Sunday 23 November 2014

Half way through planking

This planking gig is actually very easy. Much easier than it looks. You get into something of a rhythm and just turn out planks at the rate of one or two a day.

After an hour's work cutting the bevel into the top of the garboard plank on the port side with my no. 4 and not really getting anywhere, I bought a new cheaters tool, a nice Makita power planer. Where I call my Stanley no. 7 Mr Smooth, this thing is called the brute squad. It removes material at a somewhat disconcerting rate.

Here's what it does to the garboard plank.

To speed things up, I just cut my sheets into 300mm wide lengths. These are light enough for me to put on to easily mark up. I simply clamp one in place, trace along the stringers, add a bottom line with a batten 30mm down from the top of the lower stringer, and cut to shape. After a second test fit to check things, I clean up the edges with either my no. 4 or my spokeshave, depending on whether it's convex or concave, then glue it to the boat.

A little more work is needed at the bow. I decided to disregard advice and try a classical gain, cut with a saw and chisel. I start by ruling a line along the garboard plank 30mm down from the top edge. Then I cut along the line so it barely makes it through the ply at the bow, and surfaces about 200mm back. I added a second cut half way along so I could easily gauge how deep I was going with the chisel.

Then I pare away material with the chisel. As with cutting scarphs, it's actually pretty easy, as the layers in the ply guide you and let you know how deep you are.

An aside: I'm not impressed with these Record Irwin chisels. They were the best I could find locally, but they're really soft and don't hold an edge for long. At least they sharpen easily. My suspicions about soft edges were confirmed when I dropped this one on the concrete floor, and the tip actually bent over rather than snapping. Also, the rubber bits on the handles are falling apart before my very eyes. I've got my eye on some nice Veritas ones. If they're anything like my spokeshave they'll hold an edge forever (and be a real PITA to sharpen).

Next I use some 80 grit emery wrapped around a large flat file to get everything nice and flat and even. Oh, incidentally, the break from the last post is in this picture. Look carefully. If you're having trouble finding it it's about 1/4 of the way across from the left.

So here's the last plank for the second level being test fit. Of note is that I'm not using screws to pull the planks into the one below. I find that a simple piece of wood between stringers allows me to put even pressure top and bottom with the one clamp. I'm hoping that'll make the cleanup job easier when I flip the boat over.

Here's another view of the clamping process, on the other side, with gratuitous cat content:

Tuesday 18 November 2014


I put the starboard garboard plank on yesterday. Much the same process as with the port side. However when I went in this morning and removed the clamps, I found this:

Here's a closeup of the split. It looks like the ply has delaminated.

What to do? It looks like the split is mostly in the area where I'll be cutting a gain. Could I fill it with epoxy and clamp it up? What's going to happen when I cut the gain? I imagine taking the plank off will be a huge awful job.

Edit: On the advice of the incredibly helpful crew at woodenboat forum, I tried injecting epoxy to relaminate the ply. I figure if it doesn't work, I'm no worse off - I just cut the plank away and start again.

Here's where the shameless cheating begins. I've been trying my best to use mainly hand tools building my boat; my spokeshave, an assortment of planes and chisels, I even find I grab a hand drill in preference to the electric one. All that just went out the window. I borrowed a pneumatic paste dispenser and went at it with that. This little gizmo is unlikely to be found in most garages...

So the cheating begins by mixing up a batch of epoxy. I'm going to be forcing it down an 18ga needle, so it has to be free of lumps. I use a strainer to ensure the silica is non-lumpy and add enough to get a cream consistency.

Then the stopper goes in the syringe, and the syringe is loaded into the dispenser. This tool is designed for dispensing tiny dots of solder paste for PCB assembly. Solder paste is thick goopy stuff, much like glue.. It works by putting a carefully metered air pressure on the back of the stopper.

So the needle goes deep into the split, and I pump epoxy in. I filled it with about 1.5ml, at which point it was starting to run out.
Finally I clamp it with a piece of ply and some plastic builders film up against the face. I got good squeezage out the top, so there's a good fill of epoxy in the break.
Second edit: Here's the result after taking the clamps off this morning, giving it a wipe with 80 grit, and using the spokeshave to trim the plank down to the level of the stringer:

I reckon that'll do.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Making the most of the FIFO lifestyle

A quick break from boatbuilding. There's been quite a lot of media coverage of late on an enquiry into a spate of suicides of Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) workers here in WA. I work in remote WA, though not, unusually, at a mine. So I've been taking a keen interest in the coverage that's been going on, and engaging in some thinking (there's plenty of time out here for thinking) about what works and what doesn't work when you're away from home in the middle of nowhere for a significant part of your life.

This article by Wenlei Ma gives, I think, one of the most coherent accounts of what FIFO work is really like. The key to the difficulties aren't so much the work itself, which is hard, hot and dusty, but more the challenges of being away from family with very little to do but miss home, and the possibility for friction between colleagues in what's effectively a tiny condensed country town.

The other week RED FM announced a competition, called "show us your donga", with a $1000 travel voucher for the donga judged best in the state. I got enthused about that and figured I'd take a decent photo of mine, but then read the fine print of the competition and decided not to enter. Instead I figured I'd share the photo here.

We've got a reasonably good deal at my workplace. Some things really need improvement - for example our accommodation dongas are very basic. There's no shade, very few facilities, lots of dirt everywhere and no FIFO pay (unlike the mines, which shower their FIFO workers in allowances). That said, the huge salaries that mining FIFO workers get are a trap in themselves, encouraging high debt levels and creating a position where people who can't cope with the lifestyle feel trapped. On the plus side we have very good food, very short rotations (five days on, two days off), good communications with home, a great bunch of guys to work with and a very relaxed informal atmosphere where we're encouraged to personalise our rooms, which you'd never get on a mine camp.

So here's what my room looked like when I moved in, a couple of years ago (this is actually a neighbouring room, as mine was already well customised by the time I thought to take a photo). Spending too much time in a room like this is sure to do your head in.

Because we're a pretty small operation, we don't have much in the way of recreation facilities. We essentially have a 3m x 3m rec room with a telly and a sofa, and a small gym room. While I get on really well with my workmates, I also really value my time away from them. It's plenty enough to be working a ten hour day, plus eating meals together. When I'm back at camp (around 14 hours a day) I mainly stay in my room, which I see (and my workmates respect) as very much my space. This allows me to relax and recharge, and gain some outside perspective, so I can start the next day fresh.

So over the couple of years I've been working out here I've done what I can to improve the place. I started by buying a television and bringing an old home theatre PC from home so I could watch movies and listen to music stored on a hard drive. Since then my employer has cottoned on to the television thing and bought us all nice 32" LCD televisions with satellite decoders, so I can watch the same crap on TV that everyone else does. I've also got an Apple TV so I can download movies, TV shows (I'm a huge Orange is the new Black addict) and music from itunes. We organised telephones for rooms where people wanted them, and we have really good internet, so I can chat with Perry on facetime whenever I like and for as long as I like.

This is a really important part of coping with working remotely for so much of my working life. We chat every evening at 7pm, just after dinner via facetime. We ramble on about what's happened that day for half an hour, I try to engage the cat in conversation (he always ignores me), and we just do what we can to alleviate the isolation that both of us feel when we're apart.

So after getting the comms going nicely, I set about making my room less stark. I bought carpet tiles from Bunnings and made some nice curtains with proper sheers and tie backs so I could get some light into the place without people walking past looking into my room. I brought out my own doona and pillow, and brought out a set of shelves so I had somewhere to keep things. Mainly lots of bad fantasy novels and junk food.

The wall alongside the bed is shared by the next room along. While my neighbour is as quiet as a church mouse, I'm really conscious of not making too much noise. So a lot of what I've done to the room is about making it so I can listen to music etc. without annoying the neighbours. I'm generally lying in bed while doing this stuff, so installed a couple of little Cambridge Audio speakers either side of my pillow. They're right by my head, so provide really good audio at quite a low level - I can be listening to music or a movie, then sit up and hear stuff all. Just like wearing headphones, but without getting sore ears. I built a nice little 10W MOSFET amp to drive the speakers, which has super low noise and distortion, and have an easily accessible volume control just by the bed.

To further cut noise down, I put a sheet of gyprock up (painted red to further personalise things) between myself and the neighbouring room, with sheets of sound absorber goop underneath it. Shortly I'll fill in the rest of the wall above the bed with a long bookshelf, providing even better sound attenuation.

We upgraded our coffee machine at home, so I took the old one to my donga. It's pretty cool to be able to make myself a really nice cuppa in the morning. Sometimes of an evening I use it to make hot chocolate, and I have a stash of marshmallows for just this, along with licorice of various sorts (I'm an addict) and some booze.

Finally I built a nice shelf to put my satellite decoder on from Tassie oak and some offcuts of marine ply under the telly, and some better shelves under the desk. The result is really comfy and homely.

The sound system also allows me to mask the drone of the airconditioner. It gets to 48 degrees at the height of Summer out here, and often doesn't fall below 30 at night, so for a few months each year we have to run the airconditioners 24 hours. I find if I have some music playing quietly, I'm able to sleep a lot better than just listening to the aircon.

Anyway, hope you've enjoyed the tour :)

Sunday 9 November 2014

First course of planking - bow end

It was with a great sense of foreboding that I set forth on the quest to fit the bow end of the port garboard plank. Tales of woe, misery, and giant squids climbing out of the anchor well and throttling the unwary sailor abound on the high seas.

Actually I was getting a little carried away there with the bit about the squid. I'm rather partial to squid for what it's worth, especially fried with salt and pepper and some lovely fresh chips. And whilst there is a (vanishingly remote) possibility that one could make it the fifty odd metres from the ocean (what's that in leagues?) to lurk in my anchor well, it's pretty likely my trusty guard cat Mogget would get the thing well before it took up residence. Not to mention that until I've finished planking, the anchor well isn't, well, a well.

Where was I? That's right, I was pointing out that whenever you read blogs describing the building of navigators, there's always a lengthy description of how awful it is to pull the garboard plank around to sit nicely on the stem. So I approached the task with, as it happens, considerable trepidation. And foreboding. Did I mention foreboding already?

The process starts the same as all the other planks. I put a length of ply in place, mark it with distances, and use that as a template to cut the real thing. I left it a little oversize, particularly at the front. Then I clamped it to the plank immediately aft and progressively pulled it into place, mainly using pusher clamps off the building frame.

Here's the crux of the problem that everyone has. The plank doesn't want to pull neatly around the foot of the stem.

I solved this problem by going at the foot of the stem with a spokeshave, and using a clamp right at the back of the stem to pull the plank the rest of the way in. Then I ruled a line for the stem on my plank and cut it much closer in size. Here it is on test fitting eleventy of lots. You can see that there aren't actually all that many clamps involved to hold it in place. when you get the bow in, much of the rest of the plank pulls up hard.

Once satisfied with the fit I gooped it up with a truly heroic amount of epoxy and put it back on. This time I used a few more clamps to make sure the joins are all nicely closed. I'm really glad I put the king plank and inner gunwales on before doing this. The bow is as solid as a rock, and didn't pull out of true at all.

Here's a view taken from the bow just to satisfy myself that the boat is still straight. I really like the curve this plank makes. Very cool. Note the clamp on the opposite side of the building frame from where I'm working. This ensures the frame doesn't pull too much out of true.

Finally here's me getting an even coat of epoxy in my hair, whilst cleaning up the fillets deep in the bowels of the beast.

Saturday 8 November 2014

First course of planking - aft end

John Welsford recommends starting the planking at the aft end of the boat. This way you get a little practice before hitting the bow, which I'm led to believe is rather hard.

We started by buying more sheets of 6mm ply. I didn't have easy access to a trailer for this lot, so instead bolted some 2.4m lengths of pine to my roof rack, and clamped the sheets of ply to that. It worked rather well.

We used a scrap bit of ply to "spile" the plank. This was done by ruling lines along the ply at regular intervals, clamping it where the plank would go, then measuring off the end of each line to where the floor and first stringer are. I wrote these numbers on the spiling plank, then transferred the points to a sheet of ply, interpolated with a batten, and cut the plank out. I spent a little time finessing the join between the plank and floor, then duplicated it for the starboard side.

I did a proper dry fit and finessed the lower stringer to ensure everything pulled in nicely.

Once I was happy it fit, I drilled some holes in it for ties, mixed up a batch of goop and stuck it on the boat. I repeated the process for the starboard side, then for the next plank forward, which goes all the way to just forward of bulkhead 3. The photo shows the port midships lower plank setting up. Lots of clamps, and lots of copper wire ties. This is as much as I'm comfortable gluing on in one go. I had to work faster than I like for fear of the goop going off before everything was clamped up. As a result I think I got as much goop on myself as on the boat.

The midships plank is joined to the aft plank with a simple doubler. I was originally going to scarf the plank, but figured I'd just (for once) follow instructions. It turned out nicely.

Once the dust settled from my panic, I pulled the ties, cleaned up the excess goop with hot air gun and scraper, and layed in some fillets. Then I put a layer of 70mm wide 200gsm fibreglass tape along the seam to strengthen it.

Here's the open area amidships. I've done both sides up to bulkhead 3. Now for the dreaded bow end...