April 2013


Sometimes when I am working on those wooden canoes I find myself questioning my sanity. For example, I noticed that Connor and I had used way more epoxy than we should have last week when we glassed the exterior hull of Miss Nancy. We went through about three quarts when we should have been able to do it with two. But he learned how to do it, so I think it was worth it.

Unfortunately, it does not leave me with enough to do the interior hull, so today I bought another gallon. That quantity of resin and hardener costs about $140. Or I could get a quarter as much for half that amount, but that’s crazy. I know I will be able to find a use for any that’s left over.

On the way home from getting the epoxy, I started adding up what I’ve spent on these three canoes. After the initial purchase price, I think I’ve added another $400-$500 in materials. Ouch. So I was discouraged, wondering if it was worth all that time, effort, and money.

Then today, I saw this:
http://canoeguybc.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/chestnut-canoes-for-sale-adopt-a-wood-canvas-canoe/
I’ve been following this blog for about six months, and have enjoyed every post. Today he listed prices for restored wood-canvas canoes. Now I do not imagine that I am as good a craftsman as Mike Elliot, and a cedar strip canoe is probably worth inherently less than a wood-canvas canoe. But I would hope that the canoes I am restoring will be worth at least half what he’s asking (the discount being mainly for my comparative dearth of skill and experience).

So yeah. It’s worth it.

Today I am gluing up the gunwales for miss Nancy. Tomorrow I will glass the interior, and in between coats I hope to scupper the inwales. We’ll see how it goes. Miss Nancy will almost certainly be finished before the end of May.

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On Wednesday I had Connor, one of my older Pathfinders come to the house and help me fiberglass Miss Nancy, the canoe I’ve been working on since last autumn.

Before we added glass, I wanted to put her name on her. I borrowed a Cricut, which is essentially a programmable paper cutter, and used that to cut out her name from a sheet of white vinyl shelf liner. I hand cut the flame logo (since our club is called the Central New Hampshire Flames).

I stuck it on, and then we laid the fiberglass over it. That label is not coming off, unless someone goes through the enormous amount of labor required to strip off the fiberglass like I did, but I don’t see that happening.

Miss Nancy gets a label

Miss Nancy gets a label

We draped the glass cloth over the boat and then began applying the epoxy. Connor got good at this fast. I wanted him to know how to do this so that I’m not the only one connected with the club who has that skill.

Connor helping me add a layer of glass

Connor helping me add a layer of glass

Early on we ran into a bit of trouble. The resin pumps are supposed to meter out the exact amount of epoxy – an equal number of squirts from the resin, and from the hardener gives the correct ratio. With this stuff, if you get the ratio wrong, it just doesn’t cure. Ever. SO it’s critical that it be correct.

When the pump started misbehaving, I knew what was wrong, because I feared it would happen. I had poured resin from my nearly empty can into the new can (that stuff is expensive – about $60-70 per gallon), and when I did it, I noticed hard lumps in the old resin. Groan. Those lumps were getting into the pump and messing it up. I figured we should pour it all back into the old can, and then strain it into the new can through a piece of cheesecloth. Only it was taking forever. That’s when Connor said “It’s too bad we can just attach the cheesecloth to the pump’s intake.”

That kid is a genius. I went down to the basement and grabbed some zip ties. In short order we had fastened the cheesecloth to the pump’s intake, and voila. Problem solved. The pump behaved perfectly from there on out.

It took us pretty much all day to get two layers of epoxy on the glass. I picked him up at nine, we stopped to get some latex gloves, and started mixing epoxy at about 10:30 or eleven. We had to let the first layer cure for three hours before adding the second coat. After each coat has been on the boat for 20-30 minutes, you have to use a squeegee to squeege it off again. We finished squeeging the second coat at about 7:30pm. I took him home, and then at 10:00pm, I went out and added the third coat. Each coat takes less time than the previous one, so I was done with that one at about 11:00.

In the morning, the boat looked great, and I could tell that it was orders of magnitude stronger. It was at this point that I knew Miss Nancy had been saved. The rest of the work is important too, but this was critical.

I turned my attention to the next task, which was to smooth the interior of the hull. Here’s my weapon of choice:

My violin plane

My violin plane


This is a violin plane. I made it myself about 10 years ago when I decided I wanted to build a violin. I never got around to building the violin, but this plane is nothing short of fantastic for smoothing the inside of a canoe. Its sole is curved in two directions – side-to-side, and front-to-back. A flat-soled plane is worthless for this job, but this plane made short work of it. I still have lots of sanding to do, but not nearly as much since I hit it with this plane.

Here are two shots so you can compare Miss Nancy’s progress:

Miss Nancy: Before

Miss Nancy: Before

Miss Nancy: After

Miss Nancy: After

What a difference! The next step was to remove the top two planks. She’s going to have a little less freeboard than before, but those planks were pretty well rotted out, and I don’t have a mold for this boat, so replacing them was not going to be easy. I decided to just make her a little shorter. I cut them off with a coping saw and then planed them smooth.

Looking Good!

Looking Good!

Hopefully I can have the interior ready to glass sometime this week. We’ll see.

Last weekend the Pathfinder Club had the first campout of the spring. The Milano family had invited us to camp at their place, and I thought that was a grand idea. They have a small stream running through their property, and Warran (one of the staff) wanted to teach the Gold Prospecting honor. He wanted us to camp near a stream, and the Milanos had one. Done deal.

There were two problems with that plan, but we overcame them both. The first was that we could not get the trailer closer than about 300 yards from our camp site. The second was that those 300 yards were very wet. And by that, I mean that it was basically a swamp. I arrived early Friday with Beth and Ana, and we set about the task of building a small bridge over the first major puddle. Then we started hauling stuff to the site in a wheelbarrow.

A couple hours later, the Stokes clan arrived, and they helped haul stuff too. Everyone else arrived in waves. We got everything out there and set up before it got dark, but it was an awful lot of work making that happen. I can tell you that I was one tired dude.

Which made for good sleeping. I don’t usually sleep much when camping, but when I get tired enough, lying on the ground doesn’t get in the way of sleeping. Much.

We got up around 6:30, and made breakfast. After washing up, we began our church service. The kids led the song service and told a Bible story. Then I taught a short lesson using False Hellebore and a Dandelion. Then Jean Cadet, a guardian of one of my Pathfinders arrived, and he preached a short sermon.

Jean Cadet led our worship service

Jean Cadet led our worship service

After that, we began working on our supper. The plan was to build a lovo – a pit in the ground which we loaded with food (mostly root vegetables) and hot rocks. The food was wrapped in banana leaves.

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

Veggies wrapped in banana leaves in our lovo

And then we buried it.

Burying the lovo

Burying the lovo

We actually lined the bottom of the hole with quart-sized rocks, built a fire on top of them, and added more rocks to the fire. Two of the girls lit the fire using a magnesium fire starter (simlar to a flint and steel). They were pretty stoked when that fire got going. The pit had been dug and the fire had been started right after breakfast. We added the food after our church service.

Once the food was buried and the fire was out, we drove out to Mount Kearsarge. One of the older Pathfinders had never been to the top of a mountain before, so I thought we could not finish the year without hiking to the top of one. That was a problem we could fix.

The gate to the park was closed, so we had to hike almost a mile up to the regular parking lot. It was steep too. We took several rest breaks, and then hit the trail to attack the summit.

Up Mount Kearsarge

Up Mount Kearsarge

Climbing mountains can wear you out!

Rest Area

Rest Area

Along the trail we saw this rock. I suppose it marks the halfway point from the parking lot to the summit. Of course we had started out hike well before the parking lot, so that meant we were more than halfway when we reached this point.

Halfway mark

Halfway mark

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

Ana takes in one of the views well below the summit.

At one point, the snow and ice was pretty thick on the trail. It was slippery in places too!

Snow and ice on the trail

Snow and ice on the trail

Here we are at the summit. Or very close to the summit. It’s kind of flattish up there making it hard to tell.

Group shot!

Group shot!

We decided the summit must be by this cairn.

We conquer!

We conquer!

It took about three hours to get to the top, and only one hour to get back down. Nobody stopped to rest on the way down. One kid twisted his ankle though, so it was slow going. I was going to carry him out, but he is one stout kid, and my legs simply refused to lift him. So he had to hobble down on his own. I stayed with him though.

Root plus tent.

Root plus tent.

The kids were way too tired to do anything too physical when we got back to camp. We unburied the food, ate supper, and made S’mores. Then the kids went to bed without complaint. They let me sleep until 7:00. I started waking them up around 7:30.

We ate breakfast, washed the dishes, and knocked out our Camping Skills honors. At 10:00am Warran showed up to teach Prospecting.

Warran teaches Prospecting

Warran teaches Prospecting

He took a look at the stream and decided that there was almost no way there would be any gold in it. There was no sand at all in the bed, and the stream did not originate in the mountains. If he had told me that ahead of time, I could have chosen a different stream, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. He had a backup plan though. He brought some pay dirt (which he had spike with some bits of silver and a little bit of gold). He dumped it into a kiddie pool and added water from the stream. Then showed the kids how to pan.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold


They were pretty stoked to find silver, even though they knew it had been added artificially. He explained that this pay dirt was way richer than what you would find in nature. Still, it’s good to find what you’re looking for so that if you ever do need to find it, you know what it’s like.

With that wrapped up, we struck camp. This time there were plenty of kids there to help haul it all back through the swamp to the trailer so it went a lot faster.

I thought I’d write a little bit about the best and worst aspects of spring in New Hampshire. I’ll start with the worst.

You! Shall not! Pass!

A sign of Mud Season


A synonym for spring here is “mud season.” This is really only a problem on unpaved roads, but since I live on one of those, it’s a reality I have to deal with if I want to go anywhere. Some places are worse than others, so during mud season, I do alter my normal route to maximize the pavement. Even if it minimizes the scenery.

The other unpleasant aspect of spring is this:

This is why NH and ME are not overrun with people like MA.

Black Fly, defender of the North Woods


They are not swarming yet, but I saw several dozen of these nasty boogers in my woods today. Pretty soon several dozen will become millions. Between the black flies and the mud, I’d just as soon that winter give spring a miss and go straight to summer.

But as I said, it’s not all bad. I went for a couple of short hikes today. On the way home from dropping Beth off at school, I stopped at the Quentin Forest. I saw several of these aerial roots suspended in midair.

Aerial roots?

Aerial roots?


I’ve never seen these before. I’m not 100% positive, but I think these are highbush blueberry. My first thought was that it was hobblebush, since that plant has the habit of growing new roots on branch tips (like this), lower the new roots to the ground, and then they take hold. This creates branches that are rooted at both ends forming a loop. Horse would sometimes trip on these, from whence the “hobblebush” name comes.

But hobblebush belongs to the viburnums, and viburnums have opposite branches. These were all alternate. Everything else about the plant said highbush blueberry. I really ought to look it up to see if they do this.

Update! This is apparently a manifestation of Witches’ broom (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum), a fungus that does indeed infect blueberries. The cure is to remove all the fir trees within 500 feet and kill the blueberries with an herbicide. Infected plants will not produce fruit, so I suppose that might be warranted in a cultivated blueberry patch.

On the way out of the forest, I spotted a pile:

Moose scat

Moose scat


My best guess is that this was left by a moose. It’s the right size and shape, and it was near a boggy area. Perfect moose habitat.

When I got home I took a lap around my own woods. The trailing arbutus is working on its flowers, but they’re not ready for delivery just yet.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Then I decided to take Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I haven’t been there for a couple of weeks, and as soon as I spoke the word “Sandogardy” Penny’s ears perked up and she was doing her little “Take me! Take me!” dance.

They were grading our road. The mud will be tolerable. Right in front of the dump truck, I found a small stand of coltsfoot.

Cure (cough) for a cough (cough)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

When I got to the pond, I found that the patch of garlic mustard I “wiped out” last month came back.

Enjoy the halitosis!

Garlic Mustard


I was not surprised. I picked a bunch and ate one leaf. I left the ones I harvested on the ground. A little garlic mustard goes a long way.

I wandered along the creek looking for wet-loving plants. I knew that false hellebore and jack-in-the-pulpit grows here, but I was hoping to find some skunk cabbage. I didn’t find any skunk cabbage, and I didn’t find any jack-in-the-pulpit, but I did find some false hellebore coming in:

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)


This stuff looks so luscious. Every time I see it, I just want to pop huge swaths of it into my mouth. But that would be a huge mistake. This stuff is incredibly poisonous. Luckily, the problem would pretty much take care of itself, as the result of eating it is an uncontrollable urge to purge. Success in controlling this urge will result in death. Native Americans would sometimes use this knowledge in selecting a new chief. Everyone who wanted the position would be required to eat some. Last one to barf is the new chief. Unless he died before assuming the new role. And some people think the Electoral College is a bad method of leader selection.

On the way back to the house I saw a patch of partridge berry (Mitchella repens). This one had an odd berry:

An odd partridge berry

An odd partridge berry

Partridge berries produce two flowers which are joined at the base. The two flowers form a single berry, and a normal one has two “eyes” on it which are remnants of the dual-flower:

"Normal" partridge berry

“Normal” partridge berry


I’ve never seen one that didn’t quite fuse properly. These berries were on the vine all through the winter. Wintergreen is another plant that will hold its fruit beneath the snow all winter and still be palatable in the spring. I did eat a few partridge berries. I really like them as the have a subtle flavor. I think I could eat a quart of them.

So as you can see, the good really does overpower the bad in a New Hampshire Spring. I should really not complain.

But sometimes complaining is fun.

Winter has returned to New Hampshire.

Back yard

Back yard

We got about a half inch of snow today. When I got up there was ice all over the windshield of my car. This surprised me, but I guess it should not have.

Front Yard

Front Yard


Some people are probably pretty upset about winter’s last gasp, but I find it a welcome return. Maybe it will be enough to tide me over until next winter (or if I’m lucky, autumn).

Throw it already!

Penny gets ready to catch a stick


Penny didn’t seem to care. All else becomes unimportant when there are sticks to be caught.

Spring will be back again, and soon I’m sure. We had chipmunks in the yard last week. This one was at the foot of the deck stairs.

Chipmunk

Chipmunk


I opened the sliding glass door and he turned around, but he didn’t run off. Luckily, Penny didn’t see him as I took several shots.

Another thing I did last week was visit a virtual geocache in Franklin called “Abnaki Mortar” (sic – should be “Abenaki”) From the name, I couldn’t figure out what it was, but once I got there it was plainly obvious, and I felt silly for not knowing what to expect.

Abenaki Mortar

Abenaki Mortar


This is a mortar where the Abenaki Indians ground corn. European settlers used it too. I imagine they would have scooped the water out and tried to dry it a bit first. I was pretty pleased when I got here and saw what it was. I really like Native American history, especially here on the East Coast where almost none was recorded before they were driven out.

Meanwhile, I have been making slow but steady progress on the canoe. In spite of today’s snowstorm, we had a spot of nice weather last week. It was warm enough to consider epoxy work, so I considered it. And did it. I fit the instem into “Miss Nancy.”

New instem

New instem


That’s a tough proposition, as the stem is kind of the foundation of the boat. The brief period during which it was stemless, it was also exceedingly fragile. Once I got this new stem in place, it regained its strength plus some extra strength for good measure. Once the epoxy set on the instem, I attacked the outstem too:

Outstem attached

Outstem attached


Instead of clamping the outstem in place, I screwed it into the instem with steel screws. Those came out once the glue set, and will be replaced with brass screws. I generally don’t drive brass screws into wood until I’ve used a steel screw to cut the threads in the wood. Otherwise, the brass screws will twist in two, or strip out. As it was, the steel screws themselves all snapped in half when I went to remove them. I haven’t decided how to deal with that yet. Now that the epoxy is set, the screws are more decorative than anything else. I think if I tried to remove the steel screw nubbins, all I would do is mangle the ash. I might just use some shortened brass screws to plug the holes and make it look good.

Since this was done, I also shaped the outstem so that it flows into the hull with sweeping curves. It looks pretty good now. I also mixed up some epoxy and wood flour and slathered it into the cracks between the planks. I still need to hit it with another layer of that mixture and sand it down, but once that’s done, it’ll be ready to take a new layer of glass. Then the strength will increase by another order of magnitude. Once that’s done, I can smooth the inside of the hull, slather on more epoxy/wood flour, and sand that, and then it will be ready for glass as well.

This is going to be a nice boat.