Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Substitute for Building Boats?

There are so many boats I’d love to build… but no place to store them.

So I build models instead. I’ll sometimes modify a design (but NOT the basic hull) or design my own. And if the modifications don’t work, rip them out and try again, enabling me to experiment with different arrangements… at virtually no cost. It's an effective way to learn the problems and issues that will arise if I were to build the full-size version… I get a good sense of what the real boat will look like, much better than photos and plans...And lastly, it satisfies (to some extent) that deep urge to build boats.

What tools do I use?

Tools Used in Model Making

  1. Sharpening stone to keep #14, #15 and #16 sharp
  2. Set of jeweler’s files, handy for fine ‘carving’ (e.g. cleats)
  3. Bunch of disposable nail files, really handy, used frequently
  4. A steel nail file, used to clean glue ‘squish outs’ on joints
  5. Tweezers for picking up really small parts
  6. Drill bit holder and small twist drill
  7. Dividers for creating arcs (e.g. for deck beams) and for stepping off measurements (more on that below)
  8. Protractor for measuring angles
  9. Set of weights ranging from 4 pounds down to 4 ounces, use to hold #24 (steel ruler on edge) for drawing curves, holding components to be glued, etc.
  10. Fine tooth saw for doing ‘cut-offs’ using the ‘bench stop’ (#26)
  11. Sandpaper, mostly used flat on the table and move the object to be sanded
  12. Fine lead (approximately .7mm) mechanical pencil
  13. Wood carving flat blade chisel, used very frequently
  14. Xacto brand knife 
  15. Xacto brand knife (more on these two frequently used knives below)
  16. Small plane, very handy because it can do things that nothing else does as well, such as trimming wood to a line, or tapering rub rails, etc.
  17. Small 30-60 triangle, often paired with the larger triangle for 90 degree lines
  18. Large 30-60 triangle
  19. Tape dispenser. Tape is used to hold parts together while glue dries. (example below)
  20. Wooden spring clothes pins (“One can never have enough clamps”)
  21. Hair clips also used as clamps
  22. Rubber bands also used as clamps
  23. Architect’s scale. The blue tape tab enables me to pick the ruler up each time oriented to the correct scale (usually 8:1, 1.5 inches to the foot)  
  24. A steel rule, marked both Imperial and Metric. It is flexible enough to be bent to beautiful curves (held by the weights, #9). It has a thin cork backing that keeps if from sliding… also used as straight edge for slicing wood with the Xacto knives.
  25. Glue… also use Titebond II and III. The pictured “Elmers” glue and TB II set faster than TB III.
  26. A 6” long ‘bench rest’ glued to the base
  27. Base is a piece of chip board that protects the underlying drafting table.

Not shown:

  • Paints: Home Depot sells half-pint (8 ounces) samples of latex paint in any color
  • Brushes: A set of inexpensive artist brushes
  • Small pair of cutting pliers used to cut brass wire
  • Small pair of beading pliers used to bend the brass wire… the jaws are cylindrical and tapered rather than flat
  • Wax paper to prevent gluing components to the base
  • Paper towels to whip off excess glue from fingers, tools, etc.


  • 1/32 thick (Scaled 1:8 is ¼ inch) 4” x 24” sheets of bass wood, used for hull components
  • 1/8 thick (Scaled 1:8 is 1 inch) 4” x 24” bass wood, used for making bulkheads, etc.
  • Assorted strip wood, although I’ll frequently just cut strips from the sheet wood and laminate them to the required thickness.
  • Brass wire… about 1mm thick… used to make oar locks, pintles, gudgeons, etc.

These are a few techniques I’ve learned that make model-making more accurate.

Convert Metric to Imperial:
Divide millimeters by 25.4 resulting in inches and tenths of an inch.

Converted Metric to Imperial Measurements


These can be used to create arcs, such as deck beams, but also to replicate measurements (verses using a ruler) such as section spacing as in the photo above in which I needed to transfer 300mm intervals (11.8 scale inches) to the sheet bass wood as in the photo below.

Using Dividers to Step Off Accurate Measurements

Cutting 1/32” sheet bass wood:

Use the short blade (#14) Xacto knife by pushing the knife along the line, with the tip of the blade slightly raised (see photo below). Do NOT try to cut through the wood in one pass. If you do, it will likely split. Cut in a direction such that if the wood splits, it will split away from the object you are creating. This means that you may need to cut some of the line (assuming it’s a curved line such as the sheer or chine) in one direction and the rest of the line in the opposite direction.

When cutting the 1/8” bass wood, use the short blade knife (#14) to make the first 3 or 4 passes, then switch to the long blade knife (#15), held vertically, to make the final cuts with just the tip of the blade. Note, it will take about 6 or 8 cuts to get through the 1/8” bass wood. Sharp knives are critical.

Cutting Sheet Bass Wood by Pushing the Knife

Holding components together waiting for glue to hold:

Tape, clothes pins, hair clips and rubber bands can all be used to temporarily hold components together for gluing. In the photo below, the deck was cut about 1/8” over-sized, then tape was added to the deck as shown. A bead of glue was put on top edge of the bulkhead and the topsides. The deck was taped down, and the excess glue was immediately removed with the steel nail file (#4). The result was a tight seal between the deck and the hull after trimming with the plane (#16).

Preparing a Deck to be Glued to the Hull

Building boat models helps me to 'cheaply' experiment with different designs... teaches me techniques that can be used in building real boats... enables me to build designs that really appeal to me, such as Bolger's Japanese Beach Cruiser... enables me to (partially) fulfill my boat building obsession(?) regardless of the weather. And it's fun!

The next post will focus on nutrition for the rower.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Easy-to-Build Oar Cruiser

In an earlier post on “…Foot Braces”, I mentioned a boat that Paul Truszkowski built, pictured below. The boat is double ended, flat bottom and about 15’ (4.6m) long. She is 28" (71cm) wide, with vertical sides.

Paul Truszkowski’s “Beaux Eaux”

I had an opportunity to row this boat on a windless day. I was surprised that I could row it (very briefly) at 5.4 mph (8.7 kph), which is ‘hull speed’ for this length of boat. The boat is almost identical (bottom half) to Michael Storer’s Quick Canoe pictured below.

Michael Storer’s Quick Canoe. Picture courtesy Rick Landreville
Oar Cruiser Conversion (compare to original Quick Canoe above)

I thought that this would make an easy-to-build and effective Oar Cruiser… with some modifications.

Using the plans for Quick Canoe, available at Duckworks I built an 8:1 model, pictured below.

Oar Cruiser Conversion of Michael Storer’s Quick Canoe

The conversion to an oar cruiser included the following:

  • Added two full bulkheads approximately 4’ (1.2m) in from both stems. This created a 7’ (2.1 m) center cockpit, suitable for carrying a passenger and for one person sleeping.
  • Dropped the top of both stems about 7” (178 mm) so that the decks would be 15” (381 mm, chine to gunnel) at the new bulkheads down to 12” (305mm, chine to bottom of skeg) at the stems. Note that everything below the top of the stems is exactly like Michael designed, including the double skegs and full length keel.
  • Installed two decks from bulkheads to stems.
  • Lowered the gunnels, between the two bulkheads, about 2” (51 mm).
  • Added a (red) rubrail.
  • Added two splash guards at the inner end of both decks… the forward one curved and sloping forward.
  • Added a full length (of cockpit) floorboard to accommodate an adjustable rowing seat and foot rest.
  • Added an inner gunnel strip to enable hooking the adjustable oar lock supports to the sides of the hull, providing a 4’ (1.2 m) span for the oars.

The width of the boat is 27” (686 mm) to the outside of the gunnels, and 22” (559 mm) at the chines.

Interior Shows Raised Tent Support Hoops

Comparison to Lars Boat Conversion (shown in earlier post)

This will be a fast oar cruiser... And very tender.

What do you think?

The next post will be about model building – tools/materials used and why do it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Where Do the Oarlocks Go?

This post is about rowing geometry for fixed seat rowing.

Colin Angus has a very complete description, with detailed measurements, of rowing geometry for sliding seat rowing.

John Welsford, in an article for Duckworks Magizine titled "Some Thoughts on Rowing" includes the following information for rowing geometry for fixed seat rowing (as well as much more excellent advice):
  • Distance between oar locks: Minimum of 3’ 10” (117cm), and an average of 4’ (122cm) to 4’ 4” (132cm)
  • Oar lock to back edge of seat: Minimum of 13” (33cm)
  • Bottom of oar lock height above seat: 8” (20cm) to as high as 11” (28cm)
  • Seat height above ‘heel rest’ on foot brace: 6” to 8” (15cm to 20cm)

Paul Truszkowski’s rowing geometry for his Michalak Vireo is:
  • Distance between oar locks: 49.5:, 126cm
  • Oar lock to back edge of seat: 13”, 33cm
  • Bottom of oar lock height above seat: 12.5”, 32cm
  • Seat height above ‘heel rest’ on foot brace: 8”, 20cm
  • Bottom of oar lock to waterline: 13.5”, 34cm
  • Length of oars: 96”, 244cm
  • Overlap when oars are level: 4”, 10cm
  • Paul's height with shoes he normally wears when rowing. 6’ 1”, 185cm

Rowing Geometry for my own Ross Lillistone Flint is:
  • Distance between oar locks: 53”, 134cm
  • Oar lock to back edge of seat: 10”, 25cm. The oar locks are closer to the seat because I like to make a deeper recovery (forward angle of oars at the catch: 50 degrees) and shorten the end of the power stroke (35-40 degrees aft)
  • Bottom of oar lock height above seat: 10”, 25cm
  • Seat height above ‘heel rest’ on foot brace: 10”, 25cm
  • Bottom of oar lock to waterline: 14.5”, 37cm
  • Length of oars: 96”, 244cm
  • Overlap when oars are level: 3”, 76mm
  • My height with shoes I normally wear when rowing: 6’ 1”, 185cm

An effective ‘rule of thumb’ for adjusting the foot brace is to sit on the seat in your normal rowing position, extend your legs until your thighs are level, then position the foot brace against the bottom of your feet.

Pictured below is a Rowing Geometry Worksheet you can download from Dropbox and then ‘model’ your own rowing geometry based on you, the size of your boat and the length of the oars.

A Rowing Geometry Worksheet you can Download and Use

Our next post will be “An Easy-build Oar Cruiser”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Help: How do you Dispose of #1 and #2 (Sanitation) in a Small Cruiser?

I'll be publishing a post in this blog (scheduled for June 19) focused on how people handle (the results of) these bodily functions. I'm looking for examples, commercial or home-made, that you have used.

Please email me photos and brief description (or a link to your site) of your custom built sanitation system to OR let me know in a 'comment' below what commercial (e.g., Wag Bag and Luggable Loo) unit you use and comments you have about it's utility.

Thanks for your help.


Seven Ways to Make Foot Braces

"Foot braces", aka “Foot stretchers”, “Foot risers”, and “Piggy pedestals” are used by both sliding seat and fixed seat rowers. They are the braces that keep you from sliding aft when you row. 

In terms of design, there are probably as many designs as there are rowers. Following are seven examples, in no particular order. 

Steve Chambers' SOF British Columbia Hubert Evans Handliner
Detail of the Foot Brace and Box Seat

1. Steve Chambers built a SOF British Columbia Hubert Evans 14’ 6” Handliner (4.4m), using a plywood floorboard with a center stiffener strip. Both the box seat and foot brace are grooved to sit over the stiffener strip. Steve says the rope loop (around the back of the box seat and threaded through the foot brace) works well as long as you put equal pressure on the two ends of the foot brace. Distance between the foot brace and the box seat is adjusted by the sliding knot (tautline hitch or rolling hitch?... latter is less likely to slip).


Close up of the Foot Rest and Straps

Rick Thompson's Foot Braces

2. Rick Thomson made these foot braces for his Walkabout (Rick's Walkabout). As with all of Rick’s work, these are elegant and superbly made. Note that Rick uses these for both sliding seat (for racing) and fixed seat rowing. 


3. John Welsford's design for the Walkabout specified a series of about 6 paired ribs (about 12mm square) attached to the side of the air boxes at the same location as Rick placed the notched supports for his foot braces. John’s ribs are angled back from the vertical about 30 degrees and are spaced about 12 to 14mm apart. The actual foot brace is a plank that slides into the slot between ribs. 


Paul Truszkowski's Drop-in Rowing Unit, Integrating Seat, Foot Rest and Outriggers

The Rowing Unit in a Custom 15' 6" Kayak/Rowboat

4. Paul Truszkowski built a drop-in unit that combines foot brace, outriggers and a seat.   


Adjustable Foot Brace Attached to Seat in a Michalak Verio

5. In Paul’s Vireo (referenced in this blog), the foot brace is attached to the seat by adjustable chains. I’ve used this and it works well. 


6. In the model Vireo (pictured at the link above), another adjustable foot brace is shown. It is hooked into the slats of the floor boards, as is the box seat, to allow both to be adjusted for leg length and fore/aft weight distribution. 


Adjustable Foot Brace for a Ross Lillistone Flint

Forward End of the Brace Held in Place by a Wedge

Underside of the Foot Brace

After End of the Brace Showing One of the Wing Nuts

7. For Ross Lillistone’s Flint, I made this adjustable foot brace. The forward end is held down by a wedge jammed under the block screwed to the bulkhead. Two wing nuts anchor the sliding foot brace on the slotted beam, providing a wide range of adjustment. (Note that the only fasteners used are the two wing nuts. All the other joints are held only by Titebond 3 which has held up for two seasons.)

What would I do differently in making this foot brace? 

a. Make the actual brace much taller. I find it more comfortable to have the ball of my foot supported by the brace in addition to the heel. In addition, I’d make the brace wider so that I could brace my feet better (wider) in rough conditions.  
b. Create a better way to secure the front end of the slotted beam. The wedge is just okay, but has a tendency to work loose. 
In the March 2016 issue of Small Boat Monthly, Ben Fuller wrote an article on foot braces, in which he shows 10 different designs of foot braces. With a total of 17 different designs, there should be a style that is suitable for your oar cruiser. 

Rowing ergonomics is the topic for the next blog… how to figure out the relationships among oar length, oar lock, seat, foot brace and oar handle overlap for your rowing.