Building the Micro Auray Punt: Construction log

July 18th, 2006

Suffering withdrawal from the gyrocopter, which looks likely to remain stuck in a storage unit for the next few months, I have found a temporary diversion: Building a very small boat, courtesy of Hannu's Boatyard. To make things interesting, I'm doing it 300 kilometres away from home, with next to no tools, in the company flat.

July 19th

This morning saw a speed run before work to collect the single sheet of marine ply from which the craft is constructed. It was somewhat damp out. This evening our Auckland crash pad was converted into a boat loft...

After an hour or so the plywood is inscribed with a series of cryptic markings. I need to find something to use as a spline to join the dots.

July 20th

Purchasing: A pair of oars, rowlock holders, fibreglass tape and a length of sail batten to be used as a spline.

Some time later...

That's it for a couple of days, off home for the weekend. Ah well, now I got me an incentive to come back to work :)

July 24th

Ran into a snag tonight. No matter how I measure it, there's going to be a triangular 5mm gap where the sides of the boat get lofted on to the plywood at the end from which the transom was cut.

After sleeping on it, I've decided to simply fill the void when applying the epoxy bead to the edges. Looking at the plans and the dimensions specified I think this might actually be an undocumented "feature" of the design.

July 25th

Tonight I tackled the butt joins used to form the boat's sides, downstairs in the hall which is the only hard flat surface big enough for the job. Getting everything set up for this took a long time and considerable scavenging; as usual the actual layup was all over and done in about ten minutes using International "Epiglass" HT9000 resin for the overall join, and a microscopic amount thickened with HT120 down the actual seam. It was a relief to leave the glass/polythene/fibreglass/plywood/epoxy sandwiches to cure for the night.

July 26th

The unveiling.

Two cosmetically-dodgy but perfectly serviceable joins. It can be done :)

Got as far as lofting one of the curves using the same spline technique as for the bottom, before calling it a night.

July 27th

This evening I lofted the other curve, and then set about match-cutting the two sides in one pass. Lacking clamps, I elected to duct tape the edges together, which worked suprisingly well. Cut, retape, cut, repeat...

Still need to take something to it and smooth out the rough bits.

July 31st

Today I acquired a SurForm and applied it liberally to the still-conjoined sides. As easy as grating cheese.

August 1st

A fit of midnight madness converted a length of 2"x2" into multiple pieces of 2"x2"x2" and a lot of noise. The neighbours must be deaf, absent or too scared to investigate.

August 2nd

The long night of the stitching operation using chipboard screws and little wooden blocks.

It's an iterative process; alternating down the two sides and repositioning the occasional screw on the way.

A bomb has clearly hit the flat; but where did that boat come from?!

August 3rd

Moved the beastie back to a more comfortable working position and braced the transom, which clearly needs the stiffeners installed.

August 7th

Continued work on setting up the geometry in preparation for glueing. This involved moving the plank holding the boat to the jig aft a few centimetres, and the installation of a spreader to set the required 980 mm across the beam. Several hours were then spent repositioning a number of wooden blocks to reset the seams as close as possible. Still not finished and an electric screwdriver is called for to prevent the blisters worsening. Seems the blocks need to be inset by about half a centimetre in each direction or you run out of adjustment room.

August 8th

Still battling the geometry. Installed more blocks to fix a few troublesome spots and got as far as taping the seams in preparation for the glue.

August 9th

A close examination before work revealed that the entire left-hand side of the boat is about 4mm too far forward relative to the bottom. Devised a cunning plan to selectively unscrew a few blocks at a time and "walk" it into position, without having to completely undo the whole boat.

The Long Night of the Glue. Struck down by a gastric bug this afternoon and spent some hours in reflective contemplation. Eventually worked up the required enthusiam to attack the left-hand side with a cordless screwdriver. Another hour or so and everything was aligned for glueing, including a spreader installed at the nose in lieu of the bow transom. Out with the polythene sheet.


Everything glued. Although given the nature of epoxy it would have been better to thoroughly mask everything beforehand. A natural wood finish is NOT going to be viable... And just as I was congratulating myself for a job at least done, if not well, I discovered I'd completely forgotten the two vertical transom seams.

August 10th

Time to work on the snout. The bow transom is basically a flat trapezoid but to fit snugly it really needs to be a three-dimensional trapezoid. Much work with the SurForm.

Clamping the thing was going to be difficult so I resorted to trapping it in place against the ubiquitous wooden blocks, suitably protected with polythene.

After thoroughly wetting the mating surfaces with unthickened epoxy, the stuff was converted into what International describe as a "high-strength thixotropic gap filling adhesive" (i.e. it's sticky and it doesn't seep) with the addition of glue powder, 1.5 : 1. This was gobbed liberally over everything in sight before slotting the snout into place, clamping and then cleaning up the excess.

She now looks a little less like a roll-on roll-off ferry :)

August 15th

This little boat is nowhere near as straightforward in the construction as it looks. Even the simple quarter-pieces which reinforce the snout have to be bevelled to nest snugly against the sides. More work with the SurForm.

While the masochistic mood was upon me, I made a start on the two "nicely hewn" side frames.

August 17th

A pleasant surprise tonight. For the last few days I've been worried about an apparent misalignment in the plywood, leaving the snout tilted about half a centimetre higher on the left than the right. This evening I discovered that one of the supporting rails of the jig was resting on a screwdriver.

Sanded the epoxy back on the inside corner of the bow to take the quarter-pieces, and cut one of the transom stiffeners.

August 21st

Bought the pine batten for the gunwales - can only get 25x25 and will need to investigate a means of reducing that to 21. Contemplating a jigsaw and cunning use of clamps.

Cut the second transom stiffener and finished "hewing" the two side frames. These have been temporarily secured to the sides with screws for the measuring, cutting, clamping and fastening of the cross member. A certain amount of experimentation went on before I was happy with the final position of the screws; but the surplus holes will simply get "bogged" in the gluing process.

August 22nd

The attempt to cut the battens down to size using a $17 dollar jigsaw was not an unqualified success. The sole plate of the jigsaw is anchored by hex nuts which the machine itself vibrates loose. A friend has kindly offered the use of his table saw.

I decided to move on to the gluing of the transom stiffeners and the snout quarter pieces. The first part of this endeavour was sufficiently relaxed to permit some photography of the kit. Note the face mask - the glue powder is utterly horrible stuff. Happily I have access to an unlimited supply of the little stirring sticks from the kitchen at work.

Things rapidly degenerated into a full-scale panic: Never start mixing epoxy until you have a clearly thought-out and tested means of clamping your targets together. And it is better to mix more than you need rather than vice versa.

Finally got the sticky mess into a workable configuration and retreated to bed... very, very late.

August 23rd

I take it all back. With a tiny bit of tweaking that poor maligned little jigsaw made very easy work of fitting the seat - bevelled in one dimension and slightly curved in the other.

Not a bad little beast for $17 :)

Epoxy: The aftermath. There might be some sanding to do around the transom.

August 24th

A highly enjoyable evening involving Monteiths, Drambuie and a table saw, not necessarily in that order. Am now in possession of two lengths of 21x21 pine batten for the gunwales :)

August 29th

Sick as a dog with a very nasty cold, but managed to cut the two quarter pieces for the stern before crashing in a heap. While testing fitting the things I came face-to-face with the issue of the excess epoxy and made a start on it with the SurForm.

August 30th

Finished de-epoxying the transom - as far as practicable with the available tools, and set about sorting out the reinforcing for the floor. I re-purposed the "washer" holding the boat to the jig to become the foot and bevelled the ends before cutting the pillar that connects the foot to the seat. Gluing the foot was conducted with considerably more precision & control than the last attempt; this time the clean up got done before the epoxy sets. The screws will probably need some gentle assistance from the heat gun to come loose.

August 31st

To my surprise the screws holding the foot came out relatively easily without the application of brute force. On with the installation of the seat. After some thought about the actual function of the pillar I cut the thing down a bit, before mixing up a large batch of epoxy. Then something puzzled me. The quantity of resin in the measuring cylinder seemed to be going down of its own accord... I discovered that the horrible thing came with a small hole pre-installed in the base. As did the next one I tried. Much swearing. Eventually got the foot, pillar, side frames, cross member and seat all coated in goo and finally weighed down for the night.

September 4th

With the seat satisfactorily cured, on to the installation of the quarter knees at the stern. Complicated by the discovery, too late, that the brush I proposed to use for the wetting-out already had been, and was now a solid block more akin to a scraper than a brush.

September 5th

As usual there was rogue epoxy lurking under the polythene squares - removed this morning with the SurForm before it had a chance to completely harden.

September 8th

Removed the blocks and masked up all the gaps and screw holes prior to glassing the outer seams.

September 12th

Sanded down all the screw holes, wet everything, filled the holes and the seams with thickened epoxy and finally applied the tape. Between the miscreant epoxy lurking around the screw holes and the lack of a squeegee or roller, this isn't the cleanest finish ever achieved, but it's certainly solid & watertight.

September 13th

Most of this evening went on a long-overdue clean up of the flat. A saner human being would probably have deferred further boat-related activities, but the urge was upon me. It turned out to be a very long night. The final inside seam is considerably thicker than the preliminary "tack welds" and took three batches of thickened expoxy.

September 14th

An evening of boiling water and unnatural bending. The port gunwale is sorted; a little more work to do on the starboard.

September 18th

Got the starboard gunwale into position. If I were doing this again I'd contrapt a steam-box... bending a few inches at a time in one plane only just isn't conducive. With the beast correctly bent, the aft end was either twisted, or perhaps not twisted, sufficiently that it wouldn't sit flush with the boat. I resorted to protecting the boat with polythene, loosely clamping the wood and then pouring boiling water over it in-situ before tightening the clamps. Success.

September 19th

Glued the port gunwale. A complex and messy operation made more difficult by the slippery thing trying to slide down the side of the boat. Some emergency vertical support had to be contrived. The starboard gunwale remains clamped to try and keep the forces symmetrical while the epoxy cures.

September 21st

Decided on closer inspection that the starboard gunwale wasn't quite right - still having to apply too much force to get the plywood to conform. So I spent an hour before work refining the bend. Since the wood is now damp again, the actual gluing will have to be postponed a couple of days. No matter - still plenty else to work on.

September 25th

Glued the starboard gunwale. Armed with the lessons learnt from the previous experience, this time I had little polythene covered blocks in place beforehand. The operation still wasn't without stress - due to a hiatus at work I found myself with an afternoon off, the weather has improved... so the exercise took place in the middle of a hot afternoon. It was a race against time to get epoxy mixed and in place before it cured. Observant readers will spot the duct tape fore and aft where the clamps just wouldn't go.

September 26th

Too tired this evening to do anything particularly creative, such as the oarlock blocks or the snout cross-member. I opted instead for blunt force, trimming the ends of the gunwales and then attacking everything in sight with the SurForm, fairing the gunwales, the plywood, the quarter knees and the epoxy into one smooth surface.

September 27th

Installed the oarlock blocks and the handles, which are pretty much identical except for nice ergonomically bevelled edges.

September 28th

Installed the oarlocks & the bow cross member, and built a wall of epoxy to level out the snout. Because the angle of the sides at the bow isn't quite as-specified, there's a 4mm disconnect to fill.

September 29th

The day after, with some applied rasping & sanding. The structural integrity of the cross member has more to do with the forgiving, gap-filling nature of the epoxy, than with accurate bevelling on my part :)

Structurally she's now complete, and I'm off home for a week's R&R. When I get back: Paint.

October 10th

This evening I manoeuvred the craft downstairs (small boats rock!) and outside with a view to putting the first coat of sealant (Everdure) on the hull. This scheme lasted about ten minutes before she went back upstairs where I could complete the final sanding with at least some walls between me and the neighbours - the plywood really resonates. While I was still contemplating heading back outside, the rain hit. So plan B: Do it in the hallway.

I was planning to apply one coat per day, but a closer reading of the can indicated the stuff can be applied wet-on-wet, waiting only for it to become tacky before applying the next coat. The only drawback with this approach is a rather long night...

October 12th

Utterly shagged, but managed to drag the craft upstairs again and perform some very rudimentary and half-hearted sanding to tidy up the inside, before retreating to bed with a copy of Grant Dalton's Come Hell and High Water.

October 16th

Finished tidying up the interior - more sanding and some additional epoxy under the seat. Now the major decision: What exactly am I going to finish the thing with? Paraphrasing NASA's "Man In Space Soonest" approach, a similar "Boat In Water Soonest" mentality rules... after much soul-searching the intent is to get the thing floating ASAP with an adequate degree of waterproofing, and worry about the craftsmanship awards as and when I come to boat #2.

October 17th

Some gentle sanding and then the first coat of paint on the hull - Dulux Aquanamel Semi-Gloss "Green Paw Paw". With any luck it will dry closer to its swatch colour.

October 18th

Coat #2. Thankfully the stuff darkens as it dries. And due to the magic of the camera the finish below looks infinitely better than it really is :)

October 20th

Moved back inside for the long weekend, and discovered a layer of rather disgusting oil all over the hull. Some Googling reveals a phenonomen that can occur with acrylic paint known as surfactant leaching, caused by applying the stuff in cool and/or damp weather; e.g. evenings. Apparently it's harmless and can be washed off later.

October 24th

The oil slick has reabsorbed or evaporated; either way it's gone. Good.

I finally decided after much agonising to finish the interior with more Everdure. Linseed oil would have been simpler & and cheaper, but I reasoned that the after surface doubles as a foot rest and therefore could stand toughening up with a dose of epoxy. In retrospect it would have been better to coat the interior before painting the outside - not sure how the interface between fresh Everdure and acrylic paint will work out under the gunwales. But the stuff dries quite dark on plywood, and nicely disguises the two butt joins forward :)

The fourth and final coat went on at about 1:30am...

October 25th

...six hours later after cleaning up, and still dizzy with turps fumes.

And later still, experiments in marine haulage.

"But Officer, he was to windward and should have kept clear..."

October 26th

A better approach - hadn't tried this because I didn't think it could work.
Much praise to the twin gods Toyota and Hannu :) Try *that* with a Laser!

She floats - sea trials successfully conducted on Auckland's Lake Pupuke this afternoon.
Note the four salient features of the launching facility:

 (a) grass to slide over
 (b) a concrete block to step on
 (c) lakeweed to hold her in nose-in while boarding, and
 (d) tussock grass used for berthing maneoeuvres later.

This particular patch of reserve is also relatively private, which helps when you haven't rowed anything in about 20 years.

Some observations:
 Delightful little boat, rows like a witch :)

 Stable - good initial stability, and stiffens up reassuringly as those flared sides start to get wet.
 For me the seat could be a lot softer (couldn't they all :-), a bit deeper, and a little further forward.
 Am contemplating grafting on a two-inch strip and the use of some padding to protect my posterior surfaces.

Further observations:
 Lycra-clad kayakers with grim expressions: I don't know why you're out on the lake, but if you're so obviously not enjoying it... why do it?
 Wordsworth: Yes, the "dripping oar suspended" is a truly beautiful thing...

 Finally: There is absolutely nothing to compare with the sound of water rushing past a hull you built yourself :)

October 30th

Used a piece of surplus cross-member/oarlock/handle timber to add 40mm to the forward edge of the seat, bringing it to 180mm in total.

October 31st

This'll probably be the last entry in this log.
Spent the evening applying Everdure to the seat, and dispersing the leftovers from each coat liberally around the aft surfaces to build the epoxy layer even thicker.