Autumn Leaves

What’s inside?

The top came off of my toolbox this week. There was much speculation as to whether there would be a living/dead cat inside that would collapse to one or other state when the lid came off. If the cat wasn’t dead after the long, painstaking process of cutting around the box with a tenon saw, it would certainly have felt quite sick after being rotated through 360 degrees in the vice. I followed the line OK, and didn’t do too much damage. It did remind me of an Dracula film when I opened it to find only sawdust inside, isn’t counting sawdust supposed to be a way to keep vampires occupied?

We got a taste of the joiner’s sense of humour when one of the previous students was searching for his glasses after sealing the box shut. Ian the tutor rather tardily told him that the last place he saw them was inside the box before it was sealed. Sure enough, a day or so later, after waiting for the glue to dry followed by some challenging sawing, there they were.

The paper test

The next stage is to plane off the saw marks and get the top and bottom to meet along a straight line. A useful way to work out where to plane is to apply ‘the paper test’, which involves running a piece of paper round the gap between the top and bottom to find where it sticks, mark it with a pencil, and plane it out. When the paper doesn’t fit anywhere around the gap any more it’s time for ‘the chalk test’ in which chalk applied to the lid should leave an even imprint all the way round the base.

Ascending and Descending; well actually just descending

Unfortunately, my lid found it all a bit of a relief when it was separated from the base and decided to adopt a whole new shape, so this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I found that the application of the paper test was a bit like the descending part of the lithograph ‘Ascending and Descending’ by M. C. Escher; after a few hours of planing and paper testing there was a serious risk of there being no box left, so I dispensed with the chalk test and decided to move on. I hope Ian’s not reading this.

Broken leaf on the moving part (otherwise known as the lid)

The next stage after getting the top and bottom to match is to attach them together again with a couple of hinges. Do you know the anatomy of the hinge? I certainly didn’t. A hinge consists of 2 leaves and a knuckle. The leaf that is not fixed to the outside ends of the knuckle is called the broken leaf, and should be attached to the moving part of the assembly. Check your doors; mine seem to be OK. I put my hinges on, as instructed with one screw in each leaf first of all, and following tutor Tim’s advice to ‘be my own Quality Assurance’, decided that the top and bottom lined up OK and put all the screws in. Unfortunately, it seems that my internal QA is rather inferior to that of tutor Jon’s, so all the screws have come out again and more tweaking with the chisel is required to make it line up properly. That’s my first job for tomorrow.

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A day in the life

6 weeks to go …

I’m reading David Copperfield at the moment; it seems quite appropriate with its references to Ham’s boat building and lots of travelling backwards and forwards between London and East Anglia. While the plot thickens, we occasionally get a chapter that is retrospective of the day to day life that Copperfield was living at the time of the action. I’ve just got to one such chapter and it promises to be melancholy in true Dickensian style. Meanwhile, we’ve now completed 6 weeks in the joinery workshop, which means that we’re half way through our joinery training, so a retrospect seems appropriate. Hopefully it won’t be a tear-jerker.

The group are getting to know each other well now. It’s not surprising that we have a lot in common as we’re all here for very similar reasons so we can go on about boats and old tools with some confidence that other people will be genuinely interested. We can cast a critical eye over each other’s work and share in the concern that everyone else’s work is better than one’s own.

When’s the next tea break?

I’ve adapted to life at the workbench. I no longer keep thinking that it would be nice to have a sit down now and again, and my crooked back magically straightened up after a couple of weeks. All day I do things with wood, except when I’m drinking tea. Meetings are a distant memory (except the weekly update on Monday mornings; I haven’t escaped completely) and a computer is something that I only see in the evening.

The plasters on my fingers as I type this testify to the fact that I’m not fully at one with my tools yet, as do the many unique features of my tool box in progress. Twelve weeks in joinery before getting our hands on customer’s boats now makes a lot more sense.

Clocking in

My bench

Doing things with wood

Tea break

The joinery workshop

… and only 6 more weeks to achieve it

Tooling Up

A tool box in kit form

Boat building at IBTC is nothing if not thorough. We’ve built the tools, now we’re building a tool box to put them in. The boats will come in time.

Having been issued with a 3m plank of mahogany, I’ve been converting it into the sides of a tool box. I’ve cut it to size, squared it up, smoothed out the ripples and put some dovetail joints on it. Now it’s ready to be glued together. There are some pictures of the work in progress below. Talking of work in progress; speed and accuracy still fall very much into that category.

In other news, our tutor Ian has gone for a long awaited knee operation. He’s taught us a great deal in the past few weeks; although we’ve only scratched the surface of his knowledge and experience. I’ll certainly miss his catch phrase “We’ll go with that” when we show him the product of our latest efforts. It’s always a relief to hear it; however I’m not sure how often it’s said in exasperation. I hope you’re back up and about soon Ian.

Thanks to Michael for letting me take a picture of his planks nailed together. I was so shocked when I was told to nail them together that I forgot to take one of mine. It’s an effective way of keeping them together while marking up and cutting out the tails, and there’s no lasting damage (from the nails anyway).

Cut to size with a panel saw

Planed and scraped until smooth

Marking up the dovetails with a pick-up stick and handmade dovetail gauge

Nailed together for cutting tails

Tails cut out with tenon and coping saws

Cleaning up the shoulders

Marking up the pins

Cutting out the pins

More shoulder cleaning

All fitted together

Cutting a rebate for the lid with a tool made for the job some time in the last century

Double jointed

It fits!

The last week was mainly a tale of 2 joints: scarphs and dovetails. We’ve been working on two types of scarph that could be used in a boat’s keel; the table scarph and the hooked scarph. These joints are used as they have longitudinal strength in compression and tension, which is essential for joints along the centreline of the boat. The table scarph is essentially a lipped scarph with a channel cut across it in which is fitted a small piece of wood of square section (called a table) which gives the joint it’s longitudinal strength. The table is craftily placed with the grain running across the joint, which has the advantage that if it gets wet, it expands along the channel, wedging itself even more firmly in. I found it harder to make the hooked scarph as it can’t be planed very easily in the rebated section above the hook, so it involved lots of chiselling, which is harder work and it looked less tidy when it was done; bearing the scars of a few near misses with the chisel.

I thought it would be plain sailing when it came to making dovetail joints as I’ve done a few before for various projects at home. Unfortunately, this previous experience doesn’t seem to have counted for much, I still spent hours on end fine tuning my tails so that they fitted together precisely enough. “I presume it goes in at a right angle” said Jon the tutor of one attempt; followed by “It’s quite a flexible joint”. I don’t think that was a compliment. Anyway, it’s all good preparation for the first big project, a mahogany tool chest. Hopefully I’ll be able to start on that in the next day or so. That will keep me busy for a few weeks.

An inexpertly chiselled hooked scarph

A more successfully planed table scarph

Scarph Ace

A lipped scarph (it doesn’t wobble, honest)

We’ve been making some proper boat joints this week. Plank scarphs which are what you would use to join planks together if the boat you want to build is longer than the planks of wood that you have, or if you want to replace a rotten section of a plank without replacing the whole thing. They consist of two tapered ends which have to fit together perfectly. That may seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. ‘How flat is flat?’ is back to haunt me again. The tapers are cut roughly to shape and then planed within a nanometre of their lives. Then I try to match them together and there’s a tiny little wobble. But that just won’t do. The strength of a scarph joint lies in the fact that there’s a large surface area of contact between the two planks. A bit of a wobble means that there isn’t, so the joint will be weak and let in water. So more planing is required. Then I find that I’ve done too much planing and the planks are no longer flush, so I have to cut it off and start again. It’s fun; really. I’ve completed two scarphs so far; a lipped scarph which would be used for a boat with carvel planking and a feather edge scarph which would be used for clinker.

When you’ve mastered your tapering and become a scarph ace, you can’t put them just anywhere. Lloyd’s Register has rules about the use of scarphs in boat construction in order to preserve the integrity of the structure. If you look at the side of a wooden boat, any scarphs along a horizontal line must be at least 1.2m apart and in a vertical line must be separated by at least 3 planks, so you have to plan carefully where they go. They have to be the right way round as well, if the outside lip isn’t on the trailing edge of the joint, then water could be forced inside the joint and open it up.

I can’t claim to be a scarph ace yet, but I have got plenty of scars on the ends of my fingers and thumbs from the chisels. That’s my ailment of the week; at least I can stand up straight again though.

It’s keel scarphs in the next thrilling episode (probably).

A feather edge scarph