I promise-this is the last you will hear about tacks. But this is where things get awfully tedious and I am getting very tired of the whole tack thing. My fingers are too big to easily pick them up and put them in the pilot hole. Then, when I start driving them, some are jarred loose and have to be re-stuck. I have just finished driving tacks on the bow and stern ends, about 500 of them (counting the ones that were there already, there are now just about 1000 tacks in the bow and stern ends). That is just a precursor of what lies ahead.
I must first layout, stick and drive tacks between ribs 11 and 12. For some reason the tacks are more closely spaced here than between the other ribs. They are spaced 3/4″ apart whereas for the other ribs they are 1 5/8″ apart. The photos below show the tacks being laid out and stuck between these two ribs. I have used masking tape again as an aid in laying the tacks out.
Now comes the really boring task. Back when I was hanging the planks, I deliberately left the feather edge that was facing inward a little “fat”. This was because the plank edge, being so delicate, might be damaged in hanging it. I thought that a little extra thickness there should help keep it intact.
But now I must pay for that precaution. The plank edges must be scraped and sanded down so that there is a smooth transition from one plank to the next. As you will see in the photo below, I used a cabinet scraper with a curved blade and no. 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around a 1″ dia. dowel to get the job done. Even so, it took some time to get the desired result.
At last I am ready to stick tacks along the inside of the hull and drive and clinch them. As I stated earlier there are just about 4000 tacks in a traditionally built Adirondack guideboat. That makes for a lot of work, tedious work. Below shows a row of tacks stuck along the garboard plank seam.
Now the hull is ready for an equally boring and tedious task, varnishing. More on that next time.
This tool is really quite simple. It is also very ingenious. I often wonder how it came about. Who invented it? It is also very cheap. I got mine for about $5. They are of Sandvik steel but I don’t think the manufacturer is critical.
It is called a cabinet scraper. Cabinet scrapers are made of mild steel. They are less than 1/16″ thick and are about the size of a filing card . To make one ready for use you first”burnish” a burr on each edge.
Cabinet scrapers are billed as the answer to sandpaper. To use one you draw the sharpened scraper across the surface of a rough piece of wood. You can feel it dig in and you will see tiny shavings appear. It acts almost like a mini-plane.
Cabinet scrapers remove material much faster than sandpaper and leave a smoother surface. They are especially handy when you are applying a feather lap to a plank. I tend to round the lap when I only use a block plane. When I use a cabinet scraper as the final step in cutting a lap I have great control over the amount I am removing. The final lap is absolutely flat with no rounding. I also use a scraper for finishing off the inside of the hull prior to varnishing. In that case I use a scraper with a curved blade to conform to the concavity of the hull.
They are also indispensable in removing varnish “runs”. Have you ever tried to remove a varnish run with sandpaper? It is next to impossible. A scraper makes short work of it.
The trick to success with scrapers is to sharpen them properly. I tried the old way using a burnishing iron with limited success. Then a tungsten carbide burnisher came on the market. It really does a great job of sharpening a scraper.
The steps in sharpening a scraper are as follows. First, remove the old edge by sanding or filing it away. Then clamp the scraper to the bed of your band saw or other power tool so that it hangs over the edge by about a 1/2 inch or so. You can apply some motor oil to the top surface if you like. Now run the carbide burnisher across the surface so that it is parallel to it. Apply moderate pressure and run the burnisher back and forth at least 10 times. This will form a burr on the edge of the scraper.
Now you need to turn the burr so that it is at right angles to the plane of the scraper. Do this by running the burnisher along the exposed edge of the scraper. Angle the scraper at slightly less than 90 degrees to the scraper. This will turn the burr so that you now have a cutting edge. The scraper is now ready to go.
With all this talk about sticking and driving tacks, I couldn’t help but recall the video that runs in the Museum’s boat building near the boat shop. It follows Willard Hanmer as he builds a guideboat. Now Williard is very highly esteemed in the village of Saranac Lake, NY, so esteemed that the annual guideboat race in that town is named in his memory. More on his life will follow.
The reason I am so familiar with the video is that it plays over and over again and is loud enough that I can hear every word while I volunteer in the boats hop. The video seems to run at twice the normal speed,perhaps double time. I certainly hope so since there is no way I could come anywhere near the pace at which he works in that video.
One portion shows him as he drives tacks on the inside of the hull. He first lays out and opens the pilot hole for the tacks with an awl. This is all done by eye. No careful laying out of the holes with a gauge block as I do so methodically (and slowly). Next, he and his wife Pauline stick the tacks. Then along comes Willard with tack hammer and clinching iron. In a blur a whole row of tacks is driven and clinched in the wink of an eye.
The more I read about Willard the more I believe he lived as the guideboat builders lived 100 years before he was building boats. Willard was born in 1902, the second son of Theodore, who was a guideboat builder. Theodore spoke proudly of his son saying “It takes a woodsman to building a woodsman’s boat and Will is the still the best boatbuilder in these parts”.
Willard learned how to build guideboats from his father. He began by sticking tacks, then caning seats and sandpapering. As Willard said, he was given tasks where if you didn’t do it right you couldn’t hurt anything. Of those times he said” It would take a long time to rub a hole through a boat by (sandpapering) by hand. Still would I guess”.
The following Hanmer family history was gleaned from Chris Woodward’s excellent website, Adirondack Guideboats. Willard worked for his father for 18 years until 1928 when he married Pauline Bennett. They built a boat shop in Saranac Lake in 1930 and built boats there for 33 years. The shop was eventually purchased by Chris Woodward who builds guideboats there today.
During those 33 years many challenges confronted this intrepid pair. In those days customers would not pay for all the hand labor involved in building a guideboat. Willard countered by “mechanizing all aspects of guideboat construction that he could” to quote Carl Hathaway.
Willard was a very talented builder and craftsman. Proof of this came several years ago when two of his guideboats, in mint condition, sold at auction for $25,000 each!
The life Willard lived hearkened back to the days when guides would build their own boats in the winter and guide during the summer. Willard couldn’t follow that tradition to the letter but he came pretty close. He would build boats during the winter and spring and then go out on the lakes to repair boats during the summer. Come fall he would go into the woods and hunt.
I have known a few true “Adirondackers”. They are exceptionally clever people who can use hand and mind to create most anything. They are generous to a fault. I know of one gentleman who lived all his life in the Adirondacks. One time a neighbor of his came to him in desperation. His home had burned down and he had no insurance. My friend said “Don’t worry, I have a saw mill. We’ll build you a new one”. And he did.
As you know already, the original guideboat builders sealed the joinery between planks by driving and clinching a double row of tacks along the plank seams. One row was driven from the outside toward the inside and the second from the inside toward the outside. The rows were laid out so the the tacks were staggered, thus getting the most watertight seam possible.
A problem arose at the stem ends. Here the hull narrows so much that it is impossible to get enough throw with a tack hammer to drive tacks from between the number 12 rib and the stem. What to do? The old timers still drove a double row of tacks in that region but the tacks were all driven from the outside inwards.
I decided to do the same but I waited until the hull was off the builder’s jig and upright. I thought it would be far easier working with hull upright. Indeed I was right; I could more easily see what I was doing.
I puzzled over how to lay out the tacks. How does one quickly and easily draw a line on the outside of the hull where the tacks will line so as to be in a straight line? I hit on a simple solution; use a strip of masking tape placed along where the new row is to go. Once the masking tape is in place it is a simple manner to use a pencil to mark the half way point between the existing row of tacks where the new row will be put down.
Another problem arises in trying to clinch tacks way up near the stems in the bow and stern. There just isn’t enough room there to use a clinching iron. I solved that problem by taking the handle off an old slick and jamming it up between the stem and planking in this no man’s land. It was a bit awkward, but it worked.
The double row of offset copper tacks lent a very attractive accent to the hull. I was glad I took the extra time to add this classy touch. By the way, there are about 1000 tacks in these bow and stern quarters.
In the course of building my guideboat I find that certain tools become favorites. I seem to be always reaching for one or the other of them. Truly, I find it would be very difficult to build this boat without them. So who are these unsung heroes of tooldom?
First off, two of the three I have selected for special honors are very inexpensive. The first is one you can make yourself with very little effort and an expenditure of about $5. It is called a long board or fairing board. It is basically a long, thin strip of wood with two handles that is covered on one side with sandpaper. You can also buy one for anywhere from $40 to $60. Long boards are very easy to make. Get yourself a thin strip of wood about 18″ or so long and the width of the sandpaper. Then attach the handles that you can buy at most any hardware store for about $5.
I use Klingspor 80 grit sandpaper on my long board. The paper has a sticky back that easily attaches to the wooden board. The Klingspor paper seemingly lasts forever. I have used the same paper from start to finish while constructing my latest boat. You can reach Klingspor at 856 21st Drive SE, Hickory, NC 28601.
So why do I find a long board so handy? By now you have probably realized that nothing on a boat is at right angles. Everything seems to be a combination of curved surfaces that defy to builder to get them to fit together tightly. Case in point are the wale ends that must be fitted to the stems. The wale ends approach the stem at an angle. To make matters worse, the stem is tapered toward its forward edge. Nothing there is at right angles. The long board enables you to carefully shape the wale end and get it to fit properly. Then there are the hood ends of the planks that must fit snugly into the stem rabbet. Again, the long board simplifies this task. And the list goes on and on. When confronted with these challenges you instinctively reach for the long board. So it is right at the top of my favorites.