Category Archives: Planking

The last plank

Oh joy.  Oh rapture.  The planking is done.  This took a lot longer than I’d expected and was a lot more difficult that I thought it would be, but we saw it through.

Here’s the place the last plank goes.  The pink stuff is epoxy with a thickening powder in it:

And here I am gleefully applying the plank:

And better yet, here is the last frigging staple that will need to be removed from the planking, just prior to its removal.  Pulling staples sucks.  My dad and I have the blisters to prove it.:

Honestly, after the planking was done I was a bit lost for what to do next.  It’s been over a month of a wash-rinse-repeat process of cutting planks to length, spiling them to fit, applying adhesive and stapling them home.  It requires little thought and lots of persistence.  Now we have to think again.

While my brain got to working again, I whiled away the time by catching up on my additions to my father’s graffiti:

There’s one more that decorum demands not be shared in this forum.

Anyway, after noodling a bit, I decided to re-examine the voids that I’d initially thought I’d need to flip the boat over to repair.  Once the planks were trimmed to length and I climbed under with a bright light, I realized the situation wasn’t as bad as I’d thought.  So we’re going to fix them from underneath.  I’m happy about this plan since flipping the boat comes with significant risk, and going from one turn to three wasn’t an appealing prospect.

Anyway, in order to work under the boat we need to lift it up a bit to gain access.  For that we need cribs.  No… Not the MTV kind.  The timber kind.  So it was off to Home Despot to pick up a dozen and a half 10′ 2x4s and a box of nails.  An hour later, we’d built a pair of very stable, 2.5′ square cribs that would support the strongback about 18″ off the ground.  Then we used the gantry crane to hoist first the front of the boat, and then the stern, onto dollies so we could roll it back in the space a bit.

Then – again one end at a time – we hoisted the whole boat onto the cribs.  Et voila:

Next up: trimming the bottom edges of the side planking flush with the sheer clamps and sanding things flat enough to allow us to install a 3/4″ thick doubler on top of the clamp.  This gives us a solid cap for the planks, and a stout backing for the sheer guard / rub rail assembly.  It’s hard work sanding upside down.  Here’s my dad doing yeoman’s duty:

Once the prep was done, we scrounged through our pile of lumber to find odds and ends that could be milled down to create glue-lams for the aft doublers, and then glued them in place.  Here’s the port one all glued up.  You’re looking at it from inside the boat.:

These are made from odds and ends, so the pieces aren’t of consistent width.  Doesn’t matter, nobody’s going to see it.  Ever.

Once that was done, we did some sanding on the hull sides to get them smooth enough to begin applying fairing compound, and then applied a base coat of epoxy thickened with Low Density Fairing Filler on the starboard side:

This was a “runny” coat that I wanted to use in part to seal the wood so, and in part to flow into gaps between planks, etc.  It doesn’t completely fill the staple divots or the gaps, but it’s a start.  Going forward I plan to use a different product – Silver Tip Quick Fair – which is pre-thickened and cures to a sandable hardness in under four hours.  That means we should be able to do multiple coats per day, which should help a lot.

Tomorrow it’s off to MacBeath again for the first time in a long time.  I need to get one more 20′ Doug Fir 1×12 to mill into strips to build the doublers for the forward part of the boat.  That’s going to be an interesting process.  The aft ones were easy since you could clamp them to the sheer clamp.  In the forward parts of the boat this won’t be possible because of the flare angle of the bow.  We’re going to have to come up with a strategy for clamping…

Using our brains again.  Excellent!


Nearly there

Several more hours on planking today.  We started by pulling yesterday’s staples.  I really wish the plastic staples would penetrate the plywood, but they don’t.  Sigh…  I think there’s a heavier gauge of staple I could have bought that might have been better for plywood.  There’s a huge difference between going through a 1/6″ solid wood plank into a solid wood stringer vs. a 1/4″ plywood plank into either plywood end-grain or just plain plywood.

Anyway, once the staples were out it was off to the races on finishing the port side’s second layer of bottom planking. The second layer was a LOT harder to install than the first due to the direction the planks lie on the hull, and what that means to the curve.  With the first layer they were moderately concave and easy to hold in place.  The second layer ends up with a deceptively sharp curve to form over up toward the bow.  This problem is made trickier by the fact that you have to lean pretty far over to work.  But … well … mission accomplished.  The port side is done, and we put the four planks on the starboard side that we were able to install before we ran out of room and had to wait for the port to cure.

As he often does, my friend Shawn stopped by this afternoon to check the progress.  As I’ve mentioned before, he is a very talented artist.  Anyway, he made an observation that never would have occurred to me when he noted that the little plastic tabs we shoot the staples through so they can be removed have an artistic quality about them.  He’s right.

I’m currently accepting commissions if you’d like your own version to hang at home.  Alternatively, you can just go to Home Depot and scavenge a bunch of strapping that lumber comes bound up with and staple it to a piece of plywood with a staple gun.  But if it makes you feel better I’m happy do it for you and charge you a bunch for the privilege.


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!



Forgive me, dear reader, for the unacceptable hiatus between updates.  The knee incident slowed our progress some, my helper was away, and … well … things just got busy.  That said, I have progress to report!

When last I wrote, we hadn’t started layer three of the side planking.  Since then, we have completed layer three.  I say again… WE HAVE COMPLETED LAYER THREE!  This means we’re done with the side planking.  Sweeter words haven’t been written in the last 90 seconds.  Here’s the finished bow area.  Trust me, the out-of-frame areas aft are equally magnificent.

In the wake of the myriad issues with voids in the bond between layers 1 and 2, we changed our technique a fair bit for layer three.  First off, we coated both the hull and the plank prior to applying the plank to the hull, and we coated the hull side much more generously.  The goal was to get a lot of squeeze-out, which would ideally mean that epoxy was being squeezed into any voids between the layers as well.  We also shot a lot more staples.  You can see in the image above that there’s a staple for about every 2-3 square inches of wood.  Staples are cheap(ish).  Fixing holes sucks.  Easy decision.

Once we finished layer three of the side planking, my dad went to host some guests at Fallen Leaf for a few days.  During that period I did a couple of things.  First, I made great headway in setting up my new CNC machine.  I still have a ways to go – primarily sorting out some spindle control issues and building a vacuum table – but the machine moves in all three axes,  it’s got a working spindle, and I’ve routed the dust collection hose.  Here’s an older photo.  I’ve since added a table (which needs to be turned into a vacuum table), mounted the VFD and added a vacuum hose.  The vacuum shoe arrived from KentCNC today, so when I get back to the shop I can fire up the machine and turn the table blank into a vacuum plenum.  Then I just have to plum the vacuum and it’ll be DONE!

Yes, this is a very strange place for a machine.  15′ off the ground, spanning a table on an oddly constructed mezzanine and a shelf on some pallet rack.  Fingers crossed that OSHA doesn’t do a surprise inspection and that there’s no major seismic event any time soon.

My dad got back yesterday.  I really miss him when he’s gone.  It’s so much nicer to be in the shop with a partner.  Anyway, we started by ripping four sheets of 1/4″ marine-grade Doug Fir plywood into 4″ strips.

Note:  The primary difference between marine grade and standard exterior grade plywood is that marine grade should have no voids in the interior layers.  You pay a healthy premium for this.  While in general, the material is good, I present the following photo as evidence that “no voids” really means, only a few and they’re small.  Interestingly they’re all located near the center of the planks.  I’m guessing it’s a misalignment where two 4′ wide interior veneers come together, but who knows…

The other thing I did while my dad was away was to prep the chine area to accept the bottom planking.  In the aft parts this just means fairing it consistent with the rest of the bottom line.  In those areas, the bottom planking laps the side planking.  It’s easy.  As you move forward, eventually the angle becomes so steep that you can’t use a lap joint anymore.  the plywood part would end up being faired to a ridiculously thin, knife-like edge.  So you transition to a butt joint.  Here’s a shot of the transition zone. To the left is the stern.  To the right is the bow.

Anyway, the aft part of the boat is pretty flat, so you don’t need to use 4″ strips there.  You can just use a sheet of plywood.  But you need to miter the end to set up the 45-degree angle for planking the forward areas.  Then you start planking with 4″ strips.  This is what it looks like:

The observant viewer will note a couple of things:

1. We didn’t finish one side before doing the next.  That’s because there’s a temporary bit of framing that’s a late-add from Timm that I need to install before I can plank the forward parts.  I needed to get Chris to cut that for me since my CNC is still not operational, and he’s been slammed.  So we went as far as we could on the starboard side and then moved to port.

2. The little green tabs are back.  We’re planking the bottom in two layers of 1/4″ plywood, and the plastic staples were having a very hard time penetrating.  They were kinda disintegrating on impact.  So after a few hours of screwing around with the stapler we just gave up and went back to the one that shoots metal staples.  Fortunately there are fewer required on the bottom, which means we don’t have as many to pull.  But it still sucks pulling staples.

Anyway, you’re looking at the latest and greatest shot.  I’ve got to take a few days off, but will be back at it early next week.  Chris got the frame pieces cut for me this afternoon, so we can install those (which will be fast, and start working our way forward.  Should be pretty fast.  There’s a lot less spiling required on these planks than there is on the side planking.





Well, team, it’s been a rough couple of days.

For starters, I’ve found (and fixed) a bunch more places where layer one and two didn’t bond properly.  I’m pretty sure I’ve found them all at this point, but it just makes me nervous.  I’ll be using a lot more staples on layer 3.

Which brings us to… the delays getting layer 3 started.

This really is a two person job, and my dad needed to go to Tahoe for a couple of days.  That ended up getting extended a few more for some really good reasons.  Now we’re ready to get started again, but I tweaked my knee two days ago and am currently laid up on the sofa doing the RICE thing. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).  Pretty sure it’s a tear in the MCL, but who knows.  Anyway, this is a major issue given how much kneeling and squatting one has to do to install a layer of planking.

And finally, while my dad was away I did some trimming of the overhanging planks to get them to their “correct” size, at which point I discovered that at the bottom of the overturned hull (ie, the top of the hull) there are some pretty flared places in the planks that need to be filled with resin.  For gravity to be on our side in that process, we’ll have to turn the hull over, which means the hull is going to get planked, turned, fixed, turned, glassed and painted, and then turned back over.  This is extra work, but completely necessary.  Sigh…

No photos for now, there’s nothing new that’s photo-worthy.

More as it happens!


Lessons from Layer Two

Layer two is done.  It was a giant pain, but it’s done.  We’re 2/3 of the way through planking the hull sides, after which we trim the edges of what we’ve already applied and move on to planking the bottom.  I’m hoping the bottom goes on easier because the sides have been exhausting.  Here’s the latest from the trenches:

A few learnings from this week’s labors…

First:  If you ever decide to build a boat, just buy the system for shooting plastic staples at the outset.  I cannot imagine pulling all the staples we needed to shoot in order to get a good bond between layer one and layer two.  Some planks seem like they’re more staple than wood.

Second: When you think you’re pushing hard enough and shooting enough staples, double down on each.  After we let the planking cure I went back and tapped all over the hull looking for hollow-sounding spots where the first and second layer weren’t well bonded.  I found more than I’d like.  According to Timm, this is not unexpected.  He told me a tale of his time at Bertram when the QC guy came out after every hull was built and found all the places they needed to go back and fix.  It still makes me grumpy that we didn’t “get it right the first time.”

Anyway, the root of the problem appears to be that I didn’t push hard enough and pound enough staples into the middle of each plank.  I focused on the edges trying to make sure I had complete contact along them, but didn’t realize that the planks were bridging the curves between the edges.  Sigh…

According to the Gougeon book, there are two things to do when you find voids.  Note I said “when.”  They, too, seem to imply that this is par for the course.  Anyway, option one is to cut out the affected planking and either fill that area with fairing compound (epoxy putty) or glue back in a piece of planking depending on the size of the area.  The other is to drill a bunch of holes, pump epoxy in as best you can, staple the hell out of it and hope for the best.  Perhaps as a function of exhaustion, I opted for numero dos.  Here’s a quick shot of the worst area.

You can see all the holes I drilled and all the staples I shot around that area after applying epoxy.  You can also see the circles I drew after it had a chance to cure for a bit which represent an area I need to spend some more time on tomorrow.

Anyway, a useful technique to determine if you have a problem is this:  Drill two holes in the area you think may not be well bonded.  Shoot some compressed air into the first.  If it escapes out the second, you’ve got issues.  If you don’t have a problem, just fill the two holes.  If you do, keep drilling holes until you get to a place where air doesn’t come out anymore.  Then put epoxy in a bunch of the holes and shoot some more air in to try to smear it around as best you can in the area between the holes.  Wear safety goggles and a crappy shirt for this because it’ll blow epoxy out the holes back at you.  I’m still picking it out of my hair.  Once you’ve done your best at forcing the epoxy throughout the affected area, fill each hole with epoxy for good measure and give it a few minutes to leech into any gap it can find.  Then go push as hard as you can and shoot a couple hundred staples into the thing to try to hold it all together while it cures.

I wish I could tell you I now have confidence that (a) I found every one of the affected areas, and (b) that I feel like all of the repairs I did are “100%”.  On both cases I’m nervous.  But I’ll tell ya, different pieces of wood have different noises, and the framing makes things sound different at different places even on the same piece of wood.  So finding all the problem spots ain’t easy.  And once you’ve found them, short of turning your entire boat to swiss cheese it’s pretty tough to find the full extent of the affected area in attempting to drill enough holes to open it all up to inject epoxy.  And even when you’re comfortable you did that right, did the air gun really blow epoxy into all the places it needed to go?  Who knows.

I take solace in a couple of facts, though.  First, this is in the boundary between the first and second layers of planking.  That means that assuming I learn some lessons from this and do better on the next layer, I’ll have 1/3″ of wood and a thick layer of glass that are integral over the top of whatever soft spots may remain.  That’s a pretty stout “hull” in its own right for an 18′ boat.  Second, and to the point I just made, Timm tells me he designed this thing to withstand 4G of pounding.  I’m building a tank, here.  If it’s a bit thin in some places, I’ll probably still be okay.

The bigger concern is that voids collect condensation over time, but if this develops some rot in 20 years… well… I built it the first time, I can probably fix it. :-)

My dad’s off to Fallen Leaf for the weekend.  I’m going to spend tomorrow dealing with the remaining soft spots I found, and then trying to do a better job of fairing the hull prior to layer 3 than I did before layer 2.  I think that’ll help minimize the number of places I get air bubbles.

Onward and upward!