A Modest Proposal – Parts 2.9


Dan’s plan

“But, still. This business of shaping the undersides of these overhead boards has been one of the elephants-in-the-room. Part of it has to do with how I “designed” the contraption in the first place.”

A Modest Proposal – Part 2.9

Sometimes, I overlook how hard some parts of this job are likely to get. At least, it’s hard for a guy with bad wrists, and knees, and with 70 winters’ worth of notches carved in his coup stick. Today seems to have been a case in point.

The rough-in of much of this little shanty boat has come together pretty darn quick. I was to the point where I had to start shaping the overhead beams in order to continue with the interior walls that will surround the focal point of this project: the head compartment. They’re up there on 16-inch centers, and made out of three-quarter-inch plywood. With all the vertical supports in place, I didn’t need the flat bottoms these beams were born with, any longer.

Not that I think I will. But if I WAS to do this again; I’d make the top about the same way. That flat side on the bottom of each overhead support, was just really useful during the framing phase. Useful, but a bunch of excess weight. And, a potential head knocker for anybody over about five-eight. So, today was designated as official “carving day.”

The thing that I sort of poo-poo’d was how this thing was gonna’ go, when I had to hold sharp, heavy, spinning, reciprocating, and sawdust-spewing things overhead. Well, just holding ’em overhead in’t such a big deal. Anybody who has been to Boot Camp at some point in their youth, has learned this valuable skill. What I’m talking about is that very-effective training tool used upon new members of the military establishment who “fail to conform.” And, an interesting slant on basic pedagogy, if ever there was. The scenario goes in a variant of this: “Hey, WORM! Pick up that there rifle, and hold it over yer’ head! HIGHER! Now, start RUNNIN’ around the room! I wanna’ hear you sing! I wanna hear y’all SHOUT. I wanna hear you tell me ‘fold my blankets in equal-thirds, SIR’.I can’t HEAR you!!!…”

Do that once-or God forbid, more than once – and you will forever “conform.”

I’ve been sort of expecting this particular job to be like one of those marches over to the Discipline Company. Except nobody was yelling at me, to get down and rip off 50 push-ups with somebody sitting on my back. And, it’s been quite a few decades since I found it necessary to sprint around with an M-1, as if I was attempting to take off in a hang glider.

But, still. This business of shaping the undersides of these overhead boards has been one of the elephants-in-the-room. Part of it has to do with how I “designed” the contraption in the first place.

In some ways, building this roof top was similar in concept to another old friend from Navy days, the GM 71-series diesel engine. If you wanted a bigger engine, just add cylinders to the end. The six-71 was just a four- 71 with a couple extra jugs hooked onto the end. Granted, not real sophisticated. I’ll just call it simple, but elegant. That’s how I glued this centipede together. I just kept adding sections, until it was “about right.” By the way. That hashed line in the last picture above, was put there to trim the excess material back to, once everything was situated.

Once again, the “about right” method of engineering prevails. You see, two inches is a pretty recurrent interval when cutting up a sheet of plywood. So, I figured a final thickness of two inches for those beams would be “about right.” I think the Real Boatbuilder Guys refer this to it being “sided” at two inches. I think.

So, anyway, I used a lot of blocking and re-enforcing spans of two-inch width. I kinda’ always knew there would be a problem with cutting this business up from the underside. But, I also figured that I’d just figure it out, when the time came. Well, that time came today. And, I choked!

Call the Frankenwerke a low-budget operation, if you must. But, I saved a bunch of labor cost by not shaping the undersides of these beams when they were just flat pieces of plywood. Mostly what I saved on was figuring out the guzzintas. Once, I got the monstrosity levelled to an imaginary level-point over the hull; I used the flat undersides to measure down to make the central walking area, berth flats, and even galley and head surfaces all line up in a parallel plane. Just like ol’ Mr. Robertson told me about, waaaaaaaaay back during my short adventure with geometry class as a high school sophomore. While my loose grip on concepts like “theorem” and “postulate” resulted in a Gentleman’s “D;” I did in fact retain some of the more practical stuff. (As I recall, Mr. Robertson promised to pass me at the end of the semester – if I promised to never take another math class from him. You could say that we both kept our promises.)

So, anyhow. I suppose we could dub this entire exercise as “occupying a higher plane.”

So, I dragged a few cutting and grinding tools into the shanty and commenced to discover how unlikely any of them would be capable of making that one-swell-foop cut that my design Department guys had spec’d into the “plans.”

There were, certainly, more tools involved. But this little pile caught the cameraman’s attention – while he was tripping over the pile of stuff on the floor, that had progressively crashed down from a marathon of hacking and slashing.

And, I suppose it’s reasonable to say that after that first Chainsaw Massacre; things resembled what the Engineering Department memo specified.

Except, for the wild aberrations from the line here and there. I continued to press on after my goggles were fogged up. More of that navy training at work here: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

So, production came to a grinding halt. It was already after normal working hours for the Tool and Die Guy. And, for that matter, Kate had already called me in for dinner. But, we had another one of those “opportunity to excel” moments right there in front of us. And, since I was already covered with sawdust, maybe a few more minutes would yield an epiphany of some sort.

My only reliable guide for making these mean-as-a-junkyard-dog cuts, is the top panel itself. But, there was still all that blocking and framing in the way of a simple saw guide. Besides, PL leaves some interesting stalactites, when it squeezes out. All, definitely in the way of an accurate scribing guide. At least a “factory” one. Sooooo.

I visited the plywood off-cut pile, and the plastics just-in-case pile for inspiration. A lot of this frankenbuilding thing is based upon what size piece you pick up first. A couple chunks of mdo and a couple chunks of HDPE and a couple deck screws; and we had us a guide to trim the raggedy stuff.

Not the biggest Hosanna-moment, ever. But, the whole thing seems to be working pretty well. Of course, it’s still defeated by some of that same blocking that defeated the saber saw. And, so far, the trusty angle grinder with 30-grit is about as careful as a bull in a china shop.

Maybe the morning shift will have a better idea. Meanwhile, I think I’m late for dinner.


  1. Next I would continue with the router, but make a guide that bears on the edges of the areas you have already trimmed. Like a big router-powered circular plane.

  2. the monday mourning quarterback rememberizes a time when building a Bolger Nymph called for transverse framing of 1/4″ ply which would not behave during the stitch n tape process

    bending the side planks(also 1/4″ ply) would cause the flimsy framing to rebel and Dynamite suggested screwing a 1×4 across the open space at the top, to be unscrewed when the pox’d tape had cured resulting in a very stable shape

    once the hull had been formed the 1×4’s were removed revealing a well thought out result

    a bit of dookeyschmultz (my dad’s word) in the screw holes erased all evidence of the process

    your loverly arches are butt inverted framing for a round bottom’d boat…

    knowing Frankenwerke/frankenbuilding will live on to create more interesting/off the wall/built on the fly works of art, i mention this method which may come in handy in the Frankenfuture

    carry on Franken


  3. Looks like it’s coming along! Your works gives me some ideas. Clearly, the hull/foam/deck on the original boat were intended to be a composite sandwich, which provided strength and rigidity. Just as clearly, the deck and foam had to come out. If I find a project like this, I might replace the foam/deck assembly with stringers in the hull and bulkheads extending up to the roof structure. As for the roof support beams, I see you had to correct some flimsiness inherent in thin plywood. I think if I do something like this, I’ll cut the beams as thin curved pieces about an inch or so wide, out of okoume, and support them with cheap sticks until everything is glued together. Once the roof is glued on and glassed, the structure would be plenty strong and stiff. That will keep the weight down and the headroom reasonable.

    Good job! Push ahead!

  4. That jig is ingenious. Just make two of ’em and mount the router between them to finish off the parts under the frames.

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