Category Archives: Boats

Time to Flip!

So, with the assembly of the lower hull complete, it is time to seal and paint the bottom, then flip her over. I had to do some research on just what steps were necessary to finish the bottom of the boat, what kind of paints to use, etc. I determined that the procedure was going to be as follows…

First step was to spend some additional time sanding the hull. In order for the finished boat to look good, I had to smooth out every divot, clean up the edges, etc. Yet more sanding – and after every pass, it seemed like I found new stuff that had to be handled. Finally, I had to declare things “good enough”.

After sanding, I sealed the hull with a clear sealer. The point of the sealer is to protect the wood from the water. Since I won’t be leaving the boar in the water for more than a few hours at a time, it may not have been necessary. But, I figured what-the-heck, might as well do it right.

After sealing, it was time for another pass with the sander. The sealer leaves a rough texture when it dries, so I had to smooth that out. Once the hull was smooth, it was time to prime. The job of the primer is to smooth out imperfections (of which there are many!) and help the paint to stick. It is nasty stuff. Thick and sticky and toxic-smelling. I put on one coat and let it dry, then it was time to sand again. After sanding, I did a second touch-up coat of primer, and put the stuff away, hopefully for a while.


After priming, it was finally time to paint. But before that, it was time to address the paint odor issue. Painting in the basement was smelling up the whole house. And, I was worrying about the toll that all these fumes were taking on my limited stocks of brain cells. So, I bought a cheap canopy and the best respirator I could find, and moved the whole kit outside.

The paint went on smooth and looked awesome when it dried. I went with white for the hull, with dark blue trim. Managed to get two coats of both colors on while fighting the heat wave. Early morning breeze and late morning heat (not supposed to paint when it is hotter than ninety degrees) left me a slim window.


By the way, the safety glasses are actually bifocals – normal if I look ahead, but magnified if I look down, so I can see what I am doing for close-up (like, within two feet) stuff. Ah, the ravages of old age…

The boat looks great from a distance – just needs a little touch-up. I’m not going to let anyone within five feet of her, though… that is where you can start to tell just how much of an amateur I am! But I am happy with things so far.

Usually when boatbuilding, the “flip” is a big deal. With most boats, it is difficult, takes lots of people, and is followed with celebratory drinking afterword. In my case, though, it just takes two of us to pick her up and turn her over – about like moving a couch. So I skipped the party, flipped the boat, put a coat of sealer on the inside of the hull, moved her back inside, and started plotting my next steps.


I’d Say it is Now Officially a “Hull”

In my last post I was excited to report that the side panels were installed, and now I am equally thrilled to report that the tunnel floors are now in place as well, meaning that the hull is essentially assembled. This means that if I turned her over and put her in the water, she would float. I could even get in and paddle around! But, it’s not time for that yet.

The tunnel floors were fairly tricky. Once they are in place, they are difficult to modify. This meant that I had to cut them very close to their final shape prior to installing them. This is not trivial when we are talking about ten foot panels of plywood. At least, not trivial for ME…


Installation was complicated by the fact that there is really no way to clamp them into place. This meant pre-drilling all the screw holes, applying epoxy, holding the panel in place on the frame, and screwing it into place. I was determined not to have a colossal, glue-y mess… and I was successful in this regard.

Once the tunnel floors were installed, there was just one more simple installation step, and that was mounting the splash rails. It wasn’t as easy as it looked, but I got it done in good order.

So, once the splash rails were on, I had a completely assembled hull… complete with rough spots, minor overhangs and gaps, and hundreds of countersunk screws and nails. Hardly something ready to finish. So, I went out and bought some fairing compound, a bunch of sandpaper, and a random orbital sander, and got to work. Thanks to my inexperience, this turned out to be a lot of work indeed! Much, much hand-sanding, filling and refilling, more sanding, etc. A couple weekend’s worth, in fact. It will go much faster when I do the topsides, I promise you that!

Now, while it is not perfect, it is good enough, and/or as good as it is going to get! This means that it is time to seal, prime, and paint the bottom, prior to flipping her over and working on the top side. I am going to get started this weekend, and I can hardly wait!


Side Panels are On!

At the time of the last update, the frame was completely assembled. The next step after that is to start installing the plywood panels that make up the hull of the boat. But, first, there is some fairing to be done.

What, you may ask, is “fairing”? The answer is, fairing is the process of planing, sanding, bending, etc., that makes the frame properly shaped such that the plywood panels fit snugly and securely. The pictures below show an “unfaired” section of the boat, along with a similar section where fairing is complete.





To do this with an degree of efficiency, I needed some tools that I did not have – one of which I bought, and one of which I made. The tool I purchased is a power planer, which makes quick work of removing wood. It generates prodigious amounts of wood shavings, but conveniently hooks up to a shop-vac for easy collection of said shavings. The other tool I needed was a strip sander; that is, a sanding block that is 18 inches long and three inches wide. This tool allows me to sand two frame members at the same time, so that the faces I am sanding are pretty much co-planar. The tool is simply a strip of plywood with handles on one side and sandpaper (actually, a sanding belt that I cut) stapled on. Works like a champ!

WP_20140324_21_12_00_ProWhen I got ready to dig into this task, I noticed something distressing: part of the tunnel frame had warped. The picture to the left shows how bad the warping is – the tunnel side should be exactly square, and is clearly far from it! Not sure why that happened, but I was pretty sure I had to fix it – I had visions of my slightly asymmetric little boat running around in tight circles as her crooked tunnels would not allow her to go straight! It was easily fixed by installing a couple braces in the tunnel itself; these will be a little tricky to remove once the bottom is installed, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it!

Once the tunnel was straightened, it was time to start fairing in earnest. All frames had to be beveled so that they were roughly co-planar, then they had to sanded with my long samding block so that they were perfectly flat with each other – or at least as close as I could get them. It got particularly tricky up at the bow, where the boat is curved, and everything somehow converges together. I have a feeling that at some point it is going to take a lot of epoxy and filler to make everything clean and watertight.

Once fairing was complete, it was time to glue the panels to the frame. With a bit of trepidation (and lots of epoxy everywhere!) I clamped on the panel on the port side. It took every clamp I owned to hold the thing in place, so I had to wait a few days to put on the starboard side. As you can see from the pictures, initially the fit of the panels is pretty rough.

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Once the side panels were installed, another big fairing task was required to get ready to install the tunnel floors. Both the chine logs and the tunnel runners needed to be extensively beveled and sanded so the tunnel floor panel will fit snugly. I am very interested to see how it all comes together at the bow. Hopefully I will find out this weekend!

Here are some photos of the faired hull, ready to start working on tunnel floor fit and assembly. I cleaned things up a bit for the occasion. Enjoy!


Boat Status – It’s Coming Along…

It has been awhile since I published an update on how the boat is coming. It does not mean that I haven’t been working on it, because I have! But I certainly have been going slower than I would like. Since I am no real hurry, though, I am not complaining.

At the end of my last update, I was getting ready to install the floor of the boat, known as the “tunnel floor”. Before adding the floor, I had to mount battens along the frame to support the plywood floor, which is only a quarter inch thick. Then the floor was ready to be mounted, using epoxy and screws. The lines on the tunnel floor are chalk lines which show the locations of the battens underneath the plywood.


After the tunnel floor was installed, it was time to turn the boat over and do some work on the front of the boat, or “bow”. The bow piece is where all the framing elements come together, so I installed that to the floor and battens using healthy amounts of epoxy and screws. The picture below shows the bow of the boat, with the bow piece being the curved member towards the bottom of the picture.


Yes, I know, I am neatness-challenged. You don’t need to tell me…

The long strips of wood that are held to the bow piece with clamps in the picture above are called the “sheer clamp”. These framing members basically define the border between the deck of the boat and the sides of the boat. As the sheer clamp has to be bent into shape, it was a little tricky to install. Since the boat is very flexible at this stage, it is easy for the tension of the bent wood to deform the hull. So, I tried very hard to keep everything symmetrical, and in balance.  The picture below shows the boat right-side up, with the sheer clamps installed. In case you are wondering, those are tow 50-pound dumbells on the top of the boat, I use these to keep the hull firmly on the sawhorses.


Now that the shear clamps are installed, it is time to turn the hull back over, and install the chine logs. The chine log is the framing member that sets the boundary between the side of the boat and the bottom. If you think these names are confusing, you are not alone. I spend lots of time scratching my head over this, and doublechecking to make sure I am working on the right thing!

The chine logs are another frame member made with bent wood, that need to be installed very carefully so as not to deform the hull. It also turned out to be quite tricky to make all these pieces come together properly at the bow of the boat. I *think* I got everything right, and am hoping I don’t get surprised later! Once again, liberal amounts of epoxy seem to help. The pictures below shows where things are now; click on any of them for a closer view.

If you use a little imagination, you can almost tell that it might end up as a boat!

The next step is what is known as “fairing”. Basically, fairing is the process by which all edges are smoothed, bevels created, and curves adjusted such that the planking matches perfectly with the frame. As I am very challenged as far as detail work is concerned, this might be interesting!

Boatbuilding Update: Making progress, slowly but surely

It’s been a few weeks, so I thought I would summarize the progress I am making on the boat.

As I mentioned earlier, I am building the boat in my wine cellar. So, I’ll start off by showing you the workspace. If you look around, you’ll see that the place is already filling up with lumber and plans.

Building is a pretty slow process, because my woodworking skills, poor to begin with, are very rusty. And, there is lots to learn about cutting and assembling with precision, mixing and handling epoxy, etc. I am trying to go slowly, and discard any work that is sloppy or otherwise not up to snuff – which is really counter to my natural instincts. Crown molding was one of my last carpentry projects, and, trust me, caulk was my best friend!

Last weekend was definitely a milestone, as I started assembling the frame of the boat. Somewhat of a point of no return! So far so good, though, as I got the first pieces connected with each other without a hitch…

You will see that one can’t possibly possess too many clamps for this endeavor, and I suspect that I will be making another trip to Harbor Freight soon to double down.

I had some time during the week this week, so I prepared the battens and the runner cleats, which will allow me to install the floor of the boat. I also spent a few hours reinforcing the frame with brass nails and screws, as appropriate.

Saturday was a really nice day, so I spent some time sanding in the morning, then went for a quick hike in the afternoon to get the blood moving a bit. Took this shadow-selfie with Mt Diablo in the background…

Today, prior to wasting my late afternoon and evening watching the Super Bowl, I epoxied the runner cleats to the tunnel sides, as seen in the picture below. If you look on the floor, you can also see a long strip of plywood with dumbells on it. This is basically a scarff joint being made – making the ten foot long tunnel floor by joining an eight foot piece and a two foot piece. The joint should be cured by tomorrow, and the floor can be installed.

Once the floor goes in, hopefully sometime this week, we will start to look like a boat!

From Making Wine to… Building a Boat?

I have been making wine in my cellar for the past half dozen years or so, but this year I found myself getting tired of it. Why am I getting tired of it, you might ask? I guess there is no single reason, but several things combined. First, the grapes I am working with, which are growing in my yard, just aren’t that good. They don’t get ripe enough, and the pH tends to be too high. This makes it tough for an amateur like me to make wine that is good enough for me to want to drink it. Second thing is, even when the wine is pretty good, it is tough to get rid of. My vineyard would usually yield ten to twenty cases, which is a LOT of wine. Finally, I guess I just get bored doing the same exact thing year after year, trying to make incremental improvements each year. I just don’t have the patience for it.

I like to have “projects” though, something outside of work to apply myself to, use my brain and my hands a bit. And to keep myself from getting bored, particularly during the winter.

I have wanted to build a boat for many, many years, so I decided to switch gears and give that a go. Temperamentally, I am a big-picture guy who is terrible at detail work, so I figure boat building would force me to correct this flaw. I have never been that attracted to mechanical work, so I figure it is better for me than, say, restoring cars. Finally, I want something at the the end of the project that I can enjoy and be proud of.

And, I have always loved boats. So here we go.

A bit of background… I grew up going to Lake George in the Adirondacks every summer. My grandfather, Bob Henry, was into boats, and had some pretty spectacular hydroplanes – gentleman racers from the Gold Cup races that were held on Lake George in the 1930’s.  Chloe, originally and currently named Ethyl Ruth IV, was a 1934 Gold Cup racer by Hackercraft. Juno was a Ventnor, one of the first racing boats with sponsons, originally (and incredibly) built as a suicide torpedo boat for the Chinese Navy. Sadly, both were sold for a pittance when my grandfather died in the early 1970’s to settle the estate; breaks my heart to think about it! And, as you can see, both have subsequently been beautifully restored, and are one-of-a-kind million dollar boats.


Bob’s younger brother Jack was into outboards, and was actually the Mercury dealer in Ticonderoga in the 1950’s for a while. He raced a Raveau DU 16-foot racing runabout  named Gingerly; my cousin Ginger still has her in a garage somewhere I think!


When I was eleven or so, inspired by my grandfather and my uncle, I decided to build an eight foot hydroplane called Minimax (image below) that I saw in Popular Science magazine. I bought the plans and a bunch of lumber, but sadly never got very far. So, forty years later, I am finally getting back to it!


Once I decided for sure that I wanted to build a boat, I had to figure out what to build, and where to build it. And this turned out to be harder than I thought. While our house and our yard is more than adequate in size, there is no great place to build a boat. It is too cold outside in winter, and the garage is full of cars, of all things. So, I decided to repurpose my wine cellar to be my boatbuilding shop,

This cellar, however, is very small. It is about thirteen feet square, with a smaller adjacent storage room that is about seven feet by twelve feet. It is also directly adjacent to a small outdoor pad where I used to crush grapes. As a workspace, this would just have to do. I lugged my winemaking equipment – press, 200 liter tanks, bottler, corker, fermenting vessels –  into the storage room. Then, I set about looking for a small boat to build that I would be happy with.

After poring through loads of web sites and Wooden Boat magazines, I decided to go back to my roots and build a little hydroplane. Really little, since that is all the space I have! I am building a little tunnel-hull boat called the Tunnel Mite, hopefully it will end up looking something half as good as the picture below. I have been having fun learning about lumber, tools, fasteners, epoxy, and how to use them, and am officially under way! I will provide an update or two once I have something worth showing.