Grate Expectations

Rails, stiles, ribs and slats

Rails, stiles, ribs and slats

I always have great expectations of the next joinery project. This time it will be perfect and I will defeat the demons. In order to do good joinery, you need to mark out the lines accurately and then cut along the lines. How hard can it be?

This week I’ve been making a proper boat thing; it’s a mahogany floor grating and is the sort of thing that might be used in a boat’s cockpit, heads, shower or galley to allow water to drain away and keep your feet dry(ish). The grating consists of a frame made up of two stiles and two rails joined together with haunched mortise and tenon joints (the haunch hides the tenon from view on the outside edge). Our gratings have four ribs, which are attached to the rails with stub tenons (i.e. little ones) and four slats which are attached to the stiles with tiny beaked tenons. It was all going well; in fact it’s quite engrossing marking out and cutting all the joints; but I was conscious that it was taking rather a long time. That’s the notion that I need to remind myself always leads to things going wrong. The slats need to be recessed into the ribs; four ribs and four slats require 16 intersections between them. I decided that it would be much quicker to put all the ribs together and cut out all the recesses for the cross halving joints in 8 cuts rather than 32. The problem was that I sacrificed a good deal of precision on the altar of speed as I found out when I put them all together, so now I’ve got big gaps between my ribs and slats. Another lesson learned (again); the application of patience is inversely proportional to that of Brummer.

Class 111

Class 111

People have started to disappear from the joinery shop. Andreu and Edward have gone over to ‘the dark side’ (as the boat shed is generally known). We also said goodbye to Jonny; he’s gone off to start working in a boat yard further up the coast. We saw them off in fine style at the Commodore with a slap-up lunch followed by an afternoon and evening lost in a haze of Adnam’s Broadside and reminiscences of the last 12 weeks; we laughed, we cried, we hid Zac’s shoes …

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Varnishing Act

The Wood demon menacing Michael courtesy of Jonny

The wood demon can attack any time in the joinery shop; he’s always on my case. After spending days ex-foliating my tool box with block plane, cabinet scraper, 150 grit and 240 grit sandpaper, in a moment of madness I rolled my tool box on it’s back without securing the lid properly. The lid flew open and landed on a plank of wood that was in the vice as a back-stop, and there was a dent in my previously perfectly flat lid; more damage to fix, time to reach for the Brummer yet again.

Brummer covers a multitude of sins

A more subtle way to defeat the wood demon

Fortunately, Jon, Ian and Tim are experts at fixing the damage done by us students. Jon suggested that I soaked the area with water so that the crushed wood in the dent would expand, and sure enough it did. I’m sure they see the reversed mitres, sawn off dovetails, missed saw lines and general messiness time and time again, but it feels like a disaster when it happens. Sometimes we’re not completely to blame; wood twists and warps according to the temperature and humidity, so something that you thought was straight is suddenly warped or has wind in it, you need to work out whether to work with it as it is or force it back into shape. Dealing with the wood demon is a vital skill for boat building, I don’t think he’s going to give up in the near future.

Half a coat of 50:50

Getting my box ready for varnishing went on for days;  I was covered from head to foot in sawdust, fingers dry and split and gasping for the next tea break. “It’s getting there” said Tim at regular intervals. It’s not as if the box is that big; what would it be like to do a whole boat? At last I passed the inspection and was lead upstairs to the varnishing room. It’s warm and there’s no dust; but you have to get the timing right because once you start you’ve got to keep going, so tea breaks come and go as you look on with sticky hands and a precarious state of partial coverage. Across the grain first, then along it, keep moving so that it doesn’t run. Only 2 more coats to go.