How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Epoxy

Hull ready for painting

Hull ready for painting

I put the final layer of epoxy on the canoe today. Anna followed along behind with a jenny brush to tip off any excess to give it a nice smooth finish (hopefully).

I find epoxy a bit intimidating; there are so many potential hazards in covering large areas of wood in strong adhesive. Like steaming, it’s very difficult to back out once you’ve started, so you have to try to control the feeling of blind panic. There are so many things that can go wrong with epoxy; too much hardener and the mixture heats up, and the ice cream carton you’ve mixed it in starts melting. Not enough hardener and the epoxy might not set properly; then it’s going to be messy getting it off and starting again. Then there are the environmental concerns. The epoxy resin can bears surely the most bleak of all the hazard symbols: the dead fish, tree and oil slick that indicates an environmental hazard. But only in its uncured form, we are assured. The hardener, in its own separate can, is corrosive and would probably also kill its share of fish and trees if it got out on its own. But nothing else quite compares to it for strength and water resistance, which is why it is found in many industrial and marine applications. It seems to be early days for green alternatives and I haven’t seen any evidence of their use in boat building applications. I’ve got through a gallon of epoxy make the canoe and it doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a ubiquitous material in modern boat building. I’ve used it for gluing planks and other joints together, forming the backbone, filleting and bonding fibreglass and filling holes. But for now I can put it away and stop worrying about it.

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Split Ends

PlywoodIt’s exactly a year since I started building my wooden canoe. It was supposed to be launched in the spring, to be followed by a summer of idyllic days out on a succession of rivers and lakes. If there is one thing I should have learned from my year at IBTC, it is that anything to do with wooden boats takes a lot longer than you think it’s going to. After 3 months it looked like a boat; since then I’ve just been ‘finishing it off’. But that’s the bit that takes the time.

steamerIt is said that the art produced in many cultures contains deliberate imperfections as only god can be perfect. I haven’t had to worry about where to introduce imperfections into my canoe, as despite aiming at perfection, they have frequently found their way in. The weekend before last I thought i’d finished the last components, two curved ash trim pieces for the edges of the decks. These trim pieces are a good example of why wooden boats take so long to make. splitEndStarting with a lump of ash, they had to be sawn to length, planed to thickness, routered to profile, steamed to fit the curve of the deck and secured in position when they dried out. I was ready for a minor moment of celebration as I secured the second trim piece in place with my well-used g-clamps, but it turned into another mini-disaster as it started to split in two along its length. Another day lost in making a replacement, another lesson learned: making a spare at the same time as making the first two would have been quicker than starting from scratch. I’ve made a new one now, so the hull is now complete. Now I’ve just got to paint and varnish it; just finishing it off.