Saturday, February 11, 2017

Gold Leaf Name Boards

Ripple came to me with her name on her transom, but refinishing the transom on an earlier haul-out left her nameless, and my best intentions to renew the proclamation of her identity were defeated by the press of... well... sloth.  In defense of my failure, I did not want to have to re-apply the name to the transom each time I varnished, especially as the overhanging transom made it difficult to read the name in any case.

Name boards are the answer. Mine have been waiting patiently in the queue of winter projects.  The recent loss of my workshop space near the marina finally triggered the project.  Moving my shop to a spare room in our condo meant that any spare moment was a putterable moment. I lost my table saw in the bargain (neighbors being what they are),  but what I gained was immeasurable: a clean, warm shop-space three steps from the kitchen.  Now, instead of a cold, drafty, impossible-to-clean work space, I have a small, compact shop with my workbench, all my tool-boards, and sufficient room to manage small projects. Warm. Clean. Inviting and pleasant to work in.

I had set aside some nice mahogany boards of about the right dimensions for the name boards, including some practice pieces with which to launch my letter-carving efforts.  YouTube accorded me my training materials.  I had purchased suitable carving tools for the job when I first had the idea, and I have carefully aged the edges ever since, to be sure they stayed sharp.

I selected a font for the letters I wanted to carve (750 pt type turned out to be about right for the 3 inch letters I wanted), and I traced the letters onto the boards with carbon paper. The letter R is sometimes used to hone one's letter-carving skills (though I found e more difficult).  It took only a few practice letters to bring me to the threshold of layout for the name boards, and while my carving is far from perfect, the results are pleasing.

Carving done, ready to start varnishing
Each of the two boards took about 8 hours to carve, stars included.  As any carver will tell you, the key to good work is wickedly sharp tools, tempered in patience.  Stropping and polishing wheels on a motorized arbor, immediately to hand, made the task of keeping the carving chisels perfectly tuned during the carving.

Varnishing the boards took another couple weeks - a coat a day, first thing in the morning, tented to protect it from dust so the workshop could be used for other things while the varnish dried.  Wet sanding the surfaces of the boards with 400 paper between coats was fast and easy.  I imagined the possibility of having to sand the contours of the incised letters as well, but it turned out to be unnecessary.  Coat by coat, these surfaces became more regular, especially within the tricky spots... the seraphs, in particular. I stopped after 8 or 10 coats, and left the varnish to cure while my attention turned to other projects.

My patience for allowing the varnish to cure was really just approach-avoidance for the gilding process.  Applying gold leaf to the incised letters had been the goal from the start, in part because I've had the gold leaf for the job for more than 40 years.  I bought a package (24 sheets, about 3.5" square) back in the 1970s, thinking... someday I'll find a project for that....).  But I've never used it, and the prospect was more than a little intimidating.  Once again, YouTube provided helpful guidance.

I used a calligraphy brush to paint the size in the incised letters, and then carefully removed excess on the surface with a soft cloth stretched over a small block of wood.
The process involves applying a glue (gold size) to the places you want the gold to stick and letting it set up for 12-18 hours until it is just tacky to the back of a knuckle. Gold leaf is impossibly thin, easily carried away on a gentle breath.  Applying it is best done with a gilding brush, wiped on one's hair to charge it with static electricity, which attracts the sheet of leaf and allows you to fly it onto the surface to be gilded.  The leaf is gently pressed into the incised letters with a soft make-up brush.

A lot of gold needs to be rubbed away with a soft cloth wetted with denatured alcohol.  It surprised me how tenaciously the gold clings to the varnished field... it takes considerable pressure to rub it off, but it is pretty easy to do without damaging the leaf in the letters.
In theory, the leaf sticks only where size has been applied to catch it.  I found that a clean varnished surface is almost as good as the size in grabbing the leaf, so I had to go back over the surface with a soft cloth wet with denatured alcohol to rub the gold off the un-lettered varnished surfaces. The result was entirely satisfactory.
Gilding Tools: The packet of gold leaf, small brushes to apply size, a gilder's 'tip' (a thin, but wide brush that is charged with static electricity and used to pick up a sheet of leaf), two sizes of make-up brush

You will not have read this far without wondering about the cost.  When I bought my book of gold leaf in the 1970s, it cost about $25 for the packet of 24 sheets.  Today, the cost is on the order of 10 times that, and I used about half the sheets on these name boards.  One could paint the letters, and there are faux-gold paints and leaf, but they all seem like a false economy. Go big, or stay home! Starting from scratch, without carving experience, you'll have a fifty or so hours in a pair of name boards, and the material costs will be the gold leaf, a couple board feet of mahogany, and a cup of varnish.  The Wow! factor of the final product is worth the expense.

I'll let the whole thing cure for a time, and put a couple finish coats of varnish over the boards for additional protection. I have decided to attach the name boards to the house sides.  I'll put threaded inserts in the backs of the boards, drill, fill, and re-drill holes in the house sides, and install the boards over nylon washers as a thin stand-off, making them easily removable for maintenance.

Ripple will have her name back, in gold as good as her provenance.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hakai Cruise

Prospective trip legs above Powell River
The heavy lifting is done -- painting, varnishing, upgrades to the galley, storage, a new wood-burning heating stove, a rain fly for the cockpit, bronze tiller pilot stanchion, anchor chain deck plate, and a hundred minor tweaks.

Ripple is a demanding mistress, greedy for every attention you might lavish upon her.  But the dividends are commensurately great, and the privilege of her company is endlessly rewarding.
These last few days before departure are a blissful alloy of satisfaction and anticipation.  I wish I had gotten the topsides repainted, I wish I were a better varnisher, but for all that, Ripple is a well-found vessel in excellent condition, and she is ready for the trip.

We will depart Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, bound for Port Townsend, Bedwell Harbour, Nanaimo, Jedediah Island, and a rendezvous with Terry Noreault in Powell River before pushing north towards the Hakai Preservation Area.

Checklists for Cruising

In preparation for this summer's cruise, I finally got my checklists together, printed, and laminated.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Drive-by (Video) Shooting

I was out on Lake Washington this past week, enjoying some unseasonably warm sunshine and Jason of cruised up and chatted me up about Ripple.  He had been shooting a video of a large yacht, asked if he could take some shots of Ripple. I was happy to agree.  The result is this video.  Jason got one detail wrong... my trip to Alaska was not alone, but rather with 5 crew, one at a time.

Thank you, Jason, for a very nice video hommage!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part III

The Firing

With the deck iron in place, it is time to work out the details of setting the stove in place and fitting the flue pipes.  The enclosure from the original kerosene heater is lined in asbestos and requires some modification to make it more effective. Basically, the floor of the enclosure needed to be raised and leveled, and the space below converted to a short term fuel storage spot.  A simple carpentry effort made short work of that.

I've re-used the asbestos sheets that lined the space.  Asbestos is very dangerous as dust, but as long as it is stable, it presents no health hazard.  Reusing it involved making a few cuts (dust), but also keeps the material out of the landfill,  so the tradeoff seems reasonable to me.

The alternative to asbestos is to create a heat shield which is comprised of sheet metal (typically copper or stainless steel) offset from combustible surfaces by an air barrier (1 inch is the standard recommendation).  In designing mine, I educed that air space to 1/2 inch as the enclosure is already lined with asbestos.

Before patterning the heat shield I worked out the flue design as I wanted the heat shield to track the configuration of the flue in an esthetically pleasing (and safe) configuration.

The flue is made up of 3 inch diameter stainless steel components readily available from the local chandlery.  I needed two standard lengths of flue pipe, two 45-degree elbows, a manual butterfly damper, connected so as to bring the flue gases from the stove to the deck iron in a dogleg fashion.

Cutting the flue pipe is simple with an angle grinder set up with a cutting wheel.  Flue pipe comes with a crimped end and a plain end, and you need one of each end type at every connection.  It was fairly strait-forward to get it all to fit together, and the elbows afford sufficient wiggle room to cheat a bit.

With the flue pipe assembly in place, I then used a piece of cardboard to make a pattern for a stainless steel heat shield that I had fabricated at a local sheet metal shop.  The single piece shield has a wrap-around configuration inside the enclosure, and then rises to the cabin top in a dog leg that echoes the flue so as to reflect heat from the flue pipe away from the combustible surfaces.

I also patterned a finish piece at the top to hide the place where the deck iron intrudes into the cabin, and to provide additional heat shielding.  Fitting, drilling, and fastening this finish piece took up a disproportionately large part of the installation time... and many trips to the hardware store and chandlery!

Stove and heat shield installed

There is an additional section of flue pipe that extends above deck and terminates in a flue cap to keep water out and attenuate wind gusts.  I arbitrarily used the remaining section of flue pipe for this (about 18 inches).  I may cut it down to something closer to 12 inches, which seems to be a consensus for such installations.

In theory, the longer the flue, the better it should draft, but other above-deck appurtenances will influence what is practical in any given installation.  Every installation will be customized to accommodate the specific requirements of a given situation.

I elected to install a manual butterfly damper to help regulate the burn rate of the stove.  A built in damper on the stove affords an additional control point.  It is very important to have the means to prevent a runaway stove... a stove burning too hot.  I will also have a container of sand in the event things really do start to get out of hand, and obviously a fire extinguisher close at hand is essential.

Anyone who would install any kind of stove in a vessel without CO monitoring and smoke detector is foolish and irresponsible.

One flue component I did not install is a barometric damper.  I may yet add one, however.  The idea is to minimize back draft from gusting winds that can force smoke back down the flue and into the cabin.  My initial test run was on a windy day (today), and I did experience some momentary back draft.

I burned the stove for perhaps two hours, and am very pleased with the result.  The flue quickly becomes too hot to touch, but the heat shield never got beyond warm even very close to the stove.  I am very pleased with how well it isolates the stove from nearby surfaces.

I'm not sure what my fuel of choice will be.  Today I burned wood scraps, but they burn quickly and with a fair amount of ash.  I will experiment with charcoal briquettes, small pieces of fireplace logs, perhaps wood pellets, and maybe even coal.  The firebox of the Pet is quite small -- not a fire that will last though the night, but it should be quite effective at keeping the boat dryer and more cheerful.

Time for a late-winter cruise!


One final note.  I'm no expert.  This is my first stove installation.  I have deviated from standard recommendations in several respects, and done so fully cognizant of the risks. No one should start a fire on a wooden boat... on any boat... without clear eyed consideration and management of every aspect of the hazard. 

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part II

Cutting a hole in a perfectly good house top is daunting business, but it has to be done.  Fitting a deck iron (which is bronze) is less daunting, but a lot of work.  The deck iron wants to be level and the house top is not, so it is necessary to make a donut that supports the deck iron and levels it.

Taking the angle is simple enough.  Cutting the angle in a 9 inch square block of hardwood 3 inches thick requires multiple angled cuts on the table saw, and finishing with a hand saw.  The only hardwood I had that was thick enough was a slab of walnut.  Walnut is suboptimal for nautical uses (it is not particularly rot resistant), but painted well and properly maintained, it will do the job nicely.

The interior of the donut need not be cut precisely -- it just need to accept the bronze deck iron without leaving excessive space around the walls of the casting.  I wasted the interior of the donut with a drill bit, and then chucked a drum sander in the drill press and ground out the sloped sides by eye until it fit.

Finishing the outside of the ring is a good deal more demanding, as one wants a pleasing and consistent slope to the sides that is stylistically harmonious with the design of other accessories on the boat.  I used stationary disc sander to achieve this (after a scary and abortive try with a heavy router bit on a router table).

After shaping and drilling holes for the bolts, a couple coats of Brightsides finished the donut prior to installation.

Cutting the hole was straightforward.  The new one is much larger than the pass-through for the kerosene stove, and I took care to locate it between the house top beams so fasteners would bolt through from the top of the deck iron, through the donut and the house top, spaced so as to allow good access for fixing the nuts on the bolts.

The house top is curved gently, so it is necessary to profile the mating surface of the donut so that it fits well.  I was scratching my head as to how to do this, but my brother, a font of wisdom in such things, gave me the trick: fix a sheet of sticky-backed sandpaper to the housetop and use that to sand the mating profile.  Voila!

I used Dolphinite to bed the donut to the house top and the deck iron to the donut, and set it all in place with 4 4 inch 10-24 bolts.  I spun on the nuts from the inside, but didn't tighten it all up (one of the virtues of Dolphinite is curing time that gives you days to finish the job).

Installing a Wood Burning Stove: Part I

Many of my 88 days on the Inside Passage found me layered up in wool and foulies, but with one exception, being cold just wasn't a problem. What was a problem was keeping the cabin dry. Humans respire about a quart of water while sleeping, and Ripple has rudimentary rain protection in the cockpit, so inevitably a good deal of water comes into the cockpit via wet gear and crew.

Testimony regarding the virtues of wood burning stoves in boats is widespread, and the appeal of a cozy fire on a blustery day is self evident. Finding a suitable unit for Ripple rose to the top of my upgrade program. It is a complicated proposition.

Having  made the decision to go with a wood-burner, one still has a potentially vast array of options. My own were severely constrained by space availability. The Force 10 kerosene burner was designed into the boat, leaving the choice of reworking cabinet work or finding a stove to fit within the 12" by 13" by 16" space.

The stove I most coveted is the Sardine by Navigator Stove Works, an Orcas Island business with an avid following.  But the Sardine is both slightly larger than I could accommodate, and more costly than my budget would support. It is beautiful, though, an exquisite rendition of a classic design and wood-burning technology that reputedly qualifies it for energy efficiency tax rebates!

Another stove that I considered is the CubicMini, with a form factor about the same as the Sardine, but available at a fraction of the cost.  This is probably the stove I would have bought had I had the space... a door with a window in it is very appealing. The stove is made in Canada, and is a great value. Once again, I would have had to modify cabinetwork, and I didn't want to do so.

Dickinson offers a solid fuel stainless steel stove that would have fit, and I think it would have served the purpose, but is low on charm, reportedly has a poorly functioning damper, and is more than twice the cost of the Fatsco Pet.

The stove that I decided on is the Fatsco Pet, which is the smallest stove of the bunch, and comes with a heritage that extends back more than a century.  They were originally designed for the milk truck trade, to keep the drivers of these horse-drawn trucks warm on cold midwestern mornings.  It is also the least expensive, at $230 USD ($300 with the ash scoop and shipping).

The Pet is 9" tall and 6" in diameter.  At some point in its history it was reengineered from all-cast iron to cast iron and stainless steel, but its face retains its original old-timey look.  It uses 3" flue-pipe, rather than the 4" that the Sardine uses... an important space issue in my tiny cabin.

The low cost of the stove is welcome, of course, but you're not close to being done after that expenditure.

Stove, shipping, stainless steel ash shovel                      $ 300
Bronze deck iron                                                             $ 215
Stainless steel flue pipe, flue cap, butterfly damper       $ 250
Custom stainless steel heat shield                                   $ 250

A fire on board is high on every mariner's list of worst-case-scenarios, so starting one intentionally demands close attention to safety, and that starts with the installation.  If you're installing your own stove, some standard safety guidelines will help you get started. It is difficult in constrained spaces to achieve the recommended standoff distances to combustible surfaces, so one must improvise in a manner that will ensure safety.  In my case, this included a stainless-steel heat shield that extends from the base of the stove to the top of the flue. I think will give me the necessary protection,  will confirm my design decisions with surface temperature measurements when I do operational tests.