanese Beading Saw with Woodpecker Tooth. I ran the saw along a metal ruler to ensure that the initial scratch into the epoxy surface would be perfectly straight.

This technique proved to work quite well for all straight cuts, the tape on one side and the ruler on the other of a super-narrow slot.

AFTER - future hatch exhausted - resting behind
The curves were more of a challenge mostly because the Bonsai saw cuts a wider slot and therefore the transition was a bit awkward.

When it came to installing the hatch spacer and sill, I was particularly glad that I could work from both sides of the deck.

I doubt that I would have been able to accomplish a clean fillet between the sill assembly and the underside of the deck without seeing what I was doing.

It was really a mini fillet because I want to make sure I keep the boat at the 40 lb target weight.

Typically, kayak hatches have some type of webbing or bungee strap running over the top in order to hold it down and keep a seal with the sealing strip underneath.

In this case I opted for a closing mechanism that is entirely internal thereby avoiding the straps which would otherwise mar the lines of the design.

Essentially, the hatch will be pressed down by being attached to two bungees from underneath. It is a very elegant solution and with my deck design, I am glad that I'll be able to install that instead of the alternative.

Otherwise I might have foregone the hatch-job altogether :-)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Inside Job

Following up to fiber-glassing the topside of the the deck, it was time to tend to the underside.

The manual suggests doing the underside of the deck first and then finishing the top AFTER the deck has been epoxied to the hull. In consultation with Joey, my CLC / Night Heron guru, I opted to reverse this sequence for more than one reason.

I had been concerned that I might actually sand through one or two areas of the deck that did not lay quite the way it should. If that happened, it would be a lot more difficult to fix with the deck already attached.

So, I reinforced the underside with a bit of epoxy schmutz in the areas of concern but then turned it around to sand and fiber-glassed the deck. Luckily I never sanded through any areas.

Preparing the underside of the deck was a matter of scaping, sanding and sweating. Since appearance was not of the utmost importance, I did not go overboard, as it were. The glassing process was quite easy.

After trimming off the fiberglass, I exerted a little inward pressure on the sheer strip by simply stretching my handy frog tape across the turned-over deck. (Another valuable tip from Joey!) This trick ensured that as the epoxy and fiberglass cured, the deck would not spread outward. I suspect that the tendency to "open up" is an effect of the curved strips.

Since I had not attached the deck to the hull yet, Joey recommended that I take care of several other tasks as well. It certainly was easy to install the inside studs for the foot braces without crawling into the boat. Another task easily done before deck and hull are joined is the installation of the bungee braces which will serve to hold down the hatches.

And, yes, then there was the matter of the hatches looming... also better done before closing the lid (since both sides were already fiber-glassed).

Honestly, this is the part I have been dreading ever since I first looked at the manual.

Cut into that clean deck with a saw? - On purpose?!! -- Oy!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ready or Not

Enough of sanding!
Rug-cutting time!

Time to commit! So, roll out the fiberglass over the deck...

(you can see through the fiberglass roving)

...and seal in the deck with the first coat of epoxy.


As soon as the epoxy soaks through the fiberglass, it becomes translucent, and you get the first glimpse of how the boat will look after it has been varnished.

Of course, that is still quite a ways off.

I'll put on a couple of coats of epoxy and then flip the deck upside down and prepare the underside for the same fiberglass treatment. 

Yes, you guessed it: Bring on the sandman.

I'll have to do more scraping and sanding for a sufficiently smooth underside to lay down the fiberglass.

Obviously, beauty is not the determining factor here! The interior deck will not see the light of day with the exception of the two hatch covers.

However the concave surface is a lot harder to sand well. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Sandman Cometh

After placing the deck back onto the forms, the dominant boat building task was at hand, so to speak...

Now that the planks have been stripped, I have to scratch my way to a super-smooth surface. Given the sweeping curves, I would not be getting much use of the orbital sander... no, no, it was time to summon the "inner sandman".

As I was expecting, the sanding process opened up some seams which had not been fused perfectly. Other imperfections and some downright mistakes also screamed for attention.

To make a longish story somewhat shorter, the sanding process took much more time than advertised in the manual... but I already knew that - and it did not matter to me. You have to submerge yourself into that certain zone where time ceases to exist. The Zen of Sanding, they call it.

On one hand I wished that I had had the experience I now have when I first started the project, but that is of course utterly silly.

Preparation for the fix
So, I focus on learning more about how to fix problem areas and deal with them with a cool head. Here is an example of the type of things that might get you nervous.

The problem on the left did not look all that bad initially - but I determined that I would not be happy. So I actually had to dig myself into a deeper hole in order to superimpose a stable fix.
A band aid for the boo-boo

After sanding flush

When you build a boat like this; it is almost as though you must build another strip-planked boat if only to make use of your hard-earned skill.

Now, if your name is Nick Schade, you don't have those sort of problems. But how many kayaks did he built before he reached that point of utter perfection - that is: from the viewpoint of mere mortals.

How close to perfect is enough? Is it smooth enough? Where is the small scratch I just noticed from a different angle. Would it become more apparent once encapsulated under the fiberglass?

No doubt, a good bit of time in the building phase was occupied by contemplating - okay: agonizing - how far I would need to go in order to be personally okay with the eventual outcome.

How many more spots needed to be fixed, improved, ameliorated?

Then I sanded (some more), saw and sighed: Enough now!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Flipside

No flip-flopper I am - generally speaking - alas, in this case it was advised to make an exception.

Once I completed stripping the deck  I was afraid that sanding either side totally smooth might possibly go right through a couple of strips. The areas where the strips had been bent greatly had some uneven areas despite the fact that they all laid properly on the forms.

Though it is recommended in the manual, I did not want to glass in the underside first for this reason .

Instead, the plan was to (1) reinforce the questionable areas with epoxy schmutz from underneath and then (2) put the deck back on the forms, (3) sand the top with 120 and 220 grid to my hearts content until satisfactory and then (4) seal the top with fiberglass. Thereafter I will be able to safely sand down the underside of the deck and glass it as well.

I admit to also being curious to see the under-side of the deck would look like.  So I removed all remaining nails and took off the top to flip it round. Without the fiberglass encasement, the deck is still very fragile. However, the removal and flipping turned out to be easier than I had feared.

I had previously constructed a set of stands with webbing that allowed me to rest the deck upside down cuddled in a pair of web bands.

As I worked to reinforce the questionable areas with epoxy schmutz, I stretched tape across to ensure that the sheer-line would not deform and open up.

Once the epoxy cured, I felt a bit more confident about sanding the top without breaking right through the planks.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Of Whiskey Planks

Okay, it is exactly what you think: you've got to soak the plank in whiskey prior to installation. Well, not quite.

Strictly speaking, in boat building argot, a whiskey plank is the last plank of wood in the construction of the hull. CLC warns would-be builders of strip-plank boats not to be surprised if the whiskey plank ends up being a very narrow and/or oddly shaped piece of wood.

Ha! - I'm good on that count! My design calls for lots of those because there are a number of discrete "fields" in the design each of which ends up with one of these rather oddly shaped pieces.

At any rate, once I gained full appreciation of my folly of attempting this design (as my very first essay on strip planking) I thought it wiser to stop keeping track of my hours.

I did however grant temporary exception to the process of shaping my first whiskey plank: it took exactly one hour until I had the perfect fit and glued in place. With each subsequent piece I got a bit more efficient.

Some photos shall suffice to illustrate the point.

In the picture on the left, the piece to be put in place is actually the penultimate plank (of this field) but boy, it is getting quite "irregular" especially in terms of the bevel on each side.

While in pursuit of the perfect fit, you may also be driven to lubricate your mind with a bit of whiskey on account of the great patience required to get each side and bevel just right.

Here one of innumerable fittings until it sunk in snugly.

If I had chosen a more traditional, symmetrical design of the kayak deck, there may be one or two such planks.

Witness on the left one of many trial fittings of the actual final plank - THE whiskey plank.

As of 12/28/11 I finally put in place the very last plank - the whiskey's whiskey plank so to speak.

I checked in with Joey at CLC and discussed the sequence of next steps. I required some review of my options and clarification because it appeared that it might make sense that I deviate a bit from the sequence outlined in the manual.

I have quite a bit of work left to do on the deck making it as clean and smooth as possible before sealing in the final condition under a layer of epoxy and fiber glass.

Progress is visible but the job is far from being completed.

I anticipate being able to launch my Night Heron for an early spring paddle.

Happy New Year 2012!