Port Hadlock Report Card  

By Pete Leenhouts - Port Ludlow, Washington - USA


Framing the Grandy Skiffs

The North West School of Wooden Boat Building Traditional Small Craft Class continues its work on the two Grandy 12-foot skiffs being built this semester.

The Traditional Small Craft students completed planking the two skiffs in five weeks. Here, one of the last planks is placed on one of the hulls.

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Planking is nearly completed on this Grandy skiff.

After planking was completed, the skiffs were taken off their building platforms, the molds were removed, retaining braces placed over each hull to help maintain their shapes, and the skiffs set gently on the boat shop floor. At this point, they each weighed less than 50 pounds.

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After planking completed, the boat is taken off its building frame (or building ladder), the molds removed, and it is carefully laid right-side up on the floor of the shop.

Temporary stands were built under the boats, and the boats placed right side up on the new stands and leveled. Bow and stern were securely braced to the floor as well, to help resist the stress of frames being placed in the boat.

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Temporary stands hold the Grandy skiff upright as students prepare to frame the boat.

The framing story really begins back in January, when the school was fortuitously donated a stand of small second and third-growth black locust trees which had been recently cleared from a steep hillside overlooking the Puget Sound.

Black locust (Robinia Pseudoacacia) is a tough, easily bendable wood which, although it grows easily here in the coastal Pacific Northwest, does not seem to be commercially available. It is nearly ideal for small boat framing and planking.

Instructor Ray Speck organized a small volunteer team of students one weekend, and went out to harvest some the trunks suitable for frame stock.

Ray selected the straightest trunks, and the students lifted each trunk by hand up a steep slope and into waiting trucks.

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Boat school students recovering donated black locust logs from a hillside overlooking the Puget Sound.

Tyler Thompson and his assistant Al Katz, local sawyers and Boat School graduates, donated their services to the school and slabbed the bright yellow logs into planks using an Alaskan chain saw mill.

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Al carries a fresh slab of black locust while Tyler prepares for the next slice.

Some saw mill operators use portable bandsaws for this purpose, others use bandsaw mills. Al mentioned there are quite a number of these small mills out there, and it is often worth seeing what lumber is available through such sawyers should necessary boat-quality lumber not be commercially available.

The planks were sawn into useable boards by the students, using a circular saw and an aluminum straightedge guide.

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Matt sawing planks into boards. He’s removing sapwood and bark in this picture.

The boards were sawn into frames. The resultant frames measured ¾-inch wide by 3/8-inch thick, and ranged from 3 to 7 feet long.

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Carter and Alicia cutting black locust boards into frame stock.

Once made, frame edges were rounded on the router using a quarter-round bit. The rounded, or “eased” edges helped keep the frames from splitting when being bent into the boat.

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Jeff (left) and Carter rounding frame stock.

The frames were kept wrapped in plastic until they were ready to be used. A day or two before use they were liberally wiped down with a combination of half boiled linseed oil and half turpentine, which helped to retard moisture loss from the frames while they were being steamed.

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Laura wiping down the frames

The frames were also divided into three grades, which we indicated by one to three ink dots on the end grain. A “one-dot” frame is “best grade”, had straight grain and no knots, and consequently was used where a great deal of bending must be supported.

These black locust frames had swirling grain from growing on their hillside location and quite a few knots; I’d estimate we got perhaps one-third to one-half useable wood for frames from each trunk we harvested, which was not unexpected.

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Alicia grades framing stock.

Instructor Tim Lee briefed the framing process to everyone working on the boat. Tools were gathered and pre-staged, and movements rehearsed. The steam box was lit and frame stock steamed – about twenty minutes for each of the 31 frames in the boat.

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Instructor Tim Lee (right) explaining how to frame the boat to the students…

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…and demonstrating it with the first frame (here, student Walt is preparing to fasten the screw that holds the frame in place on the keel apron).

As each frame arrived hot from the steambox, it was bent into the boat and secured to the keel with a bronze screw. Then, from inside the boat, holes were drilled through the frame and each plank from the garboard plank next to the keel to the sheer plank. A copper nail was slipped through the hole from the outside, and a bronze rove (which looks like a small copper cone-shaped washer) slipped over the nail on the inside of the boat.

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Jerry bucks the copper nail and rove as another student hammers it home from the outside of the boat.

Then, one student pressed a heavy steel bucking iron against the nail and over the rove from the inside of the boat while another student pounded the nail home with a ball-peen hammer from the outside of the boat. Finally, the nail was clipped off just above the rove, and the stub peened over so the rove couldn’t be removed.

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Clipping off the protruding copper nail after bucking it and before peening it over the rove. Nails that haven’t been clipped can be seen to the left of the student’s hand on the same frame.

31 frames in the boat with 16 planks (8 on each side) means we had nearly 500 opportunities to practice riveting – it was a busy day. But, while planking took nearly five week, framing took one day, no more.

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Instructor Tim Lee instructs by example while students Walt (seated) and Jason rivet frames. Matt (red jacket) takes a breather from framing amidship as Sean (back left) and Alicia frame the stern sheets.

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Spreaders retain the hull’s shape after framing is complete

In the next installment, I’ll show you how risers, thwarts, stern sheets and knees were made and installed in the 12-foot Grandy skiffs we are building.

Pete Leenhouts

For further information, visit the school’s extensive website at www.nwboatschool.org, call the school at 360-385-4948, or write The Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, 42 North Water Street, Port Hadlock WA 98339.