Friday, January 20, 2017

Bottom Planking and Bending

After getting the two halves of the bottom glued up I laid them down flat on wide horses and first planed them clean both sides (I could just lift and flip a half at a time) and then finally glued and nailed them together. Next was setting up a high horse in the center and bending the two ends up to match the designed rocker of the bottom.

Here is the second half set up vertically, glued and nailed together.

To plane them I bent them slightly to give the plane a better bite on the material.

Naturally I chose to photograph a section of seam that came out really well but I choose the photos, so... The method of using the circular saw is not without challenges but the results are quite good. Its fast too.

I set up a chain fall and one end at a time pulled up the ends of the bottom while the center remain firmly fixed with a post braced to a wooden beam I installed in the ceiling.

My ink line string passes from the two raised ends and is two sun off the bottom in the center, the designed rocker for this boat.

You can see the curve of the sides (yes, the boat doesn't have much shape) and the plugs installed in the mortises. A Canadian woman living locally stopped by and called it a Japanese punt, which is a good way to describe it.

I've asked if anyone can borrow an adze to speed up trimming these off. Otherwise I do it with a handsaw then plane things smooth.

Wonder if my boatbuilder friends in Maine use LOBSTER brand clamps? These are very nice quality  and I am grateful the company has lots of them. The founder fifty years ago built wooden boats up to 10 meters long, then switched to steel boats, then the company morphed into one building ship interiors in wood. Now they are a state-of-the-art cabinet shop. These clamps are largely useless in their shop now but I am certainly glad to have them.

Innovation and Tradition

The first part to building this boat is joining and fastening the six planks that make up the bottom. The material is hinoki, quite a bit more dense than sugi (cedar). The side planks of the boat and most of the rest of it will be cedar. I am fastening the boat traditionally with edge-nails.


Though we milled this material with big machines the edges don't fit. Normally this would mean fitting with a handsaw (something I have described elsewhere in my writings) but hinoki is too dense and frankly the process would be too time-consuming.

In Tohoku two years ago my teacher surprised me by running a circular saw through the seams to fit them. I'd never even thought of this, as all of my teachers had done this only with handsaws. It was definitely the answer here given time and the material. It took 3-4 passes to get each seam tight. Its not as easy as it may sound.

My next innovation was one I have been thinking about for several years: a router jig to cut the trapezoidal mortises for the edge-nails. So I decided, given that the bottom alone needed 60 mortises and the side planks 15 each, that it was worth my time to take an hour and make a jig and borrow the shop's big router and straight bit.

It did a great job and all I had to do with square off the bottom. I clamped a straight edge along the mortises and used it to guide the chisel.

The finished mortise.

In another innovation rather than chiseling the hole directly I first drilled two pilot holes the width the nails. These would make the material easier to cut and also guide the chisel. Drilling pilot holes is something I started to do working with college students. as it really aids them in using the chisel.

I also chiseled from the inside out, the opposite of what I have been taught. In a lot of ways it was cleaner and more accurate to do it this way. Here I set the point of the chisel in one hole and lay it tight to the bottom of the mortise...

...and then drive the chisel through the planking.


Again the chisel followed the pilot holes every time. This really takes the guess work out of this process.

Here half the bottom is clamped and getting glued and edge-nailed.

Knowing that all my mortises were exactly the same, I asked if the main shop could mass produce plugs for me. Nakagawa san, the senior employee, was given the job and he set up production.

He made a jig that he screwed to the sliding table of the saw.

The bottom put together. The curved line on the left is actually the final curve of the sides of the boat.
A final note on innovation: all of my teachers in Japan demanded that I do everything the way they did it. Except for one teacher, none accepted any sort of suggestion or innovation from me. My bright ideas were absolutely not welcome. And yet toward the end of my time with my teachers most of them made a point of telling me that I had to innovate. Some even said I had to go beyond them before I could consider myself a craftsman. This seemed so odd: the slavish obedience followed by the exhortation to innovate.

On my bicycle ride around the coast last week I found exactly one wooden boat. It is surprisingly short, only about fifteen feet.




Saturday, January 14, 2017

First Day Off

As readers of this blog know, whenever I start posting about a project I inevitably find something unrelated to write about. This post is chasing my introductory post by less than a day.

So today was my first day off and I took a long bicycle ride around the surrounding countryside. One can read about the decreasing population of Japan but to be here and experience it is really something else. The village where I am living and working has one retail business, a small grocery store run out of the owner’s home. I was told to phone and ask them to open. I pedal back and forth through the town and see almost no one. The elementary and junior high school were shuttered years ago. It seems as though as many as half the houses are empty.

About a half hour cycle away toward the city I found this huge, abandoned property and I poked around for a fair bit. It was surrounded by walls with gates front and back. I took the last shot in the family cemetery on the high ground behind the place. The large perimeter buildings I suspect were for storing rice. There are also two shrines on the property. My favorite shot is of a crumbling end wall which I think becomes an astounding piece of sculpture. This is truly a remnant of a feudal Japan, as this must date from the Meiji era and whomever owned this home probably owned all the farmland for miles around.

That is NOT a concrete wall by the way; its stone fit perfectly.

The entry gatehouse. Those are human-sized doors on either side.






Note the fitting of the stone.



Rice granaries, I reckon.

Accidental art...


This shot just about encompasses the entire property, except for the two shrines.


Just up the road I noticed a giant wooden barrel. The building housed about half a dozen seven foot tall barrels, along with many smaller ones. Most were in great shape. You get a feel for just how much mud and clay is used in traditional Japanese construction, in the walls embedded in a bamboo matrix and on the roof to bed the roof tiles. The adjacent house was abandoned and features black plastering, something you don’t see very often. Some nice mill stones were sitting in the grass. I tried all the neighbors to see if I could find out what these barrels were used for, but all the adjacent houses were abandoned as well.









Garden Boat for Takamatsu

I am back in Japan, here for about five weeks building a boat for a garden in Takamatsu. While waiting for my flight from Tokyo to Takamatsu I looked out the window at the gate and saw Mt. Fujii in the sunset.

I am working at a company that makes cabinetry, mainly for ship interiors. This is a small building they have to store lumber. I am using one half to build this boat.

My lumber pile.

Even though its winter all the surrounding fields are cultivated in vegetables, the work of one young organic farmer. He stopped by to introduce himself and gave me some lettuce and radishes.

What a joy at the company's main shop to have them mill my materials. Previously in Japan all the boats I've built, either by myself or with my teachers, we used nothing more than hand tools and portable power tools. Here the owner runs a giant planer/joiner to surface my planking material.

From left to right a joiner/shaper, the joiner/planer, and a straight line ripsaw. It took us about one full day to mill all the materials for this boat.

On the straight line ripsaw I had my hinoki planking cut to remove all the sapwood.

This machine makes two parallel rips. Again, we fed the material to take off the sapwood. Overall the quality of the materials I have to work with are pretty extraordinary.

I found this boat rudder standing in one corner of the shop. The company founder, the present owner's father, started the business building boats, but that worked faded. He said this rudder was fifty years old. Its in the traditional style, cut from a single piece of hardwood (white oak) with a tapered stock that dropped through a hole in a beam across the stern of the boat.

I am staying at one end of this small fishing village, and visible is Shodoshima, a large island in the Inland Sea. I hope to go there in a couple of weeks because a group of people teaching themselves barrel-making gather every year at this time at a soy sauce factory to make large wooden tubs. I want to meet them and see their work, which is very similar to my own work making tub boats.