"Sea Dog"

Making Strips


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Bob's Boats

"Sea Dog" is constructed using a boat-building technique known as "strip-planking". Long, narrow strips are bent around the mold forms, and glued together edge to edge.

flitches - click for larger picture
Cedar flitches, still showing the shape of the tree.

A large number of strips need to be cut, not only for the hull planking, but also for the gunwhales and thwart risers. The hull is planked with cedar strips that are 1/2" thick by approximately 1" wide. Each gunwhale is laminated from three 1/2" strips of hardwood (I used mahogany) and each thwart riser is laminated using two 5/8" strips (also mahogany.) Most of these strips need to be about 19-1/2 to 20 feet long. Strips this long are made by scarfing shorter pieces together. Cutting all the strips can be fairly time consuming, but it is a simple, repetitive task.

For the hull planking, I started out with 5/4" cedar flitches. My dictionary defines "flitch" as "a longitudinal section of a log", and that's exactly what these were. Each board still had the bark on the edges, and the surface was rough sawn. The first step in preparing this lumber was to cut most of the pieces lengthwise so they would fit through my 12" wide thickness planer, and so that each board would have at least one relatively straight edge. I snapped a chalkline lengthwise on each flitch, and cut along the line with my band saw. I then planed each board to 1 inch thick with my thickness planer.

cutting strips - click for larger picture
I cut all strips on the band saw...

My next step was to cut strips about 5/8" wide from these 1 inch thick cedar boards. after cutting, I planed these strips smooth on both sides to a thickness of 1/2" inch. At this point, I had some fairly precise, smooth 1 inch by 1/2 inch strips. All that remained was to scarf these strips together into longer strips between 19-1/2 and 20 feet long.

I recently learned from Paul Graham that, in all kinds of creative work, inspiration and energy comes and goes in cycles. Sometimes you are highly inspired to work long hours on difficult tasks where you must concentrate closely, figure out what you want to do and how to do it, decide on alternatives, measure carefully, and keep sharply focused. At other times, you're just not ready to think hard. Times like these are good for doing simple, comfortable, repetitive tasks. Making strips is one of those tasks.

planing strips - click for larger picture
... then planed them to 1/2" thick.

I started out with the idea of cutting all the strips in somewhat of a hurry, so I could get the task out of the way. In retrospect, I think I would have been better off to pay more attention to my inspiration cycles, and leave some of the strip making to do during those times in the cycle when I needed a comforting, repetitive task that allowed me to back off from some of the more highly focused work.

Aside from making best use of my creative energy cycles, putting off a lot of the strip making for later would have allowed me to use a better idea, which did not occur to me until after I had already cut and planed most of the strips. After cutting and planing about 75% of the cedar into strips, I decided to start scarfing some of them together into longer strips. It was then that I came up with the idea that if I scarfed the strips together before I planed them to the final 1/2" thickness, it would be a lot easier to make smooth, unobtrusive, almost undetectable scarf joints. I will describe this more fully in the section on scarfing.