Fairing the Hull

Fair can mean a lot of things, according to Webster. It might be fair weather, or a night at the 4-H Fair, or another of the meanings below:

1. Fair- pleasing to the eye or mind because of fresh, charming or flawless quality.
e.g. These fair ladies (Margaret, Jane and Mary) with brother Joe were a big hit in their homemade ski suits on the slopes.

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2. Fair- sufficient but not ample.

e.g. There is a fair chance that these Lehman kids have successfully packed all they need for vacation.

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3. Fair- Conforming with the established rules.
e.g. To make the competition fair, each Soap Box Derby racer went twice against an opponent, switching sides after the first run. Unfortunately, the driver on the right side lost on both sides, that’s me.

In my defense, it wasn’t fair that most of the cars were built by the dads while mine was completely me. Later, I found out that some engineer dads knew about aerodynamics, alignment and wheel camber, axle flex, no-play steering methods, slick lubrication, etc. So their cars tracked straight.

My cable steering system apparently never got tightened enough, so my ride was a bit more interesting, if not as fast.

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4. Fair- Open to legitimate pursuit, attack or ridicule
e.g. When the whistle blows, it is all fair game with this motley crew of Lehman cousins.

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5. Fair- Not stormy or foul.
e.g. The weather is fair, but the chance of coming back dry is not so much. Here cousin Paul Smucker joins my sisters, Jane, Margaret and Mary in the boat as I push them into harms way.

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6. Fair- to join so that the external surfaces blend smoothly
e.g. It took endless hours of sanding to fair the hull.

Building furniture, the skill I brought to the boat building process, did not prepare me for all of the work after building the wood parts. When I made a chest of drawers, I final sanded it and took it to a local finish shop for a coat of sealer and lacquer topcoat. The bottom of the boat is a different matter entirely.

To have a beautiful hull, the frames underneath have be right. As I was placing the planks, I did some shimming and trimming on the frames so the hull planks follow smooth curves. Having made them fit to each other with a tongue and groove joint also helped fair the curve and blend them side to side.

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After the hull planks were epoxied in place, the next step was to blend the surfaces together. At first, where there were offsets from one plank to the next, I started with a belt sander. This requires careful work, to prevent the sander from digging in too deeply somewhere not intended, and then having to add filler.

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One of the next tools used is the long board sander. I made this one of 1/2″ plywood so it would flex a bit, with two homemade handles. On the bottom, I cut parts of 80 grit sanding belts and attached them with contact cement, to change them when needed. Below is Jeff Margush, putting some muscle into smoothing the hull.

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In other areas, especially along the keel or the stringers, the hand plane is the best tool. Below are some photos of a low angle smoothing plane and a high angle smoother, making their signature curls of oak and cedar. This is quiet work, beautiful in the process as well as in the result.

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For detail smoothing, a scraper is the right choice. It is a bit temperamental, and difficult to get and keep a sharp edge, but when it is right, it gets to the area needed without tearing up long grain.

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As the surface improves, the eye is the best inspector for the edge lines and a hand the best sense for surface smoothness. After hours of planes, scrapers and long sanders, the hull came to a elegant, blended shape, ready for adding the fiberglass fabric and epoxy.

Below is the photo of the hull, showing areas where the first layer of plywood was sanded through to get smooth.

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As hard as it is to fair a boat, it is even more difficult to make life come out right. According to Oscar Wilde, “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.”

Fortunately, God offers forgiveness through Jesus Christ for our wrongdoings, and even provides redemption to turn our missteps along the way into something wonderful. That is fair enough.

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