Jim Norman, Artist

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You've come to Jim Norman's Boat Building web page.

Here, you'll find pictures of some of the boats I have built,

along with a running log of a project now underway.

If you'd like advice on a boat building project of your own,

or you'd like my help in your project -- or if you want me

to custom-build a beautiful boat for you

(or as a gift -- for a grandchild, for instance),

contact me:



The Wood Duck 12-Footer

Starts as a kit from Chesapeake Light Craft

in Annapolis, Md.


The Jim Norman Fleet,

Afloat at Wawayanda

Here are a few recent shots of an outing at Wawayanda State Park, a nature-lover's gem in northern New Jersey.



Three of the boats I have built:

The one at the top is an 11-foot-6 Wee Lassie cedar strip kayak.

In the middle is a 12-foot Wood Duck, in Okoume and Sapele plywood.

The boat in the foreground is a 10-foot-6 Wee Lassie.



My friend Friedo Geertz showed up for his Wee Lassie's maiden voyage. Friedo made a fine job of milling his own strips and building his boat from scratch. I'm proud to say that I gave him a little advice from time to time, but the craftsmanship is all Friedo's.



Here's a shot (left to right) of Ginger in her Wee Lassie, Friedo's wife Joyce in mine, and Friedo in the boat he built for Joyce. I'm behind the camera, in the Wood Duck.



And here's Friedo, giving Joyce's newly launched boat her first taste of Wawayanda water.  Pure floating sculpture, isn't it?




The Wood Duckling 8-Footer

A Builder's Log


Feb. 5, 2012
Day 1 
Starting work on my grandson Noah's Wood Duckling. Here are the parts that arrived in the package from Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis, Md. This design is intended for children weighing between 35 and 100 pounds. When it's finished, this boat will be 8 feet long and weigh 22 pounds. As work progresses, I'll document it with photos and notes, with special attention to any departures from the original design and written instructions. I've built two boats in the Wood Duck family already, so I know there will be a few departures (but not many -- this is a great design). Check back frequently and follow my progress! If you have any comments, send them to me: Jim@JimNormanArt.com

In case you are curious to see what this stack of wood will look like when it's all finished, here's a picture of a Wood Duckling that I recently completed for Julio, another of my three grandsons. And, Taylor, don't worry: yours is next, and in the meantime, I'll bet Noah will share with you!



Here's the handle I carved out of a block of mahogany for the stern hatch cover: a saucy little wood duckling, the perfect ornament for a kid's kayak!

Announcing the Big Switcheroo!

Some people have pointed out that it would be more user-

friendly to put the most recent developments in

the Wood Duckling construction at the top.

Makes sense to me, so starting after this first day

of the adventure, we'll do exactly that.

OK, back to the boat building!


Another view of the parts: here you can see the pieces of foam that will make up the seat, the back-band, the coils of copper wire that will temporarily stitch the wooden hull parts together and the package of fiberglass that will cover the outside of the completed kayak and the inside around the cockpit area.


The wooden hull parts go together with "puzzle joints." One thing to be careful of: see all those pointy-ended planks? This plywood is only an eighth of an inch thick, and it's really easy to break off one or more of those fragile points as you handle them. It's not the end of the world; you can always fill any gaps with epoxy putty, but the finished boat will look a lot better if we're careful. So, let's be careful, O.K.?


Here's a page from the instruction manual, showing the orientation of the wooden parts. We'll keep it handy as we lay out the parts for gluing, just to make sure we get them all in the right position!


These are the six pieces that comprise the nearly horizontal bottom of the boat, then twist up to vertical at the bow and stern. We lay them out so that they are the mirror image of each other, with the side that we decide is the "good" side, with the most attractive grain, facing down. See that sheet of plastic? That will peel away after the thickened epoxy glue has cured, so we don't permanently fasten the boat bits to the plywood work surface. Now, that would not be a good thing, would it?


By the way, now seems as good a time as any to wax a little philosophical about the contemplative process of building a boat. Trust me, if you rush through the steps, you will not only have a less beautiful boat, but you won't take as much pleasure from the experience. Some builders figure they can do all the plank joints at the same time, by stacking the panels and putting plastic sheeting between them. That's a great way to lose control and wind up having to sand away that beautiful grain on one or more of the joints. Moreover, building a boat is an exercise in creative problem-solving. Some well known builders with decades of experience actually keep a "groaning chair" in the shop. That's where they sit and contemplate what they are doing, maybe groan a little when things aren't going exactly according to plan, and come up with another approach. So take your time and enjoy the process. Another by-the-way: a plank on a boat is called a "strake." Learn the lingo and you'll be salty even before you hit the water!


Here's a closer view of the puzzle joints ready to be glued up to create the full-length bottom panels.



Before we start the glue-up, we'll need to get a few things ready: cut four pieces of the 3-inch-wide fiberglass tape that comes with the kit. long enough to cover the joints. Find two pieces of scrap wood long enough to span the work surface. In this case, I took a couple of 2-foot lengths of 2x4 I had in my scrap collection. After we slather the joints with thickened epoxy in the next step, we'll press the joints tight (use a hammer with a wooden block if necessary), then pull the plastic over the glued panels and finally clamp down the 2x4s to make sure the glued joints stay in place as the epoxy cures.

And this is where

the big switcheroo begins.

From here on, you'll see the

most recent stages of building,

scrolling down in reverse order

to the earlier days in the process.

March 8, 2012

Day 23

Today is a moment of truth: time to test out my sheer clamps as an alternative method of attaching the deck.


Uh-oh! I'm immediately seeing some -- well, let's call them "opportunities for creative problem-solving." First of all, it looks like the deck assembly is overhanging the sheer planks. Perhaps installing the sheer clamps had the effect of pulling the sides of the hull in a bit. That would not be a disaster; I could just trim to fit. But wait, there's more: see how one side of the deck assembly tends more toward the horizontal, while the corresponding plank on the other side tends more toward the vertical? That's a problem that I'll have to deal with. Just to be sure I'm on the right track, I contacted John Harris, the owner and chief designer at Chesapeake Light Craft, fully prepared to have to buy new parts to replace the ones a seem to have screwed up! But John helpfully suggested that I carefully razor through the fiberglass tape along the underside of the offending deck joints, move everything around to the proper position, re-clamp and re-glue. That's the way they are at CLC: they don't just sell you a kit and walk away; they really are there to help. Thanks, John.

Feb. 29, 2012

Day 22

Yesterday, I clamped on the second layer of the sheer clamp laminate just to see how it would fit. Today, I'm going to glue it in place.


Before gluing the laminate in place, however, I marked the spots on the hull with tape and pencil to show where the sheer bevel patterns would go. It's a lot easier to know this in advance than to try to juggle a tape measure while you're trying to hold bevel pattern, a spring clamp and an epoxy-slathered wood strip all at the same time. I put the strip into place with a spring clamp, then used the pattern to determine how much higher or lower I needed to position the wood strip to create the correct sheer bevel.


After all the second-layer strips were glued and clamped into place, I went around with all the sheer bevel patterns to double check and make sure nothing slipped out of place, since clamping wet epoxy-coated parts can be unpredictably slippery at times. Then, before I quit the garage for the day, I eyeballed the inside of the hull to make sure there was no glue squeeze-out running down.


Feb. 28, 2012

Day 21

Yesterday, I finished up with the first 3/16-inch layer of a laminated sheer clamp glued into place. Today, I'll start work on the second layer in the laminate, bearing in mind that it will have to be placed in a way that will allow me to achieve the rolling bevel that I mentioned yesterday. So the first thing I have to do is figure out what the bevel angle is at any given point on the designed hull. Fortunately, I happen to have a completed Wood Duckling right to hand, and I plan to measure the bevels that are present on that boat, then transfer them to the one I am working on. 


This is the tool I use to measure the bevels on the existing boat. It is called a "sliding T-bevel gauge." To use it, you loosen the knurled knob, match the angle to the bevel you want to measure, tighten it up again, then trace the angle onto a piece of cardboard or thin plywood that you can use as a pattern to transfer the angle. This one is available at Lowe's for about $11. They also have a less fancy one for about $5.

Sliding T-Bevel Gauge at Lowe's

I don't really expect you to have an extra Wood Duckling lying about, so in case you are interested in following my "sheer clamp" method instead of CLC's recommendation, the next set of pictures shows the seven relevant angles and the distance from the bow where they occur. You can print the pictures out, if you want, then use them to cut your own patterns.


The angle at the bow...










The angle at 6 and 84 inches aft of the bow....










The bevel at 12 inches aft of the bow....










The angle between 24 and 52 inches aft of the bow....











The angle at 60 inches aft of the bow.... 









The bevel at 72 inches aft of the bow....










The bevel running from 96 inches aft of the bow to the stern. Hey, wait a minute! This boat is only 8 feet long; so what's with the measurement going from 96 inches (which is 8 feet) to the stern? The answer is that we are measuring along the curved edge of the sheer, which is about 4 inches longer than the straight 8-foot line down the center of the boat.


Next, we cut these scraps of plywood with the angles transfered onto them into patterns that we use to figure out the bevel angle on the sheer of the boat we are building.






Then, we use the patterns to gauge how much higher or lower the second layer of the sheer clamp is, relative to the first layer, at any given point along the sheer line. Ultimately, when both layers are glued into place, we'll use a small block plane and/or a chisel to fine-tune the top surface of the combined sheer clamp. In total, the sheer clamp will be 3/8 inch thick, which should be enough to hold the screws that will temporarily keep the deck assembly in place while the glue dries.

Feb. 27, 2012

Day 20

This is the day I begin a major departure from the CLC instruction manual. CLC wants us to wire the deck assembly to the hull assembly, then reach inside with a tool made from a stick with the head of a disposable bristle brush screwed to it, rolling out a pre-saturated length of fiberglass tape, to position it precisely (more or less) along the seam joining the deck and the hull. "It's easier than it looks," CLC assures us. I've done it twice, once on a 12-footer and once on the first 8-foot Wood Duckling I made for Julio. Others may be better at it than I, but for me this is not easier than it looks. It is the least enjoyable part of building this boat. As far as I am concerned, there has to be a better way!

I've decided to go with a traditional "sheer clamp." That's a long piece of wood that's fastened to the length of the hull, then the deck is fastened down to that, joining the deck and the hull. In theory, this should be simple. In practice, not so simple in this design, because the angle between the hull and the deck is a "rolling bevel," meaning it is not constant, but changes all along the length of the boat. So the top surface of the sheer clamp has to change its bevel to accommodate the deck assembly at its various points.


I still think this will be a less stressful approach than the one that is prescribed. I've never done it before on this type of boat, so I am operating on faith in my own design sense and workmanship. Some may call this "chutzpah," which happens not to be a nautical term (but should be, considering that it describes the mental state that so often precedes a trip to the bottom of the sea). So follow me along and see if I emerge a hero or a goat!





The first step is to start building up the sheer clamp. I've decided to do it with a lamination of two layers, each consisting of a 3/16-inch thick batten cut from the edge of a knot-free 3/4-inch plank. (In this case, believe it or not, I used a board of beautiful teak that I had lying around, a gift from a friend who had it for years but could not bear to use it! Can you get more nautical than teak?) As you see here, it's cut to length, slathered with a thin-mustard-consistency mix of epoxy and thickener, and clamped to the top edge of the hull, along the sheer. The top edge of the strip is just even with the bottom of the bevel that we originally planed into the strake, right near the beginning of the building process. See Day 7, if you don't remember. And, no, you can never have too many spring clamps in a boat shop!




Here's a closer look at a section of the first layer of the sheer clamp, glued and clamped into place.






And don't forget to give the top of the inside of the transom the same treatment, just to make sure you can fasten the deck down to it as well.




Feb. 26, 2012

Day 19 

The day before yesterday, we sealed the entire interior wood surface of the hull with a coating of unthickened epoxy mix. It's no surprise that as this hardened, it raised the fibers of the wood, leaving a somewhat rough surface. So, our first step today is to give it all a quick power sanding, with 100-grit (medium) sanding discs. Of course, we remember to use the dust mask and to wear fully covering clothing. 



After we sand inside of the hull, we suck up all the dust with a shop vac. But that doesn't really leave it clean enough for what comes next, so we moisten a shop rag with denatured alcohol and wipe it all down. That transfers all the dusty residue to the rag. By the way, don't be tempted to use a commercially available tack cloth for this. Tack cloths are made of cheese cloth impregnated with varnish, and although that will be effective at picking up dust, it will also leave a varnish residue that will interfere with later epoxy applications.

So, what's next? Use ordinary scissors to cut a 50-inch length of the fiberglass fabric that comes with the kit and lay it into the hull from the permanent bulkhead going forward. Let the aft edge of the cloth climb up the bottom of the bulkhead by an inch or so. The instructions say to cut the cloth so it overlaps the bottom edge of the side strakes by an inch or so. This fabric has plenty of width, so I prefer to let it climb all the way up the side strakes and drape it over the top. Ultimately, it will make a much neater job that way, with much less sanding required.




After the cloth is draped into place, carefully smooth it into the corners and begin to brush unthickened epoxy mix into the weave. The cloth will want to shift as you start to do this, so use your gloved hand to hold it in place as you brush. Because this weave is rather open, it easily absorbs the epoxy, and there is no need to spread epoxy underneath first in order to get full saturation. (In fact, doing that will make quite a difficult mess, so just let the glue soak in from the top.) As you can see, the fiberglass cloth becomes transparent as the epoxy soaks through, exposing the wood grain. Follow up the brush work with a light squeegee action, using a plastic spreader. Keep the spreader at about a 45-degree angle until you get to a dry section of cloth, then change the angle to almost flat. You'll see that epoxy picked up by the spreader from tghe wet area will easily transfer well into the dry area, so you won't need as much on the brush as you go into the next section.

Here's a tip: there is a better-than-even chance that the disposable bristle brush you are using will lose a hair or two as you use it to apply epoxy. If you see this happen even once, fish that hair out of the epoxy with your gloved fingers, throw away that brush and unwrap a new one! These brushes are really cheap, and when they shed a hair they will shed several more in short order. It's false economy to keep using a tired brush. Just my opinion, of course.

By the way, you'll notice that the inch of cloth that you allowed to climb up on the bottom of the permanent bulkhead will pucker in the corners and at least two other places. When you see these puckers, use a pair of scissors to snip darts down through the middle of them, then let the sides overlap each other and dab them down flat with the brush or your gloved fingers.



Here's the entire interior of the hull, with the fully saturated fiberglass forward of the bulkhead and all the un-fiberglassed surfaces brushed with another seal coating of epoxy. To coat these sections, use the same disposable chip brush you used for the fiberglass, then follow up with a disposable mini-roller to spread the epoxy evenly and avoid runs, then smooth it all down with a disposable foam brush. Don't over-coat the still-wet fiberglass at this point. Notice that the edges of the fiberglass sticking past the top of the side strake are not trimmed yet. A razor knife will make quick and neat work of this job tomorrow, after the epoxy is cured.

Feb. 24, 2012

Day 18


We finished yesterday by taping all the seams. I forgot to say so, but we also taped the joints between the aft bulkhead and inside of the hull, both on the cockpit side and in the hatch compartment aft of the bulkhead. Today, as shown here, we'll start by using the sander to "feather" the raised edges of the tape into the surface of the adjacent wood. I know this will sound like a scratched record, but WEAR THAT DUST MASK! It's even more important now than before, because today, the dust we will be producing will contain cured epoxy resin and lots of actual fiberglass. You do not want this stuff anywhere near your lungs. Also, this dust is very irritating to your skin. Wear gloves, wear a long-sleeved shirt, wear long pants and wear shoes and socks, not sandals. When you are finished working for the day, throw all your clothing into the washing machine in a separate load from everything else, especially any underwear belonging to you or the people you live with! When you feel the itch (and believe me, you will feel the itch) you will know what I mean!




Next, mix up a batch of about four pumps each of the epoxy resin and hardener, and use a small disposable foam roller to coat the entire inside of the hull, following up with a disposable foam brush to "tip out" the epoxy and make everything as smooth as possible. Do a small section at a time, and brush back into the edge of the previous section. The aim is to seal the wood with epoxy. Ultimately, you'll be laying down a covering of fiberglass fabric in the cockpit area, but not the rest of the interior of the boat, so you want to make sure everything is well protected from water.
By the way, Harbor Freight is a good source for foam mini roller kits: http://www.harborfreight.com/5-piece-touch-up-paint-roller-set-38432.html  And refill rollers, too: http://www.harborfreight.com/4-piece-foam-mini-roller-set-95066.html


Feb. 23, 2012

Day 17


If you've been following this builder's log, you already know that I plan to depart in some places from the instruction manual provided by Chesapeake Light Craft with the kit. You may recall the first change: using solid mahogany for the transom rather than the the thin plywood piece that came with the kit.  Now, it's time for my first major change in building process.

First, a few words about what we are told to do, and why we are told to do it that way: CLC wanted us to "tack weld" the assemblies for the hull and the deck separately with dabs of glue in strategic places along the strake joints, one dab between each pair of copper wires. Then, before the glue cured, we are supposed to wire the deck assembly to the hull and tighten everything up, without glue, so that when the glue in the separate assemblies hardens the hull and the deck will be permanently shaped into their final forms, and will therefore fit perfectly together when we finally attach them with glue. Then, when the separate assemblies are cured, we are instructed to cut the wires, separate the hull and deck, apply "fillets" of glue to the seams, and then glue down fiberglass tape to reinforce all the joints.

I've done it this way twice, and while it does force you to work faster and get the building done and over with sooner, it seems a little frantic to me. I have noticed that there is significant flex in the separate hull and deck assemblies, and I am confident that even after each of them has cured into the final form they will be able to mate perfectly with each other -- especially because I plan another major departure from the prescribed process a little later. So, I am going to concentrate on the hull and deck separately from each other, making sure I do a perfect job on each before joining them. I won't be wiring them together at all, not now and not later. Follow me as I build, and you will see what I mean.


So, on to the next step: applying the 3-inch fiberglass tape to all the seams in the hull assembly. Some builders say you should lay the tape out, then use a bristle brush to dab unthickened epoxy onto it until it is saturated enough to turn clear. I prefer this way instead: First, cut all the lengths of tape you will need and set them aside in an order that you will remember. Next, brush a coat of unthickened epoxy mix along the keel seam from the bow to the bulkhead, making sure to go out about 2 inches to either side from the keel line. Then, lay the correct piece of pre-cut tape into the wet epoxy along the keel line and brush more epoxy over it. I find it gets saturated much more easily when the glue soaks into it from underneath and from the top, and you don't have to poke at it with the brush to force the glue into the relatively tight weave of the tape. It makes for a neater and faster job, in my experience.



Do all the other seams in the same manner, making sure that the tape becomes saturated enough to turn transparent. If it's still white in a few places, it won't bond well to the wood, and you'll have a blister there. You can use your brush, or a plastic spreader to get complete saturation, but I have found nothing works better than a finger (protected by a disposable glove, of course).

By the way, if you look carefully, you'll see a thread of fiberglass hanging down from the end of the tape. Leave it alone until it cures, then snip it off with a pair of scissors or a razor knife. If you try to pull it away while it's wet, you'll distort the weave of the tape and make a total mess. So leave it be!

Feb. 22, 2012

Day 16



This is how the outside of the hull looks after I removed all the copper wires. I also removed all the temporary forms once I took all the other copper wires out and felt confident that the glue alone would support the parts that make up the hull. Of course, I left the permanent aft bulkhead in place.




The next step is to clean up the inside of the hull in preparation for covering all the seams with 3-inch fiberglass tape. I used a combination of hand-sanding and an electrical disk sander for this operation. Yhis makes a lot of dust, so it is critical to remember to wear the sanding mask, and not a bad idea to wear a shop apron as well.




The disk sander does a good job smoothing things out. In some places, especially in the bow and stern, I can't get the sander to reach. In those places, I use (very carefully) a Dremel tool to reach the lumpy places. A Dremel tool is a motorized rotary tool that looks and works sort of like a dentist's drill. I use a rubber sanding drum attachment with a course ring of sandpaper over it. This tool can wipe away a lot of material in an instant, so you have to use it with a very light touch if you don't want to go right through the hull. Once again, USE THE MASK!



Feb. 21, 2012

Day 15



I took a day off after the workshop, so now it's back to work. This is how the hull looked at the end of the workshop. I decided to lay down a bead of thickened epoxy, filling all the joints between the strakes. I'm really not too concerned about embedding the copper wires, because I know a neat trick that will allow me to pull them right out, even after the epoxy hardens to a full cure around them.


Time to pull the wires out. The first step is to snip them on one side of the twist (NOT BOTH SIDES!!!) on the outside of the hull. For now, just snip the wires that go though the single holes. Leave the double-hole wires alone at this point, so the temporary forms and permanent bulkhead stay in place.


Here's the secret: a barbecue lighter and a pair of pliers. I heat the snipped wire with the lighter, taking care to hold the flame on the thick twist of wire about a half-inch away from the hull, for about 5 seconds. If you count "one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three" and so forth up to five, you'll be pretty accurate. The copper wire is a great heat conductor, and the heat it carries back along its length will soften the epoxy around it just enough to let you pull the wire out without breaking it. Use the pliers (not your fingers; remember, the wire is HOT). Use a scrap piece of plywood as a fulcrum to lever the pliers over, then grip the pulled out wire a little closer to the hull and repeat, until the wire is all the way out. If you feel resistance, stop and heat the wire up again. Despite all the care, there's a good chance you will break an occasional wire. If that happens, grip the stub end of the wire poking out of the hull with the pliers, and apply heat to the pliers, then try pulling again. If that doesn't work, flip the hull over, and grab what's left of the wire from the inside, using the pliers to grip through the softened epoxy, and yank it out that way.

Feb. 19, 2012

Day 14

This is the day that I held the boat building workshop on the floor of the Teaneck General Store. Scroll up to the News Flash box near the top and click on the "Boat Building Workshop" link to read the article in the Bergen Record about that event.

Feb. 18, 2012

Day 13


Yesterday, I left the stern open. Today, I'm going to install the transom. It's a moment of truth: will the flare angle that I estimated turn out to be accurate, or will I have start over again and cut another piece of mahogany? So far, it seems to fit, but I won't know for sure until I squeeze the other side into place.


Notice that I've used bits of scrap plywood here to protect the hull from the temporary screw heads, and that I've wrapped the scraps in package-sealing tape. By the way, I have found that 1-inch sheetrock screws work well for these temporary clamping tasks. They are inexpensive, they grip well and I don't mind throwing them away after a single use.


And here's the other side, ready to be squeezed into place. I'll resort to the water bottle here, and let the wood get nice and soft before I make an attempt. If I do it dry, there's a good chance the wood will break, or wires may pop out elsewhere.


It fits! By the way, at this point I have used no glue on the transom. So far, all I want to do is make sure it fits, and make sure the screw holes are in place so that when I spread glue later I can easily find the proper position. Nothing's more difficult than trying to position something the first time around when it's covered by slippery, wet glue!




As I'm inspecting the hull for other problem areas, I see several places where either the side strake overlaps the garboard strake or the other way around. That's not right; they should butt up against each other so the final joint is flush and level. I have to find a way to pull the two panels into proper alignment, so I make a sort of a "button" to do the job.


Each button consists of three parts: the tape-wrapped square of quarter-inch plywood, a 3/4 x 3/4-inch wooden block (also covered with tape) and a 1-inch sheetrock screw.


But before I screw in the button, I make sure to drill a pilot hole right on the joint, using a drill bit slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw. If I neglect to do that, the screw will force the strakes apart at the joint, which will interfere with a tight fit. The pilot hole allows the screw to go in freely, maintaining the proper alignment between the strakes.


Here's the block part of the button clamp, on the inside of the hull. When the screw is tightened, it forces the strakes to line up flush with each other, which is exactly what I want. And don't worry about all the holes we are putting into the hull. They will be filled with a putty mix of epoxy and mahogany wood flour later in the process, and in the finished boat they will be nearly invisible.


Now, we're ready to start stabilizing the hull. We'll need the supply of wood flour, the epoxy resin and hardener, a mixing stick, a cup for mixing, a plastic putty spreader, a 2-inch chip brush, and an acid brush. Oh, and don't forget to wear the disposable gloves!

By the way, did I mention how boat-building is good for your diet? Well, it is: I have found that the best, cheapest epoxy-mixing cups are cleaned-out yogurt containers. So, I eat a lot of yogurt! Chobani is my favorite, in case you forgot to ask. Not only does it come in a very convenient size cup for epoxy, it tastes good, too. The yogurt, I mean.

The best source I have found for plastic spreaders is Harbor Freight: http://www.harborfreight.com/20-piece-4-inch-putty-spreaders-96088.html


The first thing we'll do is glue up the transom. I'll start by mixing up four pumps each of epoxy resin and hardener in the cup, stirring for at least a minute until I'm sure they are well mixed. By the way, in case I didn't say so earlier, you're better off if you squirt the resin and hardener in turns, instead of four pumps of one and then four pumps of the other. That's because the resin is more viscous, and the pump tube takes time to return to its "ready" position. If you halp it by pulling it up, there's a good chance the next squirt will contain a gob of air, and your proportion will be wrong. After the epoxy is mixed, start stirring in wood flour, a bit at a time. (Don't use your gooey mixing stick to dip into your nice clean bucket of wood flour, or pretty soon you'll have a contaminated pile of chunks that won't do you a bit of good.) Mix in enough wood flour to make a mixture the consistency of mustard, slightly on the runny side. Then, back the temporary clamping screws just a bit from one side of the transom, letting the hull spring out by a sixteenth of an inch or so, and use the acid brush to work as much of the epoxy mixture as you can into the opening. Tighten that side back up until you see some of the glue squeeze out (but don't crank it down so tight that you squeeze it all out), and follow the same routine on the other side.


After you tighten both sides of the hull-transom joint, check the outside of the hull to see if any glue has squeezed onto the outside of the hull. If it has, wipe it off now (with a paper towel), because anything that hardens where it shouldn't be will have to be sanded off later, and it's not all that much fun sanding cured epoxy. By the way, see how this glue has seeped down onto the piece of scrap plywood? You can bet that some of it has managed to work its way down between the scrap and the hull, and now it's time to be thankful that you remembered to wrap all these temporary scraps in package sealing tape! You did remember, didn't you?


After glueing up the transom, add a bit more wood flour to the mixture to thicken it to the consistency of slightly loose peanut butter, and work it into the seams between the planks. If you see any planks that have sprung slightly out of position, make sure to pinch them back to where they belong, because once this glue cures... well, you get the idea. Try not to embed the twisted wires in the glue, but as you'll see later, there's a neat trick for freeing them up if you do.


We're almost finished for this day, but before we turn out the lights, we'll temporarily check to see how the deck assembly will fit onto the glued-up hull assembly. Assuming we've paid close attention to twisting all the copper wires tight and to making sure that all the joints meet where they should, we should have a pretty good fit. I use stretchy plastic wrap that comes in a roll from Staples to bind everything up. Doing that helps keep the hull in the shape it should take as the epoxy mix cures, so that the final mating of the hull and deck will go smoothly. 

Feb. 17, 2012

Day 12


Yesterday, we added the side strakes and closed up the bow. Today, we'll start thinking about the stern, shown here, and identify a few problems in the hull shape.


One thing I've noticed is that when I tightened all the wires, the bottom strakes have nut pulled up snug against the bottoms of some of the forms. I know from experience that if I leave them that way, I'll have problems later getting a tight fit between the hull and the deck assembly. So, now it's time to sit in the figurative groaning chair for a bit and think of a creative clamping solution.

A couple of blocks, cut from 3/4 x 3/4-inch stock should fix the problem. Cover them with package-sealing tape, because we don't want them to be permanently bonded, then screw them into the bottom of the form.


Here's what the form looks like from the other side, showing the heads of the screws that fasten the clamping blocks in place.


Next, carefully flip the hull over and screw down through it into the clamping blocks. Notice that I've protected the hull from the heads of the wood screws with scrap pieces of quarter-inch plywood. Notice, too, that I've wrapped the scraps of plywood with package-sealing tape, because I don't want them to be permanently bonded to the bottom of the boat if any glue squeezes out in a later step. As I tighten the screws, the bottom should come into contact with the bottom of the form.

Feb. 16, 2012

Day 11



We finished up Day 10 by loosely stitching up the bottom panels, which are also called the "garboard" strakes. Then, we added the temporary forms and the permanent aft bulkhead, which helped give the hull its characteristic shape. Today, we'll add the side strakes, making sure that the bow and stern ends don't get mixed up, and making sure that the "good" side (without the fiberglass tape over the puzzle joints) is on the outside.


But before we hang those side strakes, we'll close up the bow end of the garboard strakes. The thin plywood has enough flex to let me put in a few loose loops of copper wire, and I know that there is so much twist and stress here that I'll need to drill a few more holes for extra wires to distribute the force.


Time to resort to the water bottle again: give the bow area a good soaking, inside and out, before trying to tighten up the laces.







Let it sit for a few minutes, until it's flexible enough so that a spring clamp will squeeze it together. Then, tighten up the wires, remove the clamp, and we have a nice sharp bow.


Looking shipshape!










Feb. 15, 2012

Day 10


We ended yesterday with the bottom panels laid out next to each other along the keel line. Now, we'll match them up, inside-to-inside, and start stitching them together with loosely twisted copper wires. At this point, use only the sigle pairs of holes; save the doubles for a later step. Also, we'll loosely stitch the bow at this point. The bow will be very difficult to force together later if we don't get it wired up now.


Now, we take out the four deck forms. The aft bulkhead, shown here, is the only one that will be left in place in the finished kayak. It separates the cockpit from the watertight aft hatch compartment. The other three forms are armatures to temporarily support the hull until all four panels are wired up and glued together.


The hull begins to take shape when we flip it over and start to wire the aft bulkhead into place. Cut these wires long, 7 or 9 inches, because you want to leave the twisted loops very loose for now (but twist the ends tightly enough so they are secure). As you can see, you run the wire through the upper hole in the bulkhead, then run the two ends through the pair of holes in the bottom panel. Twist the ends together outside the bottom panel. Don't forget, if you have covered the holes with fiberglass or epoxy, you may have to open the them up again with a 1/16-inch drill bit.


Here's what the hull looks like from the stern, with the aft bulkhead loosely wired into place. You'll notice that the stern, unlike the bow, is not wired at this point. You'll see why in a minute.


Remember, when I posted the picture of the transom that came with the kit, I said I wanted to use that as a pattern to create a more substantial transom out of half-inch mahogany? Well, here it is, beveled to what I anticipate the flare angle of the hull will be at the stern, and ready to put in place. And THAT's why the stern is left open for now.


Here's what the bottom looks like, all stitched up and with all the forms in place. Tomorrow, we'll add the side strakes. By the way, here's some more nautical lingo: the strakes along the bottom of a boat, nearest the keel line, are called "garboard" strakes. Feeling salty yet, Cap'n?










Feb. 14, 2012

Day 9         



We've tightened up most of the copper wires, but there are some areas that I know from experience have a great deal of tortion stress. We deal with stress in the usual manner: we break out the bottle. No, not that bottle; the spritzer, with water.


And we give the area a good soaking, outside and underneath too.






Works like a charm: we have our way with the wood, and get a nice, tight joint.





We're finished stitching the deck assembly, so we have carefully set it aside and started work on the hull. Here are the two bottom panels, laid out with the inside (the side with the fiberglass tape on the joints) facing up.

 It's a busy day with other things, so we'll call a halt to the boat-building until tomorrow.











Feb. 13, 2012

Day 8





Today's a big day! We'll start stitching all the parts together with short lengths of copper wire, and watch the boat take on its design shape. We'll need: the coils of copper wire that come with the kit, a pair of wire cutters or stout scissors to cut the lengths, a pair of pliers to twist the wires, a roll of package-sealing tape (more about that later), the temporary forms that come with the kit, and a sanding block to get rid of those pesky nibs. We can start with either the hull or the deck assembly, but here I've chosen to start with the deck, so those are the parts you see laid out.


First, we're going to depart a little from the CLC instruction manual. We're going to trace out the oval shape of the hatch cover opening on the stern deck now, because it's easier to do this when the deck part is laying flat than later, when it will be slightly curved. Take out the package of hatch parts that came with the kit, and locate the hatch spacer. It's the outer ring in the group of concentrically connected parts. Snip it off and sand off the inner and outer nibs, making sure that you have a nice, smooth inner surface.


Snip off two 7-inch lengths of copper wire. With the "good" outside of the deck facing up, locate the two pairs of holes in the aft deck, and feed the wires through those holes from the underside, so the ends are sticking straight up. Then feed them through the corresponding holes in the hatch spacer ring.


Next, use a pair of pliers to twist the ends of the copper wires so they begin to tighten the spacer ring against the surface of the deck. You will be doing a lot of twisting as you build this boat, and this is a great place to practice. Pick your favorite direction to twist, clockwise or counter-clockwise (probably depending on whether you are a righty or a lefty) and stick with that direction throughout construction. Use the pliers to pull up on the wires as you twist them, making sure that you don't leave slack underneath. You want to make everything good and snug, but if you make it too tight, you'll break the wire and have to start over again with a fresh wire.

Then, use a sharp pencil to trace the oval shape of the inner edge of the ring onto the deck surface.


Here's the scribed line. Snip the wires and remove the hatch spacer ring. Put it back with the package of other hatch parts; you'll need it later.


Now, we'll start stitching the parts together. We'll use 3- or 4-inch lengths of wire, starting with the holes at the forward end of the cockpit opening. Feed the wires in from underneath and twist from above. Twist loosely to start; we'll snug it all up after we have all the wires in this section in place.


Here, I've turnd the assembly bottom side up, just to illustrate what you are doing from underneath. Sometimes it helps to bend the wire into a U-shape before feeding it through the holes. Work from forward to aft, alternating between port and starboard as a you loosely twist the wires into place. Port and starboard? That's left and right, as you face forward toward the bow. By the way, you will need a total of 11 pieces of wire for this section, so you might as well snip them all at once.


Everyone who does this tends to develop strategies as they go along. Here's one of mine: As I feed the wire through the holes, I have often been frustrated that they would pull right out again before I had a chance to put a few twists in them with the pliers. Now, I just make a quick bend in each wire end after I feed them through the holes, and that prevents them from slipping out.


After wiring up the forward and aft sections of the deck, and snugging them up, I start attaching the sheer strakes with loosely twisted wires. I start amidships, then put in a wire at the bow and at the stern, just to keep the parts from flopping around too much. Then I begin to fill in, working from the midship area out toward the bow and stern in turns. Don't twist them tight just yet.
Notice that most of the holes are single holes, but some are double holes. For now, skip the double holes; these are for attaching the temporary deck forms in a step coming up soon.


After all the wires are in place connecting the sheer strakes on both sides to the deck assembly (using just the single holes), identify the temporary deck forms: the bow, the forward deck, the aft deck and the stern. Cover the edges that will come into contact with the deck with package sealing tape. This will prevent them from becoming permanently epoxied to underside of the deck. Remember, these are temporary!


After taping up the edges of the forms, screw the straight edge of each of them to a scrap stick of wood, about 3/4-inch by 3/4-inch, just to keep them rigid as they are wired to the underside of the deck. Note that they don't need to go all the way across, and you need to make sure that they don't cover the holes where the wires will go. It will make things easier if you run a 1/16-inch drill bit through the holes where the tape is covering them up; otherwise you have to poke the copper wires through the tape. It can be done, but it's much easier to drill through the tape first.


Wire the forms into the holes in the deck and sheer strakes. Now you see what the double holes are for. Again, keep your twists loose for now.   


Here's the deck and sheer assembly, upside-down, all loosely wired together with the deck forms installed.


Next, we carefully flip it over so it's right side up, then start twisting the wires tight. Use pinching pressure with your fingers to make sure all the bevels meet properly as you twist. It's best to twist a little, then go on to another wire, to avoid over-twisting and breaking a wire. Remember, you are exerting a great deal of tension to make the wood bend into shape. Also, too much twisting, too fast, all at once, will heat up the wire and cause it to break. So, take it easy, go around the work gradually, and bring it all into shipshape form.


If you do it properly and carefully, almost all the beveled joints will meet neatly.


No matter how careful you are, however, there will still be a few places that just won't come together. Working on the port side, I count five spots that could use an extra twist of wire, so I use a pencil to mark places to drill new holes. I'm pretty sure that extra wires will help a bit, but even if they don't make a truly tight joint they will certainly take some of the stress off neighboring wires and keep everything shipshape until the deck assembly can be glued into its final form. Any small gaps can be filled later, with a putty made of epoxy and some of the wood flour that CLC sends with the kit. 


Here's the starboard side, which we haven't tightened up yet. It's getting late, so we'll leave that for tomorrow, when we'll also stitch the hull parts together.




Feb. 11, 2012

Day 7





When we're finished sanding, we'll bevel the edges of the strakes, following the beveling plan provided in the instruction book. The first tool we'll use for this is the low-angle block plane.


By the way, when you set a plane down, rest it on its side, not on its sole. That will avoid any damage to the sharp edge of the blade.


Before we start beveling, we'll have to plan ahead. It's a good idea to mark the ends of the insides of all the strakes with an "S" and a "B" for "Stern" and "Bow," just so we keep things in their proper position. The inside is the side that will be on the inside of the completed boat, which is the side that we used the fiberglass tape on when we glued up the puzzle joints.


Study the parts layout carefully to make sure you mark the correct ends of the strakes. Pay close attention to the direction the fingers of the joints are depicted in the layout. Double- and triple-check! You do not want to get this wrong!


Next, study the beveling diagram carefully. Note that there are two basic angles that we will be using: a 45-degree angle for most edges, and a far more acute angle where the strakes join at the bow and stern. But the most critical question is: which side do we bevel? Make your own rough sketch of a cross section of the complete kayak and draw lines at the joints, like I've done here. Basically, you want to make mitre joints, and as in all mitre joints, you want to leave more material on the outside of the finished project than on the inside. So when you bevel, make sure you are shaving on the inside of the strake, the side with the fiberglass tape and your "B" and "S" markings.


Beveling is a straightfoward process on the edges that are either flat or somewhat convex, using the sharp low-angle block plane. Just make sure to take smooth, sweeping, gentle strokes, and don't cut into any material on the outsides of the strakes. But on the edges that are concave, especially on the pointy-ended sheer strakes, the flat surface of the sole of the plane will prevent us from getting to the material that we want to shave away to create the bevel. Some people use a spokeshave for this. (That's the tool in the background.) I find it easier to reverse-wrap a quarter-sheet strip of 80-grit sandpaper around the curved TOP of a rubber sanding block (shown in the foreground) and use it to make the bevels in the concave curves. This plywood offers little resistance to the sandpaper, and I find it goes quickly and with great control.


As you are beveling the edges, note that the 45-degree bevels cut through all three plies of the plywood and leave a sharp edge on the side you have identified as the outside of the strake, but the flatter bevels at the ends of the strakes cut through only two of the three plies, leaving the outside ply unbeveled, with a thin butt edge. While this is not mission-critical, and taking off a sliver or two more than you should is nothing to get terribly upset about, it is a good goal to strive for. 


As you are using the block plane for most of your bevels, you should see nice uniform curls of shaved plywood coming out of the top. If you see chunks or chips, take the time to sharpen the edge of the blade, and make sure it is adjusted to protrude just a touch from the sole. Time spent on tool maintenance will save many times more time in construction, and you'll get a much better result as well.

Feb. 10, 2012

Day 6


There are quite a few brands of sanding disks available. Fairly recently, Home Depot started carrying these Diablo disks. I like them a lot, because they are incredibly long-lasting, quite economical in packages of 50, and they have a hole pattern that will fit any hook-and-loop disk sander.


As part of your sanding chores, you'll need to get rid of lots of these little nibs that were left behind as part of the cutting process when CLC manufactured the kit parts. They wipe away easily with a hand sanding block. Also: See those little holes? CLC puts them in almost all the necessary places so that when it comes time to stitch the parts together with short copper wires, most of the work is done for you. I say "almost" because you may need to drill a few extra 1/16-inch holes for extra wires to overcome the tortion stress as you twist the plywood into its boaty shape. More on this when we get to it.


This is an epoxied puzzle joint that has been sanded down with an 80-grit disk. Notice that one side of the joint seems a lot cleaner than the other side. That's because the two sides were not perfectly flush with each other when I glued and clamped them. Thankfully, though, they were close enough so that I did not have to sand through the veneer on the high side to get the surface to match the low side. WHEW!!

By the way, don't worry about the dark glue stains, and don't try to sand through them. The goal is to get the surface smooth. Any glue stains will disappear when we coat the surrounding surface with epoxy and fiberglass.     

Feb. 9, 2012

Day 5


The next step will involve sanding away excess epoxy and smoothing down the taped joints of the glued-up hull and deck panels, then beveling edges as required by the instruction manual. If we do a good job beveling the edges with a sharp low-angle block plane, we'll get neat, tight-fitting joints that will make for a beautiful -- and water-tight -- boat. Water-tight is a good thing in a boat, especially if you are going to set your 6-year-old grandson afloat in it!


After the epoxied puzzle joints have cured, you'll shave off the excess fiberglass overhanging the edges with an ordinary utility knife, then sand away the excess epoxy from the taped side and the "good" side. First rule: USE A GOOD DUST MASK!!! The paper masks that you can get at any big box home center are not good for this task. Get a good dual-filter respirator. You can find them in may places, but the 3M respirator sold by Chesapeake Light Craft is as good as any for this job: http://www.clcboats.com/shop/products/boat-building-supplies-epoxy-fiberglass-plywood/marine-epoxy-fiberglass/stock-the-shop-package-2.html This is a package deal, featuring a respirator, cartridges for dust and solvents, if you value your lungs, and a nice set of earmuffs if you value your hearing.

Use a hand sanding block with 60- or 80-grit paper for initial sanding to feather the edges of the fiberglass tape into the surrounding plywood, because it will throw off a lot less dust. Then touch everything up with a 5-inch random orbital disk sander. Keep the sander moving and don't get too aggressive: you don't want to cut through the veneer layer of this plywood. By the way, if you don't happen to have a sander, here's a very economically priced (and good) one: http://www.harborfreight.com/5-inch-random-orbital-palm-sander-93431.html This has a hook-and-loop pad, making for quick and easy sandpaper changes. I don't recommend the kind of sander that uses self-adhesive sandpaper.

A few words about sanding epoxy and fiberglass: First, second and third is USE THAT MASK. The dust can play havoc with your lungs if you breathe it in. Next, even cured epoxy will soften with heat, and power sanders produce lots of friction-heat. This can cause gummy globs of softened epoxy to clog your sandpaper, and you'll have to change discs more often than you'd like. So use a light but steady pressure, keep the sander moving, and move from one area to the next even before you're finished, then move back. Stay cool, dude.

Feb. 8, 2012

Day 4


These are the deck parts, made of beautifully grained, dark red sapele plywood. The puzzle joints are glued and fiberglassed. In the next picture, you can see a closeup of one of the joints, showing how the fiberglass turns transparent when it's saturated with epoxy. Use the disposable 2-inch chip brush to work the epoxy into the weave, a brushing motion at first, then a dabbing motion to make sure the weave gets thoroughly filled with the glue.



Here's the joint, covered in plastic sheeting and ready for clamping. I did this gluing early in the morning in a heated garage, so there may be a chance it will ready for the next step tonight.

Feb. 7, 2012

Day 3


This picture shows the panels that comprise the side strakes and the sheer strakes, ready to be glued up. "Sheer" strakes? Aye, another nautical vocabulary builder, matey. The sheer strakes are the pointy ones in the picture, and they go along the sheer of the boat, which is the joint between the deck and the hull. Feeling a bit saltier?

After we glue these up and cover them with the plastic sheet and clamp them down, we'll need to let the epoxy cure overnight in the heated garage, so we're finished boat building for the day. By the way, the curing of a 2-part adhesive like epoxy is a chemical catalytic reaction, so the cooler the ambient temperature is, the longer it takes to cure. If your work space is an unheated garage in the northeast in the winter, it may never cure properly. It's important to keep the temperature above 60 degrees F, and 70 is ideal. Also, unvented combustion heat sources like kerosene space heaters are not only a little dangerous, but condensation from the moisture they add to the work space atmosphere can interfere with a proper cure.

Feb. 6, 2012

Day 2


Now, we're ready to start gluing. Epoxy is a 2-part catalyzing adhesive. I use MAS, the brand supplied with the kit. You mix 2 parts resin to 1 part hardener. The pumps on the containers take care of that for you: one squirt to one squirt gives you the right proportion. USE PROTECTIVE GLOVES. I use nitrile gloves. Not only is it possible to develop a nasty skin sensitivity to this stuff, but it's wicked sticky, and you really don't want it on your hands. For gluing operations, you thicken the mix slightly with powdered cellulose that is supplied with the kit. Aim for a runny mustard consistency.


A really handy brush to use for this operation is an "acid brush." I buy them by the gross. They are dirt cheap and you can use them only once with epoxy before throwing them away. (They are called acid brushes because plumbers use them to smear flux, also called acid, onto copper pipes before soldering, or "sweating," them.)





Next, mix up a small batch of unthickened epoxy and use another kind of disposable brush called a 2-inch chip brush to spread the mixture over the puzzle joint. Then, lay one of your pieces of 3-inch fiberglass over the wetted-out joint and use the same brush to work more epoxy into the weave of the cloth. You'll see that as the epoxy works into the cloth, it becomes transparent, and you can see the grain of the wood through it.


When you are finished fiberglassing all four joints, pull the plastic sheet over the planks and lay the scrap 2x4s over the joints. Then, clamp them down to make sure the fingers of the joints stay flush with each other. If you are not careful about this, the joints may harden with one side "proud" of the other, and you'll have a lot of sanding to do later. That would be time-consuming, but the real problem would be that you will inevitably sand through the extremely thin veneer of this very thin 3-ply plywood, and you will be very unhappy with how that will look under varnish. You don't want to be unhappy, right? So take your time with this and do it carefully!


While we're waiting for the epoxy to cure (it'll take at least overnight, by the way, if the temperature in your workspace is 70 degrees), let's take a look at another little wooden part. That's the transom, at the stern (back) of the boat. Now is a good time to think about using this supplied part as a pattern to cut a real transom out of much thicker wood. I use half-inch thick mahogany, which has a grain that looks quite similar to the darker sapele plywood that accents this kit. The transom takes a huge amount of stress as the strakes of the hull are twisted into shape and fastened to it. I have found that it is much more satisfying and less frustrating to temporarily screw the strakes into a thick transom until the glue cures than to fasten the parts together with copper wires, as called for by the design. More about this later.