Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Starting the decks

The decks on an Adirondack guideboat are a clever way of hiding the carrying handles.  With canoes there is no attempt to hide the carrying handles, they are in plain site.  Indeed there is no need to hide the handles on a guideboat.  But the early guideboat builders recognized that putting decks on their boats could be used to their advantage.

In the Adirondack Museum there is a full-size cutaway model of a guideboat.  It was built by Willard Hanmer.  All the important parts of a guideboat are labelled.  Visitors can push a button to make the model rotate on a longitudinal axis so that all parts of the boat are clearly visible.  At the same time an audio tape plays interpreting what the visitor is seeing.  The narrator explains that “all guideboats are similar in construction”.  Sure enough it is often very hard, if not impossible to tell who built a particular guideboat.  The narrator goes on to say that the decks were where the builder could use his creativity to put his stamp on the boat.  For example, Hanmer liked to put an oblong cutout in his decks so that, when carrying the boat, one’s fingers could wrap all around the handle.  Rushton made a sort of sun burst deck by gluing thin strips of wood together to form a fan-like structure.

Decks on boats made by Caleb Chase were pretty ordinary except for two things.  The first is that on some of the boats he built the deck is crowned.  The crown is not great but it serves to lend a sense of motion to the whole creation.  To see the difference one needs only to compare a guideboat with a flat deck with a crowned deck on one of Chase’s boats.  Of course making a crowned deck adds another level of complexity to the already complex task constructing a guideboat deck.

The other trait of many of the Chase guideboats was that there was often a hole in the bow deck.  The hole was not more than 2″  in diameter.  In the early days it probably served to support a candle lantern used to “jack” deer at night while hunting from the boat.  Later on the hole was adorned with a brass ring.  Its use was now more benign and it supported a pennant or burgee.

So why does constructing a guideboat deck pose such a challenge to the builder?  The reason is that all boats are chock full of curve upon curve.  This is particularly true of a guideboat.  Here the curves are accentuated at bow and stern where the hull still flares out when going upward from garboard to gunwale and the planking is rapidly bending to make its rendezvous with the stem.  So I must be conscious of curves running both horizontally and vertically.  I think boat builders refer to them as complex cures.

I start by making what I call the bow.  The bow is a nearly semi-circular wooden hoop.  I have chosen to make it of maple this time. Fortunately I have a template of the bow I used on a previous boat.  I cut out the bow on the band saw and then smooth it with the long board.  I make sure that the bow is about 3/16″ higher in the center to lend some crown to the deck.

Final shaping of the bow using a long board.
Final shaping of the bow using a long board.

I then remove the waste to form the hoop, or bow.  Next comes shaping the bow so it fits nicely in its appointed place, bow or stern. I lay it up against the gunwale where it is to go and mark where I must cut it off.  As I said before we are not dealing with a straight cut here.  I estimate the angle of the hull at the cut off point with  a sliding bevel and apply that angle to the bow.  Next I make cuts on each side to complete the bow.  Then I keep my fingers crossed and check to see how well it fits.

Cutting the hoop on an angle to form the bow.
Cutting the hoop on an angle to form the bow.

Before going further with the bow, I make a cross member that, together with the bow, will form what I call the deck bridge.  The cross member has pretty much the same complex angle at each end as the bow.

After much backing and forthing to shape and test the fit, I am finally satisfied with the deck bridge.

The deck bridge ready for fastening.
The deck bridge ready for fastening.

The next step is to fasten the bridge in place.  I use #8 oval head brass screws 1 1/2″ long.  I want to be totally confident that the handle will not give way when the boat is being carried.

Fastening the deck bridge.
Fastening the deck bridge.

The next step will be to finish the deck by covering it with a thin sheet of decorative wood. It will hide the deck bridge (handle).   The deck cap, a pie-shaped piece of cherry, will then go over the upper portion of the deck.  Then a brass ring is fitted into the cap and we are done.

All that will happen next time.

2 comments on “Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Starting the decks”

  1. I have enjoyed your writing about the use of a Jack Light on the bow of a guide boat. I have the original Jack Light ( a brass rimmed Dietz lantern complete with the iron yoke and vertical shaft to mount it to the bow) that was used on a William Kerst guide boat built in Indian Lake in the Adirondacks.
    My g.grandfather had purchased the boat during his trips to the Adirondacks in the late 1800’s.
    The boat was sold many years ago but he had kept the Jack light and mount and it has passed down to me and I mounted it on a stand to display. If you know someone that would be interested in it for their own boat to add to it’s ambiance I would be interested in selling it.

  2. Robert;

    What a great remembrance of past guideboat glory. I would enjoy seeing it. If you are ever at the Adirondack Museum and can bring it along let me know. I can meet you there and have a look at it. Incidentally, I will be at the Museum on July 1 demonstrating guideboat paddle making and displaying my paddle collection.


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