DIY


Last weekend I took the Pathfinder Club on our annual spring camping trip. We camp four times per year, twice in the fall, and twice in the spring. Twice with just our club, and twice with the conference (camporees). Yes, four twices makes four, and I’m sure you can figure that out.

We had several goals for this camping trip. The first was to prepare for the competition at the upcoming conference camporee. We’ve been working on this during the last couple of meetings, but there were some parts that just had to be done on a camping trip.

For this competition, the kids are divided into teams. We will be fielding two teams. They are each given a series of compass headings, and if they follow them correctly, they will find their victim. The first order of business is to render first aid to said victim, who has suffered a simulated head wound, burned hand, and sprained ankle. Unlikely as that is, it could still happen.

While part of the team is doing that, another part of the team must build a fire and brew some pine needle tea (which is not bad!) They also need to build a shelter using a 6’x8′ tarp and not more than 25′ of rope.

Then they take down the shelter and use the tarp to build a make-shift stretcher, on which they carry the victim out.
They are judged by how well they do each task, not on how fast they do each task.

So we learned the first aid, navigation, and shelter building during the past three meetings. I saved the tea-making and stretcher-building for the campout.

I had seen plans for a DIY backpacking stove online and thought it would be perfect for the tea-making part. I asked the conference if it would be OK, and they said it would be, provided I sent an email out to everyone with a link to the plans (so it would be even). Here the link if anyone cares.

One of my friends works at a place where they build stuff out of sheet metal, and since I wanted a couple of these, I thought I’d build one, and ask him if he wanted to build one too. He passed the request to a co-worker who punched the plans into one of their laser cutters. Bingo, out came a dozen stoves. 🙂

We tried it out over the weekend, and it worked remarkably well:

Stove in action

Stove in action

The advantage it affords over a DIY alcohol stove is that you don’t have to carry fuel – it burns pencil-sized sticks, and those are lying around all over the place. The disadvantage is that wood fires make a lot of soot which blackens the cookware. So we’ll need some bags for these.

A second goal was that we invited Peter Wannemacher from the Limington Lanterns (a Pathfinder Club in Maine) to join us for the weekend and teach us the Sign Language honor. He is an excellent teacher, and we learned a lot of ASL. I almost think I could communicate with a deaf person. The kids really enjoyed having him, and they learned an awful lot as well. Some of them already knew quite a bit which surprised me.

The third goal was for us to finish the Wilderness Living honor we started last fall. For that we needed to collect drinking water using two methods. In the past we have collected rain water from a tarp, and we have filtered water from a stream. But I like to mix things up a bit and try new things. Since I was a child I have known about the solar still technique, but had never tried it, so we gave that a go.

To make one, you dig a hole, place a cup in the center, and add a bunch of wet material around the cup. Then cover with transparent plastic, weight the edges of the plastic with rocks, and place one rock in the center of the plastic sheet right over the cup. The sun evaporates the water which condenses on the underside of the plastic, runs down the the weighted center, and drips off into the cup. I bought a nice, large piece of crystal-clear plastic for $4.00. We got about a fifth of an ounce of water. Yeah. $20.00 per ounce is a little pricey!

Maybe if it had been hotter outside it would have worked better. Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of it.

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Today I worked on attaching the newly-scuppered inwales to Miss Nancy. The first step is to dry clamp them to the hull up at the sheer line. Once an inwale was clamped on, I was able to mark it for cutting. Truth be told, I cut them a little short, but I used some pieces of filler wood to get them to reach all the way to the stem.

Marking the inwale so it can be cut to length.

Marking the inwale so it can be cut to length.


As you can see, it looks like I marked it in the right place, and I definitely cut it on the mark. The problem was that I had not clamped it sufficiently so the inwale was bowing inwards a bit. Enough to make this mark be off by a quarter inch. That’s a LOT in the woodworking world, but I will recover.

Once I had the inwale cut to length, I mixed up some epoxy, painted it on, and then started clamping it into position. The initial clamp placement is just to hold it in place while I drill some pilot holes for the screws. Sometimes a clamp was in the way of drilling the hole, so I would have to move it. With all the holes drilled, I ran a steel screw into each hole and then backed it out again. The purpose of this little exercise is so that the brass screws don’t have to cut the threads in the wood. Doing so is very difficult with brass and often results in either mangling the divot in the top of the screw (where the bit grabs it) or twisting the screw in half.

With all the threads cut, I then made a second pass and set the brass screws in place. I put a screw between every other scupper, and I offset them from the center. The offset is because when I mount the seats and thwarts, I will want to drill a mounting hole there. I skipped every other scupper, because the outwales will attach there. When I get to that point.

Port side inwale clamped, glued, and screwed into place.

Port side inwale clamped, glued, and screwed into place.

I had other things to do today, so once I got the port inwale glued and screwed into position, I let the glue set for a while. Also, I used every C clamp I could find (which is probably not all of the C clamps I own). I returned about six hours later and gave the starboard side the same treatment.

Ditto for the starboard inwale

Ditto for the starboard inwale

With both inwales in place, I turned my attention to the bow deck. I should have mounted the stern deck first, because it does not have the inlay in it, so if I messed it up, it would not be a tragedy. It would be easy enough to make a new one. Luckily, all went well with the bow deck, so my impatience didn’t bite me. This time.

Bow deck

Bow deck


Fitting a deck is not an easy thing to do. The inwales’ inner surfaces do not go straight down, so a square cut along the edge (relative to the top of the deck) will not do. I measured the angle with a bevel gauge, and transferred the measurement to the edges of the deck.

The deck was quite a bit wider than it needed to be, so I had to trim it to the correct width. It’s really a little too wide, but I figured I could wedge it into place and spread the hull a little bit. Making it narrower would have meant the edges would have come all the way to the inlay – maybe even into the inlay, and after all the effort i put into doing that, there was no way I was going to let that happen. So I wedged it into place.

With the deck rough cut to the correct width, I placed it on a sanding belt and sanded the edges down to the correct (ish) angle. I didn’t get it exactly right, but I did come awfully close. Then I mixed up some more epoxy, painted the edges of the deck, mounted it in place, and ran some screws into it from the hull, through the inwale, and into the deck. The mess on top of the deck is where I mixed wood flour with the leftover epoxy to fill the gaps. They weren’t very wide, and now that they are filled, no one will notice.

I did not get around to fitting the stern deck. I will probably cut it to the width the boat wants it to be since it has no inlay. Or I may make it a little wider so that it kinda, sorta matches the bow.

Updates as progress warrants!

Canoe seat/yoke

Maple & Cane


Last night I finished the new canoe seat/yoke for Miss Sally, the 19′ cedar strip canoe I am restoring for the Pathfinder Club. She had a thwart when I got her, but it was a rough, unplaned, pine plank with a yoke notch apparently chopped into it with a hatchet.

I was just going to make a plain yoke, but decided a seat/yoke combination would be a better option. This canoe is 19′ long after all, so having a seat in the middle is a definite bonus.

The frame is made of maple, and the side bars are set into the cross bars with hand-cut mortise and tenon joints. I didn’t make the mortices very deep because I didn’t think it was necessary and I was afraid it would weaken the cross bars. When someone sits on the seat, it’s going to pull those joints together rather than push them apart.

I went with a cane seat because all of the other seats are cane. I had never made one before, but it’s not that hard to do (the Internet knows how to do almost everything). Caning the seat took me three days of fairly dedicated effort, and the tips of my index fingers and thumbs are pretty sore for the effort. But I think it was worth it.

The cross bars are currently four feet long which is wider than the canoe. I will cut them to size when I am ready to install the seat. I can’t do that until I make some new gunwales though.

When I do mount it, I am going to put the yoke toward the stern. Normally, I mount a yoke on a canoe so that when I am carrying it, it goes bow first. However, if I did that, then the person sitting on the seat would have that uneven yoke edge poking into his thighs. This will be far more comfortable for any bow-facing passenger.

Even though it just seems wrong to carry a canoe stern first!

A couple of years ago I found myself thinking about Sting, the sword Bilbo Baggins acquired in the Hobbit and bequeathed to his nephew Frodo. As anyone who had watched the movies (or read the books) knows, the important feature of this sword was that it would glow blue when orcs were around. Some say it worked by Elvish Magic. Arthur C Clark said,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

From this we can conclude that it was not Elvish Magic, but rather, Elvish Technology. In this day and age, we should be able to figure out just exactly how that would have worked. Orcs must have all carried cell phones, and Sting was able to detect their signals. Ever since I came to this conclusion, I have wanted to build a cell phone detecting Sting. This week I got a little closer to that goal.

With the release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit on film, a plethora of movie-related products were foisted upon the marketplace, including a plastic replica of sting which would glow blue when you pressed a button. Pretty useless for detecting orcs, but the basics were there. I looked into buying a cell phone detector, but that did three things: a) it showed me that such devices do indeed exist on the consumer market; b) such devices are not very cheap; and c) if you search for one of them on Amazon, Amazon will think you are interested in looking for ghosts. Apparently either ghosts emit some sort of electrical field similar to a cell phone’s beacon, or ghosts carry cell phones. Or there are a lot of crackpots out there. I deleted the cell phone detector from my search history and turned to plan B.

Orcs like their Internets wireless.

Wifi detectors are a lot cheaper than cell phone detectors. I found a wifi-detecting keychain for something like $5.00. That’s more in my price range. I bought one, as well as a Sting replica.

Elvish Technology

Sting and a wifi-detecting keychain.

The next step was to take them apart without destroying them. The keychain was easy. It just snapped apart. It is a well-built piece of gear too. It was impressive, especially considering how little it cost.

Orc detector innards

Orc detector innards

Sting was a more difficult nut to crack. It took me almost an hour of prying and peering into it to discover that I had to drill out part of the handle that covered the screws. I took this photo before drilling out the last screw cover.

Chinese Technology

Un-drilled screw hole is on the right side of the hilt next to the drill.

Once I got that apart, I was able to probe the switch in the handle and determine that the grey and green wires are connected when the button is pressed. I also figured out which two leads of the switch in the wifi detector connect when its button is pressed. All I had to do was connect Sting’s switch in parallel with the orc-detector’s switch.

I also was delighted to learn that both devices operated on 3 volts. Sting used a pair of AA batteries in series (3V), and the orc-detector used a pair of button cells in parallel (also 3V). All I had to do was connect Sting’s battery leads to the orc detector.

The only electronic part of this project that was left was to connect the two LEDs in Sting’s blade to the LEDs on the orc detector. There was a small snag there. Sting’s two LEDs had a common cathode, while the orc detector LED’s all had common anodes. The easy solution was to remove the LEDs and install them backwards. Then I connected them to the orc-detector.

I also used some hot melt glue to affix the orc detector into the sword handle, and another spot of hot melt to hold the wires in place and prevent them from stressing the solder joints.

Wired up and ready to detect wifi-bearing orcs.

Wired up and ready to detect wifi-bearing orcs.

Then I snapped the handle back together, and noted with some dismay that doing so caused the sword to continually detect wifi-bearing orcs. I took it apart and found a little plastic nubbin in the sword handle that was pressing the wifi-detector’s built-in button. I shaved that nubbin into oblivion, snapped the whole thing back together, and voila!

Wifi-connected orcs must be near!

Wifi-connected orcs must be near!

Let’s hunt some orc.

We finally got some snow today, and by that I mean more than an inch. Last winter was a complete dud (other than October 31, 2011), so I’m hoping this winter makes up for it. It started snowing around 10:00pm last night, and it’s not supposed to stop until tonight around 2:00am. We’re supposed to get 12-18 inches, but the last time I looked, we only had four or so. My guess is that 12-18 inches will really be about 6.

Beth had left her boots and snow pants at school, but she found that David’s boots and old snow pants fit her pretty well. So she put them on and out she went. Penny joined her.

Penny waiting to intercept some snow

Penny waiting to intercept some snow


Penny thinks her duty is to intercept any thrown snow before it hits the ground. Beth wasn’t throwing any, but Penny was prepared. She is ready to leap into action if duty calls!

David and I have come up with a motto for Penny:

Nonnumquam ergo semper!

It means “Sometimes, therefore always!” In other words, sometimes when master gets up from the couch in the family room, he goes to the living room and (gasp!) turns on the TV! Therefore, I will always be ready to freak out when the TV comes on!

Sometimes when master puts on his shoes, he goes outside! Therefore, I will always be prepared in case he lets me go out too! Incidentally, she can hear me slipping my feet into my shoes from the other room, and she will come running every single time. I am not able to do it quietly enough to slip out without her noticing.

In the case of Beth in the snow today, sometimes when she plays in the snow, she throws some of it! Therefore, I will always be prepared in case that’s what she does! Nonnumquam ergo semper! Heaven help us if I go out with a snow shovel.

While Beth was out playing, I worked on that canoe a little more. I fashioned a new in-stem from a piece of ash I ripped from a long plank. Then I tapered it. Before I glue it in place with epoxy, I decided to bend it to the proper shape so it will sit snugly against the existing out-stem. Normally, I would steam a piece of wood before bending it by putting it in a PVC pipe and running steam from a kettle into it. But I don’t know where my kettle is, and this was a small enough chunk of wood that I was able to slip it into the microwave over a dish of water. So that’s what I did, for six minutes.

But first, I had a bit of lucky happenstance. OB (original builder) used what looks like a walnut plank to add a stripe to the hull (as did I when I built mine). Unfortunately, it was about 2 inches shy of being long enough, so he added a chunk of cedar to the end to fill it out. Except that the cedar wasn’t as wide as the walnut, so he used two pieces of cedar, only one of them didn’t line up right. Instead, it poked itself deeper into the hull, so on the inside of the boat it sticks out and would prevent fiberglass from touching the surrounding planks, and on the outside, it is recessed such that no fiberglass will touch it when it’s applied. I had decided to redo that 2 inch plank, and the first step in that is to remove the botched one. I applied heat to soften the glue and was able to push them out, leaving a handy gap in the hull:

Bending the new instem

Bending the new instem

Handy, because that let me clamp my steaming-hot in-stem to the existing out-stem, thus bending it to the proper curve. Tomorrow I will make another one for the other side, and just hope that the two stems are shaped similarly enough to work out OK. The other side doesn’t have a convenient portal for a C-clamp. That should get it close enough such that a screw through the out-stem into the in-stem should hold it on while the glue sets.

So… that’s not a lot of progress for the canoe, but I’m not in a big hurry. Maybe I should be though, as I’ll want to park my car in that spot in a couple of weeks.

For the past three or four days I’ve been stripping the fiberglass off a cedar strip canoe. This is one of the three I bought back in August for the Pathfinder club, and it is most definitely the worst of the three. It would be generous to say that it was inexpertly fiberglassed when it was built. Whoever did it did not get the glass to lay flat on the hull, so there are wrinkles and waves about every foot or so. Not only does that not look good, but it allowed algae and spiders to set up camp between the fiberglass and the hull.

Algae growing beneath the gunwales.

Algae growing beneath the gunwales.

I read on Canoe Guy’s Blog that you can remove fiberglass from a wood/canvas canoe using a heat gun. I have a heat gun, so I whipped it out and gave it a shot. It worked marvelously! I had been dreading this step thinking I was doomed to several hours of tedious sanding.

Today I finished removing the glass from the inside of the hull. It is looking so much better now. The original builder (let’s call him OB) “corrected” his wrinkled glass errors by pouring some kind of gunk on it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a light yellow color and has something like a latex feel to it. Or wood filler. Or carpenter’s glue. I just don’t know what it is, but it was sure ugly, and I don’t think it was very effective either (didn’t keep the spiders out). I removed a bunch of that too. I think OB must have used some bondo on the hull to instead of fairing it properly with a plane, or using epoxy+wood flour as filler. I’ve been chipping that crap off the hull too.

He also didn’t take the planks all the way to the stem.

Planking is shy of the stem

Planking is shy of the stem


He should have made the planking overlap the stem so that the planking had something to attach to. Instead, he glommed on more of that latex/whatever stuff and a quart or two of epoxy. The stem is a mess, but it’s salvageable. Normally a canoe will have an in-stem and an out-stem. All he has here is an out-stem. I will make an in-stem and epoxy that to the inside of the out-stem as well as to the planking. I think that will do the trick. I believe I should do that before I strip all the crud off the canoe’s nose, or the planks will just spring apart. They are threatening to do that up at the top where I have already removed a lot of the junk.

I also got a start on removing the glass from the outside of the hull.

Pulling back the glass

Pulling back the glass


I think I will wait on finishing that until I have made and fitted the new in-stem.

I didn’t take a photo of the inside of the hull like I should have. It looks so much better now that the glass is off. I will still need to sand it though, and then smooth it with a hand plane and a sander. But it will look so much better once it’s glassed properly. This – the worst of the three canoes – will probably end up looking the best, because I am taking it down to the wood. I can’t afford to do that to the other two, as it will take a full gallon of epoxy (which runs about $90) plus about 12 yards of 60″ wide fiberglass (which I haven’t priced yet, but it’s not cheap either).

Glassing should be done at about room temperature, so I can’t do that until I get some space cleared out in the basement or until the weather warms up. And speaking of weather, we did end up with a white Christmas this year. It snowed about an inch over night. The better news is that we have another foot or so on the way starting tomorrow night.

Maybe I can get some snowshoeing in then.

Last year my Pathfinder Club worked on the Glass Etching honor. It was a lot easier than I had imagined it would be, and I realized that I could easily make a gift for my geologist brother which I had conceived many years ago – a set of Tectonic Plates. The constraint I had up until last month was that there just wasn’t time. Well, now there is, so I got busy. Here are the results.

The seven major tectonic plates

The seven major tectonic plates

Antarctic Plate

Antarctic Plate

Australian Plate

Australian Plate

South American Plate

South American Plate

African Plate

African Plate

Pacific Plate

Pacific Plate

North American Plate

North American Plate

Eurasian Plate

Eurasian Plate

There are a lot more than seven tectonic plates, but the rest of them are pretty small. Arguably, I could have added the Nazca Plate as well to round his set out to eight, but… I did not do that.

It took me a while to figure out the best way to depict both the plates and the land masses. I finally hit upon the idea of etching the tectonic plates on the back and etching the continents on the front. That seems to work well, and I was really pleased with the result, as it puts the continents on top of the plates. Nice.

As I was making this, my son David asked if this was the most effort I had ever undertaken for the sake of a pun. I couldn’t think of a time. Then he said, “You know, the only thing more nerdy than you spending all this time making these is how excited your brother is going to be to have them.” I think he could be right.

Maybe next year I can complete the set with some tectonic saucers.

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