In a State of Varnish

Now there are no more pieces to fabricate. The last 2 knees have been installed, bunged, and shellac coated for varnish (and, of course, more varnish). Such is the state of the build. Paint is looking better and better as an alternative, but the additional coats of varnish just make the boat glow more. I’m shooting for 4-5 on everything for this go-round. It will be a short season, but I do plan on a good shake down into the Fall. I’ve had no intention of making a piece of furniture, but the floor boards have looked good stacked in the living room.

I’ve decided that many details simply can’t be resolved properly until the boat is sailed. One example is the working of the mainsheet. I question whether a 2 part system is adequate, but several sister boats use such. Not having miles of line in the cockpit is good, but is it adequate purchase as the breeze pipes up? This could aid in prompting a reef. We’ll see. So, I haven’t decided on a second block on the center case or a cleat.

A pair of knees ganged for rough belt sanding.


Plug cutting ash for knees and gunwales.

At this point, I’ve no insight or techniques to offer. My patience is being tried with all the finishing really. I’m ready to sail her. We’re almost there. A few more coats and we can flip, paint the bottom once more and install the rub strakes. So close …

Boomkin supported by screws on manning bench for varnishing.


Long shot. Floor boards resting.

Tinting the white interior paint with the hull green works to kill the brightness. I would rather have floors with an oiled finish, but I don’t think douglas fir is that wood. The local cypress was of poor quality and teak too dear at the moment.



Aft deck. Painted underside of hatch.

There you have it. Another coat on the spars and we can leather where appropriate. We’re getting there (maybe sooner than expected). Stay tuned!

Small Triumphs

I met with some success this weekend.

1st: After attacking the warped centerboard with the heat gun and scraper, the board seemed to relax and straightened a bit. Some judicious clamping over a board and pouring boiling water on the concave side helped further. Finally, I set an old boat battery on the board while suspended at either end overnight. This action and drying brought it all back into alignment. With some sanding and glassing on both sides simultaneously, we are back on track.

Ugly, but corrected and straight.

2nd: ballast installation detail is worked out and 50% fabricated. I have six pieces of lead. In pairs, they are 15#, 17#, and 19#. I will have 6 spots around the center case for moving the extra weights fore and aft as required to place boat on its lines. Each piece of ballast was drilled with 2 holes to receive the brass toilet tank bolts which were cut to stay below the floor boards. A paddle bit and drill press made  a countersunk recess to keep the nuts and keeper washers low enough. The bolts went through a plywood backer plate glue to the bilge as reinforcement. I will epoxy the bolts to retard any corrosion save for the last 1/2″. I’ll use a piece of rubber rooking to separate the led from the plate once epoxied, primed and painted.

2 of what will be 3 ballast positions per side.

Blocks between ballast and logs were required as plates keep slipping downhill on wet epoxy.

Ballast plates and dreaded sanding begun.

3rd: The interior finishing began. After an epoxy coat, two coats of primer have been placed while sanding in between. We’ll let this sit for a couple days and then fine sand for the finish coats of paint which will be white tinted slightly with the hull “green” to be easier on the glare.

Primed minus ballast areas to be epoxied.

4th: I have the rig and control lines all figured out. I found myself mounting hardware after much study and then coming up with better ideas. So, I’ve a few holes to fill. Once the boat is complete (soon I hope), I’ll take more detailed photos. I expect to be done with painting the interior this week and be moving on to varnishing.

The main only position requires a second attachment for the down haul. I epoxied an ash block in the bilge forward with an eye for securing a rope loop for the down haul. This will sneak up between floor boards.
2nd down haul attachment point.

I still hate sanding. After this weekend, maybe more than before, but progress is evident and getting the rig solved was a boost to buckle down and hit the painting.

My rough estimate of time worked thus far is 470 hrs. I should be done in about 40-50 hours more. Hard to believe. None of this includes the time pondering about what to do while away from the boat. Not sure how that computes. Multiply by three!? Who knows. She will be a great boat for sure and aside from the sanding, it has all been fun.

Where I Dream …

You can have dreams without work, but they will never come to fruition without work.

Occasional periods of drudgery have risen throughout this build.  A few days ago I hit one of those “bumps” and had to walk away from the boat for a bit. The sanding and faring was getting to me, but what really slapped me was a warped centerboard. It went from a straight and true foil after glassing one side, but the second side glassing created a potato chip. I had added graphite to the epoxy for lubrication purposes and I expect the black heat sink got too much sun when I turned my back. I’m not sure if I can remove the glass to correct it or more quickly just start over. So, we went for a paddle.

Along the James.

The kayak trip restored a better outlook, but I wasn’t ready for the board or more sanding so, I lay the spars and sails in the backyard, studied how to lace and add controls, and finally raised the sails. That sent me dreaming again. Now I can face the drudgery again.

Laying out.


Needs downhaul tension.


Too tight on yard outhaul.


Mizzen lacing. Boomkin not yet installed.


Trailing wake.


A rose.
 While I did not complete the running rigging entirely, I have got it all figured out. The process was an enjoyable puzzle. And, I really love the simplicity of this rig. I believe she will be light, fast, and responsive.  (A decent centerboard will probably help too.)
Lastly, I sold my Penguin dinghy yesterday. Watching the new owner haul her out the driveway was a sad moment. She is a boat that’s beautiful from all sides, but her insides and outs needed a new coat of varnish and fresh black paint. The truth is she hadn’t left the shed for maybe 5 years and deserved to be loved better. The proceeds will provide a new trailer for the new love. Selling a boat and a trailer for a trailer somehow doesn’t sound equitable.
Anyhow, here is to “Tar Baby”. Someone told me you couldn’t have a boat named that nowadays. Really? What is the world coming to? Ignorance for all?
Tar Baby!! Moving on a wisp.


Stuck in the 5%

What do they say about the time required for the last 5% of a job? Well, I’m in the thick of it.

Both decks are on. Hatches are glassed inside and out (I feared stepping through the stripped maple).
In order to hide a lot of the hardware associated with the hatches, piano hinges are installed and a pull string secures the hatch through a grommet manufactured from a brass hose barb cut and chamfered. I prefer hardware store items over pricey boat store items.


Aft hatch and deck with secure line with cam cleat.
Gasket will be installed to underside of hatch.


Lashing line lead through eye and hole in bulkhead.

The mizzen mast deck collar and cleat bases are epoxied in place. The bases are echoes of the double ender.

Cleat base and collar before epoxy.

Main mast partners and foredeck coaming are now screwed and glued.

Coaming and partners.


Hatch with epoxy glass shine.

A 1″ drain is now in the bottom of the boat. This will aid in clean up after those future trips. A brass tube is epoxied through the bottom. Two different plugs were purchased. One is a compression lever. The other is a screw fitting. One will serve as a spare.

Drain plugs.


With the arrival of the sails from Douglas Fowler, the subtleties of spar bee holes, thumb cleats, and jamb cleats can be addressed.
A centerboard and a few shear knees are all that remain to be manufactured.
… the beat goes on.

A Little More of Many Things

I confess that the organized side of my brain tells me to finish a task (i.e. building oars) and then post all of the particular details and photos in a singular post. However, the other side of my skull says, “lets just do something”. And then there is the chaotic synapses that delight and create in having many projects going at once. It offers an outlet when a particular task may get arduous or boring as is sanding.

So be it. In such fashion, here are random pics of pieces and parts of the boat in various stages of completion. “Completion” is the operative word here. This past week’s sailing has made me long ready to end this build, stop this scattered documentation, and take this new boat on her own adventurers.

Since oars have been mentioned previously, here they are, nearly ready for final sanding and finish.

Cut blade tips for hardwood insert.


Handle shaping.


Final shape.
2 makes a pair. Tips gluing up.


The breasthooks as previously blogged I thought too fat. I planed them down, sanded, and added shellac for varnishing.
Stern breasthook.

After staining the hatches, I noticed some scratches requiring further sanding. I will glass the top of these. I’ve yet to decide on hinges. I do have some stainless piano hinge available.

Cherry stripped hatch.

I dowelled the center case trim where screws had been for accent.

Centercase cap.
Fairing has been applied to interior hull laps using epoxy thickened with micro balloons.
Faired laps.

As an after thought I glassed the inside of the rudder head to help assure it doesn’t split. Also, the rudder pivot hole was widened and filled with epoxy to be drilled later for bolt.

Rudder head glassing.


Aside from much sanding, I do have 2 coats of varnish after 1 coat of shellac on all the removable brightwork. they are stacked out of the way for now. Final coats will be attempted in a less dusty environment.

Shoe Shines and Sunshine

Cooperating weather makes this building deal much more enjoyable. In Central VA we had temps in the low 70s, sun, and breezy conditions. So, as much as I dislike the sanding process, I was able to  move on with a few tasks. The biggest was knocking down the gunwale with the belt sander, 36 grit, and the router. The results are smooth and satisfactory. The breast hooks are close to their final shape too.

A second bout of sanding went after the floor boards with the ROS and 120 grit. Several boards were cracked at the ends from too vigorous screw action. To fix this I saturated the end grain and flooded the countersunk holes. Hopefully that will hold.

End epoxy repairs.

Since the plans for the open boat do not show any of the side bench web supports I reduced the 4 shown on each side to 2. Support is gained from resting on blocks at the end bulkheads, the plywood webs, and hanging from the thwart. For that I bevelled a piece of teak and through bolted it between seat and thwart. The result is quite rugged and stiff. You can get just a peek of it in the next pic.

Teak bench spacer under thwart.

While the epoxy was flowing I blocked up the main boom and blanks for a pair of oars. Aside from the epoxy dry time, I think I had maybe 2.5 hrs in getting from board to rounded spar. The real trick to this is of course an electric plane and going from 4 sided all the way down to 32 sided before breaking out the dreaded sand paper. Actually, a cut 80 grit sanding belt with wood blocks nailed to the ends for grips allowed for gentle removal and rounding. A shoe shining technique worked great. That and my employ of a doubled up loop of rope as a breaking stirrup to hold the work in place. You can make this as easy or hard a workout as desired. My previous sanding drum could remove too much material before you knew it. More control is in the shining.

Manning benches with boom in carpeted chocks.
Shoe shining with the stirrup.

I chickened out of the spoon bladed oars and decided to go conventional. Here are the blocks and the different sided ends of the pair.

Oar blanks.


4 sided.
8 sided.
16 sided.


32 sided. Ready for “shoe shine”.

 I broke my last jig saw blade and used the hand saw to trim the oar blades.


Handle ends. 


Here is a bit of advice: don’t trust the guy at the lumber yard to know where to cut the middle of the board. In triple checking the final oar length, I got this 2.5″ difference. The dark shading above is defined from rolling a sheet of paper at the cut line.
Rough blade outline.


Oar in stored position after some shaping.

Shawn & Tenney has a good formula for oar length based on boats size. The Sooty would need 10′-3″  sticks (with a 2″ overlap) based on this. However, The fore and aft bulkheads are just shy of 10′ separation. Given that and my suspicion the added length will be a disadvantage in a troubled sea, I settled on 9′-8 1/4″ blades. These fit nicely in the boat and without the other two seat web supports, almost tuck up under the side benches. I like this. If necessary I can lash them to the webs. The blade nestles in the curve of the hull. I may glue a check forward to receive the handle end or vice versa.

Lastly, used the red microballons to fair a couple fillets to either side of the webs, thwart support, and a couple scuffs from the saw on the centercase.
Support web fillet.


Thwart support.
Ah, almost forgot. I got Horns and oarlocks from Shaw & Tenney. I went with the angled brackets and fitted them to the inwales. The typical sockets seemed to remove too much material in this key structural elements and raising them on cheek blocks would eliminate that as a seat on the rail. I’ll post that pic when I mount them again.

Caps, Dogs, and Inwales

The list is shrinking, but I haven’t had much desire to document it all. I do feel the finish line is around the bend.

Key remaining items to make are:

  1. centerboard
  2. main boom
  3. side seats
  4. decks
  5. oars
Everything else is a detail or … darn sanding and finish application. I did actually begin that process and quickly lost interest. I began sanding and epoxy coating the aft compartment.
It seems a shame to paint out the nice wood tones, but they look better from this distance.
Going forward, I curved the deck’s trailing edge per the sloop version. It adds a bit of elegance and functionally helps cover the hatch in the bulkhead. I may not have covered it, but I reverted to 4 dogs for the bulkhead hatch. I had two tongues on the back of the hatch and two dogs up high, but that was too awkward with this overhanging edge.


curved deck edge.


Added ash trim like small shear rubbing strip.


4 dogged hatch and mast partners.

After a failed attempt to bow a 1/4″ strip of douglas fir to follow the deck curve (it kept cracking and I didn’t want to steam or soak), 3/8″ plywood did nicely. The lower ash trim compliments the small rubbing strip on the shear plank.

The centerboard pivot was reinforced with a sloped piece epoxied above the hole. The aft end of the case got 2 layers of 1/4″ cherry. The first layer cracked, but the second covered the mistake. I’ve since plugged the holes from drywall screws with 5/16″ dowels.
Added sloped cap above pivot.


Centercase capped in 2 layers of 1/4″ cherry.
The final inhales are now installed. I wish my ability to do this now had been present to start with. Technique makes all the world of difference. She’s really a beauty. And she is looking ever more the boat.

Spring, Masts, and Boomkin

First 1/2 day of  Spring and the weather was perfect for a sail. 70 degrees, sunny, and winds around 12 kts. I did roll the boat out and gave her some sticks. Who knows how often I’ve stared at the sail plan and my small model of the Sooty. I don’t know why I’ve doubted my build’s accuracy, but the mast steps and partner locations were darn near dead on. Good.


It was really a thrill to see the masts in place. Soon … very soon … she’ll be afloat. (back to work).
Using a plumb bob and my iPhone “clinometer” app, I was able to fine tune the two mast positions and confirm the main mast partner locations. Somehow all the parts fit and were aligned per drawings. Good stuff.


True to my chaotic work habits, the next thing I knew I was cutting a hole for the boomkin! I had intended to add fairing fillets to the bench supports. It is time to sand the interior. Perhaps it would have been easier before adding the floors, but my interest wasn’t inclined at the time (and likely won’t be that strong even later).
So, using cadd, a paper ellipse template was drawn and taped to the hull’s shear plank.  After a careful eyeballing of the template’s position with the boom, rudder swing, and centerline, pilot holes were drilled and the coping saw put a hole in my boat.
As Luck would have it, no matter how I located the boom kin, the rudder head struck it when swung to the extreme. So much for all the care! Elongating the hole and filing the inside curve still didn’t get it right. Back to the computer to produce a longer outside ellipse for the same hole fixed things as I used this added length to allow for shifting the hole forward and effectively outboard.


These oak rings were shaped by hand saw, plane, and then belt sander. Then a pass through the table saw gave me two which were easily cut with the jig saw for the inner ellipse. The hull was sanded where the trim was epoxied in place.
Edges sanded.
Outside ring epoxied.

Onward and upward-

An Assorted Post of Sorts

I’m close to pushing this hull out into the outside air and begin the next round of sanding, epoxy coating, priming and painting or varnishing. Some good steps have been taken since last post, but my interest in documenting it has slipped. I really am at a point where I want to finish, so, my energies have simply plugged along with the build. I do have updates:


I’ll start with a shot across the bow. Iain has designed a looker.


  • The deck framing is done minus the edge support lip.
foredeck and hatch framing.


Framing is epoxied and dowelled.


  • I’m installing fore and aft hatches designed around a dairy crate’s dimensions. A 5 gallon bucket also slips through.


Bowed batten for frame arched edges.


Ganged framing for belt sanding.
Frames were cut with jig saw.


Hatch lip framing and hatch frame in cherry.


Cherry strips added to frame for hatch.


End strips are wedged with impromptu shims.
  • Thwart knees at 3/4″ have been fitted in oak, but they appear thin and I think I’ll swap them for 1″ spruce to match breast hooks.
Holt melt and ply knee template.


Cut ply template.


Oak knee. Seems thin visually.
  • Breasthooks are in spruce and near final shape.
Test fitting and screwed temporarily in place.


Benched for cutting and shaping.


Back in place after belt and ROS sanding.

By cutting the breast hook halves from the same board and adjacent to each other, a nice grain pattern is mirrored. I was overzealous in planing the joint and needed to slip some cherry shims there. It actually adds to the appearance I think.

Overall from aft starboard quarter.

The side bench supports are also in. I had neither 1/2″ ply nor 1x boards wide enough here. I glued two 1/4″ plus together.

The center case cap in cherry is epoxied in. The thwart is screwed in as will the thwart knees for easier removal when refinishing is needed down the road. I wonder how many miles will have been sailed at that point.
Lastly, of note, the sails have been ordered! She will now be a sail and oar boat.


I’m uncertain what I’ve here to inform or enlighten, but progress is progress in this case. The spokeshave has seen a lot of action. While the floors seemed to have a sweet flow from one to the next, once the floor boards were tested for fit, the floors needed some fine tuning.

First the boards for the floor (douglas fir) were arranged to take advantage of the grain character from board to board.

Floor boards arranged.

The floors needed repeated “scraping” to ease the twisting of the floor boards.


All but the 2 center boards are screwed to floors. Screwing the floorboards in adds greater stiffness to the hull. For the center boards I added 3 “fingers” to the underside and a keyed thumb cleat made of oak so that easy access can be had to the center of the bilge.



Keyed plinth for thumb cleat.


Radiused plinth with shoulders.


Oak thumb cleat engaged.

The floors were removed and installed maybe 5-6 times before I was
satisfied with the way they sat.


I shaped some oak for the forward centercase support. This open design will allow for lashing items securely in the boat.
Supports screwed in place.



Overall of floors and support.
The rudder screws are now countersunk. I’m happy with the installation. More later-