Trimming, Lashing, and Calculus
My fingers weren’t happy this morning. All that work with the nylon twine cuts through skin right at the soft skin on the sides of the knuckle joints. Today they’re covered with tape – that’s where I pull on the twine to tighten the knots.
At least the twine is covered with beeswax -so it’s not as bad as it could be, and the smell is nice!
My Baidarka went up for ribbing today. Corey handled most of that while we (the four students) worked as a team on the other three boats. Lots and lots of lashings to tie, but there’s a reward at the end.
With my project upside down on the high sawhorse, Corey also took the opportunity to trim the stringer ends. It’s a quick cut, near the beginning of the stern, creating that flat surface which waves push against (when they’re forming behind the Baidarka); this is what creates a ‘surfing’ effect.
Then he inserted more ribs – more about that process in a bit.
Meanwhile, I’m with the other students finishing up the lashings. First it’s a “box lashing” to connect the ribs and stringers.
Then the loose ends are used to “frap” the box lashing – wrapping around the lashing and cinching the two pieces tighter. Again, this happens on every intersection of 35-odd ribs and 6 stringers, plus a variation where the keel meets the ribs.
Much, much faster with the whole team working on the same boat. Well… almost the whole team.
Working this part of the project – sitting before of dozens of intersections and tying each one – is very similar to knotting rugs. I’ve only done a bit of rug-knotting, and the scale is obviously different, but the action, the repetition, the mesmerizing effect of repeating an action over and over in front of a large grid of lines… I wonder if the Aleuts had any sort of rugs or weaving? No fiber crops that I know of, and no animal hair to trim… I’ll have to look that up.
A Little Ribbing
Heres’ the process of forming ribs for the boat, in brief:
First, take a slat of yellow cedar out of the steam box, where it simmered in hot water for a couple days.
There’s a specific smell to hot, wet cedar which I will always associate with making my Baidarka. Also, there’s a specific feeling to reaching in a box of hot water with aching hands and skin cracking at the knuckles, which I hope to forget very soon.
As soon as you pull out a strip of cedar, pull against your fist and thumb to create the first hard curl (eventually this point will attach to the mortise in the gunnel).
Then, assuming you haven’t pulled too hard and cracked the wood, gently but firmly create the arch shape you want.
Assuming again that you haven’t cracked the wood, trim the end and place it in your boat.
There’s a bunch of tricks to this part which would bore anyone not actually performing this work, so let me just say that I cracked or outright broke about a dozen pieces of wood before I got anywhere close to this. You must exert force to create the curve, but knowing how much you can apply without cracking the wood, and what weak spots to look for… it’s not easy in the least.
Now the fun part starts – stick you head inside the boat and check the fit, adjusting to make sure the rib reaches to each stringer and the keel, and creates an appropriate, pleasing line. (That last part? Yeah, years of experience before that happens. I’m nowhere near.)
Make adjustments by creating and removing curve in the rib. Another opportunity to break the wood and start over. Fun!
If the rib fits correctly, mark the long end and cut to size. Corey takes off a bit of the edge, too, which eases the final installation.
Here’s your last chance to break the wood: Insert that new end into the open mortise, rocking it into place, checking the fit and tension one last time before moving on.
Now step back and see how that rib meshes with the rest of the ribs. If I can’t tell my rib from one Corey placed, it’s good!
Here’s where something wonderful happens, and a bit of calculus appears: All those ribs push and pull the stringers just a tiny bit, and define a curve which wasn’t there before. The more ribs – the more points along the line – the more graceful and apparent the curve becomes. It’s not easy to see, but look at the top picture in this posting – with only a few ribs in the rear portion, there’s no curve to the boat. Now look at this picture after all the ribs are in – it’s a hull!
After so much work, that curve is a wonderful sight. This picture doesn’t even do it justice – in three dimensions you can see the graceful lines growing and receding. It looks – and there’s really no way to explain this – it looks seaworthy.
Of course, it also looks incredibly permeable at this stage. Not to worry, the skin is coming soon!