This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bateau Building V

Day five on the apprenticeship project. It was the big turnover day, turn over the boat that is. And it gives you a different feeling about the progress on the project, it feels like you have moved into a place where the end is in sight. To get to this point we finished the top stripping and the deck last time, as well as shaping the top of the stern board and the headblock. Now it’s time to plane/saw/chop all the places where the bottom will touch and be nailed and glued to. That means that nearly all the parts that have been built so far have to be fine tuned to receive the bottom. The top picture shows some of the parts that are sticking up near the bow and need to be removed. The main tool for this is the hand plane, a traditional tool that used to be one of the main tools carpenters used. They are still used but not so much as before. It’s interesting that the primary tools change with each succeeding stage of building this boat. First there was the big bandsaws that cut the logs into lumber and the big mechanical planer that made the rough planks into finished lumber. Then, to start the boat we used circular saws and chop saws, and jigs. Last time we mainly used clamps and hammers and nails, and glue. This time the main tool was definitely the hand plane, and to a lesser amount the handsaw and hand axe. When I saw Edward attack the bottom of the headblock with a saw and then an axe, I had to just wonder how much experience had led to his having the confidence to use an axe on wood that splits with the grain as much as cypress does. But he did it, and it didn’t split, and the planed-off bottom of the headblock is nearly finished in the picture of it here.

The picture (at right) of the bow is put in to show how five pieces of wood come together to make the corner – the gunnel, the two top strips, the side strip and the headblock. And the bottom will bind together the headblock and the gunnel making this a six-piece corner. This is a really strong assembly!

A picture shows the front three timbers and the headblock just about ready to receive the bottom. The sternboard is planed to remove the excess wood and make it even with the gunnels. Throughout today’s work, Edward used a long straightedge (an aluminum level in this case)to follow the gunnels and plane down any wood that prevented the straightedge from moving from front to back or the reverse. When a timber would not stop the straightedge but still showed no light under it, it would be ready for the bottom. If light showed it meant that too much wood had been removed, an OhOh. That didn't happen, but he kept an eye on the apprentice just in case.

One of the satisfying things about hand tools is the slow and patient nature of their use. In this case, I mean the hand plane. Properly adjusted and sharpened, it peels off a ribbon of wood almost thin enough to see through (exaggeration, I know, but almost). When you push the plane it goes zzzzzz, and you can nearly imagine that it sizzles as it shapes the wood. I mean really, it zzzzzzzs. And the shavings are even pretty things in themselves. Lena Mae’s father Myon Bailey, a logger in his young days, used to say that he felt something similar about crosscut saws that were well sharpened, he said “Jim, they used to make those long spaghettis, if they were good and sharp”. He was of course referring to the long strips of wood the saws would remove from the tree as they cut through it. If the saw was dull, it would just make little chips.

About half of what needs planing has been done. Next meeting will finish with the preparation for putting the bottom on. Edward intends to pre-shape the plywood for the bottom by using hot water and then using the plywood’s own weight to bend it. Anyway, that was it for day five. Once again, the whole day was videoed for future editing and archiving. Visiting the project were Ray Brassieur and Greg Guirard, both of whom enjoyed some of Lena Mae's shrimp stew for dinner.

The river is at 5.1 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling slowly to 4.7 by Wednesday. The Ohio and Mississippi aren’t doing anything very exciting to change things one way or the other very soon.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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