Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building A Canoe: Steps V, VI, VII

We'll, the cool weather has finally started to creep into Vermont and now I feel an definite urgency in working on the canoe if I want to get it into the water before it ices. Once it gets below 50 degrees, I'll have to bring it indoors to finish the epoxy work but I'd really rather not have it set up in my living room. 

Step V - Finish Stripping
I found the stripping process to be very slow. It would take between 1.5 to 2 hrs to complete a full row all the way around. No doubt it would have been faster had I just used one type of wood, or even if I had a set pattern with different woods, but, counter-intuitively, there is much more thinking involved in trying to do something that looks random; that, along with getting small sections to fit tightly, changing between drill (definitely need to pre-drill the holes for screwing down the strips) and driver, and dealing with all the clamps, it was just a very slow process.  
I finished stripping on August 18. The last row was a little tricky because I needed to shape two pieces with a bead on both sides. They also had to be sculpted over a length of about ten inches from 3/4" wide to a point but I found my Lie-Nielsen 102 block plane was the perfect tool for the job. It was great to see them slide into place perfectly. The final count was 69 rows. I had planned on using only one strip of cherry but ended up using three, one on each side and one on the bottom. In addition, I had been worried about not having enough strips but, in the end, I had plenty, with 350 feet left over. In retrospect, 1200 linear feet would have been perfect (I started with 1385) but I'm sure I can find a use for my surplus. I'm thinking of making a flat wall piece with them. I think it would look great to have them displayed next to each other. 
Step VI - Fill Holes With Dowels
After stripping, my next step was to drill out all the staple and screw holes and fill them with 1/8" and 3/16" maple dowels. I had no idea how many 36" dowels to buy so I was glad to have a local source. I ended up making five trips to Spooner Specialties, picking up a total of thirteen 1/8" dowels and nine 3/16". I didn't count my holes but if I assume the my dowel length was 1/2" per hole, I filled over 900 1/8" holes and over 600 3/16" holes -- probably pretty close to the actual but I'm not interested in finding out the exact number. By the way, fair warning to any copycat canoe builders out there, forcing the 1/8" dowel into the 9/64" hole I drilled into the basswood was not fun. It was a real tight fit because the basswood didn't cut cleanly (I think the humidity of summer had something to do with it but filling the walnut holes was so much easier). My blisters have at least healed but I still have a sore shoulder.
I needed to take the canoe off the forms early in order to finish putting the dowels in the stems. 
In addition, I didn't feel comfortable with the design of the stems. I felt they needed some additional reinforcement. Ideally, there would have been a laminated strip inside the stem that the strips could be attached to, but it was too late for that so I ended up sticking 5/16" dowels through both sides and epoxy-ing them in place. I think this will work as well as anything. 
Step VII - Cleanup and Fill Gaps
The next step was to clean it up, shape the stems, and fill any holes/gaps. One of the problems with using walnut is that it didn't flex as well as the basswood so I did have a fair amount separation on the tight curves. Nothing too extreme, but definitely noticeable. I tried to make an epoxy putty that would match the wood using PC-11 (marine epoxy) and Transtint's Dark Mission Brown dye. For some reason it came out more gray than I would have liked but it was good enough.
It took about three rounds of sanding and refilling the holes. Luckily, I have a real nice Festool sander/grinder (it can be partially seen on the right side of the last image). Between cleaning up all the dowels, glue, and epoxy, I don't think I would have wanted to use anything else. I started with 36 grit paper (touching very lightly), and worked down to 120 grit. Gil Gilpatrick said that anything smaller than 80 grit doesn't make a difference but the sander/grinder leaves a very distinct sanding pattern so I wanted to go smaller. In addition, I went back and hand sanded with 100 grit paper just to make sure it looked good.  
 And there it is, prepped and ready for the first coat of epoxy!

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