A Hard Day
I worked well into the evening to get caught up, so this will be a short posting before I sleep. Also contributing to brevity, I’m typing with some aching, stiff paws – I’ll explain in a moment.
Today we continued with the beams, which create the width in a boat. It’s a multi-step process, very time consuming, but when it’s done there’s some visible progress to enjoy.
It starts with a complicated measuring and marking system which results in square cuts fitted pretty well to a curved surface. Not Incan stonework or anything, but it works. Then the beam is rasped, filed, and sanded into an increasingly pleasant piece of wood – the grain starts to come out, the edges soften (literally), and just before the beam joins the gunwales (gunnels), we give it a little snack….
We apply the tung oil just to the ends here because the end grain benefits from a bit of oil, and they’re covered by the gunwales when we apply oil to the whole structure, a few hours later). The wood ends soak up the tung oil, and I feel like I’m feeding that piece. The whole smoothing and shaping process really feels like I’m collaborating with the materials to create this boat – they’ll form the structure, and I’ll feed and guide them to the final shape.
Maybe I worked too late tonight…
On a tangent as we were working, I asked Corey about the wood – what did the Aleuts use? Turns out, they used this wood, too. Red and Yellow Cedar washed ashore – the result of storms or flotsam from Japan, which traveled the ocean currents and ended up in North America. (Our cedar was sourced a bit closer to home.)
Attaching the beams to the gunwales, we pinned them in place with the bamboo chopsticks. Later I trimmed off the pieces of chopstick sticking out past the surface of the wood. Some of the ends had the red characters on them, and I started wondering if I was cutting off “longevity” or “good health.” Made me think of how we (various cultures) attach blessing and prayers to objects for good luck. Tibetan prayer flags come to mind. So do shark faces on warplanes and submarines, or ironic greetings written on bombs. Or all the engineers who signed the inside of the first Apple Macintosh. Not sure why we think concrete versions of language, of our codified thoughts, have any impact on chance or fate or what have you – or perhaps it’s just a projection, an emanation of our thoughts and hopes. Hopefully enough Chinese Restaurant fortune remains inside the frame (just in case).
Once all the beams were pinned to the gunnels, holes were drilled into the beams and the gunnels, and the two were lashed together.
The pins, it turns out, merely align the pieces of wood – it’s the lashings which hold everything together and take the stress of a flexing boat. So we make the lashings tight, and tie each off with a couple half-clove hitches. By the end of the day, I was feeling more than capable in the lashing department. And some of the ties have an aesthetically pleasing quality.
The green glow from sodium lamps and flourescent bulbs doesn’t do it justice – but this is one of the more complicated lashings we’ve done so far (with a ‘virtual home hole,’ and I’m not going to try explaining that here). And in good lighting, it’s actually a good looking attachment.
Two lashes per side, per beam. Seven beams = twenty-eight lashes. Plus four holding the bow on. That’s why my hands ache.
Progress Is Made, As Well As A Descent Into Madness
It’s probably like those optical illusions where the gray seems dark against a white background, but light against a black background. Illusion or not, getting all those beams in changed what I saw from this, early in the day:
…to this, towards the end of the day:
The more these random shapes of wood and twine merge into the flowing curves of a seagoing vessel, the more excited I get – and it’s the same for the rest of the class (there’s four of us this session). We’re all like expectant parents!
Another exciting part – the keel! (yes, I just put an exclamation point after “the keel” – I realize how insane I’ve become) It’s a very simple shape – take a 1″x2″x15′ length of red cedar, router a curve along the two sides of the short bottom, and that’s it. It’s almost the same as a hollow ground knife edge, though it never comes to a point – instead there’s still 1/2″ of flat surface on the bottom. (Doesn’t take a sharp knife to cut water.) What’s really exiting about the keel (and disturbing about my psyche) is that I’ve started anthropomorphising my Baidarka – and the keel represents the spine, to me. It’s more of a structural similarity than metaphorical – there’s not a lot of information (sensation, control) traveling down that column – but that’s how I’ve associated it, and I created a lovely spine for my boat which I’m very eager to attach.
The Long End
My last few hours in the shop were spent trimming excess lashing line, planing off bamboo stubs (sanding doesn’t work, because the bamboo is harder than the surrounding cedar), and applying a coat of oil.
Corey makes his own formulations of oil (and a whole range of other products) – which I find really impressive. He researched and tested out all sorts of ingredients, putting in years of trials, and we’re getting the benefits. This oil is mostly tung oil, with a citrus oil solvent. Compared to other wood treatments I’ve used, this smells MUCH better; it gives me none of that “volatile compound” headache after working with it for hours.
So now the oil is soaking into the wood overnight, and everything looks great – unfortunately there wasn’t enough good light to take a picture, so that’ll have to wait for my next post.