Long years ago, we built a boat for a designer who yearned to be Poet and Artist at once; and in his search for the eternal verities, and any other justification for his 35-a-week-and-found, he once propounded as in a vision his concept (that’s an unfortunate choice of words) of our separate roles-his and ours, that is. He was the father of this lovely thing that we were creating. Guess where that left the boatbuilders. We thought about it… and thought about it. As good red-blooded Republicans, we certainly were in favor of Motherhood, but even then we had a pretty fair idea as to how the work got divided. And there was something else about the setup that was vaguely disquieting… And if you are beginning to wonder what all this has to do with the problem of How to Build a Steam Box, I’ll tell you: absolutely nothing.

Steam box and bending forms

Every book on boatbuilding tells you how to make a steam box. You can use infinite lengths of stovepipe, truck-tire innertubes, 6-inch drain­pipe leaning over a campfire, open troughs with hot water circulating through, wooden chests-and on to Bill Simm’s ultimate steam box, which was a torpedo tube from a defunct submachine. I like one that’s deep and narrow, built of thick pine boards (to keep the heat in, and stand rough treatment), and equipped with an adjustable partition, which you push in with a long stick-no sense heating the whole 20-foot box for a batch of 6-foot frames. Make it about 7 inches wide and 14 inches deep (inside dimen­sions), and fasten plenty of hardwood cleats to the outsides of the wide boards before you assemble the box. (Fastenings go from the soft­wood into the hardwood whenever possible; this is a good rule to remember.) Lay on the steam through a 1 ½-inch pipe nipple, threaded through one side, down low, 2 to 3 feet in from the open end. Set the far end of the box 1 foot or so higher, so the steam will go up back, and the water will run down front-and into the pail you have waiting for it. The best door is a short length of padded board, nailed at its mid-height to the end of a leaning prop. Make a slide-in rack to keep things an inch or two off the bot­tom of the box. You can get real fancy, if you want to, and pipe the condensation back to the reservoir that feeds the boiler.

Steam: You want it hot, wet, and plentiful, so that the temperature inside that box will go up close to 212 degrees and stay there. You won’t get it from a teakettle on a hot plate. You need a rig that was used to heat a small house in a Northern winter. If you can’t find anything ready-made, lower a 10-gallon drum through a snug hole far off-center in the end of a 55-gallon drum; install crossbars to support the boiler, and more crossbars below it for a grate; cut an oval hole in the top to take a 6-inch stack; fit hinged doors to fire-box and ash-pit openings; fit a 1 ½-inch floor flange to the top of the boiler for a steam outlet, and 1-inch pipe through the top and halfway to the bottom, for fill pipe. (When this last starts to blow, you know it’s time to refill.) This rig is nicely portable, for those sister-frame and plank-repair jobs on remote river banks. Yank out the boiler, and you’ve got the world’s most efficient heating stove and trash burner.

You’ll need various built-up forms, for pre bending cockpit coamings, transom planking, toboggans for the neighbor’s children, and the like. You can use some of your crooked box­boards for building forms. Assume that the piece you are forming will halfway straighten out when you free it, and allow for this when you lay out the form. Such members as house­top beams, which are made up of glued lamina­tions (see Figure 15-4), will hold their formed shape if made with five layers; no fewer. Use cold-water-mix glue, a caul (or continuous strips) to spread the pressure of the clamps, and plenty of newspaper between the form and the oozing glue. Build one form a day, whenever you can spare the clamps, and they’ll be ready when you need them.

A basic kit of hand tools

These pages have shown you some specially adapted tools, jigs, and devices to be used in various steps of boatbuilding. Of course, you’ll also need an assortment of basic tools.

Make your own mallets. If you have a half dozen of them around the shop, you may be able to find one when you need it. Use the heaviest and toughest hardwood you can find; turn the heads and handles on a lathe, if possible. Flatten the sides of the handles, which should be 7/s inch in diameter through the heads, and 11/4 inches at the grip. The biggest mallet should have a head that is 9 inches long and 4 inches through the middle, and have a handle that is 14 inches long overall; this is the tool for driving frames into their sockets, and subduing shutter planks. Everyday mallets might have heads 7 inches by 3½ inches, and 12-inch handles. Experiment, and find out what fits your hand. Shun the rubber mallets; theirs is not the true music.

Roam widows’ attics and waterfront dives in search of wooden planes-small ones, not the great, long jointers-that have some life left in their irons. You can shape their soles to the peculiar curves you meet in boatbuilding. Remember that a 9-inch round-faced plane with a sharp dumb-iron will cut fast across the grain of the hardest oak, when no other tool in your kit will touch it. Also remember that good fit­ting depends upon that last pass with a small plane in a skilled hand; all the elaborate power tools you can buy won’t do it as well-although they certainly speed up the approach to the final moment.

Therefore, get yourself four standard metal planes: first, a 9-inch smoother, with a 13/4-inch blade; second, a fore plane that is 18 inches long, with a 21/4-inch blade; third, a low-angle block plane; and fourth, a rabbet plane. Get good ones. These are the tools that make that final pass. They’ll last a lifetime, and earn their keep every day.

Chisels: You’ll need the standard set, from ½-inch chisels through at least 1 ½-inch ones. I like the long, heavy framer pattern, with big sockets. Get one gouge, of 1-inch radius. If pos­sible, get a 3-inch ( or wider) slick, to supple­ment your adze. And, of course, as with planes, get as many more types, shapes, and sizes as you can acquire without pain.

Handsaws: One standard “ship” pattern, 6-point crosscut; one ripsaw; one fine-toothed panel saw; one keyhole saw. And wherever else you may skimp, don’t skimp here. Ask the men who live by the saw, and don’t pay any attention to the consumers’ guides. Learn to joint, set, and file, but not on these new blades. Take them to an expert. Remember that you can borrow a man’s horse, shirt, hideaway, or last remaining $10.00, but you can’t borrow his handsaws. These are somehow personal.

Sailing yachts have been defined variously as magic carpets, jealous mistresses whose rig­ging costs more than the hull, and depressions in the water into which you pour money. To the boatbuilder, they sometimes seem to consist mainly of an infinite number and variety of fastenings, for each of which he is expected to bore a hole of exactly the right size, taper, depth, and smoothness-and then cut a recess for the head, which will eventually be bunged. He therefore needs some assorted drills, bits, and augers, most of which cannot be found in the local hardware store.

Start with the standard set of “jobber’s length” high-speed drills, from 1/16-inch to ½­ inch. Keep this set complete at all times; buy extras, in quantity, of the size you find right for the big jobs such as plank fastening, decking, and ceiling. Order two each of “extra length” twist drills (6 inches long) in 1/8-inch, 5/32-inch and 3/16-inch sizes. These cost about twice as much as the regular drills do, but you’ve got to have them for long fastenings. For twist drills larger and longer yet, ask for electricians’ bits, which are 18 inches long, and come in sizes from 1/4-inch to 5/8-inch. Get one of each. Cut the square shanks off, and grind flats to fit the three­jaw chuck of your ½-inch electric drill. Order Fuller counterbores, with at least two tapered drills for each, to fit numbers 10, 12, 14, and 16 wood screws. These are the only combination drills and counterbores we have found that will stand up to really hard wood.

Twist drills are not good for the long holes. When you bore the big timbers in the backbone, the floor timbers, and the mast partners, you’ll need long ship augers, which haul themselves through the wood, and push out the chips behind them. The old-fashioned “barefoot” pattern (see Figure 4-8c) is the best, for speed and ease of cutting, and especially for keeping to its course in spite of diagonal grain in the timber. You can withdraw it easily, to clear the chips (and be sure you do, much more often than seems necessary, lest you break it and your heart at the same time), and you can resharpen it with a small file. But beware of the old “bare­foot” twist drills you may find in antique shops-most of them have been filed too many times. Your ship chandler will get you good new ones. You’ll need ½-inch, 5/8-inch, and 3/4-inch sizes (at least) in barefoot augers, and 3/8-inch, 7/16-inch, and ½-inch sizes in single spur augers with a center worm. Perhaps you can borrow the one big tool you’ll need for the shaft alley and rudderport, and never need again; these holes will be 1 ¼ inches in diam­eter, and very difficult indeed to

Finish this list with a full set ( 1/4-inch to 1-inch) of solid-center, double-spur, standard length wood augers, a set of the new flat bits, and a good expansive bit, with cutters to do every diameter from 1/8 inch to 4 inches.

Before getting to the power tools, let’s add a few more tools to your hand kit. You’ll need a lip adze (see Figure 3-3), and some hammers: two or three assorted nail-driving, curved-claw hammers; one good ball-peen hammer, for riveting; and a shipwright’s pin maul, or small sledge, for heavy driving. You’ll also need a steel square, 24 inches on the long arm; a good sliding-blade 12-inch try square, with a bubble in the handle (see Figure 15-17); as many bit stocks as you can get, one of them good; screw­driver bits, one 5/8-inch wide, two about 7/16-inch, and one 3/8-inch wide. Cut the shank off one of the medium bits, and use it in your big electric drill. Make your own nail sets out of 3/8-inch hard (but not brittle) steel rod-ground to a slight taper, cupped on the end if possible. (We used to make them of hardened copper, for setting round-headed galvanized boat nails. I won’t ask you to believe that those nails are holding very well 30 years later, or that some of those boats are still keeping old Ocean at bay with their original caulking, too-which is a frightening thought indeed, if you read the advertisements.) Remember the words of the old boatbuilder who confessed that only 45 years of his life had been spent actually working; he’d spent the other five years (well spread out) look­ing for his bevel gauge. Buy one of the thick, clumsy, awkward things that lock with a lever on the side (see Figure 5-3), or you can make a compact gauge out of flat brass (see Figure 9-12). If you are very deserving indeed, you may find, in a dark corner of what was once a genuine hardware store, a glazer’s bevel. This has a 12-inch boxwood handle and thin brass blades at each end, and was made by Stanley in the days before everything came packaged in clear plastic. If you find one, keep looking: maybe, even farther back in the store, there’ll be a box of plane irons made by Buck Brothers.(This is roughly equivalent to unearthing from a kitchen-midden incontrovertible evidence that Leif the Lucky slept here in the year 1000- and not much more likely, I’m afraid.) To con­tinue: Get a good drawknife; an eggbeater drill big enough to take at least 1/4-inch shanks; assorted hand screwdrivers, one with spiral drive; wood rasps, Stanley Surform rasps; a good spokeshave, preferably the old wooden handle type; a sharpening stone, of aluminum oxide or equal, coarse on one side and fine on the other; and, if possible, an adjustable-bottom “compass” plane by Stanley, which you can set to the curves of knees and deck beams. (Mine was patented in 1877, but not made until later in the century.) Get soft “framer’s” pencils; a claw wrecking bar; a 12-foot steel tape; a plumb bob; a good level, at least 24 inches long; and carpen­ters’ compasses that take a round pencil for one leg, and open to at least a 6-inch span.

Tools for working in metal

You will spend much time from now on making up odd-length bolts, cut from lengths of rod, threaded for nuts at both ends. Use a good hacksaw frame, with 12-inch blades. Buy the high-speed grade, even at three times the cost of regular blades. They· last three times as long in mild steel and bronze, and will cut stain­less steel, Mone! metal, and the shanks of your new augers and screwdrivers. The same reason­ing applies to dies for cutting the threads. The 1-inch-diameter, non-adjustable ones are not good enough. You’ll need 1/4-inch through ½-inch dies, adjustable, in National Course thread, as a minimum set. Take the bigger rods to a machine shop, or perhaps buy thread cutting nuts of those sizes. Automotive supply stores usually sell them.

You will, of course, need a good machinist’s vise, various files, wrenches of all kinds, Vise Grips and regular pliers, and lubricant for thread cutting. (We use poured-off bacon fat on iron and steel, and a thin, pale liquid called “Rapid Tap” for threading bronze and har­dened copper.)

When you drill copper, bronze, or alumi­num, or attempt to enlarge any hole already drilled, you will find that the regular cutting angle on the spiral flutes of most drill bits has too much lead, causing them to grab and break. Cure this by stoning a flat along the leading edges of the flutes so that they become vertical scrapers, with no remaining tendency to screw themselves through the metal. And when you drill stainless steel, go through with constant pressure, at the full-load speed of your big drill, and never let the chip break-one free spin, and the drill is finished. Only the best high-speed drills will stand this work-and you won’t get them at a bargain price in a handy plastic folder.

Power tools

Power tools are much like governmental bureaus, in one respect: Once you’ve got the power, it’s fatally easy to add another; but you’ll never do away with one. When I built my first big boat, I had one small circular saw, driven by a 1/3-horsepower motor. This was a great lux­ury, after years of building skiffs entirely with hand tools. Two years later, having decided that I was about ready to revolutionize the boat­building industry, I acquired a good Stanley 1/4-inch drill, and a very small handsaw. (That drill is still working very well, after 37 years of hard service; I wish I could say as much for myself.) I discovered at the same time that I could get big keel timbers from a sawmill, instead of cutting a tree down and hewing it square by hand. (As I have mentioned pre­viously, I never was much of an axeman.) I built more big boats … and I bought a 3-foot bandsaw for $20.00, and a big tablesaw for $10.00. I got a surface’ planer, a drill with a ½-inch chuck, and-mixed in with the building of more big boats-power sanders, portable electric saws, a drill press, router, more drills, power screwdriv­ers, a table saw with tilting arbor and dado­cutters, and even a power-operated hand plane, which is a lovely tool indeed. And now I couldn’t do without a single one of these. The government would collapse.

What’s the point of all this? I’m not sure, but I think it indicates that (1) you can do a lot of boatbuilding without being fully mechanized; (2) I am not in a secure position to tell you exactly what power tools you need; and (3) hav­ing cut the shanks off all those augers, you’d better get yourself a pair of electric drills, and not the cheapest ones, either. Get a saw arbor, and build a wooden table around it. Get the biggest handsaw you can manage. Look into the possibilities of renting tools by the day, or the weekend. You can cut the keel, the sternpost, and most of the stem to shape, in a day, with a big portable circular saw, which would be of very limited use to you afterward. A good saber­saw will save you some labor in fitting plywood bulkheads, but don’t believe the man who tells you that it will handle every cut you’ll ever have to make. You can live without a jointer, a radial saw, or a spindle shaper; I can count my fingers and thumbs, all the way to 10, and suggest that you may even live longer and more happily. You can buy a lot of bronze, oak, and good red mahogany for the price of these elaborate machines, and not one of them is smart enough to build a boat.

Last, but not least…

You’ll need clamps. Even working alone, you can easily (and profitably) tie up 30 C clamps at one moment when planking; and if someone is helping you bend frames, you’ll use 50. They need not be the best clamps in the world, and most of them can be small, with 5-inch and 6-inch openings. You should have two 8-inch clamps, two 10-inch clamps, one 12-inch clamp, and three or four sets of the fittings that go on ¼-inch pipe or wooden bars to make up any length you need. You can cut that figure of 50 down to 20, and still manage, but there’ll be moments of frustration. Seek them in secondhand shops and junkyards, and even buy new ones if all else fails. Oil the threads, and learn to spin them open and shut. Get the simple solid clamps, rather than the sliding-bar type (these let go when you jar them with a close hammer blow). Finally, get a half dozen tiny “quilting frame” clamps, to use on the skeleton patterns you’ll need to make for bulkheads, floor timbers, and such.

Scout around and acquire two 10-ton jacks, one of them hydraulic (see Figure A-5), and the other with a low lifting toe. Cut 3-inch steel pipe to 4-foot lengths (four of them) for moving the ballast casting around.