Cross Frames vs. Stitch-and-Glue

In the current world of wooden boats, there are two main types of construction.  The historic method uses an internal structure with cross frames and longitudinal stringers to support and give shape to the hull planks.  A strong back or platform forms the steady foundation to mount the cross frames, generally at some equal spacing.  The boat is usually upside down for this part of the process.

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Precise mounting of the frames is crucial to build a boat with elegant, uninterrupted lines.  This is directly related to the accuracy of the foundation or strong back.  When it passes the last inspection, it is time to start adding the long parts, starting with the keel first.   Eventually, the hull planks are added to the bottom and when the structure is adequately rigid, the boat can be turned over.

For this model, I used 3/8″ plywood for the frames and cherry for the planks, mostly because I had pieces the right sizes and it looks a bit like mahogany.  Putting the hull planks in place was the most fun as it finally showed the beauty of the lines and the full shape.

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A new method of building boats was made possible by the development of modern adhesives like epoxy.  It is called Stitch and Glue, because large plywood pieces are cut to shape and stitched together, usually with wire.  Then fiberglass cloth is imbedded in epoxy to strengthen the joints and surfaces.

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Many kayaks and small boat kits use this method which works very well, if the boat has fairly flat surfaces curving in only one direction.  It is definitely a faster way of getting the hull done, but can look more boxy.  For me, I enjoyed the learning experience of making some patterns and stitching them together, but the lines of my model suffered without a good platform.

I wanted to make a wooden boat with more rounded hull and top surfaces, so narrower planking was required.  This pushed me in the direction of frames and stringers, which was fine since I wanted to learn more traditional methods anyway.  Below is the emerging boat with cross frames being mounted to the strong back runners.

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The foundation of the boat is eventually removed, but the strength and accuracy of its form has a permanent affect on the boats beauty and character.
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Half Hulls and Computer Models

Ideas come in all sorts of ways, inspired by variations on existing themes, or from problems that need a new solution. They are first recorded in the imagination, and a certain amount of refinement can be done by mental manipulation. Sometimes I lay awake in a quiet environment and rearrange parts of the design, with my eyes closed.

Soon however, it leads to putting the ideas into a visual form, to react to and reconsider. Perspective drawings are a good start, but eventually they give way to some 3D interaction. From the beginning it was my intention to learn bit more about traditional methods of boat building so this lead to making some Half Hulls, like so many boat designers of the past.

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Half Hulls are made from a variety of woods, with a combination of cutting, carving, rasping and sanding. Basswood is a favorite of carvers, but I used pine, douglas fir, and cherry because they also shape well and I had large enough blocks. Making only one side allowed a realistic view of the shape, but also made sure that when it was measured and scaled up to full size, the final boat would be symmetrical. Putting them up against a mirror is an interesting way to expand the view to see at least part of both sides.

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But Half Hulls are slow to make and modify. The computer has become a tool to do faster 3D drawing and modeling. This is what Jeff Margush began doing with his sophisticated program which lead. In a relatively short time, we were able to make many small changes for review and revision.

Along the way, I also found a 3D computer program called Delftship, that I would recommend to anyone wanting to dabble in boat design. It is available as a Delftship Pro, but is offered in beginner version as a free download with a tutorial. That was good enough for me to start with and it lead to some interesting experimentation.

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“Currently”… making progress with helpers Danny Seibert, Brayden Lehman and Hudson Reichanadter.

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If reason and calculation are the work of the mind, imagination is the play ground.

Reinventing the Wheel

It is not so surprising that I got into a rework challenge last week on the boat balance.  Over the years, I have been a faithful member of the Reinvent The Wheel Club, considering the current body of knowledge and existing plans a boring way to start a project.  That is how I developed the beautiful recumbent bicycle with front-wheel drive and middle steering.  Jeff and Doug tried to introduce me to the “world of whats already been done” and the potential engineering challenges.  Still, the elegance of it stirs me.  Maybe after the boat…

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With the boat, however, the stakes seemed higher and I thought it would be prudent to add a bit of research to my previous experience.  I already had some design preparation in art and ceramics classes along with a semester of architecture on one of those life detours to the Kansas University.

I had acquired a small collection of resources assembled over a long time of being interested in boats, stacks of Wooden Boat Magazine and a good sampling of boat books on my shelf, which I reread front to back.

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In one way, just having interest in a special area helps to define a God-given Gift.  It makes reading and exploration of the subject easy and sinks it deep into the foundation of memory.  For some, the Gift makes the action look almost effort less.  Most often, though it just makes the time spent so interesting or compelling that a person is willing to do it with out being paid.  Study, practice and work in an area of gifting return so much benefit, that it becomes self rewarding.

The other major resource was the people of like mind.  All along the way, Jeff Margush has been the connection to 3D modeling, how real things are made in the world of industry, and is the chief push back for design and engineering considerations.  Another great help was my cousin Jon Smucker, who has much experience with boat restoration.  He gave studied advice about all parts of how boats work and are built.  He knows materials for building like wood, metal and epoxy, and added his opinion about the engineering of the transom.

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Jon also introduced me to Jamestown Distributors whose sales crew is really knowledgeable and helpful for boat products.  Also, anyone who is contemplating building something with epoxy owes it to themselves to go the the West System site and download a free User Manual.  It will help keep you out of the RTW Club.

When you know someone else looks at Save A Classic on the last page of Wooden Boat magazine (Andy Blodgett), and longs for the space, time and tools to restore one of the featured boats, you have a friend.

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Kindred spirits develop quickly in friends who share a Gift.

Roadblocks

A story must be told from beginning to end— it simply wouldn’t make sense any other way. And so I figured, with the story of this boat, that it must begin with the beginning. Still, this story is unique in that its ending has not yet been written. We have only the beginning (a life-long dream of building a boat) and the “real-time” progression (a 19-foot speed boat in the makings). Will the dream be fulfilled? Will the boat actually meet the water? Will it sink or swim? Unlike other stories told in retrospect, the risk with this story is that even the author doesn’t know how it will end.

This week, in “real-time,” I hit a road-block with the boat. As often happens on adventures, I met a new friend who was kind enough to come over and give some experienced feedback. Brad Collins grew up building boats with his dad and has gone 100 MPH in a tunnel hull racer.

The first model boat test had gone quite well. I put the 1/5 scale model in the neighbors’ hot tub and loaded some cans and weights to have it settle down to the waterline.

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So when he told me that it was too heavy in the back and would sit off-balanced in the water, I thought I just maybe should check it out. Frustrated, I pulled out my sketches. I measured and worked and re-worked formulas. I found out about the definition of a moment arm: “Torque, moment or moment of force, is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot.” The fact is a 450 pound motor at the stern can move the Longitudinal Center of Gravity around 2 feet back on my boat, which creates a lot of tip up in front.

Next, it turns out that the 1/5 scale was really a 1/4.5 scale and so the weights I had used were too light and not positioned accurately enough. I filled the bathtub with water and loaded the boat model with soup cans to test it… again.

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Brad was right and the real boat was suffering from too much wishful thinking. I should probably wait to write this “chapter” until we are caught up to speed, until after this issue has been (hopefully) neatly resolved. But perhaps it is also important to capture the present tense of this story, as I sit at my desk sketching and figuring, and even I do not know what will happen next.

And so, as I continue to go backwards to document all that has taken place from the beginning until now, I have also decided to show you some glimpses of “real-time,” which we will call our “Currently” series. “Currently”… I am frustrated and determined and reminded that no great under-taking is accomplished without perseverance and commitment.

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This is God’s great Redemption. Only He can take all of the threads of our lives, pleasant and difficult, and weave them into a beautiful tapestry. It is too soon to quit.

Defining the Boat

A boat, like much else in life, cannot be all things to all people.  It must be focused to be the most successful in its intended purpose.  This boat became a speed boat instead of a sailboat mainly because I thought it would be used more by my family in years to come.  Beyond that, the boat was intended to show respect to the beautiful wooden boats from the early part of the last century while hoping to improve their ride in the choppy water of the larger inland lakes and also Lake Michigan.

First, it had to be made of wood with the same passion for craftsmanship, but also inspiring as a stand-alone object of beauty.  Who can resist going closer to inspect the restored Chriscraft, Century, Hacker or Garwood runabouts that are occasionally found on the waters of Long Lake, Crystal Lake, or Portage Lake, just to name a few?

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The length was set at 19 feet—to fit in my basement shop space—which should allow comfortable room for four adults, and the capacity to add a few more on a calm water sunset cruise.  The hull was to be of moderate plus dead rise, and narrower than many modern boats.  It would have to give up some lateral stability at rest, but slice through the waves better instead of pounding so much as some of the old runabouts did.  Of course, it needed enough power to pull a skier and to generally go fast…

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This steered me toward an outboard motor instead of a traditional inboard, both for easier adjustment of trim in rough water, and to give a better power to weight ratio for improved fuel economy.  I considered an IO (inboard/outboard) but the extra weight of the stern drive unit was too heavy for the water displacement of the designed beam (width) and draft (depth in water).

Finally, the boat was intended to be able to navigate through the Portage Lake Channel out to Lake Michigan on an average day, especially as the sun goes below the “three finger line.”  This line is found by holding your arm straight out with fingers starting at the horizon.  Each finger represents about 10-15 minutes until sunset, which is close enough on vacation.

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Watching the sunset from the shore is always reflective and calming.  To see the clouds transform from white and grey to the orange pink, with the sun playing through them is stunning.  But gently bobbing in a boat, watching the golden flecks on the wave crests of the steel blue water, is even more dramatic.  When the water turns slate grey, the wave tips dull to the color of salmon, and the sun pancakes in the western sky, it is time to think for a moment about eternity, and then go home.

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All of nature tells of the Creator, but a sunset is a special window to heaven.

Beginning the Adventure

So how did this dream of a lifetime actually move from the back burner into forward motion? A year ago, after coming to the end of a volleyball coaching chapter, I had one of those rare and brief periods with a bit of unaccounted freedom to sketch and think. About that time, I was talking with my neighbor Doug Martin who told me that my furniture probably looked “fine” to most people. But then he asked, “When was I ever going to build something that roars and races fast?” That question did make my custom cherry, curly maple and ebony stairway, and a tongue and grooved, mortised and tenoned, book-matched curly maple dresser look pretty tame.

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As I was mulling this thought over in my mind, I also was telling some friends that I was considering building a boat, but that the thought of it might just be a midlife crisis. One of them was quick to correct me, saying, “Don’t worry, you’re not that young.”

That was enough kick in the pants, and so one day I told a friend Jeff Margush that I was planning to build a boat and had done some pencil drawings. He invited me to come over to his house and put the lines into a 3D CAD drawing. This began a design collaboration of creating lines, making models and reviewing the shape that lasted around four months.

Our wives called these times “play dates,” but they wondered why it was mostly quiet during the process. If you have to ask, you might not understand. The work we did together definitely created a better boat design than what I would have accomplished on my own.

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Anyone who starts an adventure with the hope of valuable treasure, knowing the risk of pain or loss, is never really old.

The Dream

The dream of building a boat goes back to my childhood, as many dreams do.  They germinate in a fertile mind, and go through ebbs and flows as something stirs the memory.

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Around a half century has passed since I made my first boat, with a spinning paddle powered by a rubber band.  My model building materials were very primitive though, until one day when my mom sent me to the neighborhood dairy store to buy some Half and Half for making whipping cream.  This was a block and a half from our home on Myers Avenue, and across Highway 33 in Dunlap, Indiana.  In a stroke of good fortune, I passed the Golden Nugget Hobby Shop and looked in the window to see slot car racing and models galore.

What really caught my eye though was a box of a variety of sizes of balsa wood.  On future trips as my meager budget allowed, I began to buy a few pieces— dowels, rectangular rods, and several thicknesses of larger flat pieces.  On special occasions, like my birthday, I would get a real airplane kit to work from with parts already supplied.  But all of my boats were made from my small inventory of balsa wood pieces.  It never seemed like a handicap, however, as I had just as much fun starting from a drawing of my own.  Usually, the drawings were on heavy paper, which got cut out for patterns to transfer to the balsa wood sheets.

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This began the construction of the model airplane gliders and boats, including those in the photo.  The two on the right were sailboats, which had been fully equipped with a mast, sails, fin, and tiller.  The one on the left was a an Everglades swamp airboat, originally equipped with a Cox 0.20 gas engine mounted on a tripod.

The Cox 0.20 engine was a screamer and temperamental, but it was the only model I could afford at the Golden Nugget.  I set it up an home on a bench mount, gassed it up and hooked up the glow plug.  Then I began flipping over the propeller over and over, and sometimes the motor would start.  Then I mounted it on the airboat.

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One day at Little Eden Camp, I took the boat to the waterfront, ready to give it the first test.  It was set up to be free running, without radio control.  I tried and tried until my finger was sore but the engine would only sputter.  I quit and walked back to the cabin, where I gave it one more spin.  Amazingly, the motor started screaming and I ran back to the beach to launch it.  Just as I got  there, it ran out of gas.  That was the closest I ever got to seeing the airboat in action.

A generation later, when my son Austin was around 12, I finally finished my first radio controlled model, a six foot wing span glider, which I had been working on for a few years.   After a few successful flights from a 300 foot rubber band launch, I decided to convert it to a power glider.  I dusted off that old Cox 0.20 and mounted it on the airplane.

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This time the old motor actually behaved well and started quickly.  I released the plane with a slight upward angle and it climbed in a circle pattern to around 120 feet.  All of a sudden it changed trajectory and dove straight down like a Kami Kaze into the turf.  The wing came off in two pieces and the fuselage took significant damage as well.  The old Cox 0.20 engine died and buried itself.

Building Redemption

Welcome to Building Redemption.  At first glance, it is the description of the design and construction of a 19 foot wooden speedboat in my basement.  However, it also is the story of how God redeemed and brought together various parts of my life, that at the time were not clearly connected in purpose.

Writing about building was an unlikely pastime for me, because the thought of extra time and energy, along with committing to a fairly regular new schedule, seemed like too much volunteer labor.  But interest from many friends and encouragement from my son Austin was compelling.  Finally, when my daughter crafted a blog home page for my Christmas present, it was reality. Thanks, Amanda, for your gift of creativity, vision, and support to start the ball rolling.  Thanks also to my other children and my wife, Jan, for going along on this adventure.

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This blog is not yet recording current action.  I started the design process a year ago, and may be around a third done on the boat.  For the purpose of documentation, I decided to go back to the beginning to record some of the chapters with their twists and turns.  The big goal is to give the Lehman Craft LC19 a float test during the summer of 2014, and to bring the blog into real time before that.

Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, “Dream dreams, then write them.  Aye, but first live them.”