This is a blog about Adirondack guideboats. Its primary intention is to help those who would like to build a boat of their own to help them along the way. In that capacity, it supplements my book, Tale of an Historic Adirondack Guideboat and How to Build One. You can learn more about this book and my other one, Guideboat Paddles An Adirondack Treasure at my website, Adirondack-Guideboat.com. This blog may also be of interest to those special people who love wooden boats and like to vicariously follow the building process.
Building an Adirondack Guideboat in the traditional fashion is not for sissies. There is no fiberglass to cover imperfections or to plug leaks, and no plastics or fancy glues to hold it together. While you are building a traditional craft you are doing the same things that the guideboat greats; Chase, Grant, Hanmer, Vasser, and others did 130 years ago. You are reliving guideboat history. Yes, building a guideboat the old fashioned way is challenging but the rewards are great. The beauty of your creation cannot be matched by boats built using the newer “modern” construction methods. Like a beautiful woman, this boat attracts attention! This blog will follow the construction of two guideboats. I will be building one of them and Allison Warner, boat builder-in-residence at the Adirondack Museum, will be building the other. Below is a biographical sketch of Allison.
Allison Warner-Adirondack Museum’s Boat Builder-in-Residence
Allison has been the Museum’s boat builder-in-residence for the past eight summers. Since guideboats are almost entirely built by hand they require the builder to master the use of hand tools. This Allison has done, in fact, she has totally mastered art of building boats by hand. She combines a total focus on her work, meticulous attention to detail, patience, and a rare natural ability using hand tools.
From her background one would never suspect that she possesses such talent.She grew up in western Texas and was only exposed to watercraft during summer camps. She began her sojurn east when she attended Washington and Lee University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Science and Mathematics. After graduation she enrolled in the AmeriCorp program. AmeriCorp is a Federal program devoted to public service to “make our people safer, smarter, and healthier”. When asked why she chose the Adirondack region to serve she replied, “I had heard of the Adirondacks but knew nothing about it. I decided to find out what it was all about”. One of her assignments was to join a crew restoring Great Camp Santanoni near Newcomb, NY. Great Camp Santanoni was built in 1893 and is considered to be an architectural gem. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. So much of the camp had fallen into disrepair that only immediate action could save it. Allison began working with Michael Frenette, a master timber framer, who was charged with restoring the camp’s rustic log construction. At about this time Allison was introduced to the Adirondack guideboat. Michael had brought his over one hundred year old guideboat to Santanoni and Allison had an opportunity to row it. It was love at first sight! She decided then and there that she wanted to build such a marvelous craft. Since Michael also restored antique guideboats, she began to learn from him not only how to restore them, but some of the intricacies of such a complex craft. Soon after, she met Rob Frenette, Michael’s brother, who is a custom guideboat builder as well as an Adirondack outfitter. Both brothers are known for their total honesty, generousity, and work that meets the highest standards. Allison began working in Rob’s shop restoring boats and continuing to learn about them. When the Adirondack Museum sought a builder for their boat shop, Rob urged Allison to apply. She was hired and immediately dove into building her first guideboat. The lessons learned from Rob and Michael plus hiting the books on boat building enabled her to more than keep her head above water. Her first boat, a reproduction of one made by John Blanchard or Raquette Lake, was a great success. It sold at the Museum’s fundraising event for $14,000. Her next Blanchard boat sold for even more ($24,000). When the summer ends, Allison returns to her other love, teaching. She teaches and tudors at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake. She recently completed graduate studies a Goddard Colege in Vermont where she earned a Masters of Education degree with a major in mathematics. When I started talking about building a third guideboat my wife, Fran, basically said I was nuts. She presented very logical and hard to refute arguments that proved I was nuts: you already have two of them, and we don’t have room for another one. She’s right, I do have two of them and we don’t have room for a third. The first one I built was named after her and is in use every day during the summer. I certainly couldn’t part with her. The Frances C. has some imperfections which go along with the first attempt to build such a craft. But these only make her dearer to me. I did intend to sell the second boat and had promised Fran a trip to Africa with the proceeds. Like farmers who don’t give names to their animals so they won’t feel remorse when they send them to the butcher, I didn’t give the second boat a name. I had great intentions about selling it but in the end I just couldn’t. I had a fellow who was interested in buying it. I staved him off by asking way too much for it. Fortunately he was not completely boat struck and declined to buy it. As I was driving over to meet with him, I sweated bullets that he would meet my offer. That second guideboat had become too much a part of me. I had spent many long hours building it and watched it emerge as a beautiful creation. At that time I thought I would never build another so it became special to me. Now I call it Showboat and take it to various events to entertain and educate people on guideboats. So guideboat building is just something I do now during the winter months. I don’t hurry the process along as I did with the first boat. When I built that first one I couldn’t wait to put it into the water. Now I savor the work of making such a magnificent craft, especially using hand tools. They are such a large part of building such a beautiful wooden boat. Feeling the back forth rhythm of a plane or spoke shave at work is, well, hypnotic. So let me describe in words and photos the process of building an Adirondack guideboat. My boats are built in the traditional fashion just as they were over 130 years ago with one exception. I make my ribs and stems by laminating thin strips of wood together. The old timers and some present day guideboat builders use natural “crooks” taken from spruce tree roots. They do this by digging up a spruce stump and then sawing it into three inch wide slabs that follow the line of the root up into the stump. This insures that the grain of the slab will align with the curve of the finished rib or stem. This gives the rib and stem exceptional strength with no weight penalty. Once cut from the stump, these slabs, or flitches as they are called, must be air dried for two to three years before they can be used. Because of all the work involved in harvesting spruce stumps, they are quite scarce and costly. I really had no choice but to make my rib stock by lamination. One of the advantages of the lamination technique is that the ribs are much stronger than ribs from crooks yet they are no heavier. So let me bring you up to date on the progress of building my third guideboat. Last winter I finished the buider’s jig, made the bottom board, and the rib and stem laminations.
The Builder’s Gig
The photo on the left shows the strong back, or boat building work bench, with a 2” X 6” beam suspended on top of it. Together they from what a guideboat builder calls a builder’s jig. The bottom board, with ribs and stems attached, will be mounted upside down on the beam. The beam has been shaped to give the bottom board the proper rocker, or slight upward curve at each end of the hull. This gives the finished craft more maneuverability. I believe it also gives the hull a sleeker appearance.
The strong back originally belonged to my Uncle Donald who sparked my interest in boat building. When he lived in Peterborough, New Hampshire he came upon the burnt out shell of an old mill. In the basement of the mill was this bench somehow unscathed by the inferno. He got permission to remove it and now it has birthed many a boat. It is made of Georgia yellow pine and is it heavy! It does make a great bench for building boats.
The Bottom Board
Next in line was to make the bottom board. The bottom board forms the platform for attachment of the ribs and stems. Together these structural components form the shape of the hull. I decided to make my latest boat from Spanish cedar. It is nearly ideal for boatbuilding because it is easy to work and forgiving ( ie. resistant to splitting), is light weight, relatively free of defects, can be gotten in long, wide planks, and is not too expensive. An added bonus is that fresh Spanish cedar wood shavings have a delightful aroma. In fact, because of its odor, Spanish cedar is used for making cigar humidors. I could not get a plank long enough to accommodate the full length of the bottom board. That meant that I had to scarf two planks together. I made sure that the inside edge of the scarf was positioned directly over a rib station. In this case I used rib station #1. When you do this the scarf is hidden on the inside of the hull once the ribs are attached to the bottom board. Gluing the scarf is a bit tricky. When gluing the scarf joint it always wants to separate by sliding away. One way to prevent this is by putting a “key” in the scarf. To do this, a rectangular-shaped slot is cut across the scarf on each plank the same distance from the end of the scarf. A wooden key is made with a rectangular cross section that completely fills the slot when the two planks forming the scarf are clamped together. I didn’t use a key but instead clamped the ends of each plank to an immovable object such as a work bench or Workmate. Then I securely clamped the scarf while the glue cured.
Notice the aerodynamic shape of the finished bottom board. It looks like what it was designed for, to move effortlessly through the water. I used a string line to see if the centerline has shifted over the course of a year’s time. I found that it hadn’t. The centerline drawn on the board when it was first laid out fell right on the string line. It is important to get the bottom board bevel right. You want the transition from the lower rib to the bottom board bevel to be as seamless as possible. You can check the bevel width using the rib patterns. To do so, extend the line formed by the lower rib past the rib knuckle for several inches. Now take a small block of wood that has the same thickness as the bottom board. Move the block along the foot of the rib towards the knuckle until it just touches the line that extends from the lower rib. You have formed a right triangle; the rib extension line is the hypotenuse, the line formed by the width of the bottom board is one leg of the triangle, and the other leg (the one along the foot of the rib) is the distance from the edge of the bottom board to the edge of the bevel. It is a good idea to leave the bevel a little fat, that is leave it a little shy of the bevel line. It is always easier to take a little more off later than to try to add material.
Making the ribs for any guideboat is a tedious task and one that doesn’t offer immediate gratification. There are 50 ribs in the Chase guideboat. Fortunately they come in a minimum of sets of four. Let’s review the process for making laminated ribs.
- Make the molds.
- Cut thin strips of wood for the lathes.
- Soak the lathes for several days to soften them.
- Clamp several lathes (usually 4 or 5) in a mold so that they take up the contour of the mold.
- Remove the lathes from the mold and allow them to dry.
- Mix the glue and apply to both sides of the lathes (except for those lathes on each end which are coated only on the inside).
- Clamp the lathes in the mold and let the glue harden. With resorcinol glue, I let it harden for about 24 hours at a temperature of at least 70 ̊F.
- Check the lamination against the rib pattern to determine where it needs to be built-up in a particular region by gluing on more lathes. Build-up is almost always needed in the knuckle area but there are sometimes other areas that need build-up as well. Glue on the additional lathes to the lamination where needed.
- Using a band saw, slice the lamination into four rough-cut ribs. If you are aiming for a rib that’s final thickness is 7/16”, rough-cut the rib to about 5/8” thick. Run the ribs through a surface planer to bring the thickness to 7/16” thick.
10. Using the pattern, layout the hull-side shape of the rib. Cut and shape the rib stock to fit the pattern. 11. Layout the shape of the other side of the rib (the inward side, that side that faces into the boat). Using hand tools arrive at the final shape of the rib. 12. Round off the inward facing surface of the rib. Phew! Congratulations, you’ve finished making the ribs. Some tips on making ribs. First let me update you on the source of resorcinol glue. I had almost finished gluing all my ribs when came time to order more glue. As I have done many times before I called Jamestown Distributors to place an order. “Sorry” the man said, “We don’t carry resorcinol glue anymore. The supplier, DAP, has discontinued it.” Panic! What to do now? I am so close to finishing the gluing operation. I certainly didn’t want to switch adhesives at this late date. I decided to call DAP and confirm that they were no longer making it. The man at DAP said yes, they were no longer supplying resorcinol glue. As an afterthought I asked whether I might obtain it from somewhere else. He gave me a phone number. After several calls I found a technical support fellow who was very helpful. His company, Motiva, makes resorcinol glue and had been supplying it to DAP. He said that I could get the very same glue from Aircraft Spruce Company (877-477-7823) and that it is listed with them under the name Cascophen. The nice thing about obtaining resorcinol glue from Aircraft Spruce is that it is exactly one-half the cost of DAP’s product. You can purchase it in pints, quarts or one gallon quantities. I have used Cascophen now for a number of gluing operations. I can confirm that it is exactly the same product that DAP supplied.
Let’s go back to step 10 above. One of the tricky parts of making guideboat ribs is getting the precise angle between the lower rib and the rib foot. Any slight deviation in this angle results sizeable shift from its true position at upper end of the rib. You also want the rib itself to be square to the other sides of the rib. I found that the best way to achieve both of these objectives is to set up a miter box of sorts. I start by clamping the rib foot under a squared off block about 2 ½” high and 8” long. Locate the block very carefully so that it lines up with the line on the rib that defines the foot. Then, using a dove-tail saw, cut the excess off the rib. (You can get a nice dove-tail saw from Sears for $10!). You need to ensure that the saw is pressed tightly up against the block when using it. That way the cut will be square to the other sides of the rib. Repeat this procedure to cut along the line that defines the lower rib surface.
One way to touch up the cut surfaces is to use a sanding board backed up to our table saw fence. A few swipes and the cut surface is smooth and square.
The next step is to shape the inside surface of the ribs, the one opposite the hull side. This is an easier task than shaping the hull side of the ribs. The tolerances are less precise on the upper surface of the rib. To lay out the upper rib surface, use a small adjustable sliding head square. Set the arm at ¾”, the height of the rib. Clamp the rib securely and lay the square tight up against the hull side edge with the ¾” arm extended toward the top surface of the rib. Place a pencil at the end of the arm and move the square over the length of the rib. When you reach the area of the knuckle you will need to draw a smooth curve from the lower rib to the foot. A French curve is a nice tool for doing this. Now cut away the excess material using a band saw. Keep wide of the line. You will remove the excess with hand tools. They give you much more control over removing material.
I use contour planes to do the final shaping. They resemble small spoke shaves. They are inexpensive and do a fine job. I clamp the rib in a Workmate and use the contour planes and a sanding block to shape the top surface. You can purchase contour planes from Lee Valley Tools.
Allison Warner, the guideboat builder in the Adirondack Museum’s boat shop gave me the idea of making a rack to hold the ribs while you are working on them. It is a great idea. It keeps the ribs out of the way and easy to locate. Its mid-February, 2011 and I am almost finished shaping the top surfaces of the ribs. But it is time for take a break and head north to the Snow Kingdom; Long Lake, NY. Long Lake is exactly in the geographic center of the Adirondack Park. The Park contains within its boundaries six million acres of forests, lakes, ponds and marshes. It is large enough to fit the equivalent of six Delawares within its boundaries. All land owned by NY state, which is about one-half of the Park, was declared “forever wild” by the state constitution in 1895. Development of publicly owned lands is carefully controlled by the Adirondack Park Agency.
While in Long Lake I make it a habit to stop by the Adirondack Museum. The Museum is the guardian of all things having to do with guideboats. It has a marvelous collection of vintage guideboats and the second largest small wooden boat collection in the country (second to Mystic Seaport Museum). I volunteer during the summer in the Museum’s boat shop answering visitor’s questions so that Allison can work relatively uninterrupted.
I always check in with Hallie Bond, the Watercraft Curator. We chat about the upcoming Museum season when Allison will start building another guideboat. Then I stroll into the boat shop expecting to see a bright, shiny reproduction of the Cole guideboat Allison completed last fall. It was ready for then for varnishing. It was gone from its perch in the shop so I reckoned it is still in the midst of having seven or eight coats of varnish applied.
Warren Cole was a highly esteemed guideboat builder who lived in Long Lake. The Cole boat Allison reproduced is now in the Museum collection. It was built by Cole in about 1902. Kenneth Durant, guideboat historian and co-author of The Adirondack Guide-Boat, bought it from Cole soon after it was built. Durant paid $75 for it.
A sign that work will soon start on another boat was five or six spruce flitches laying about waiting to be made into ribs and stems this summer.
April 2011- Attaching the ribs to the bottom board
I leave the Adirondacks in three feet of snow in late February and arrive in Delaware with sure signs of spring. There are only patches of snow and the grass is starting to green up. However, this spring turns out to be wet and chilly so there is lots of time to spend on boat building.I have rounded off the tops of the ribs from the knuckle area to the upper ends using contour planes and sandpaper. From the knuckle to the toe I round them over in one direction only to form sort of a half clam shell. To do this I clamp the rib in the Workmate and sit facing the toe end of the rib. I then smooth over top of the rib going from right to left using a contour plane and sandpaper. Then I continue in the same way to round off the toe so that it forms one-half of a “bull-nose”. See the photo.Always round off in the same direction, either right to left or left to right. Don’t change horses in mid-stream or you will make a mess of things.Next, the bottom board is hung on its side on the builder’s jig. Hang it so that what will eventually form the inside bottom of the boat is facing out. The lines drawn when laying out the bottom board are still there to help position the ribs on the board. We’ll call these station lines. The screw holes for the ribs have been predrilled in the bottom board.Start fastening the ribs by clamping one along a station line. Make sure the rib is postioned so that its contour at the knuckle matches the bevel of the bottom board at that station. It doesn’t have to match exactly since you can do some fine tuning once the bottom board/rib assembly is in its proper position on top of the builder’s jig beam.Now drill holes from the backside of the bottom board into the rib using a tapered #6 drill bit with a countersink and stop collar. That way you can drill and counter sink all in one step. Use two #6 by one and a quarter inch flat head brass screws to attach the ribs. Clamp the rib “twin” to the fastened rib and screw it on. Use spring clamps to make sure it is snug up against the twin. Continue until all ribs are fastened.The old time guideboat builders would fasten rib pairs together by placing a small screw through the toe of each rib into the heel of the opposing rib. This was done to assure that the ribs snugly fit up against one another.I chose not to do that. I feel that doing so might compromise the integrity of the rib feet. Each rib foot already has two holes drilled in it. In my opinion the additional screws don’t add enough value to justify using them.This is as far as I got last spring with building my boat. Summer was upon us so we headed to the North Country where I caught up with Allison at the Adirondack Museum.
Summer of 2011 in the Adirondack Museum’s Boat Shop
When I arrived in early July, I had already missed some of the bustle involved with finishing the Cole guideboat reproduction. Allison needed to finish the boat by July 30th, the date of the Museum’s annual fund raiser, the Gala where it was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The seats had yet to be constructed and caned, the oars, paddle and yoke made, and hardware attached. The hardware consists of the oar sockets and the stem bands.Over the winter the hull exterior had been given eight coats of spar varnish and the hull interior six coats. The finish of the boat was extremely well done; there were no runs and the hull glowed with no signs of roughness anywhere. The interior was done in a satin finish which was a nice touch. The subdued interior finish gives much less glare for an oarsman on a sunny day.Allison brought it all together in time for the Gala. The finished Cole guideboat reproduction was absolutely stunning. Take a look!
While putting the finishing touches on the Cole reproduction, Allison started right in on her next boat. It will be an identical Cole guideboat reproduction. The first step was to procure a suitable plank of white pine for the bottom board. Somehow she found a splendid plank of eastern white pine sixteen feet long, quarter sawn, and totally without blemish. The plank was surface planed to 3/4 inch thick and the bottom board profile laid out on it.
Instead of rough cutting out the bottom board profile using a band saw (as I would do) Allison went after it aggressively with a draw knife. Great chunks of wood came flying off the board and it was soon very close to the desired profile. When using this method of removal, one has to be very mindful of the way the grain is running. One false step and the knife burrows deep into the heart of the bottom board. In other words, don’t try this at home! Next Allison uses a block plane to bring the board to its final shape. That done, the rolling bevel is laid out and cut with the block plane. The bottom edge of the bevel is marked by taking the each rib angle and projecting it back along the bottom of the board. If this is done properly, the angle of the bottom board bevel will match the angle of the rib formed by the foot and the lower rib. The bottom board bevel is cut using a block plane.
A final sanding of the bottom board and it is ready to go! Next comes making the ribs and stems. This a rather lengthy and tedious process regardless of whether you “take out” the ribs from a natural crook or laminate them, as I do. Allison uses natural rooks for her ribs. Crooks are a slab-like
section taken from a red spruce root and stump. Adirondack boat buiders call them flitches. They are at least 2″ thick and must be air dried for at least two years before they are ready to be used. Here Allison uses one of her rib patterns to layout a rib on a flitch. She is careful to line up the grain of the flitch with the rib pattern. A close match of the pattern to the grain gives a rib of superior strength and lightness. The next step is to cut out a rib “block” using the band saw. The rib block will
then be ripped to form four ribs of the proper thickness. Since the Cole boat is symmentrical, bow to stern, the four ribs will be sufficent for that particular rib station, fore and aft. Each rib is then surface planed to the final thickness. Then it is back upstairs to the boat shop where all the final shaping of the ribs is done by hand. Now comes the tedium. There are 50 ribs on the Cole boat and each must be worked by hand to give the final shape. The first step is to ensure that the outside, or hull side, of the rib is “faired” so that it mirrors the rib pattern. To render a rib fair means that the contour of the rib is smooth and even and that it has no bumps or hollows. Fairing is done mainly by eye and feel while using a block plane to remove unwanted material. It is very important to match the angle between the foot and lower portion of the rib with the pattern angle. If this angle is off only slightly, the deviation will be magnified at the top end of the rib. This will cause the rib to either sit above the adjacent ribs or lie below them. If this discrepancy is left unattended the boat planking boat will show either a bulge or hollow at that location.
At left Allison has clamped the rough-cut rib into a vise and is working on fairing the outside of the rib using a block plane. Incidently, the work bench she is using has a long history of guideboat building. It was donated by Lewis Grant, son of builder Dwight Grant. Lewis and Dwight are renowned guideboat buiders with perhaps their most famous craft being the guideboat Virginia. Lewis inherited his father’s shop, which was started in 1880. Before he died in 1960, Lewis donated many items from his shop including tools, patterns, his work bench, and records to the Adirondack Museum. If you visit the Museum be sure to view the displays that Lewis prepared by hand that describe the intricacies of building a guideboat. The inside surface of each rib is now attended to. Allison deliberately leaves the height of each rib taller than the final shape. She marks off the final height on the rib using a compass. To do this she runs the pointed end of the compass along the hull-side surface so that the pencil end draws a line on the rib giving the final height. Using a contour plane she quickly brings the rib height down to its final size. At this point the top of the rib is square to its sides. Allison rounds off the sides above the foot using a contour plane. At the foot, the rounding is done on one side only. This is done so that, when the rib pairs are attached to the bottom board, they will mate to form a clam shell-like cross section. The last steps are to cut off the rib toe to form the final foot length and to sand each rib thoroughly.
The ribs are now almost ready to be attached to the bottom board. Allison uses “wet” construction when she builds her boats. By that she means placing bedding compound on all mating surfaces before fastening them together. Bedding compound is nothing more that a putty-like material that is non-hardening. It forms a waterproof seal. Above, Allison is mixing a can of bedding compound to prepare it for use. To accomodate the bedding compound, Allison sands a slight depression, or hollow, into the bottom of each rib foot. She then applies a small qunatity of the compound to the bottom of the foot. The rib is now ready to be fastened to the bottom board.
It is most convenient to mount the bottom board vertically when attaching the ribs to it. Allison uses two saw horses with upright supports clamped to them to hold the bottom board while she attaches the ribs. Screw holes have been pre-drilled into the bottom board and station lines drawn to accurately located each rib position.
All the while Allison is working diligently, Museum visitors, often in a continuous stream, pass by to admire her work and ask questions. She always accomodates them with a smile and readily fields a variety of questions. Often there are interpreters, like myself, who answer the routine questions. But sometimes questions are posed directly to Allison who is the only one that can field them. She has the uncommon ability to stop what she is doing, answer the inquery, and go right back to what she was doing.
It is important to locate the rib right on the station line but also to have the heel end of the foot lie directly over the top edge of the bottom board. Otherwise there will be a space, called a void, between where the planking meets the bottom board. The rib is clamped into position and a tapered hole drilled in the rib. The rib is then fastened to the bottom board using a #6 brass screw.
Well, all things must come to an end, at least until next summer. Allison got a great start on her next boat. All of the ribs for her new boat are made and some of then are are already fastened to the bottom board. Fall 2011-Back to my boat
When I returned to Long Lake in the spring I left my guideboat under construction with all the ribs fastened to the bottom board. Now that I was back home, next step was to mount the bottom board, with ribs attached, to the beam on the builder’s gig. Some provision must be made to raise the bottom board above the beam so that the rib feet will clear the beam. Clearance was accomplished by gluing blocks, 1 1/2″ wide x 1 1/4 high x 5″ long, to the beam. I started at the “zero” rib and placed the blocks between every other rib station. The rib/bottom board assembly was centered and then clamped to the beam.
Attaching stems to the bottom board
Finishing touches were done to the stems to make them ready for attachment to the bottom board ends. I had to extend the strong back on each end to accomodate the stems. They must be held securely and perfectly plumb to the bottom board. The photo on the left shows the cantilever affair that I built to hold the stems. The stems were aligned with the centerline of the bottom board and two tapered holes drilled for each one to accomodate # 10 x 1 1/4″ screws. Before driving the screws home, I applied a bead of Sikaflex-291 LOT adhesive/sealant and bedding compound.
Checking for smooth transition from bottom board to rib
Now it was time make sure that there was a smooth transition between the bottom board and the lower rib at each rib station. In other words, the angle of the bottom board bevel must match the angle between the rib foot and the lower rib. If this is not the case, there will be gaps between the planking and the bottom board and/or the ribs. I found that I had not aligned some the ribs properly before fastening them to the bottom board. My set up for fastening the ribs did not always allow me to see the rib/bottom board junction clearly. This meant that some of the ribs had to be removed, the drilled holes plugged, and the ribs reattached.
To test to see whether the rib/bottom board junction is correct lay a straight edge at the junction. The photo at the left shows this being done by holding a cabinet scraper at the junction. If there is light showing through at the bottom of the straight edge then you must remove some material from either the bottom board or the rib. There also should be no “void” or gap at the rib knuckle either. To correct a problem with the junction, a cabinet scraper and a sanding block are most useful for removing unwanted material. I found this to be a tedious job and I was glad when it was done.
Attaching the bottom board assembly to the builder’s jig
Now’s the time to attach the bottom board assembly to the builder’s jig. This is, of course, a temporary attachment and should be done so that there is a minimum negative visual impact on the finished boat. To do this, I screwed the assembly down to the builder’s jig beam in three places; at the midships and at each end closest to the the stems. I used deck screws and large washers to protect the bottom board surface. The screws were driven into one of the spacer blocks. When these screws need to be removed, the holes can easily be filled with a small diameter dowel. The photo at the upper left shows how this was done.
Attaching the spline
Right now the ribs are hanging downward with nothing to keep them from moving to and fro. A spline, or batten, must be attached to the stems and each rib along the shear line to maintain the correct distance between the ribs. It also acts as a support for the emerging hull. I made a spline of Spanish cedar that was 1/4″ by 1/2″ in cross section. The spline should be free of any tendency to bow or warp in any direction. It should be freely flexible so that its shape does not influence how it is positioned along the shear line. To fasten the spline, first layout the proper distance from the bottom board to the shear line for each rib station. Now attach the middle of the spline on one side of the hull to the “0” rib at its shear line using a #4 x 5/8″ screw. Clamp the spline at the shear line to several ribs for and aft. Then you want to attach the spline to each stem. Use a spirit level to make sure the “0” rib is perpendicular before you attach it to the stems. Now move out from the “0” rib station moving for and aft and fastening each rib one at a time. The spacing between ribs should be same as it is at the bottom board. It is also good to check to see if the ribs are plumb using a spirit level. There is not always agreement between proper spacing of a rib and it being plumb. The proper spacing should take priority up to where the rocker starts to become significant. When the rocker is a factor, I began to rely more on the spirit level. It is always good to use the old eyeball. Stand back and take a look. If it looks OK then trust your judgement and go with it.
Bottom board and stems-plumb and level
Everyday I volunteer in the Museum’s boat shop, a video of Willard Hanmer building aguideboat plays continuously on a TV monitor not far away. It is narrated by Carl Hathaway, who picked up his guideboat building skills by working with Hanmer. As the video plays along I am conscious of certain phases that are repeated many times over during the course of a day’s volunteering. One of them is “absolutely plumb and level!”. Hathaway is referring to making sure the bottom board and stems are at absolute right angles to one another. If they aren’t, the finished boat will have an odd look to it and will not track in a straight line.
I use a spirit level to first make sure the bottom board is level. I go from one end to the other to make sure it is level over the length of the board. If it is not level you can shim up the builder’s jig. You can also adjust it in the next step when we brace the hull structure.
Now check to see if the stems are plumb. The reason we didn’t taper the stems before attaching them to the bottom board was to make it easy to check to see if they are plumb. You can use a plumb bob or a spirit level to check whether the stems are plumb. If they aren’t plumb use shims to shift the upper end right or left until they are.
Bracing the rib/bottom board assembly
Bracing the the emerging hull keeps it from shifting while planking is proceeding. I applied braces at rib stations 11, 0, and midway between these two positions, either at rib station 4 or 5. The photo on the left shows the spline and bracing members. This is a good time to recheck to see if the bottom board and stems are still “absolutely plumb and level”.
Checking for a “fair” hull
The next step is always a tedious one for me. I’m not sure why this is the case for me because professional builders like Allison don’t seem to encounter much angst fairing the hull. What I mean by fairing is to ensure the every rib is aligned so that, when the boat is planked, there are no visible humps and hollows as you look down the hull. To check to see if the ribs are properly aligned, take a strip of lathe and lay it on top of the ribs. You can get lathe at most lumber stores. It is 1/4″ thick by 1 1/8″ wide by 8 feet or so long. Make sure it acts as a good batten, that it doesn’t twist in any way and bends equally when one side and then the other is held parallel to the ground.
Clamp one end of the batten to a stem and run the it along the ribs at about midway between the bottom board and the spline. Pull the batten tight and clamp it to number 3 rib. Now move along the batten and see if each rib touches the edge of the batten. I usually encounter problems with the upper rib numbers, about number 7 through 11. The ribs should line up so that there is no more than a 1/16″ gap betwwen the batten and a rib. Sometimes a rib will be too high so that the ribs on each side of it appear to be too low. This can be corrected by placing a shim between this rib and the spline so that it is pulled inward a bit. Likewise, sometimes ribs are just too low and need to be pulled outward. This can be done by removing some material where the rib touches the spline. Occassionally, a rib may be too low by a 1/8″ or more and none of the above remedies work. The beauty when employing laminated ribs is that this can be easily corrected. Just glue strip of lathe of the proper height onto the rib in the region where it’s needed. Then plane and sand it to remove the excess so that it conforms to its neighbors. Fairing is an iterative proceedure as you go along correcting one rib and then another. You also have to move the batten over the entire region of the hull being faired. The photo above shows two battens being used to fair the hull. I strive to get the hull faired so that each rib comes within 1/16″ or less of touching the batten.
Beveling the Ribs
At present only the surface of the ribs in the midships portion of the hull will totally confirm to a plank’s surface. As you go from about rib # 4 toward the bow or stern less and less of a batten will contact a rib’s surface. At rib#11 only the extreme right or left portion of the outward facing surface of the rib will touch the batten. This needs to be corrected by bevelling the higher numbered ribs so that the entire outward facing rib surface totally contacts the batten (and hence the planking). This is done most easily using a sanding long board. My sanding board is about 2 3/4″ wide X 18″ long and made of pine about 3/16″ thick. It has to be thin enough so that it can flex to conform to the shape of the hull. I attached two handles to the board. These handles are normally used for cabinetry and can be gotten at most any hardware store. Attach some adhesive-sided sandpaper to the bottom of the board (150 grit is good) and you are ready to go.
The one problem you will encounter is that the higher numbered ribs need more material removed then the adjacent lower numbered ribs. If you are not carefull you will remove too much from the lower numbered rib before the higher numbered rib is properly bevelled. The greatest discrepancy occurs between ribs 10 and 11. To solve this problem, mask off the area of the board that contacts the lower numbered rib using a strip of duct tape. To help gauge when each rib is properly beveled run a thick pencil line down its trailing edge. The photo above shows beveling in progress.
Lining off the hull
Most of the tedium is behind us as we anticipate actually starting to plank the hull. Hower, before we can plank we have to “line off” the hull, or locate on each rib the position of the leading and trailing edge of each plank. My book gives these locations for each rib. Now you need to transfer these measurements from the table to each rib. I used a tailor’s cloth tape pinned to the lower edge of the bottom board to accomplish this. Because of the difficulty I had in obtaining these measurements from the original Chase guideboat, they are not exact for every plank position. Not to worry. We solve this problem by employing our old friend the batten. Use a thin batten, something like 1/4″ thick by 1/2″ wide by 8 feet long. Start by placing the batten along the garboard plank measurements. Adjust it until you get the best fit you can. Most ot the measurements will fall along the batten but a few will fall outside by a 1/4″ or slightly more. Now mark each rib with the plank positions indicated using the batten. These are the ones you will be using while planking. Repeat this procedure until all eight plank positions are located. I found the measurements for the intersection of the planks with the stems to be as follows; measuring down from the stem baseline (the bottom of the stem) they are 3 13/16″ to the top of the garboard and 2 11/16″ to the top of each of the other planks.
Obtaining the planking stock
Could it be that we are finally ready to plank our boat? Before you go any further check to see that the hull is still level and plumb. Also check to see if the stem/bottom board junction is ready to accept the garboard plank. It may need some dressing with a chisel or scraper so that there is a nice, smooth transition from the bottom board to the stem rabbit. For my first guideboat I used Atlantic white cedar and for the second eastern white pine. White cedar is light weight and for all intents and purposes, totally rot resistant. It does have a major flaw, it splits if you look at it sideways. Don’t be tempted to use it. White pine is easy to work with. It resists splitting, is light weight and was the material of choice by the old timers. They had the luxury of virgin forests of pine. It was no problem for them to get totally clear, fine grained white pine for their boat building. Not so today. Finding white pine planks wide enough and long enough for guideboat construction that are both free of defects such as knots, pitch pockets, and blue stain and also not too coarse-grained is much like the quest for the Holy Grail. Good luck with your hunt. It can be found but not easily. I decided to go with Spanish cedar this time around. It is a softwood that grows in Central and South America. I had some limited experience with Spanish cedar and found it was easy to work. I have since decided that it is the ideal wood for building a guideboat. It can be obtained in 4/4 planks 6″ to 12″ wide and over ten feet long. The material is totally clear so you don’t have to work around knots or other defects. Because the growing season for this tree is pretty much year round, the grain is very subtle. White pine and other temperate woods have the early and late wood growth that results is the pronouced grain that we usually have to deal with. Not so with Spanish cedar. You can often plane it in either direction without a noticing a difference. It is reasonably cheap, going for $6.50/bf. It is a bit heavier than white pine at 3lb./bf versus 2.25 lb./bf for white pine. It has a pleasing appearance rather like a blond version of mahogany. Spanish cedar was no stranger to the old time Adirondack guideboat builders. The original Chase boat, the Queen Anne, that I have been reproducing was made from Spanish cedar. Because of the indistinct grain of Spanish cedar I had a devil of a time determining where one plank ended and another began. Eager to start planking I jumped in my Suburban and took off for Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA, about 35 minutes away. Take a look at their website. It is a lot of fun to navigate through all the different woods they offer. They obtain their woods from all over the world and also ship them everywhere as well. I am like a kid in a candy store when I visit Hearne. They have an overwhelming selection of domestic and exotic woods. I usually wander about taking it all in before I settle down to the business at hand. The Spanish cedar stock is located in a bin on the second story of their warehouse. I climbed up and began to sort through 4/4 planks that were anywhere from 6″ to 12′ wide. I selected three planks, a 6″ wide, a 8″ wide, and a 10″ wide plank, all of them 11 feet long. I had them surface planed for a nominal fee. The total bill came to $170. I found later that I had enough stock for two rounds of planking. When I got home, I ripped the 10″ wide plank in two and then resawed both planks to get four planks that were nominally 1/2″ thick. I then surface planed them down to just about 3/16″ thick. These four planks would be converted to garboard planks, the ones on the very bottom of the hull.
“To be sharp and be on the ball”
An old Gillette razor ad went “to look sharp and be on the ball”. I changed it slightly to the above. Its time to sharpen the hand tools used to plank the boat. They will get a lot of use so they need to be sharpened up now. The three hand tools that will be used the most for planking are a low angle block plane, a chisel, or slick, and a cabinet scraper. An excellent video on how to sharpen hand tools (plane and chisel) can be found on the Lie Nielsen website. I have tried several methods including diamond stones but I have found the Lie Nielsen method the best.
If your tools are pretty dull, start by grinding the blade using self-stick sandpapers mounted on glass or any totally flat surface. It is easiest if you use a honing guide for the plane blade and the chisel. The plane blade is used for cutting the feather lap on the planks while the chisel is used for making the scarf joint that joins planks together. A chisel with a blade width of 1 1/2″ or more is best for making the scarfs. Chisels with even wider blades are called “slicks”, apparently because the leave a smooth, slick surface on the wood when cutting the scarf. I start with 150 grit Klingspor sandpaper mounted on a surplus granite tile. Klingspor makes excellent sandpaper. It is like the Energizer bunny, it just keeps working and working and working. One disadvantage is that it sticks so well to any surface that it is next to impossible to remove. I go through 220 and 400 grit papers cleaning the blades between each grit to make sure no grit is carried over to the next stage. Then I switch to a 1000 grit wet stone. When that wet stone removes the grind marks I go to the final stone, a 8000 grit stone. This will give the final hone and practically a mirror finish on the cutting edge. A good check of sharpness for either the plane blade or the chisel is to cut edge grain with it. If it is really sharp very little effort will produce a smooth, lustrous surface. I love to cut a plank lap with a really sharp plane. It produces a high pitched hiss as it removes material. The plane glides along almost effortlessly. These blades will lose their cutting edge with use. They can be easily restored by rehoning them using the 8000 grit stone. Cabinet scrapers are more easily sharpened now that a tungsten carbide sharpener is available. First, run a few swipes with the tungsten carbide burnisher along the flat side of the scraper edge to form a burr. Next run the burnisher along the edge at almost 90 degrees to the flat surface. This will turn the burr so that it is almost 90 degrees to the surface of the scraper. This makes the scraper a highly controllable “mini-plane”, so to speak.
Hanging the siding
Finally, after a seemingly endless succession of tedious work, the hull is ready for the tranforming step; hanging the siding. The Adirondackers term of “hanging the siding” is not far fetched. Planking a guideboat is somewhat like putting up clapboard siding on a house. The hull at this point gives some indication of its hidden beauty. The bare ribs suggest the final sinuous shape of the hull. Now each round of planking will unveil the singular beauty of the guideboat hull. For this boat I will use a process called spiling to obtain the shape of each plank. As you might suspect, a guideboat plank is not just a straight board. Each plank in a given row must have a subtle curve to it so that it exactly matches the points on each rib that were determined for it by lining off. Spiling uses a geometric method for transferring each of the lining off points on each rib to the fresh plank stock. I will describe the spiling process when I do the next round of planking. So for now accept the fact that I have transferred the lining off points for each rib to one of the 3/16″ thick pieces of planking stock. I then connect dots, so to speak, for each of these points by clamping a flexible batten over each point and drawing a pencil line down the batten. Hanging the garboard round of planking is perhaps easier than the remaining rounds. The reason is that you only have to line off the upper edge of the plank. You deliberately leave the bottom edge fat so that you can dress it down to meet the bottom board after it is fastened to each rib. This ensures that you get a nice, tight fit of the garboard plank to the bottom board. The stock used for planking has been surface planed to just over 3/16″ thick and is five to six inches wide. The first thing to do when planking is to transfer the points from the spiling batten to the planking stock. There will be two sets of points, one for the top and one for the bottom of the plank. After the points are connected using a flexible batten I cut the plank just wide of the lines using the band saw. The bottom of the garboard plank is left extra wide to ensure that it won’t be too narrow after fitting the top of the plank to each lining off point on the ribs that designate the top of the garboard plank. I leave some extra planking at both ends of the plank. This is so that I can fit it to the stem rabbit and also have enough for the plank scarf at the other end. The fresh plank is clamped onto the the hull and fitted as closely as possible to the lining off points on each rib that designate the top of the garboard plank. Some removal of material from the top edge of the plank may be necessary to get a good fit. At the rabbit end, mark the top and bottom of the rabbit on the plank. Now unclamp the plank and use the rabbit template to draw the contour of the rabbit on the plank. Cut away the excess to define the rabbit line.
Now clamp the plank back onto the hull and fit the rabbit end into the rabbit. The easiest way to get a tight fit of the plank into the rabbit is to use a sanding block. Keep sanding away to high spots until you get a nice tight fit. Once this is done, screw the plank to the ribs at about three locations using #3 or #4 X 5/8″ long flat hed brass screws. This enables you can take the plank off and put it back on again without having to fit it each time you put it back. When you drill the holes for the screws keep the drill perpendicular to the rib, and not the hull. The tendency is to drill parallel to the hull surface which, at the higher numbered ribs, causes the drill bit to come out the side of the rib. Take the plank off the hull and lightly sand both sides of it. I use 220 grit paper and palm sander.
Applying the feather edge to the plank
Now the fun begins! Cutting the feather edge to the plank is a bit like chewing gum and patting your head at the same time. With some practice it becomes second nature. Clamp the plank down to the bed of your work bench with the edge of the plank running
long the edge of the bench. I use a 2″ x 6″ x 8′ plank bolted to the bench to act as a bed for cutting the lap. Two adjustable bench dogs hold the plank in position. Using a small Starrett double sqaure set to 5/8″, draw a line down the plank the designates the far edge of the lap. Using a low angle block plane begin removing material by walking down the plank with the plane held at an angle to the plank. Planing the feather lap
The trick here is to remove just enough material so that you don’t cut away too much from the front or back edges of the lap. Be most careful of the front edge! If you remove too much from the front edge it becomes ragged and will not fit well to its adjacent plank. To help determine how close you are to the back edge it is to useful to draw some lines across the lap from the back edge towards the front. These are removed as you plane away the excess and tell you how close you are to the back edge. Start with the plane blade set to remove a thick shaving. As you get closer to finishing the lap back off and take thinner shavings. As I get quite close to finishing the lap I switch to a cabinet scraper. This gives excellent control over the amount being removed and will also remove any rounding of the lap. You need not go down to a total feather lap. In fact it is better to leave the front edge just shy of a feather lap by about 1/64″ or a little more. This thickness can be dealt with once the plank is on the hull.
I once calculated that there are about 150 yards of feather laps in an Adirondack guideboat. I really get into doing feather laps.
Removing the excess from the botttom of the garboard plank
Screw the garboard back onto the hull. This time screw the garboard to all of the ribs. Ignore screwing the garboard to the bottom board for now. You need to remove the excess from the bottom of the garbard in order to properly locate these screws. Using a block plane start removing the excess from the bottom surface of the garboard plank. As you approach the bottom board switch to a cabinet scraper so that you don’t gouge the bottom board with the plane.
Applying the scarf to the garboard plank
The garboard plank (as well as all planks up to plank #8) is made up of two planks on each side of the hull. They are joined by a scarf. One plank is longer than the other and runs past the hull midpoint (rib station 0) to rib station #1 or #2 on the other side of station 0. as you build up the hull, the position of the scarf switches from the bow side to the stern side. This ensures that the scarfs don’t all line up in a row on one side of the hull. This is akin to laying bricks wher the joints are purposely staggered to increase the strength of the stack. Mark off where you want the scraf to land by drawing a line along the underside of the plank right along the farside of rib#1 or #2. The plank scarf always falls on top of a rib so that its inside surface is hidden by the rib. Make sure you measure the scarf position carefully! If you don’t and cut off the plank incorrectly you lose big time.
Remove the plank and cut off the plank along the scarf line. Now measure back 1 1/2″ along the top of the plank and draw a line square to the edge of the plank. This line designates the start of the scarf. Use a chisel to begin removing the waste and start forming the scarf. Switch to a block plane and finally a sanding block as you finish up.
Mounting the first of the garboard planks
It is time to mount the first of the four planks that make up the garboard plank. Each of these planks is screwed to the stem, the ribs, and along the bottom board using #3 or #4 X 5/8″ long flat head brass screws. First attach the plank to the hull using the screws already in use. Then drill the remainder of screw holes using a taped drill bit for a #3 or #4 screw. Use a countersink attached to the bit. Remove the plank and apply a marine sealant. You can use a conventional bedding compound that can be obtained from a marine supply house such as Jamestown Distributors. This is an non-hardening compound made of calcium carbonate powder in a oil vehicle. It is similar in consistency to a gooey glazing compound. I use a modern sealant that does have some mild adhesive properties. It is Sikaflex-291 LOT. The advantage of Sikaflex is that it comes in a cartridge like house caulk and can be applied with a caulking gun. It has a long open time so you don’t have to rush to finish up. Be sure to use a caulking gun that has a pressure release button so that you can shut off the flow quickly when you need to.
Cut a opening about 1/8″ in dia. in the nozzle end of the cartridge and lay a bead about 1/8″ to 1/4″ wide along the plank bevel. Now place the plank back on the hull and screw it in place. Some of the bedding compound will extrude out onto the surface. You will be tempted to try to wipe it off. It is better if you let it harden into a rubbery glob. It is easier to remove
when it is like that. Repeat what you have done above for the remaining planks. The scarf is sealed using a row of 5/16″ long soft copper tacks driven along its outer edge. Bedding compound is placed in the scarf first to seal it. The completed round of the garboard planks looks like this:
Hanging the second round of planking
I believe the second round of planking is the second easiest to install. You will realize why as we climb up the hull installing round after round of planking. Start by clamping your spiling batten on the hull so that it lies between the upper edge of the garboard plank and the tick marks that locate the upper edge of plank number two. A great reference on spiling can be found in Greg Rossell’s book Building Small Boats. The batten should be made of something that has no inherent “spring” to it. I used 5.2mm thick hardwood plywood cut into strips 1 1/4″” wide and butted together using an overlying piece of plywood with copper tacks driven into it to hold the two pieces together. The overall length of the batten is about 8 feet.
Using a simple compass with pencil, swing an arc onto the batten from each rib station and tick mark. You want to be able to lock the compass so the the arc radius does not change as you continue through the spiling process. If it does you are sunk and will have to start all over again.
Now secure the batten to a piece of new planking stock, either by screwing it or clamping it down. Try to anticipate where any defects on the planking stock may fall so that they are excluded from the final plank. The batten will have two rows of arcs, one row facing up and the other down. For each of these arcs, swing two new arcs, one originating from one side of the arc and the other from the other side of the arc. The two arcs will meet at a point. This point represents the location of point where the compass arc was originally swung from on the hull. Thus you have transferred a point on the upper surface of the garboard plank to your new plank or from one of the tick marks to your new plank. After you transfer each of these points to the new plank connect them to form two lines, one that reproduces the contour of the upper surface of the garboard plank, and one that reproduces the upper surface of plank number 2. Cut the plank out along these lines. Now fit the new plank to the stem and check for fit along the upper surface of the garboard and the rib tick marks. Use a block plane to make any adjustments. Now apply the feather lap to both edges of the new plank using a block plane. Make sure you apply the lap to the proper side of the plank so that one side meshes with the previous plank and the other will receive the next round of planking. Clamp the plank back in place and make any modifications to ensure that it fits the stem, the garboard plank and the tick marks. If it does, screw it to the ribs in several places, then remove it and apply the plank scarf. Screw the plank back onto the hull and make a final check to see that it fits all around. If it does remove it, apply the bedding compound, and screw that plank back in place. The plank laps are sealed by driving soft copper tacks along the edge of the feather lap. The tacks are both driven and clinched all in the same operation. When complete, the hull will have two rows of tacks along the feather laps, one row driven from outside the hull inward, the other driven from inside the hull outward. At this time we are only concerned with the row of tacks that is driven from outside the hull inward. Start by laying out the location of the tacks. This is most easily done using a compass and pencil. Set the compass to the distance between the tacks and swing a series of arcs one after another down the lap to mark the position of each tack. You can then set the compass to locate the distance down from the lap edge to where the tack is located. Each tack will need a pilot hole so that the feather lap does not split when the tack is driven. Old timers used a diamond-tipped awl to punch a tiny pilot hole in the lap. I use an awl with a tiangluar shaped cross section. I found it is safer to drill a 1/16″ pilot hole that just penetrates the outer surface of the lap and then follow it up with the awl. This prevents the very thin stock from splitting when the tack is driven. Stick the tacks into each pilot hole and tap them lightly with your tack hammer to keep them from falling out as you drive their neighbors tacks home.
The photo on the left show the tools and fasteners used to secure the planks and the feather lap. The screws are #4 X 5/8″ flat head brass. I use a rachet screwdriver that can accomodate various driver heads. The tacks are #2 1/2 soft copper. They are 5/16″ long. Pictured are the tack hammer, awl, and the clinching iron. The clinching iron is made of bronze. It is more expensive than a cast iron clinching iron but will not leave a black mark on the planking as a cast iron one does. Hold the clinching iron on the inside of the hull opposite the tacks being driven. As the tacks impinge on the iron the tip will bend back on itself and “clinch”. Move the iron down the row and continue to drive and clinch the tacks. Repeat the above for the other three planks that comprise the second round of planking.
Back to Herne Hardwoods
I am out of planking stock so it is time to head out into Amish Country to Hearne Hardwoods. As I mentioned earlier they carry a great variety of both domestic and exotic hardwoods. Hearne carries a nice selection of Spanish cedar that meets my width and length requirements for guideboat planking.
I climb up to the second story where the 4/4 Spanish cedar bin is located and begin to wrassle with some large planks, most 11 feet long and many 10″ wide or more. I’m looking for planks that are straight, clear of defects, and that remain flat across their width. I finally find three planks, all 4/4. They are 7″ wide X 11 ft long, 10″ wide X 11 ft long, and 11″ wide X 9 ft long. Planks under 8″ wide are $6.50/bd ft while those over 8″ wide command a premium of $1.00 more. It is worth the premium if I can get planks at least 10″ wide since I can get four guideboat planks from stock that wide. The total for the three planks plus surface planing ($7.20) comes to $191. They just fit inside my Suburban if I slide them up to just short of the windshield. As I leave Hearne I can’t help but notice that they are into some impressive hardwoods.
Where was I when I was so rudely interrupted?
You might be wondering what happened to the blog since there haven’t been any postings for quite awhile. Last spring was quite an adventure. After I keeled over leading a bunch of 5th graders on a nature hike, the doctors determined that I needed a heart valve replacement. Only 10 to 15% of the normal blood flow was passing through my aorta. Without the valve replacement I had maybe 3 years of life left, but with a new valve 2 decades. The surgeon said that, for him, it was a simple operation (his group does maybe 600 to 700 open heart surgeries a year and he was voted the best heart surgeon in Delaware). The surgery was performed on May 15th and I immediately felt better. In fact, now after 6 months have passed, I feel years younger. I consider the whole experience a modern day miracle. So the blog will continue.
Ah sweet summer!
This summer in the Adirondacks was a delight. There was day after day of perfect summer weather, temperatures in the 80’s during the day and the 60’s to low 70’s at night. There was little rain so that some lakes, like Long Lake, receded to near record lows. A surprise awaited me upon my return to the North Country in June. A neighbor, knowing that I am a guideboat nut, told me that the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb had a guideboat on display and were making quite a fuss over it. Well, I knew through Paul Hai, Program Director of SUNY’s Environmental Science and Forestry Center (ESF) that ESF had in its possession a very early guideboat built by Caleb Chase. It is a work boat, apparently used primarily for guiding. The seats are wooden planks and it lacks any of the fancy adornment that Chase would later build into his craft. I assumed that this was the craft on display. Knowing that Paul was as crazy about guideboats as I am, I immediately shot off an email to him asking”What’s up?” “It’s not what you think it is”, he answered. “The Beaver has returned to Huntington Forest. You are invited to a welcome party for the boat on August 11th”. I couldn’t wait until August to see the Beaver and was soon on my way to Newcomb to get a close look. What an exquite example of the guideboat builder’s art! But more about the Beaver later. A history lesson is in order first. Around the turn of the century, Archer and Anna Huntington built an Adirondack great Camp on Arbutus Lake near Newcomb, NY. The Huntington’s loved boating and indulged in their passion. They had a large stone boat house built which, by 1905, held 17 boats including 11 guideboats. Some of their guideboats were built by Caleb Chase who lived nearby on Rich lake. By the 1930’s the Huntington’s had acquired 15,000 acres including the land occupied by the Chase family. All of this land they later donated to SUNY and it now forms the Huntington Wildlife Forest. When Anna and Archer left their Arbutus Lake Camp for Connecticut in the 1930’s, they took all but one of their eleven guideboats with them. Paul explains what happened next, “Of those (boats), one went to a museum and one went into private ownership. Until Novembr 2011, it was unknown whether any other guideboats from the Huntington era still existed. The Beaver surfaced last Fall in Connecticut and news of it traveled here. Built in 1902 by Warren Cole (a famous guideboat builder and resident of Long Lake) the Beaver will be used in educational programs after it is restored. We are excied to have the Beaver back home and hope you are too.” Let’s have a look at the Beaver. For being over 100 years old, she is in excellent condition. There are no cracked ribs but there is an open seam in one plank.
Here is the stem shield for the Beaver which holds its name plate. The half-circular brass emblem above the name indicates that the Beaver belongs to the Arbutus Lake flotilla. The tag above it identifies the builder, Warren Cole.
The above view of the Beaver reveals how truly extraordinary this craft is. No wonder guideboats have been called the Stradivarius of wooden boats! Everything about the Beaver exudes a kind of delicacy and perhaps fragility. What is particularly impressive to me is the way the ribs recurve at the bow and stern, at first curving up and away from the bottom board and then curving back in again. This sort of construction is seldom seen on guideboats probably because of the difficulty in finding spruce roots that have a grain structure that follows such a contour.
Above shows the midships seat with what appears to be the original caning. The carrying yoke and oars are original too. Paul’s plan is to have the Beaver restored this winter and put her back into the water next Spring. His vision for the future role of guideboats in the Adirondacks is a total change from what it once was. Guideboats began as a conveyor of guides and their “sports” (usually wealthy men from the city who liked to hunt and fish) into the vastness of the Adirondack wilderness. Paul’s vision is to employ the guideboat as a conveyor of Adirondack culture and ecological awareness. He sees it used to educate Adirondack school children in their cultural heritage as well as awakening them to the preciousness of the natural world all about them. His goal is to have every Adirondack school child row a guideboat before they graduate high school. A word about the welcome home party for the Beaver. In the morning of August 11th, guideboat fans were invited to gather at Rich Lake with their boats to talk about guideboats and enjoy one another’s company.
John Michne’s latest build, a traditionally built guideboat. It is based on a Grant design. I like the stern seat hoop.
Mason Smith, Long Lake author and boat builder, launches a guideboat that he recently acquired.
Mason’s out for a row. He found it a bit windy on the far side of the lake. He found rowing against the wind with the traditional guideboat pinned oars a bit of a struggle. Our host Paul takes out an unusual “skin” guideboat. It is constructed by stretching a fabric over a frame formed by the ribs and stringers. After the morning gathering on Lake Rich, we retired to Adirondack Interpretive Center were Paul formally welcomed the Beaver back home. Hallie Bond, Watercraft Curator at the Adirondack Museum, added to the festivities by giving a presentation on Adirondack guides and their boats. Afterwards we all celebrated with a dish of ice cream.
Back to work-Two for one
After my trip to Hearne Hardwood last spring I have a stash of Spanish cedar planking that needs to be converted to planking stock. The material from Hearne is 4/4 thick (a little over 1″) and anywhere from 6″ to 9″ wide and 8 ft. to 11 ft. long. It needs to be resawn, that is, sliced down its length to obtain two planks, each one slightly less than 1/2″ thick, from the original plank. The best way I have found to do this is to use a table saw to partially resaw the plank and then finish up with a band saw. The blade of the table saw is set high enough so that when you resaw both sides of the plank you leave a “web” of material in the middle of the plank. You don’t want to cut the plank into two thinnner planks using two passes through the table saw. This is because when the plank becomes separated into two planks as it passes through the saw it becomes difficult to hold on to. Also, inless you have a really large table saw, you can’t cut a plank 6″ thick or thicker into two thinner planks with two passes anyway. After you make your first pass with the table saw make sure the same side of the plank remains against the fence on the second pass as it was in the first pass. This will ensure that the thickness of the cut is maintained constant. The final separation using the band saw is pretty straight-forward. The web is usually about 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick so the saw meets little resistance.
I mentioned earlier that I would talk more about spiling. The word “spiling” is unusual and I have to admit that I could not readily define the term. So, like everyone does these days, I searched the Internet. At first Google tried to search “spilling” but when I persisted it came up with “spiling’. A good article on Spiling by John Battersby came up. He made me feel better about trying to define spiling since he, a long time boat builder, also had a hard time defining it. Essentially the goal of spiling is to transfer the shape of a curved surface to another surface. For example a boat builder often needs to shape a plank to fit tightly against a keel, another plank, or to a stem, all of which are curved surfaces. To do this he uses various methods all within the purview of spiling. As I explained above, spiling to “get out” the planks for a guideboat uses a compass and a spiling batten. Both of these tools are important to get a satisfactory result. First the batten. It must follow closely the plank edge you are trying to replicate. A straight batten will suffice for the first three rounds of guideboat planking. After that the batten needs to have “crooks’ in it so that it will follow the edge of previous plank. The crooked batten is on the left and the straight batten is on the right in the photgraph below.
To begin spiling, set the point of the compass at each rib station and strike an arc on the batten at each station. The point should be at the upper edge of the bevel on the previous plank and centered on the rib. You will end up with a series of arcs all facing upward along the batten.
Now strike an arc from each tick mark the represents the upper edge of the new plank you are “getting out”. You will end up with a series of arcs all facing downward along the batten.
Now remove the batten from the hull and secure it to the raw stock that will become the new plank. Using the same compass setting, strike a pair of arcs from each of the original arcs. One arc should be struck from the left hand side of the original arc and the other from its right hand side. They will cross one another to form a point. This point represents the point from where the original arc was struck on the batten, whether it be on the edge of the previous plank or on the tick mark. All you need to do now is “connect the dots” using a thin batten clamped to follow the dots and a pencil to trace the curve. This gives you pretty accurately the shape of your new plank.
As I began to plank the third round, I was conscious of an upcoming challenge. The hull shape is beginning to change from more or less horizontal to almost vertical. The point at which this occurs most abruptly is called the turn of the bilge. Now at plank rounds three and four this change in shape is still gradual enough that I can accomodate it without too much trouble. For round three I planed the plank to its normal thickness, 3/16″, and then used a rounded edge cabinet scraper to remove enough material on the hull side of the plank to enable it to fit nicely to the rib. The photos below show the rounded edge scarper and the hull after round three.
The old timers solved the turn of the bilge problem by a process they called “backing out”. Essentially they hollowed out the new plank using a special plane that had a rounded sole. They made sure that the plank was thicker by the amount that was to be removed from the hull side during backing out. After the hull side was backed out to match the curvature of the ribs and the outside of the plank was contoured to match the curve of the inside of the backed out plank, the plank thickness would be at the desired thickness, usually 3/16″. From my perspective, this is a daunting process. The major complicating factor is that the rib shape changes from midships to stem. Thus backing out must accomodate this change in shape as one proceeds from the midships to stem. The greatest rib curvature occurs at the midships and then it diminishes to zero curvature near the stem. So backing out will take a high degree of skill and patience to pull off. Hence my feeling of foreboding as I approached the point where I would have to back out my planks. In my previous guideboat building adventures I was forced to choose a way around backing out. Try as I might I could not find a plane with a rounded sole. I resorted to what you might call cold molding. I soaked the new plank for several days by placing it between two pieces of wet carpet. Then I clamped it onto the hull and left it there to dry for several days. I would shim the plank to slightly overbend it to allow for the plank to spring back after the clamps were removed. The plank fit nicely using this technique. It did work best with planks that were mostly quarter sawn. This time around I wanted to try backing out. I had a used block plane that I could sacrifice in an attempt to make it into a backing out plane. I left the iron in it and started to grind away using my belt sander to round the sole. I ground it until the center of the plane was about 1/8″ lower that the sides. I then ground back the iron and resharpened it. The whole process was easier than I expected and the plane is entirely functional.
Flash molding-Guideboat building and musical instruments..???
It is said that “life is what happens when you make plans”. I was resigned to backing out my planks but it was certainly not something I was truly looking forward to doing. I knew that I would be sorely challenged to get everything to fit correctly, plank to rib and plank to plank. My son Stew visited with his family over the Christmas Holidays. He is a expert woodworker who has ventured into all sorts of projects including grandfather clocks, a White Hall sailing rowboat (he made everything including the sails), and his own surf board. He has now decided to build his own guitar. We landed in the boat shop and were discussing this and that when he suddenly said” Dad, you should try one of these silicone blankets for bending your ribs”. It seems that guitar makers bend the sides of the guitars in a elaborate set-up that has the shape of one side of the guitar as a mandrel. The thin piece of wood that will form the side is pressed between the mandrel and another part that exactly matches the mandrel. In order to get the side to bend it is first sprayed with water, wrapped in aluminum foil, and then a silicone heating blanket is placed on top. The blanket has a wire heating element inside and can be heated to 200 to 300 degrees in a minute or two. The whole operation of bending the side into the complex guitar shape is accomplished in a couple of minutes. I immediately thought that this would work not only for bending ribs but also for the more immediate problem, bending planks to conform to the ribs. We agreed that he would lend me his set-up so that I could try it for plank bending. His set-up consists of a 6″ wide by 40″ long silicone blanket, a temperature controller, and a thermocouple. To see if this bending method could be applied to guideboat building, I made up a faux plank from some planking scrap, sprayed it liberally with water, and wrapped it in aluminum foil. I then placed the heating blanket on top of the “plank” and clamped one side of the assembly into position at rib #6, where the turn of the bilge is most extreme. I set the temperature controller for 280 degrees and let ‘er rip. After about 1.5 minutes it hit temperature and I clamped down the other side. After 2 minutes I shut the blanket off and let everything cool down to room temperature.
The result was amazing. The plank conformed to the ribs with little or no spring back. There was no cracking even though the plank exhibited both flat and quarter sawn characteristics.
More on flash molding
Flash molding of the planking instead of backing out results in hours of work saved as well as more easily getting a precise fit of planks to the ribs. It could also make the job of laminating rib stock much easier. Instead of laminating five lathes to get one rib laminate it should be possible to use fewer lathes, perhaps two or three. The next step was to obtain my own set-up to do flash molding. I went on the Net to see what the luthiers (musical instrument makers) were recommending. They pointed me to Watlow Industries as the best source for the silicone rubber blanket. I tracked down their distributor, Thermal Devices, and representative, Rob Strayton, at (301) 831-7550. I chose a blanket that was 4″ wide and 40″ long. It cost $145 plus about $10 shipping. The next question was how to control the temperature while molding. Rob said that I could use a dimmer switch to control the power input and a digital thermometer to measure the temperature. I looked into that option and found it would cost a minimum of $50 and would not control the temperature. I went back on the Net and searched temperature controllers. I found one on ebay that, for $39, included a proportional controller, a solid state relay, and a thermocouple. I thought that was a real bargain! The blanket with temperature controller is shown in the photo below. From top: left to right, the controller, the relay, an off-on switch for the blanket and the thermocouple. Bottom: the silicone rubber heating blanket.
A proportional controller is advantageous because it decreases the power output to the blanket as the set temperature is approached. Therefore it overshoots the set temperture by only a small margin during heat-up. I decided to try out my new toy to see how it would do molding rib stock. I took two pieces of Spanish cedar, 2″wide X 7/16″ thick X 32″ long and soaked them overnight in water. I wrapped one of them in aluminum foil, put the blanket on top of the wood strip, and then a backing wood strip on the top, and clamped the assembly lightly into one of my rib molds. I tucked the thermocouple between the blanket and the cedar stock. I set the the controller at 130 deg.C and turned on the power to the blanket. In 2 minutes the temperature had reached 63 deg. C. After 3 minutes the temperature reached 85 deg. and I began to clamp the assembly into the mold. There was little resistance and I was able to make the rib stock conform closely to the mold. After 7 minutes the temperature reached 110 deg. C and I shut off the power to the blanket. I let the assembly cool for about 15-20 minutes before I removed the assembly and inspected the rib stock. The photo below shows the rib assembly in the mold after heating.
I found that there was some spring-back but that the rib stock took the general shape of the rib. There was no cracking whatsoever which was quite encouraging. I then bent the second piece of cedar with similar results. The molded cedar pieces are shown in the photo below.
The results are encouraging. I think that, by increasing the number of clamps during molding, I can get an even better fit of the rib stock to the mold. The ribs will still need to be laminated to avoid the effects of spring-back. However, I believe that I can reduce the number of lathes from the present five to probably three.
Back to the Beaver
Paul Hai was determined to get the Beaver back on the water in the summer of 2013. He plans to use her to run guide boat tours on historic Lake Rich. Those interested in learning more about the cultural and ecological heritage of the Newcomb area and the Adirondack Park will be able sign up and take an informative guide boat ride on lovely Rich Lake. Paul wanted the Beaver returned to as close to her original condition as possible. To do that he commissioned author and boat builder Mason Smith of Long Lake to accomplish the task. Mason has restored many wooden boats and has sold many of his modern version of the Adirondack guideboat which he calls the Adirondack Goodboat. The most difficult task Mason faced was to replace part of the bottom board of the Beaver which had dry rotted sometime in her past. Mason said that the original bottom board was an extraordinary piece of white pine quarter sawn lumber the likes of which he had never seen. The grain was extremely tight and board free of any defects. As you will see from the photos below Mason did and outstanding job on restoring the Beaver to her past glory.
Paul just couldn’t wait to get the Beaver back on Rich Lake. He did push the re-introduction just a bit.
Paul is having another antique guide boat refurbished for duty as a touring vessel. Both boats will be in service this summer running guide boat historical and ecological tours on Rich lake. Further information on the tours will be forthcoming. Since my wife Fran and I will be tour guides I’ll be sure that the word gets out promptly. Looking forward to seeing some of you on Rich Lake this summer.
Guideboat builders refer to hanging planks and each row of planks is a “round”. I am now on the fourth row of planks or round 4. With round 4 the curvature of the hull was just starting to be noticeable. I decided to go with the finished plank thickness of 3/16+ inches and back out the small amount necessary to make the plank conform to the curvature of the ribs. As shown below I used my backing-out plane and a cabinet scraper with a curved blade. This seemed to do the trick. The plank is a little thinner in some places than the nominal thickness but not enough to make any real difference.
When lining off a new plank I found it easier to spile to a dummy plank that I could then use as a template for the “good” plank. I carefully match the mating side of the template plank to the previously installed plank while leaving the other side of the template a little thicker than it needs to be. Then any adjustments that need to be made in the mating side won’t end up taking away from the other side of the plank and making it too narrow. Once the mating side is set, I can make sure the other side matches up with the tick marks on each rib. The template can then be used to transfer the plank shape to the “good” planking material. The template can also be used to lay out the other three half planks. Usually only slight adjustments need to be made in the template to get it to conform with the shape of the other three half planks. These can be noted on the template (like add 1/8″ here) and allowance made when laying out the “good” plank.
Closing the gap
One frustrating think about hanging guideboat planks is that sometimes the gap between the two planks won’t close. Normally the lapped edges of each plank will close when you apply mild pressure to the seam. But sometimes you just can’t get the seam to close up. This generally occurs with the higher numbered ribs. What is going on? There are two possible causes; 1) the curvature of the plank doesn’t match the rib, or 2) the mating plank is riding up on the lap of the previous plank. The later cause just means that the two laps are not matching up. To figure out what is going on you have to go through contortsions and get down underneath the hull. First clamp the new plank in place. By looking at the spot where the gap is occurring you can tell if the the plank is not conforming to the shape of the rib or whether the mating plank is riding up on the previous plank. The later is probably the cause. To correct the problem mark where the trailing edge of previous plank is intersecting the new plank. Most likely it will indicate that the lap on the new plank needs to be extended a little so that the laps match up.
Now things become interesting! The curvature of the hull is now becoming a problem. There is no easy way out. The planks must be backed out or another way found to make them conform to the hull shape. Backing out is quite a challenge. You must start with a plank that is thicker than the final required thickness to allow for the hollowing out. The amount of backing out is not constant but varies with position along the hull. It is at a maximum at the midships while at rib position 11 and on to the stem the plank needs no backing out. Then the top surface of the plank needs to be shaped so the it conforms to the other side of the plank and the plank, over all, is at the required thickness. Quite an operation! I decided to try flash molding. I prepared a new round 5 plank and applied the lap to the side that mated with the previous plank. I left the opposite side without a lap for now since tht would make it easier to clamp. I then sprayed the plank liberally with water, wrapped it in aluminum foil, and fastened it to the hull by screwing it down in several places. I then clamped the silicone rubber heating blanket along the upper edge of the new plank. I used I used 1/2″ square stock to clamp the blanket along the upper edge of the plank. I tucked the thermocouple under one end of the blanket and turned on the juice. It took about 10 minutes to reach 100 degrees C. I then shut off the the power to the blanket and clamped down the trailing edge of the plank. I did this a second time and then moved the blanket down to do the remainder of the plank that needed bending. At that point I repeated the above cycle and let everything cool down for an hour or so. The photo below shows the set-up.
The result was that the plank conformed nicely to the hull shape and I observed no spring-back.
Oops! There is a problem
Flash molding worked fine on three of the four half planks on round 5. However on the final half plank the plank became obstinate; it just wouldn’t conform to the hull no matter how hard I tried. I repeated the flash molding process several times with no success. The plank remained just the same as if it had not been treated by flash molding. In desperation I went back to my previous method of conforming the plank to the hull. I soaked the plank between two pieces of wet carpet for several days and then clamped it in its position on the hull. I allowed it to dry and, sure enough, it took the shape of the hull. I then mulled over what had happened. Why did this particular plank not respond to flash molding? Then I recalled the days when I made a bunch of Aeolite solo canoes. These are beautiful ultra light canoes designed by Platt Montfort. They resemble an aircraft fuselage in their design. Longitudinal stringers, 3/8″ square, run the length of the 12 foot boat and are joined at the stems and tied together with ash ribs spaced every 6″. The hull is then covered with aircraft quality heat-shrinkable Dacron fabric and sealed with a couple of coats of varnish. I have built probably a dozen of these very attractive, yet functional, watercraft and have owned one for over 20 years. I have paddled it all over the Adirondacks with never a moments trouble. They are a joy to jump into and go. So back to the problem at hand. One of the steps in building a Montfort boat is to bend the ash ribs so that they fit the contour of the hull. The ribs are 1/8 thick X 1/2″wide. I found that the best way to bend them was to first immerse them in water for 2-3 weeks. I use a PVC pipe sealed at one end and filled with water to accomplish this. The rib stock must be quarter-sawn, otherwise you can’t bend them without breaking them. Once the rib stock is thoroughly saturated with water I remove them one at a time and immerse them in a tub of hot water. The water is as hot as I can get it by heating it over a hot plate. When you do this the ribs become pretty much like a wet noodle so you can easily bend them to fit the curvature of the hull. There is one caveat however. They bend much more easily in one direction than the other. This has something to do with the direction the grain is running in the long direction of the rib. So there is an “easy” direction and a “not so easy” direction for the ribs that depends on which direction the grain is running in the rib. Apparently the planks also have an “easy” and a “hard” direction also. I was apparently lucky in round 5 in that only one of the four half planks was oriented with the easy direction facing the wrong way. So with round 6 I decided to make sure the easy direction of the plank was always facing inwards. I did this by flexing the plank across its width using my two hands and trying to bend it. The indication was subtle but I could feel a definite bias in that one direction was easier to bend than the other. Did it work? Well, I used flash molding to conform all four of the half planks to the hull round 6 and none of them gave a moment of trouble. They all conformed perfectly to the hull with no spring back or other problem. The photo below shows the hull after round 5 was hung.
The photo below shows the hull with the round 6 planking clamped to the hull. These planks will have to await my return from the North Country in the Fall to be permanently fastened to the hull.
Guideboat Paddle Making Demonstration, July 19th and 20th
I have been asked to do a guideboat paddle making demonstration by The Adirondack Museum on Friday, July 19th and Saturday, July 20th. On Saturday, July 20th the Museum will hold AquaFest, a celebration of the marvelous water resources in the Adirondack Park. Check out The Museum website for all the AquaFest fun activities. As a part of my demo I will explain the history of the use of guideboat paddles and will show reproductions famous antique guideboat paddles for everyone to touch and feel. I’ll also be making a paddle and will be happy to demonstrate the variety of tools I use in making this wonderful example of Adirondack folk art. I hope if you are in the area you will stop in and say hi. I’ll be in the Marion River Carry at The Museum.
During the weekend of August 9, 10 and 11, the Historical Society of Long Lake featured a varied program devoted to the history of the guideboat in Long Lake. On Friday night there was an original drama production, The Mystery of the Buttercup which drew a sold out crowd. On Saturday evening Hallie Bond, long time watercraft curator at the Adirondack Museum, presented a talk on Guideboats and Guideboat builders of Long Lake. On Sunday there was an exhibit of locally owned guideboats and other items related to guideboats in Long Lake. The following is a brief report on those happenings.
More about the steam launch Buttercup. It was retrieved from the bottom of Long lake and now resides in its own enclosure in back of the town office building. The following is taken from the plaque on the enclosure that explains the historical significance of the Buttercup.
The Steamboat Buttercup
On September 12, 1959, the long lost steamboat, Buttercup, was found on the bottom of Long Lake by amateur scuba divers, George Boudreau and Franklin McIntyre. The Buttercup was the first steamboat on Long Lake. It was scuttled by the guides in 1885 because it was taking away their business of rowing visitors and sportsmen through the lake in guideboats. The same night that the guides sank the Buttercup, others blew up the dam six miles below the foot of Long Lake. It was ten years before another steamboat appeared on the lake. Buttercup was part of a grand scheme put forward by Dr. Thomas C. Durant and his son, William West Durant of Raquette Lake, to provide a continuous, comfortable transportation route from Raquette Lake to Saranac Lake by railroad car and steamboat. Interesting artifacts found in the boat are displayed with it. They include the brass steam whistle, the steering wheel, the steam gauge, and some of the spindles which supported the canopy roof, and the axe which was used to cut the hole (on the port side near the engine) which sank the boat. The Buttercup may not be beautiful now, but once was. Below are photos taken of the Buttercup as it now appears.
Hallie Bond-Guideboats and Guideboat Builders of Long Lake
Where did the Adirondack guideboat originate? Alfred Donaldson wrote a history of the Adirondacks in 1921. He claimed that Cyrus Palmer and Mitchell Sabattis built the first guideboat. Hallie does not think that was the case. For one thing Sabattis was a Native American and the guideboat borrows from European boat building methods. Small wooden boats began to appear in Old Forge about 1826. Long Lake is on the water highway from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, a distance of about 90 miles. Hence the need for early Long Lake settlers to have a boat to travel about. I read that one William Austin was building boats in Long Lake in the 1830’s. It is said that he could build a boat in about two weeks. His boats obviously weren’t guideboats since it takes about 500 to 600 hours to build a guideboat. Through a chance encounter with a visitor at the Adirondack Museum I learned that it could have been easy to construct a small wooden rowboat back then. This fellow said that he and his father built many wooden rowboats back in the 1950’s. The boats were constructed by bending around two 16″ wide planks to form the sides of the hull. Another plank formed the transom and plank seats were installed. The bottom was cross planked. To build such a boat took several hours. They build several hundred boats until metal boats took over the market. In the 1840’s Adirondack wooden boats were on the heavy side (90-110 lbs.). They were clinker built (clapboard) and were square-ended. Guides pursued several occupations including farming, hunting and trapping, as well as building their own boats. Adirondack Murray (William Henry Harrison Murray) caused a great inrush of tourists to the region when he published his book Adventures in the Wilderness in 1869. This caused quite a strain on the infrastructure of the region during that summer and many tourists left unhappy and angry at Murray. They were dubbed “Murray’s Fools” by the press of that day. Carries (portages) were negotiated by carrying the guideboat on the guide’s shoulders using a yoke. When carrying the boat in this manner the guide’s were likened to a turtle carrying its shell. Some carries are up to a mile long (Raquette Falls carry on the Raquette River between Long Lake and Tupper Lake). At some busy carries entrepreneurs brought horse drawn wagons to carry the boats to and fro. They charged 75 cents for a one-way trip. Some unscrupulous guides would collect the 75 cents for the trip back home from their clients and then carry the boat themselves and pocket the 75 cents. Some noteworthy Long Lake guideboat builders were Henry Stanton (who taught Dwight Grant to build them), Lewis Austin (1890), Warren Cole, Rueben Cary, Wallace Emerson, and George Washington Smith. Over the years there were 23 guideboat builders in Long Lake. The guides used now illegal methods for hunting deer. One was hounding, or sending small dogs down deer trails to frighten the deer into a lake where the deer would try to escape bay swimming across to the other side. The guides and “sports” would be waiting in guideboats to chase them down and either shoot them or club them to death. The other method was to “jack” deer feeding along the shore line of marshy waterways. The guide would propel the boat by paddling from the stern seat instead of rowing the craft as was usual. This made for a stealthy approach to the wary deer. The “sport” would be in the bow with a candle lantern and a rifle. Upon hearing the sound of a deer feeding, the sport would light the lantern to freeze the deer so he could shoot it. In the late 1800’s hotels used guides and guideboats. The hotel guide would be hired on a daily basis to row the guests about and perhaps stop for a picnic lunch. Long Lake built guideboats had an upright stem profile whereas those built in the Old Forge region had a stem that slanted forward. Guides tended to paint their boats dark colors whereas the sports who bought them had them varnished. The advent of the outboard motor spelled the demise of the guideboat. Some tried to convert the boat to use it with an outboard by cutting off the stern and adding a transom. This did not work very well because a guideboat’s hull is not designed for planing, as is necessary to get the full efficiency from an outboard motor. The Guideboat Exhibit The townspeople of Long Lake responded to a request from the Historical society to share their guideboats and other guideboat memorabilia with the community. The two murals below give a glimpse into the past as recorded by visitors in the 1800’s. Reverend John Todd was probably the first to record the appearance when he visited Long Lake during the summers of 1841-1844.
The excerpt reads ” Nearly in the center we came to a beautiful sheet of water-which is about twenty miles long, and from one-half a mile to three miles wide. It is studded with islands and surrounded by a heavy forest, and in the warm sky of summer, seemed like a fairy land. Scattered along towards the head of the lake, we found a little community of eight or nine families. They were here alone, shut out from the world. The hunter’s axe alone had marked the trees when they came. They lived in their little log houses and their little boats were there horses and the lake their only path.”
The quote reads “Three miles from its head is the little village of Long Lake, noted for manufacture of Adirondack boats and as being the home of some of the best guides the wilderness has produced.” Tom Bissell, whose family goes back five generations in Long Lake, brought three guideboats. The first is the Kenneth Durant. Tom supplied the following explanation with the Durant:
The Kenneth Durant
It is amazing how rapidly the Adirondack guide boat appeared after the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. Benson J. Lossing wrote a most detailed and I believe accurate account, titled The Hudson, of a trip that he took about 1860 from the founding of the streams of the Hudson River to New York City. On reaching the lower end of Long Lake after carrying around the rapids he asked his guides how much their boats weighed and their answer was 160 lbs. apiece. Clearly something had to change boat-wise with the increasing number of visitors, especially after W.H.H. “Adirondack Murray’s” immensely popular book on the glories of the Adirondacks.
There are arguments on who invented the guide boat. It clearly evolved from several builders who came up with constant improvements which were copied by others. For example, some of the earliest boats had a square stern which was improved by going to a double-ended pattern.
Caleb Chase, who built the Kenneth Durant, was one of these pioneers. He built guide boats for a long number of years beginning around 1870 in Newcomb. The Kenneth Durant was built in the early 1870’s and was sold to Senator Platt of Connecticut who built the first pleasure camp on Long Lake in 1870. It spent its whole life there until James Dowsey, who owned the Platt Camp in my day, auctioned all the boats off about 60 years ago and I bought the Kenneth Durant. The boat is held together totally by steel screws since the art of making brass screws had not been invented.
This is the oldest Chase boat I have seen and it is much cruder then his later boats. When I bought it the seat supports and the carry straps were made of pine instead of the present cherry.
Thomas T. Bissell
Tom’s second guideboat, the Talbot Bissell was named after his father. As the explanation reveals Tom made it in a non-conventional manner.
The last boat that Tom brought is quite extraordinary. When you view the photo below can you tell that this boat is only about 3 feet long?
Journey to Santanoni
Every summer I make at least one pilgrimage to great Camp Santanoni. Many things draw me to it. First, it is in a remote, wild place that is not easy to get to. Then too, the guideboat I replicated was used there and was affectionately called the Queen Anne. And, I am friends with the granddaughter of the original owners of the Camp, Susan, Pruyn King. But what really draws me is the solitude and a strange feeling of attachment or a bond with those that were there long ago. There are only three ways to travel the five miles of wilderness road into the Great Camp; by foot ( X-C ski or snowshoe in the winter), by bike, or horse drawn wagon. I am going by bike on this sunny day in mid-August. Join me as I record the trip by photo and word. The Great Camp is in the town of Newcomb, NY. We turn off Route 28 and cross a one lane bridge where a sign informs about the Camp.
On continuing on one comes almost immediately to the Gate Lodge.
Imagine travelling to North Creek overnight from New York city on the train and then spending nearly a day travelling to this spot the next day. You are elated to have finally arrived. The scene from the Gate Lodge is magnificent; it overlooks the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Your hosts then inform you that, after freshening up in the Gate Lodge, you have another 5 miles to go to reach the Main Lodge.
The next stop is to sign in at the entrance to the road leading to the Main Camp. No motorized vehicles are allowed, only bikes and horse-drawn wagons. From here it is a steady uphill climb for about 4 miles until we reach what I call the “Pass” whereupon the road drops away rather quickly to Lake Newcomb.
The first landmark is about one-half mile in. This is an erratic boulder dumped here sometime near the end of the last ice age. It looks to me like a gigantic bench. About a mile in on the road we come to the Santanoni Farm. Robert Pruyn was a banker in Albany by profession, but he loved farming. His 200 acre farm complex supplied all the food necessary for the Main Camp. There was a beautiful barn with the finest breeds of milk cows, vegetable beds and orchards. Robert insisted that the most modern farming methods of his day be used at Santanoni. The photo below shows the Creamery (left) and the farmer’s home.
as we reenter the forest canopy the road steepens a bit. we breathe in the delicious aroma of the balsam fir as be pedal onward. Soon there is the tinkle of falling water and the deeper thrumming sound of water moving downward in a mountain brook as we approach the first of three stone bridges.
It really is damp here. Note the moss that has been growing on this bridge abutment for over 100 years.
Peering over the side of the road we see more moss and the brook that flows under the bridge.
Next we come upon our next landmark, a sign where the trail forks, one way to the Main Camp, and the other to Moose Pond. We are now about half way there.
The open road beckons and we start climbing again.
The next landmark, an erratic boulder, signals that we are almost to the “Pass”.
Indeed, in a short time we arrive at the Pass. The tall hemlock on the left tells me we are at the Pass. Now it is a quick descent to the bridge.
Now it is only about a quarter of a mile to the Main Camp. The Main Camp, designed by Robert Robertson, is a stunning example of rustic Adirondack Great Camp architecture. He uses verandas that are connected to one another yet allow for privacy by screening one from another through an arranging them in an imaginative way. If you are on one veranda you are scarcely aware of anyone one on another one close by. All verandas have an exceptional view of Lake Newcomb and of the Setting sun.
Although the state took over Santanoni in 1973, the Camp was left to the ravages of the weather for over twenty years. Finally at the urging of the Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the town of Newcomb, and others the state finally took action. It was almost too late since decay of major structural members had occurred and the boat house roof had collapsed and its floor and walls were terribly compromised. Michael Frenette, a master timber framer, headed up a crew to stabilize and restore the Main Camp. After 16 summers of work the Camp has been brought back from near extinction. You can now experience Great Camp Santanoni pretty much as it was in its heyday. As I step up on the veranda the familiar smell of the Santanoni spruce timbers comes upon me as does the total stillness of it. There are very few places in our modern world where one can experience the total absence of sound. Santanoni is one of them. I notice down the way one of the interns who man the camp during the summer and give guided tours as well as doing further restoration of the buildings. She recognizes me and calls me by name. How can that be? On an earlier trip to the Camp this summer I met Megan, one of the interns, but she doesn’t know my name. Ah, but this is Nina, who has returned for a second summer as an intern. Nina has just completed graduate studies in architecture and has used her research on Santanoni to write her thesis. Nina not only knows the architecture of Santanoni but also every bit of its history. We catch up with each other since last year and I take the familiar walk around the grounds.
I notice that the Santanoni spiders are back. These are enormous critters that love to set up shop along the outer edge of the roof. They spin great webs and then lie in wait for unsuspecting winged insects to bumble into their traps.
I walk down the path to Ned’s studio. Ned was my friend Susan’s father and the son of Anna and Robert. It is said that Ned was deathly ill with diphtheria when he was a teenager and that when he survived Robert gave him a very generous endowment to last for his life time. Ned used it to study art hence the reason the studio was built for him.
I am down near the lake shore now so I go on to the beach. Here I take in the remarkable beauty of this place that is made even more so by its solitude.
I take in the view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
And the view of Mount Santanoni.
I loop back around the shoreline to the boat house, perhaps my favorite spot at the Great Camp. It is an imposing structure, 1200 square feet, the size of a small house. I imagine it filled with a treasure trove of wooden boats, Rushton Indian Girl canoes and Vesper sailing canoes, and guideboats made by Caleb Chase and others.
Even the door into the boat house reflects the Adirondack style of rustic architecture.
Michael Frenette has left a vestige of the past. His McCafferty guideboat is hung on display against one wall.
The bow seat is shown below.
Michael has left an explanation of the boat.
The view from the boat house across Lake Newcomb is spectacular. The sky and lake display a vivid blue that is almost overpowering.
The boat house was protected from wave action and ice in the winter by Little Minister Island and a log boom that was stretched almost all the way across the entrance to the lake. The boom is still there but has floated up against the shoreline. Little Minister Island still serves to shelter the boat house.
Well, time to say goodbyes to Nina and hop on my trusty Raleigh and head home. This time the journey will be much easier. After an uphill climb of about a mile to the pass it is downhill nearly all the way.
The Adirondack Canoe Classic-90 Miler
The 90 miler is a canoe race that occurs every year in September on the first weekend after Labor Day. It was started in 1983. It follows the chain of lakes from Old Forge, in the south, to Saranac Lake, in the north, a distance of 90 miles. Over 500 competitors, some from other parts of the world, race in canoes, kayaks and guideboats. I have sort of a front row seat for the race. On Friday, the first leg of the race, the participants go from Old Forge to Blue Mountain Lake. They then transport their boats to Long lake to essentially our back yard. Our neighbor, Tom Bissell, owns a ten acre field that he graciously allows the racers to use as a staging area for the next leg of the race. That leg goes from Long lake to Tupper Lake. So on Friday night of the race our small road from the main highway is humming with vehicles carrying all the entrant’s watercraft. The field soon fills with all manner of vehicles and camping vehicles. The next morning I roll out of bed and take a stroll to see what is happening. The following photos give an idea of the excitement the pervades the race on the second day.
There are a variety of canoes in the race including solo, two man, and war canoes. The photo above gives an overview of the rather hectic activity that accompanies the start of the second leg. One of the few guideboats in the race is in the foreground.
Paul Smith’s College fields a strong crew of women. As you will see, women make their presence known in this grueling race.
Each class of racing boats is called to the starting line and sent off as a group. These racers have a dolly to move their boat. It will be taken with them and used to transport their boat over the mile long Raquette Falls carry (portage).
Here the racers and their boats funnel down to the beach where they launch their craft and line up to await the command to begin the second leg.
As stated earlier, there are only a few guideboats in the 9o miler. Above, one of the guideboat racers makes a last minute check on his boat. Below a guideboat has been out fitted for the race. Note the seat padding, the brace for the rowers feet, the yoke for carrying the boat over the Raquette Falls carry, and the access to water. Many of the guideboats in the race are vintage boats that may be over 100 years old. It is a testimony to the ruggedness of these light, fast wooden boats that were created here in the Adirondacks to carry up to a 1000 lbs. over rough water.
As I stroll around I come upon two guideboat racers, Shelly and Stacy. They have come from South Carolina to be a part of the 90 miler. Shelly has raced in the 90 miler before but this is the first time for Stacy. Shelly is manning the oars and Stacy the paddle. The first leg was grueling for them. Shelly’s fingers are wrapped in bandages from the blisters gotten from pulling on the oars for 30 miles. They tell me that the Brown’s Tract narrow serpentine waterway was the worst. Guideboats are notoriously difficult to turn so they often got stuck cross ways in the stream. This did not endear them to the other racers behind them. Nevertheless their spirits are high as they begin the second leg. I felt great admiration for these intrepid ladies. Hats off the Shelley and Stacy! Below is their boat. Their boat too, is a vintage boat. Note below the repair made for a crack in the hull planking. I had never seen this done before.
The second annual guideboat regatta was held on Saturday, September 7th from 11 am to 3 pm on Rich Lake in Newcomb, NY. This is the second guideboat owners and lovers reunion and there was a nice turnout. There were about 60 t0 70 attendees and perhaps 10 to 12 guideboats on hand to admire and take out for a spin. Paul Hai , Program Coordinator at SUNY-ESF’s Northern Forest Institute, was the organizer. Paul truly loves guideboats and his enthusiasm for them is infectious. His dream is to have every school child in the Adirondack Park experience the mystique of a guideboat by setting out in one, at least once. Paul aims to have these guideboat gatherings every year at about this time. Here Paul is opening the days activities by explaining the historic nature of Rich Lake. It was on these shores that Caleb Chase established his guideboat building enterprise and built guideboats starting in 1851 at age 21 and continuing into the early 1900’s. I had brought along my collection of guideboat paddles that I have carefully reproduced from those in the Adirondack Museum and from other sources. My paddles and some historical material are on Paul’s right. Bill Seiler brought his brand new acquisition of a Chase guideboat. He had just picked the boat up that morning and was eager to learn all he could about Chase and his boats. Here is his brand new (to him) Chase guideboat. As you can see it is in mint condition. The plaque on the deck identifies it as a boat once owned by the George Finch, of the Finch Pruyn logging dynasty.
Paul also proudly displayed his newest addition to the Northern Forest Institute’s guideboat stable. This boat is also a Chase boat and was recently donated to the Forest Institute. After some rather extensive restoration by Rob Frenette it is back on the water.
Paul really enjoyed taking his girls out for a ride in his latest acquisition.
Bill Michelfelder of Keene, NY brought his version of a Raider guideboat that he had recently finished constructing. Raiders were somewhat shorter than the normal guideboat length of 16 feet. Bill’s was about 13 feet long. Raiders were supposedly used to get into difficult to access ponds and lakes that the longer boats couldn’t reach.
I, too, brought my reproduction of a Chase guideboat that was prized at Great Camp Santanoni.
Although the day was overcast and threatened to rain, the brief period of sprinkles did nothing to mar the good times.
A strange word, one that I had never heard of before. The word was said to me by a Museum visitor who was admiring one of my guideboat paddles. He explained that it came from the “cat’s eye” effect seen in some gemstones and that it is also seen in some types of wood. It was apparent in the paddle he was handling. I had always known the effect as figure. Cherry wood can exhibit “flame” figure while maple can have quilted, tiger, or bird’s eye figure. When I returned from the Adirondacks I had two orders for guideboat paddles to complete. I went to Hearne Hardwood and obtained a cherry plank that was quite blond in appearance and that had heavy figure. When I finished making the paddle I applied three coats of varnish to it and the grain “popped” on the first coat. That term “popped” is used when the application of a finish to wood causes the figure to jump out at you. Below is the paddle blade after three coats of varnish.
The chatoyance effect gives the wood a 3-D effect. You feel like you are peering down into the wood below its surface. I am always surprised when the grain “pops” when I apply varnish because I only have a vague idea of what the paddle will look like in its unfinished state. I have always chosen Epifanes wood finish gloss varnish to finish my paddles and boats. One feature that it has that other vanishes don’t is that you don’t have to sand between coats to get adhesion. I still sand between coats to get a very smooth surface but it is nice to know that it is not required. I bought a new can of Epifanes varnish to finish this paddle and was delighted that the formulation had been improved upon. It is now a high build finish. I could get a striking surface finish after only three coats. I also noticed that the tendency to run was much reduced. Varnishes are notorious for their tendency to run. I hope that I am not just imagining this improvement because less runs would eliminate a big finishing headache when using varnish.
Back to work-The turn of the bilge
When I finally turned my attention back to boat building, I had been away from it for about five months. I really felt “out of the loop” as they say. I was also facing the hardest rounds of planking on the boat, rounds 6 and 7. This is where the so called “turn of the bilge” occurs. At the turn of the bilge the hull changes from being sort of horizontal to pretty much vertical. The rib shapes reflect this by displaying the maximum degree of curvature at the bilge. This maximum rib curvature occurs at the midships and diminishes to a totally flat plank at the stem. Adding to the complication is that the planks are taking on more and more of an upsweep as one approaches the shear, or uppermost, plank. As I mentioned earlier there are two ways to match the plank shape to the rib curvature. The old timers, and some expert builders today, back out, or hollow out the plank so that it fits snugly to the convex shape of the rib under it. They start with a slightly thicker plank that they back out using a plane with a curved sole. Now remember the curve of the ribs does not remain constant, but diminishes, as one moves towards the stem. So the degree of backing out is constantly changing as one moves down the hull. Remember too, that you can’t see how well you are fitting the backed out plank to the rib because when you lay it down on the rib the only way you can see how well you are doing is to scrunch down on your hands and knees on the floor under the hull and look up over your shoulder. One or two of those “down unders” and I would call it a day. Some old timers got around the need to scrunch down by putting their builder’s gig on a rotisserie sort of affair that allowed them to turn the hull 180 degrees and check the fit. I certainly have the greatest admiration for those who back out planks. They have a special talent only granted to a few mortals. I have to use what is best called the “wet and bend” technique. I learned some time ago while building light weight canoes that wood plus water renders wood pliable. I was using ash ribs 1/8″ thick for the canoe. I immersing them in water for about two weeks and then submerged them in hot water for a minute of two. That treatment rendered them as limp as spaghetti noodles. I clamped them into place and after they dried out they stayed put and were strong, sturdy ribs. I did a similar treatment while building my two earlier guideboats. I soaked that planks between two pieces of wet carpet for two or three days and then clamped them into place over the ribs. When they dried they had assumed the shape of the hull and I could then finish that round of planking. Flash molding is a kind of very rapid steaming. Of course, steaming of wood has gone on for centuries and has been used to make not only boats, but snowshoes, furniture and who knows what all. For flash molding you need to have thin stock so that the water can infiltrate the fibers throughout in a short time. To review flash molding, you first wet down the plank by spraying it with water, wrap it in aluminum foil, clamp one end in place over the ribs with a thermal blanket on top of it, heat it quickly to 100 degrees centigrade (this takes a minute or two) and clamp down the other edge of the plank while it is at temperature. You cycle it to 100 degrees centigrade a second time and allow it to cool to room temperature. The result is truly amazing. The plank fits like a glove to the ribs and spring back, if any, is minimal. I can do an entire round of planking in 4 to 5 hours. My engineer/scientist background caused me to puzzle over this rather extraordinary behavior of wood. In the presence of water and heat, it acts like a thermoplastic polymer. In other words, if I heat wood in the presence of water to above its shape-changing temperature, it becomes very pliable and can easily take on a new shape which it retains when it is cooled to room temperature. When I took a look at where I had left off, I found that I had flash molded all planks in round six. They were presumably ready to be fastened down. However, although the planks fit fairly well, there was still a slight gap between the old and new planking. The lap in the new plank would not close completely over the lap in the previous plank. After much back and forthing, I discovered that there had been some spring back over the 5 months I had been absent. That came to my attention when I found I could slightly rock the plank back and forth over a given rib. I decided to repeat flash molding the round and suddenly everything came right in and I had an extraordinarily tight fit all around.
I hung all four planks for round 6 and went on to round 7. The sheer, or upward sweep of the planks for round 7 is starting to be quite noticeable. You can see that from the photo below. I have laid one of the spiled planks from round 7 on 8″ wide planking stock. Round 7 planks take up just about all of the width of the plank.
I mentioned above that I got rusty on planking after laying off for 5 months. When I started to list the steps in planking a guideboat, it is no wonder. The steps are listed below. 1. Spile to obtain the shape of the new plank. 2. Resaw 4/4 plank to obtain two book matched planks. 3. Surface plane raw planks to 3/16″ thickness. 4. Line off new plank using the spiling batten.
5. Fit plank to edge of previous plank and tick marks indicating leading edge of new plank. Fit plank hood end to stem rabbett. When satisfied, preserve plank location by fastening it down with two or three screws to the ribs.
6. Cut lap on trailing edge of plank. 7. Check fit of plank and adjust as necessary. 8. Repeat steps 4 through 7 for the other three planks in the round. 9. Flash mold planks so that they conform to the hull. 10 Recheck fit. 11. Cut lap on leading edge of plank. 12. Lay out and cut scarfs. 13. Lay out and drill screw holes. 14. Sand plank and do final check for fit. 15. Apply bedding compound to stem rabbet and plank lap. 16. Hang plank (screw plank down to ribs). 17. Mark off tack positions, drill and punch tack pilot holes with 1/16″ drill and awl, stick and clinch tacks. 18. Done.
Above shows step 5 in the process of hanging a plank. Once I am satisfied with fit I will fasten the plank down to the ribs in two or three places and cut the trailing edge lap.
Above is a round 7 plank that has been flash molded, both laps cut and the scarf done (step 12). Note that flash molding has imparted a noticeable bow in the plank so that it conforms to the lengthwise shape of the hull as well as the radial curve of each rib. Flash molding provides such an excellent fit for a plank to the hull because the plank now conforms to the hull both down its length and along the curve of each rib. There are occasions when the gap at the lap will not quite close. This usually is apparent at a rib. There are two possible causes; 1) the lap of the new plank is riding up on the lap of the previous plank, or 2) flash molding has not imparted quite enough curve to the new plank so that it doesn’t quite conform to the rib. To check for the first cause climb down under the hull and mark off on the new plank where it meets the old one. If the lap is not wide enough then adjust it using a cabinet scraper. You can detect whether the second cause is the problem if you can rock the plank over the rib. Hold the plank down tight to the lap and see if there is a gap between the rib and the plank at the leading edge. If there is you can back out or hollow out the plank using a cabinet scraper with a curved blade.
The photo above shows tacks stuck and ready for clinching. Here I am ready for clinching.
Here I am clinching.
Finally round 7 is finished. That’s a magnolia sprig on top of the hull for a tough of holiday cheer.
What is Spanish cedar??? As you know I am building my guideboat out of a wood called Spanish cedar. Some of the classic guideboat builders had used Spanish cedar to build their boats so I am following in their tracks. I became curious about the origin of the wood so I did some research on it via the web. Before I go further into Spanish cedar let me first describe the favored wood for building guideboats, Eastern white pine. When the colonists first came to America they found vast stands of virgin Eastern white pine in the Northeast. It is an attractive, soft wood that is easily worked. It was put into service for all manner of items, from furniture, to flooring, to constructing dwellings, and of course building boats. The early settlers in the Adirondacks were surrounded by this easily worked raw material. They could select any cut they desired. They chose to use quarter sawn planking because it expands less with moisture uptake than flat sawn planking. They felt that this choice would make their boats less susceptible to cracking due to expansion and contraction as the boat was rowed about on the lakes and then hauled out and stored out of the water. Indeed the old sailing vessels used quarter sawn planking since they were continually exposed to water on the outside of the hull while the inside of the hull was, for the most part, dry. The same reasoning was applied to barrels that were used to store various liquids. Barrels always are constructed of quarter sawn wood to mitigate the differential expansion of the wood from the dry side to the wet side. I am not sure that same reasoning for using quarter sawn stock for clipper ships and barrels can be applied to guideboats. I think there might be more critical factors involved But more about that later. Incidentally there are still many very large white pine trees in the Adirondacks, some of them virgin pines that are protected on state land. So there is still some wide, clear white pine quarter sawn stock available. Now, Spanish cedar. First, although it has a marvelous aroma that hints of cedar, it is not a cedar but a close relative to mahogany. It is a brownish to blond softwood that grows in Central and South America. Its aroma comes from a resin in the heartwood that protects it from insects and rot. It is its aroma that resulted in one of its most well known uses, for cigar humidor linings. It is also used for making classical guitars, siding and shutters. How does it compare with eastern white pine as material for making guideboats? They both have about the same specific gravity, 0.39 for white pine and 0.4 for Spanish cedar. While building the present boat I noticed that Spanish cedar seemed particularly resistant to splitting. Was this my imagination or could I quantify this behavior? Thinking back to my old days as a metallurgist I thought of metals that exhibit ductile behavior. The more they could resist fracture while undergoing deformation, the more ductile or tough they were said to be. Aha, I thought, perhaps certain woods are more resistant to splitting (fracture) while undergoing deformation. I devised a simple test to see it I could distinguish the resistance to splitting between different types of wood. I was mainly interested in comparing white pine and Spanish cedar. So I took a piece of white pine planking and one of Spanish cedar. Both were 3/16″ (5mm) thick and both were quarter sawn. I then drilled and countersunk a hole in each that was 1/4″ (6.4 mm) from the edge. The hole was drilled to accept a no. 4 X 5/8″ (16 mm) screw. I then screwed the no. 4 screw into each plank until it was flush with the surface of the plank. Underneath each plank was a stock 2″ X 6″ (5 cm X 15.3 cm) board so the screw would have something to grab. I then continued by driving the screw into the plank. I observed how many turns it would take to cause the plank to split. After 3 1/2 turns neither one of the planks showed any sign of splitting. So both must be very ductile. However when I withdrew the screws from both planks a difference was apparent. The white pine plank chipped at the edge of the plank while the screw in the Spanish cedar came out cleanly. The photo below shows the result of the test.
Not surprisingly, both species of wood have great resistance to splitting and are quite suitable for constructing guideboats. Spanish cedar may have an edge because it appears, in this crude test, to be more malleable than white pine. The old time guideboat builders selected quarter sawn white pine for constructing their boats. That was prudent because it swelled less with moisture uptake and thus would put less stress on the hull under very moist, humid conditions or when the boat was left in the water for overnight or longer. The early boats were painted, rather than varnished as most are today. Their paints were probably less impervious to moisture than todays paints and varnishes so their hulls would be more subject to moisture uptake than today’s varnished boats. R. Bruce Hoadley in his book Understanding Wood shows that varnish or other coatings applied to wood markedly dampen the uptake of moisture from the ambient atmosphere. So, in my opinion, the use of modern vanishes and the use of malleable woods like Spanish cedar and Eastern white pine loosens the prohibition of using flat sawn planking on guideboats. Indeed, there are some very old guideboats in the Adirondack Museum’s collection that have at least a portion of their planks that are flat sawn.
Round 8-The final round
Finally the time has come to hang the last plank. The first order of business is to remove the spline that held the ribs equidistant from one another and the bracing that holds the stems in place. They are no longer needed and will be in the way now.
The sheer of the hull has increased as planking has proceeded so I will need to construct a new spiling batten to accommodate the upsweep of the hull.
I transfer the measurements from the batten onto a piece of white pine planking stock. This gives me a template of plank 8. I like to make a template first rather than going directly to the Spanish cedar planking stock. This buffers me against any minor adjustments that have to be made in the shape of the final plank. I can mark on the template where those changes have to be made and easily transfer them to the final planking stock. The photo below shows the white pine template.
The template fits quite well so very little adjustments need to be done. While I am at it I snoop around the hull to ensure that a fair curve exists all around. I do this using a batten. I find two places where there is a flat spot caused when two adjacent ribs are lower than the batten by about 1/8″ ( 3 mm). They are at ribs 5 and 6 on one side and 9 and 10 on the other. Fortunately this can easily be remedied by gluing a tapered strip of wood onto each rib and sanding it down to eliminate the low spot. That’s an advantage of using laminated ribs. This “patch” won’t show.
I’ll break away from the final round to talk about scarfing. A scarf is a way of joining two planks lengthwise along the hull. It is nothing more than a lap joint on the long ends of adjoining planks.
Scarfs should be staggered along the hull so that no two scarfs are adjacent to one another. It is the same principle that brick layers use in laying bricks. A new layer of bricks always starts with a brick straddling the joint between bricks in the previous layer. In making a scarf, first decide the location of the scarf and which plank will lie on top. Mark off on the bottom plank where it should end. You want the scarf lie on top of a rib. Therefore mark off on the bottom plank on the far side of the rib (so that the plank completely covers the rib) where you need to cut the plank off. This position is the zero position for the scarf. On the top plank add the length of the scarf to the zero position and mark it off. For my scarfs I add one and one eighth inches (about 3 cm) to make the scarf. This is something I recheck to make sure I have it right. I have a dread of measuring incorrectly, cutting off too much of the plank, and screwing up big time. The next step is to remove the unwanted material from the end of the plank using a block plane, chisel, and sanding block to form the mating ends. The top and bottom edges need to be mirror images of one another. The photo below shows the bottom edge of a scarf. Things get complicated at the turn of the bilge (rounds 5, 6, 7, and 8). The scarf is rounded on those rounds. That’s not such a problem with the bottom edge of the scarf but it is with the top edge. You need to work the chisel crossways to get the proper rounding of the joint. Be careful with the top edge to keep the edges square. A rounded edge here really shows up. Below is the top edge of a scarf.
Once you have removed the “waste” from each end of the plank and have formed both edges of the scarf lap, place the planks back on the hull and check the fit. Unless you are a genius or have gotten very lucky, the fit will be less than satisfactory. The problem now is to find out which end, top or bottom, is the culprit in causing the misfit. You can’t really see who the culprit is who has the high spot(s) that is causing the problem. So you can take a guess and remove material here and there and keep checking the fit until you get it right. I found the best way to solve this problem is to take a cue from my dentist. We probably all have had a cavity filled and remember one of the last steps is to remove the high points in the filling so that the filled tooth meets its mate seamlessly. To find the high spots, the dentist takes some carbon paper, sticks it in your mouth, and asks you to grind your teeth back and forth and side-to-side. He then can see from the black smudges on the filling where the high spot is and grind it off. So I take some carbon paper, put it into the joint and rub the top plank back and forth over the bottom one. I concentrate on finding the high points on the bottom plank because they are easiest to deal with. The photo below shows that the carbon paper has detected the high spots that are preventing the scarf from fitting tightly.
When hanging planks, you want to install the plank with the bottom edge of the scarf first. Then the plank with the top scarf edge lays on top, gets screwed down, and a row of tacks, closely spaced, is driven along the seam of the scarf (see the first photo above under Scarfing).
When sticking and driving tacks along the lap seam I start by lining off the position of each tack. This is most easily done using a compass with a pencil to set the right distance. As explained before, I then create pilot holes using an awl, than drilling a shallow 1/16” (1 mm) hole that just penetrates the top plank, and then finally punching each hole again with an awl. Tacks are then “stuck” in each hole and tapped with a tack hammer to temporarily secure them before clinching them. Sticking tacks is a rather tedious process especially when you have large fingers like I do. If the old timers had younger children they would enlist them to stick tacks. They would pay them the princely sum of a nickel a round to perform that task. My granddaughter Haley helped me stick tacks on my last guideboat when she was about twelve. Here I am about to clinch tacks on a round 7 plank. I am using a bronze clinching iron, or backing iron, as it is sometimes called. Bronze is better material than iron for a clinching iron since iron will leave a dark smudge where it touches the wood.
I do have a problem sticking tacks. They are small copper tacks, only 5/16” ( 7.9 mm) long. I have a hard time picking them up. Many that I do pick up I drop. Some of those that I am able to stick and tap lightly to secure them fall out while I am clinching their neighbors. The end result is there are many tacks lying about on the floor. Some of them find their way onto the soles of my sneakers, as you see from the photo below. Fortunately, the soles are thick enough that they don’t reach my soles.
Finally I am about to hang the last round of planking. I thought this round would be relatively easy to hang. For this round I only have to cut a lap on one side of the plank and the curve of the bilge is much less than in the two previous planks. I was wrong that it would be easier. With this round I hit a stone wall. Only with great perseverance did I eventually overcome a whack-a-mole set of obstacles and complete planking my boat.
This round displays a greater upsweep then any of the previous rounds and therefore will require wider plank stock to accommodate it. Quite often builders will use three separate planks on each side to accommodate this upsweep. I found that this round required planking stock that was at least 7 inches ( 18 cm) wide to accommodate the upsweep. Fortunately Spanish cedar often comes in wide rough sawn planks. I had one of 8 inches (20 cm) and one 12 inches ( 30.5 cm) wide.
One of the Spanish cedar planks I selected was quite unusual. It showed a “bird’s eye” figure. The “eyes” were quite large, more like owl’s eyes than, let’s say, sparrow’s eyes. At the time I wasn’t aware that this bird’s eye figure would cause me grief later on.
The following photos show me shaping round 8 planks. This is the last time that I will do this unless I build another guideboat. So I am a bit nostalgic as I go down this road for perhaps the last time.
The hood end of the plank is that end that fits into the stem rabbet. I leave that end slightly longer so that it is just slightly oversized. Then I remove the excess with a sanding stick that I made from stick-it sandpaper and a piece of wood.
The problems fitting round 8 planks were due in large measure to the bird’s eye figure in the Spanish cedar plank. Material with bird’s eye figure formed one set of two planks of the four planks needed for round 8. The figure in this set of planks caused them to be quite “stiff”, so stiff that it wouldn’t entirely take the shape of the hull when it was flash molded. I eventually overcame this obstacle by backing out the plank using my convex soled plane and scraper with a rounded blade. The other set of two planks was not much better. It didn’t completely take the shape of the hull either after flash molding. This may have been due to it being mainly composed of a flat sawn orientation. From my experience building light weight canoes I know that flat sawn wood will bend much more easily along its length than its width. Likewise, quarter sawn material will bend more easily along its width than its length. For instance, you could never steam bend quarter sawn stock to make ribs for a canoe. It just won’t bend to form the shape of the rib. It will crack in two pieces instead. All this leads me to think that the old timers preferred quarter sawn stock for their guideboats not for the reason given, that quarter sawn planks expand less with moisture uptake. I believe quarter sawn planks were preferred because they tend to “go with the flow” and could more easily be made to conform to the hull shape.
Closing the gap
One of the most exasperating parts of planking a guideboat is making sure the lap of the new plank mates tightly to that of the previous plank. As you move along the lap seam pressing it against its neighbor you sometimes notice that the seam gaps open here and there. Quite often the misfit will be most obvious just over a rib. What is going on? You can’t really see what is holding the seam open because it is hidden somewhere in between the two laps. After puzzling over this problem, I came to the conclusion that there are three possible causes:
- Cause: The lap of the new plank is not wide enough. It is riding up on top of the previous plank and causing the gap. Solution: Climb under the hull and mark off on the new plank with a pencil where it meets the old plank. Obviously, if it indicates that the lap on the new plank is too narrow and therefore is riding up on the old plank, widen it. A cabinet scraper is the best tool for this operation.
- Cause: The new plank has not been backed out enough. If the plank rocks back and forth as you alternately press it on the top and then the bottom, this may be the problem. Solution: Back out (hollow out) the plank using a convex soled plane or a cabinet scraper with a rounded blade.
- Cause: One or both of the mating laps are rounded. Solution: Check to see if both of the mating laps are flat. If they aren’t, correct the situation using a cabinet scraper on the new plank, or a small chisel or cabinet scraper on the previous plank.
Finally the hull is completely covered with a skin of planking. It is time to step back and admire the beauty of the sensuous curves of a guideboat. It is a wonder that this classic beauty arose in a place so utterly wild and far from centers of civilization.
Winter trip into Great Camp Santanoni
In mid-February, we return to the Adirondacks for our usual winter pilgrimage. At this time of year winter has cast its white shroud over mountain and lake and every non-living thing. It will be many weeks before this monotonous palette of dark green forests, pewter skies and white snow and ice will give way to sparkling blue waters and emerald green foliage. This has been an especially cold winter with the temperature on many nights reaching down into the minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit range.
I have decided to visit Great Camp Santanoni and have chosen this month’s President’s Day weekend to make the trek. The Camp buildings will be open for visitors and there will be trained interpreters to give tours. As an added incentive, the artist’s cottage will be open, warm, and hot chocolate for the asking.
The day is warm, mid-twenties (about -4 Centigrade), and wind has died down to a mere whisper. There are only two options for getting to the main buildings, cross country skiing and snowshoes. There is no paved road for automobile traffic. You are responsible for getting yourself in and out. I elect cross country skis; they are much faster than snow shoes especially going downhill.
As you may remember from reading about my summer visit to Santanoni, it is nearly 5 miles one way to reach the main camp. Nearly four of those five miles is mostly uphill. That is an advantage for me since I will be more than ready to slide downhill after leaving the Camp and climbing about a mile uphill away from the Camp to the “pass”.
Before anyone begins the journey on the old wilderness carriage road into the Camp, they are advised to sign a register. This informs the Forest Rangers of those who are in the Preserve at any time and, should someone get lost, the Rangers can more easily find them.
I join a mixed crowd of skiers and those on snow shoes.
The snow, which is perhaps 3 feet deep (1 m) has been packed down in the center of the road by those on snow shoes. On each side of the road there are tracks laid down by the skiers. It is so nice not to have to break your own trail.
My first stop is the site of the old farm, about a mile in. The farm was extensive and supplied vegetables and dairy products to the main camp. It had its own creamery, which you see in the photo below, and other outbuildings, as well as homes for the farm manager and others.
I continue the upward climb with only short downhill reprieves. I pass the trail marker saying that the main camp is 2.3 miles ahead. This tells me that I am nearing the “pass”. The pass divides the mainly uphill portion of the carriage road from the downhill drop into the camp. Sure enough, I see my old friend, an erratic, on my left. This erratic, as these boulders are called, was dropped here by a retreating glacier after the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. The Adirondack landscape is full of these erratics, some the size of houses, as well as many other signs left by the two mile thick ice sheet that stretched from the Canadian Shield all the way to Long Island.
Now I see the pass ahead with its giant hemlock.
I take in the scene from this high point. In the far distance I can just make out Mount Santanoni. Below and to the right is the white ice of Lake Newcomb. Down we go!
I am almost to the bridge that separates Duck Hole from Lake Newcomb. A picnic table stands in a field where the caretaker’s house once stood. Yes, a lot of snow has fallen this year. It is beautiful, powdery, pristine snow that reminds one of granulated sugar, only lighter.
I am on the bridge that separates Duck hole (on the right ) from Lake Newcomb. The water flowing out of Lake Newcomb moves fast enough so that there is open water here. I think, wow! this water will find its way to the Hudson River and eventually all the way to New York City. One reason that the Adirondack Park was created in the 1890’s was to keep this water supply unsullied. What an unqualified success the Forever Wild act by the NY State legislature has been, on many fronts.
I turn and look towards Lake Newcomb. What’s that to my left? What sort of animal left that track? It looks like someone dragged a plank along the shore of the lake. It’s a River Otter of course. He, or she, has romped along the edge of the lake and dived into a hole in the ice. So this frigid world isn’t devoid of all animal life. The otters find this frozen lake quite to their liking.
I cross over the bridge and the road turns sharply left. Before long the Great Camp looms up before me.
I follow the trail around to my right where others have left their skis. As you can see I am not the only visitor today.
Just then my friend Nina comes around a corner leading a group of visitors. We exchange hugs and meet later to catch up. Nina has vowed to stay in the Adirondacks and is exploring several job opportunities that will allow her to do so.
I stop by the artist’s cottage to warm up and grab a cup of hot chocolate. The cottage is crowded, not only with people, but with dogs who have made the trip. Then I struggle back through the three feet of snow to the main building, put on my skis, and begin the 2 hour trip back to the entrance. By the time I reach the farm I am quite anxious to end today’s adventure. It is a long way!
Epilogue- The tight grip of winter has not loosened at all since my visit to Santanoni. On St. Patrick’s Day, Long Lake recorded a night time low of -23 degrees Fahrenheit (-31 degrees Centigrade). Delaware received 4 inches (10 cm) of fresh snow (and we had almost gotten rid of the remnants of the previous snows)
“Almost half done”
The last entry on building my boat proclaimed that I had finished planking it. This felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. The careful selection of wood for each plank, then spiling, cutting and fitting each plank and finally fastening it to the hull was behind me. What a relief!
Then I recalled the words of Carl Hathaway. Carl narrates a video in the guideboat hall of the Adirondack Museum. The video shows Willard Hanmer building a guideboat in his shop in Saranac Lake, NY in the 1950’s. Carl worked with Willard so he is intimately familiar with building guideboats. Carl explains that Willard “has mechanized all aspects of guideboat buiding” that he could. So we see only those operations that Willard does by hand. Willard works so quickly that it seems like the video was taken at twice the normal speed.
At any rate, when Willard has finished planking his boat he removes it from the builder’s jig and Carl announces “that the boat is almost half done”. After all the work that I have done to think that I am just about half way there is more than a little daunting.
Anyway, I press on. I leave my boat on the builder’s jig rather than remove it as Willard and others do. I feel the next operations are more easily done with out worrying about a sixteen foot wooden boat flopping around.
Shaping the Stems
You may recall that the stems were left just as they were when cut from the original laminate. This was so that I could ensure that they were “absolutely plum” (straight up and down) so that they would form a right angle with the bottom board . If I had shaped them into a nice hydrodynamic taper before attaching them to the bottom board it would be hard to make sure that a plumb bob or level was really giving me a true reading of their “plumbness”.
Now is the time to cut a nice taper into each stem. As you will see I used a variety of cutting tools to shape the stem; my backing out plane, block plane, bench plane and contour plane. I want to be sure that the leading edge of the stem is the same width as that of the stem band. In my case that is 3/8″ wide. When I was satisfied with the taper, I used an orbital sander to smooth the surface of each stem.
Attaching the Stem Band
Now that the stem has the proper profile the stem bands, which protect the stems from collisions and scrapes, can be fastened to their leading edge. The stem bands are made of annealed brass and come flat and must be shaped to conform to the stem. They are 3/8″ wide and 3/8″ high from most of their length but flare out to about 1/8″ thick and one and a half inch wide where they attach to the underside of the hull.
My stem bands were given to me by Lee Shelly, a friend in Long Lake. His father always wanted to build a traditional guideboat and assembled many of the materials necessary to build one. Unfortunately he was struck down by cancer before he could realize his dream. Thank you Lee!
Before I attach the stem bands or shoes, I give the bottom board and the leading edge of the stems two coats of marine spar varnish to seal them. I drill two holes in the bands at the flared end and fasten them to the bottom board on the underside of the hull. I don’t drill any other holes in the bands. If I did so the holes would present a weak point and the bands would bend unevenly. Now I gradually apply pressure to the band to make it conform to the stem.
Bending the band for the bow stem went quite smoothly. After I finished bending it, I drilled holes about every 3″ along the band, fastened it down,and it conformed nicely to the stem.
It didn’t go as smoothly with the stern band. The problem that can arise with bending the stems is that they “work harden” so that it is hard to tweak them to make them conform if you don’t get it right the first time. Its the old coat hanger thing. If you bend a coat hanger back and forth a few times it gets next to impossible to continue bending it in that spot. The coat hanger wire has work hardened.
I have a mandrel that I have used previously when this happens so I dug it out to see if I couldn’t persuade the band to change its mind and conform. That did help but I was still not spot on.
After some thought I decided there are two ways to skin a cat. If the band is obdurate, the stem isn’t. I can shape the stem to fit the band. It didn’t take much to shave some off the stem with a contour plane to make the band fit nicely. I fastened the stern band down and was finished.
The photo below shows the bands after they were shaped.
Shoes are aptly named. They are strips of wood or metal that are fastened to the bottom board to protect it when the boat is hauled out of the water onto a sandy or rocky beach. Metal shoes have the advantage of being especially long-lasting. However their disadvantage is that over the years, with temperatures cycling up and down, they tend to work loose from the screws that are fastening them down.
I have always used wooden shoes. I used ash for my first boat but it tends to rot rather quickly. I had to replace those shoes after perhaps eight years of use. For the present boat I am using quarter sawn cherry, 3/16″ X 7/8″ (4 mm X 2.2 cm).
Before installing the shoes I sealed the bottom board with two coats of spar varnish. I then put down a bead of Sikaflex 291 LOT along the bottom board where the shoe was to be fastened. This is an extra precaution against rot since the bottom of a guideboat is the first to get wet and the last to dry.
The shoe was then fastened with #8 X 5/8″ long flat head, slotted brass screws located at every rib station. The photo below shows the installed shoes.
Back to the North Country
Spring has finally returned to the Adirondacks after what was a very cold winter. So now my attention turns to getting ready to shove off for the geographic center of the Adirondacks, Long Lake.
I was asked to donate a hand-made reproduction of a vintage guideboat paddle for the Adirondack Museum’s annual fund raiser. The Gala, as the fund raiser is called, is held every summer on the last Saturday of July. This year it will be held on Saturday, July 26th.
I chose to make a guideboat paddle whose original owner was Reuben Cary, the legendary North Country guide. Reuben was born in Long Lake about 1844 and spent fifty years as caretaker of the Brandreth estate near Long Lake. Paul Brandreth, his biographer, calls Reuben “one of the most famous hunters and expert woodsmen the north country has ever known”.
I think I would have enjoyed knowing Reuben. His photos make him out to be a short, wiry fellow with a bit of feistiness about him. He was not intimidated by those he guided such as General McAlpin, of the Civil War, and the famous Adirondack artist, A. F. Tait. From what I have learned of him he would not take more game than required to feed his party and admonished those who did.
Fortunately, Reuben was proud of his paddle. Otherwise I would not have been able to reproduce it. He posed with his paddle in two different photos that show him with his clients and their game after a night’s hunt floating for deer in Reuben’s guideboat.
My rendition of Rueben’s paddle is made of curly cherry. Shown below, the paddle rests on a drying rack after having had two of its four coats of spar varnish.
Made in the Adirondacks Fair
I have been invited to participate in a new festival at the Adirondack Museum this year. On Saturday, July 19 the Museum will hold a Made in the Adirondacks Fair. According to the Museum “you will find products that are inspired by the majesty of the Adirondack wilderness and the people who produce them using techniques handed down through the generations. There will be traditional and contemporary Adirondack arts, crafts, foodstuffs, performances, demonstrations, workshops, and more.” Thus far, twenty-seven artists an artisans have signed up.
I’ll be there demonstrating how to make a guideboat paddle as well as exhibiting my collection of vintage guideboat paddle reproductions. I’ll also have a book signing . So if you are in the area drop in and say hi.
Congratulations to Dave
I sometimes get e-mails from those who are interested in building a traditional guideboat and ask for advice of various sorts. I welcome any of those inquiries and hope that my answers may save some time by drawing on my experience and that of others who build these boats.
I recently got an email from Dave Bloom who has just about finished building his own Chase guideboat using my book as a guide. He picked up my book about six or seven years ago at the Adirondack Museum during one of his family’s frequent trips to the North Country. Dave had admired the beauty and craftsmanship of guideboats for years but had trouble finding time to build one. He finally started building his boat three winters ago and, after three winters of work, has nearly finished it. As you can see from the photo of it he sent me, he has done a magnificent job.
Dave made some modifications to the original design as follows:
“I used northern white spruce for the laminated ribs and stems, and quartersawn white pine for the planking. I also used cherry for the decks and seat frames and mahogany for the gunwales. I used West System epoxy instead of resorcinol mainly because I was concerned about keeping the temperature warm enough in my shop, and I had a fair amount of experience using epoxy.
I also documented most of the construction process with photos. The few changes I made were primarily with the gunwales and stems. I shaped the gunwales similar to the Grant design with the addition of a bead on the lower edge. I like the look of it and I thought I might be able to bend it dry since it tapers near the stems. However, I ended up steam bending them anyway. I extended the stems up and rounded them so that the brass stem cap could flare out and wrap over the top…also similar to the Grant stem caps. I kept the Chase deck design, however. I think it looks great and since the deck design is kind of a signature of the designer, I didn’t want to change it.”
Great job, Dave. I’ll bet he can’t wait to launch his beauty.
Boat Built in Adirondack Museum’s Guideboat Shop sold
This summer, Allison Warner completed her reproduction of a Warren Cole guideboat built in 1905. This is the fourth boat she has built in the Museum’s boat shop where the traditional art of guideboat building is done by her in full view of the Museum’s visitors. The boat took three Museum seasons (mid-June to mid-August) to build. As you can see from the photo below Allison did an exquisite job of constructing this classic wooden boat.
The Adirondack Museum holds a fund raising event, the Gala, every year at the end of July. The event is attended by supporters of the Museum who enjoy a catered dinner on the Museum grounds. Items are donated for silent and live auction (I donated a guideboat paddle and copy of my paddle boat for the silent auction).
A highlight this year was the live auction of Allison’s guideboat. The boat brought a winning bid of $25,000! Congratulations Allison. Your craftsmanship is greatly appreciated.
Another Classic Adirondack Wooden Boat
There is another classic Adirondack wooden boat beside the Adirondack guideboat. It is the Idem class sailboat, found only on the Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondack Park. A correction: one can also be found at the Adirondack Museum.
My wife Fran and I set out in early August to try to see one under sail. We had been told that the Idems raced on Wednesdays and Saturdays. So on a Wednesday we put our guideboat on its trailer and headed north from Long Lake about 1 1/2 hours.
Now Upper St. Regis lake is the summer home of very wealthy people. It started in 1902 when Frederick Vanderbilt built a Great Camp on the lake. Others followed including Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress. She built Topridge, a Great Camp that grew to include 68 buildings. The Lake became a mecca for other millionaires (and maybe even billionaires) who bought, or built their own very expensive Great Camps there.
Since the residents of Upper St. Regis Lake are not about to advertise their whereabouts, finding the NY state boat launch on the lake is a bit tricky. The dirt road leading in has no sign leading one to it. Once you find the road you are led to a small public boat launch on one side and a gated private dock for residents other.
We launch the guideboat and are off at a fairly rapid clip; Fran paddling and me rowing. The wind is up at about 10 knots with gusts to at least 15 knots. A great day for a sail! We see some sailboats in the distance they prove not to be Idems. The Idems are 32 foot sloops designed in 1899 specifically for the light air encountered on Upper St. Regis. They were designed by Clifford in 1899 and over a period of years 12 were built. One, the Water Witch, was donated to the Adirondack Museum where it now resides in a place of honor in the Museum’s Visitor’s Center. The deficit of one boat was rectified in 2004 when another Idem, the Millenium Falcon, was commissioned and now takes the place of the Water Witch on Upper St. Regis.
We spend an hour or so in search of an Idem under sail. We see several at their moorings but none out for a sail. In disappointment we turn towards home. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, appears an Idem gliding along effortlessly powered by jib and mainsail.
Why use hand tools?
Visitors to the Adirondack Museum’s boat shop often are puzzle by the overwhelming use of hand tools when building a guideboat. To the visitor, hand tools are something from the past, something that is irrelevant now that we have all manner of power tools, even the portable ones undreamed of only a few years ago. After all, Willard Hanmer, a builder of guideboats in the 1950’s, “mechanized all aspects of guideboat construction that he could”. This, according to Carl Hathaway, who narrates the Museum’s video of Hanmer building guideboats.
I once met a cabinet maker who still uses hand tools for much of his work. He claimed that he could perform a wood working task as fast, if not faster, using hand tools than when he used power equipment. He said the difference was that there was no setup time with hand tools.
But there is something else about using hand tools. It is superbly expressed in the excerpt below, from the book, The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown. The book is the story of the University of Washington rowing team that won the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal despite the best efforts of Hitler’s Germany to stop them.
One of the characters in the book is George Yeoman Pocock, an English rowing shell builder and authority on rowing who was recruited by the University to build their racing shells.
“(Pocock) didn’t just build racing shells. He sculpted them.
Looked at another way, a racing shell is a machine with a narrowly defined purpose: to enable a number of large men or women, and small one, to propel themselves over an expanse of water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Looked at another way, it is a work of art, an expression of human spirit, with its own unbounded hunger for the ideal, for beauty, for purity, for grace. A large part of Pocock’s genius as a boatbuilder was that he managed to excel both as a maker of machines and as an artist.
Growing up and learning his trade from his father at Eton, he used simple hand tools – saws, hammers, chisels, wood planes and sanding blocks. For the most part, he continued to use these same tools more modern, labor-saving power tools came to the market in the 1930’s. Partly this was because he tended to the traditional in all things. Partly it was because he believed the hand tools gave him more precise control over the fine details of the work. Partly, it was because he could not abide the noise that power tools made. Craftsmanship required thought, and thought required a quiet environment. Mostly, though, it was because he wanted more intimacy with the wood – he wanted to feel the life in the wood with his hands, and in turn, impart some of himself, his own life, his pride and his caring, into the shell.”
The parallels to guideboat building are uncanny. A guideboat is a machine designed to carry at least two men with their duffel and perhaps a dog or two, and maybe a buck, across rough water. And it must be light enough for one man to carry, yet sturdy enough to last for years. Everyone who has built a traditional guideboat has been complimented on what a work of art it is.
And who, having built a guideboat in the traditional fashion, hasn’t felt part of him or herself taken up by the boat while making such an extraordinary craft.