Category Archives: Musings

Tastes like chicken

My father loves his dog.  In some respects, this is a perfectly normal state of affairs, but when one probes more deeply it becomes a bit odd.  First off, my father has, for as long as I can recall, claimed to despise dogs.  We had them growing up.  He hated them.  Wanted nothing to do with them.  Actually took a swing at one once and, thinking better of it mid-throw, pulled his punch and ended up hitting a post accidentally instead, breaking his hand.  Speaking of hands, when out and about, whenever he saw someone walking a dog around the neighborhood he would form his right hand into an imaginary pistol and “shoot” the dog being walked.  On more than one occasion, the animal’s poor owner noticed this bit of theatrics and recoiled in horror.  My father has always hated dogs.

Now, it’s clearly rational to think that the slow march of time might soften the heart and that there might be a place for a dog in his world.  A nice black lab, perhaps?  Or a blue tick hound?  Maybe a shepherd of some kind?  A terrier?  Any of these have a degree of masculinity and utility about them that would make them seem to fit with his persona.  The dog he dotes over, however, is this thing:


It’s a fluffy little furball with an underbite, an annoying propensity to howl, and a rather disinterested relationship with humanity that smacks of superiority.  Honestly it’s more like a cat.  And my dad is definitely not a cat person.

Anyway, this is a long-winded introduction that’s necessary to help us understand that in much the same way construction workers will etch their names in foundations in places that won’t be seen when the building is finished, but that marks forever their contribution to the effort, my father feels compelled to scribble his dog’s name, Paca (Palo Alto, California) on the boat to forever enshrine it, entombed in epoxy and paint, but there for the knowledgeable.

And so, from time to time, I find “PACA” scrawled on the boat without explanation or excuse.  I’ve had enough.  Today I started fighting back.  Here you can see my addendum to his scribblings.  I’m going to make a habit of this going forward.

As for the boat, we’re making progress on the bottom planking.  Here’s a shot as of this morning, with one side completed and the other side partially complete and with a second layer started.  Since this photo we’ve finished the first layer on the port side and done the aft part of the starboard.  We’ve got about half the boat still to go on this last layer of bottom planking and then we’ll be done with the planking!  I’m looking forward to that.  I’m getting a little tired of spiling and stapling at this point.  It’ll be nice to do something – anything – else.

Oh, and I got the CNC machine up and running.  Still a bit more to do for it to be operational, but here’s a shot of it cutting out its own vacuum table plenum.  Really all I need to do at this point is finish the plenum and then plumb up the vacuum system and it’ll be DONE.

It’s kinda funny having this tool up on the mezzanine, bridging between the table and the pallet rack, but it’s really turning out to be a pretty good place for it.  All the work happens “inside” the machine, and it’s not hard to get a piece of material that’s as big as the machine will allow up there, so it gets it out of the way.



That’s it for today.  Onward and upward!


Getting ahead of myself

Though I may be away from my project for the weekend, my head is still very much in it.  I’m using the time to continue fiddling about with a design for the leaning post / console that I began working on a while back.  Thought I’d share and see if anyone has suggestions for ways to improve it.  Here’s a quick screenshot of what I’ve got in mind.

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 9.51.39 AM

This was done in Sketchup, which is a free 3D drafting program.  It has some limitations, and frankly at this point I wish I knew Solidworks or something of that ilk, but I can make Sketchup sing, I have a well-practiced workflow for getting parts from Sketchup to a CNC router and … did I mention it’s free?

Anyway, the idea here is that the leaning post (the thing you rest your butt on while driving) is built around a Pacific Edge 22 gallon baitwell.  22 Gallons is not a ton for a baitwell, but I have to keep reminding myself this is an 18′ boat.  Both from a weight and a footprint perspective, that’s about all I can muster.  Anyway, the idea is that I’ll buy the baitwell as a starting point, and then glass it into a bigger assembly so it all looks like a single unit.

On the sides, I’ll add some tackle storage in the form of these cool little tilt-out tackle tray holders.  Not shown, but in the teak part behind the seat pad I’ll put some Release Marine “No Bolt” rod holders. I like these because there are no visible screws on the top, which means there’s no place for salt water to collect and start corroding.  I’d like to put four of them on there, but I’m afraid that I’d start restricting access to the baitwell if I put two in the middle, so it may just be two on the outsides and maybe some drink holders in the middle?  Still TBD.

The center console (with the wheel) is tilted aft a bit primarily for visual appeal.  The front is curved for the same reason.  It’ll add work to do all this, but I think it’s worth it.  My current struggle is figuring out how to put access doors in the sides of the console that work well and look good.  To look right they need to be parallelograms.  But then they’ll open in a weird way.  And I’d really like to use off the shelf storage systems in it from the same outfit that makes the tilt-out holders above, but obviously they won’t be parallelograms.  I may just bite the bullet and put rectangular ones in there, even if it doesn’t look spectacular.  I welcome your thoughts!

All this needs is still in the daydreaming stage.  Once we turn the hull I’ll mock it up in cardboard to check the dimensions and then tune as appropriate.  But I want to get started building these before I “need” them because they’re going to take a while to do, and it’ll be good fodder for keeping busy while epoxy is curing in other places.


Clamps: On cheap tools.

Hi, Folks.

At the insistence of my friend Tom, I’m taking a few days off of the boat build to host a group for the 4th of July at my parents’ house near Lake Tahoe.  This actually represents an unexpectedly welcome opportunity for my body to recover a bit.  The staple pulling, combined with the contortionist maneuvers often necessitated by the close confines of the space in which we’re building the boat, have me feeling pretty beat up right now.  I think I hit my head three times on the very sharp, very square edge of the platen on my Burr King sander in the past three days.  At least it didn’t draw blood.

As I sit here overlooking the lake, I’m poking around at the various photos of the build I have on my laptop.  This one caught my attention.

What you see there is a small fraction of the number of clamps you need to build a boat.  And you really need them in all different sizes and shapes.  C-clamps.  Bar clamps.  Spring clamps.  Large.  Small.  It’s daunting.  My neighbor Chris used to work at a boatyard building big fishing boats and says they had shopping carts full of the things.

Anyway, clamps are freaking expensive.  A good 12″ bar clamp from the likes of Jorgensen runs about $15.  Bigger clamps cost more.  And C-clamps are comparable.  This isn’t that bad if you’re buying 4 or 8 of them for occasional wood working projects.  When you need 100 of them to build a boat it’s a different story.  Especially if you’re not in the boat-building business and don’t have an ongoing need for a shopping cart full of them.

I ended up buying 40 12″ clamps from Harbor Freight for $3.99 each.  This is nowhere near enough, but I was skeptical about them and figured I’d limit my risk by starting “small.”  Fortunately my friend Wolfgang filled in the gap during the clamp-intensive part of the project with a giant pile of loaners, many of which are in the photo above.

Anyway, I was right to be skeptical.  These HF units are pretty much single-use.  I’ll build the boat with them, but they don’t have much of a future beyond that because they’re falling apart.  And what’s frustrating is that the fundamental flaw with them is so easy to remedy.  The connection between the grip you turn to tighten the clamp and the screw turned by the grip is ridiculous.  They just barely knurled the end of the screw shaft and pressed it into a plastic grip.  Torque it tightly and the grip starts spinning on the screw shaft, and once that happens it never really gets tight again.  There are a dozen ways they could have created that junction in a more robust manner that would still have allowed them to sell a $3.99 clamp.  They just didn’t bother to think it through.

Sure, the plastic pads would still be cheap, the bar would be a bit flimsy and the castings would be rough, but it would do what it’s advertised to do:  Clamp.

What I have now is a pile of soon-to-be-trash that really didn’t need to be.  I generally buy quality tools, and this reminds me why.  But for the life of me I don’t understand why cheap stuff can’t at least be thoughtfully engineered within the confines of its cost envelope.  Sigh…


PS – If you know a source for affordable clamps (either bar or c-clamps) that represent a good value, I’m all ears.

So is this like… a kit?

No.  It is not a kit.

Some boats are built from kits, but this is not one of them.  The best analogy is to say that building this boat is a lot like building a house.  An architect gives a builder a set of drawings and you go from there.  In this case, we also got some DXF files that could be used to CNC cut the shapes of the frames, primary stringers and a strongback on a CNC router, but that represents a labor savings of about 2% in the grand scheme of things.  What it does do is give you a more precise “foundation” from which to begin.

Here’s a quick shot of the CNC cutting some parts.  I love watching these things go.  And thanks a ton to my friend Chris at VectorPickle who helped with the cutting!

Regardless, the majority of the material is sourced as either marine grade plywood in 4′x8′ sheets, or rough sawn 4/4 or 8/4 V.G. Doug Fir, Western Red Cedar, Teak, or other form of rot-resistant lumber from a lumber yard.  These are then cut or milled to shape on a jointer/planer/tablesaw, and then fit by hand to the boat.  In fact, nearly every one of the pieces that’s cut by the CNC router requires hand fitting by the time it’s all done.  We are truly building a boat.


So what is it, exactly, that you’re building…

It’s amazing to me the breadth of initial assumptions people make when you tell them you’re “building a boat.”  Some assume it’s a sail boat, and some that it’s a power boat.  Some assume it will be quite large, and some that it will be tiny.  They are universally shocked when their assumptions are borne false.

What we are building is a small – by my way of thinking – center console fishing boat styled after the traditional Carolina hulls that are more typical of larger sportfishing boats.  This means it has a fair bit of tumblehome aft, transitioning to a very pronounced flare in the bow.  While I’d much prefer an inboard for fishing, the reality is that it’s pretty challenging to shoehorn one into a boat this size, and the project is considerably simpler if an outboard is used, so I’ll be mounting a 115HP Evinrude motor to the transom.

I knew what I wanted before I found the plan set, and spent considerable time searching around for a suitable set of plans.  Ultimately there were a couple of contenders, but I kept coming back to a design by Timm Smith of Smith Marine Design.  The boat is the Kitty Hawk 18, a smaller version of a larger Carolina style hull he’d designed previously.  When I first began discussing the project with him, nobody else had yet attempted to build the boat.  Fortunately by the time I got around to actually starting another builder was already working on it which allows me to benefit a bit from his experience.

The goal of this project is to build something that’s inexpensive to operate, easily trailerable, and suitable for two fisherman, fishing inshore in fair to moderate weather.

I’ve got a bigger boat that’s good for long, offshore trips, bad weather and large groups.  I want something that’s easier to single-hand and easier to move around.


Hello, good evening, and welcome.

About 2 months ago, I parted ways with my then employer and decided that rather than jump right back into the frying pan, I’d take some time off to do something I’ve long wanted to do:  Build a boat.

My original intent was to do this single handedly.  In retrospect that would have been the height of foolishness and hubris.  Fortunately – very fortunately, in fact – my father stuck up his hand and suggested that he would very much like to participate in this enterprise.  I jumped at the offer.

It’s a rare thing to get to spend that much time working on a project with your dad, especially once you’ve both reached an age and place in life where you can appreciate it.  We’re both having a ball.

Over the past month and a little bit, we’ve made great progress on the project.  We’ve also discovered that every time we speak about this effort to anyone the universal reaction is that people want photos and regular updates.  And so, somewhat belatedly, I’m setting up this blog to provide that in a more manageable fashion.

I’ll back-fill with a few posts that attempt to get you to where we are now.  It won’t be a complete play-by-play, but you’ll get the idea.  From here forward, I hope to make this a more complete chronicle.

I hope you enjoy following our triumphs and trials as two novice boat builders figure it all out.