Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Tacks….again

Two years ago I promised not to mention tacks again.  But then I had second thoughts.  The following proverb brought new thinking to the value of tacks in building a guideboat.

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost,

For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

It says that small things of seemingly little value can have great consequences in the stream of history.

So could a guideboat be built without the many small copper tacks that seal the seams between planks.  Nowadays, of course.  We have all manner of synthetic materials that are used to build guideboats, canoes, kayaks and other small craft.  Back in the early 1800’s definitely not.  Guideboat builders back then relied on tiny soft copper tacks, about 4000 in each of their boats, to obtain a water tight seal between each plank.

What would have been the history of the Adirondacks if there had been no guideboats, hence no guides, and therefore no city “sports” to take back the tall tales of a magnificent, trackless wilderness abounding with fish and game?

I talked to John Wilson, Boxmaker about tacks.  John makes a living teaching people how to make Shaker oval boxes and selling the materials to make these beautiful creations.

A Shaker oval box.

John acquired two machines to manufacture the small tack sizes used to make the boxes from the Cross Co. after they went out of business in 1991. He said these machines are quite old going back nearly to the Civil War.  He sells about 300-400 pounds of small tacks each year.  Tacks this small have limited use; for making Shaker boxes, guideboats, and for use in securing the leather flap in certain models of pneumatic organs.  Here is John displaying his wares.

Most guideboat builders use planking that is 3/16″ to 1/4″ thick.  They use a size No. 2 1/2 tack which is 7/16″ long.  This gives enough length to clinch properly.  Below are two versions of a No. 2 1/2 tack.  One has head diameter of 1/8″ and the other is 3/16″.  I like to use the larger head size because it shows off all the work done in constructing a traditionally built guideboat.  “When you got it, flount it.”  I think Joe Namath uttered those words.

Two versions of a size No. 2 1/2 copper tack.

I have just hung the second round of planking on my latest guideboat.  Here is a view of the “stuck” tacks on that round ready to be clinched.

“Stuck” tacks ready for clinching.

Back when I first started building guideboats I was on a shoe string budget.  Unable to afford a fancy bronze clinching iron, I used one of those antique flat irons.  Back before electric irons, women had several of them that they used to iron clothes.  They heated them over the wood stove so that while one was being used the others were being heated up again.  Here is the one I use with its fancy cousin.

Clinching irons, new and old.

I find that the old flat iron is perfect when hanging the second and third rounds of planking when the hull is relatively flat.

It is getting near that time when we head back to the North Country.  I hear the black flies are out in force there.  We are hoping for some really warm weather between now and mid-June to drive them out.



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