Saturday, December 29, 2012

Building A Canoe: Steps XI, XII, XIII, XIV

Part XI: Make and Install Gunwales

After finishing the fiberglass work, and cleaning up the annoying, unsightly, ridges, it was time to install the gunwales (or rails). Because the longest board of ash I could find in the lumber yard was only 12 ft, I had assumed I would have to splice two sections together. However, before I had implemented this plan, I learned of a friend of  a friend who had a 20 ft board of ash available. Luckily, I was able to use this person's shop to mill the lumber as well because there was no way I could have done it in my shop. In fact, even with a 12 ft board I was going to have to go to a friend's shop. It would have been helpful, however, if I knew the final length of the gunwales ahead of time because of the cumbersome nature of milling such long strips. I thought the curve in the canoe would result in strips longer than 16' but, it turned out, my outwales were only 15' 7" in and my inwales were 13' 7". I also milled them differently than Gil suggested. He suggested 3/4" by 3/4" for the outwales and 3/8" x 3/4" for the inwales; but I didn't see how 3/8" was wide enough to install the seat hardware, which are 1/4" carriage bolts, so I made mine 1/2" wide. With the outwales, I thought 3/4 stuck out too far so I trimmed it down to 5/8".

My first big mistake, though, was in trimming the outwales. I wanted to cut them close to the actual length because I was taking them to my shop to pre-drill and countersink the screw holes used to attach them. In lining up the outwales, I marked it from the top of the stem, and when I started to install them I realized that the canoe gets longer as you move down the stem, so it left me short to get the entire outwale covering the stem. Luckily, I had added a little to the length to make up for any small error, but it wasn't enough. I hoped that by pulling the canoe together, making it more narrow, I'd be able to squeeze another 1/2" out of my outwales, which worked well enough that in shaping the ends, it looks decent enough and maybe even mistake free. 
Pulling the canoe tighter to make up for the short, pre-cut, outwales
Close-up of the short outwales -- Oops! Next time remember to mark from the bottom!
After the shaping, they don't look too bad, and maybe even intentional
Unfortunately, I realized when I returned my canoe forms, and looked at the lender's canoes, that I didn't need to attach the outwale with screws from the outside, that the screws from the inside were enough. In my defense, in looking back at Gil's instructions, he doesn't explicitly say this and the images show the outwale being attached with screws at the stems in order to also hold the deck in place. The one hint he gives is that he says you need 65 to 70 screws, placed every 6 inches, to attach the gunwales to a 16 ft canoe and I thought his math was just bad when I realized I needed around 115. I could have just left the outwale screws in place but, in addition to the aesthetic issue, I thought it created an increase risk of rot at each of the hole openings so I filled them with walnut (and the occasional cherry) plugs. Problem solved and I think it ends up adding to the aesthetics rather than detracting. By the way, Gil recommends brass screws but my experience with them is that they are just too soft and the heads break off all the time (even with pre-drilling) so I used stainless steel. I had absolutely no problem with broken heads and I think they look just as good.
Mistaken screw holes filled with walnut and cherry plugs
Part XII: Make and Install Yoke

For the yoke, I used a figured piece of yellow birch. I made the shoulders on it especially large, which I think works well. I had never carried a canoe on my shoulders before and the first time I lifted this one I had it resting on my neck. Big mistake. That doesn't feel too good. Better it should rest on one's shoulders, especially with a life jacket on.
Curly yellow birch yoke
Part XIII: Make and Install Decks

For the decks, I created a couple of blanks out of quartersawn ash and walnut veneer. The walnut is between each strip of ash, and as I cut and reglued the sections, I added additional pieces of veneer to create a complicated fault system (I suspect this aesthetic results from the lingering effects of many undergraduate geology classes).

Deck blanks of ash and walnut veneer
Gil recommended created a cardboard template for marking out the shape of the flush deck. I highly recommend this method, it worked out well.
Flush deck installed (bow)
Flush deck (stern)
I didn't know how big the decks would be, so I made blanks much larger than I needed and turned the scraps in to art.
 Three Triangles
shellac and acrylic paint on ash and walnut
16.5" x 17.5" x 1"
Three Triangles (closeup)
Part XIV: Make and Install Seats

Of all the aspects of my canoe, I'm most proud of the seat design (provided that it turns out to be comfortable for many hours of continuous use, which I won't know for several months). It is light weight, strong, easy to make, original, and, I think, very beautiful.

I didn't want to make a standard caned canoe seat, partly because I didn't want to be responsible for the furniture joinery and partly because I couldn't see spending 20 hours weaving it. In order to avoid that monotony, I mulled a few different ideas around for several months, including a Wendell Castle inspired sculpted seat but realized that that would be too bulky. Somehow the idea of making a bent lamination seat popped in my head, which seems perfect in strength and weight. Having never made any bent lamination work though, I needed to experiment a little to get what I wanted (of course, I could have looked on-line, but for some reason, I didn't bother, which is just as well, too many people recommend using urea-formaldehyde glue which is just too toxic for me to want to work with. Instead, I used my standard Titebond III which really is the worlds best all-around wood glue. It worked fine). For the stern seat, I glued 4 thin strips together (each about 3/32" thick) in the form. For the bow seat, because the gap is greater, I used five strips.
Bent lamination in form
(this is an after-the-fact staged photo, hence, no mess or plastic keeping the form from sticking)

I wondered how many rows would be comfortable and thought that I would need three, but when I tested two, I didn't think that an additional one would have any advantage so I'm sticking with two until I'm proven wrong. I used some butternut that I bought from my neighbor when he cut down a tree in 2009. I've had it air drying in my shop ever since, which makes it perfect for a project like this because it is less brittle than kiln-dried lumber that I would have gotten at a lumber mill (maybe it doesn't make a difference but I like to think it does). They seemed to have plenty of flex in them, making them more comfortable, and they seem plenty strong too. I've stood on the front bow strip (160 lbs) without any negative consequences, so I figure two of them should be able to handle the weight of anyone getting in my canoe.
Stern seat (bent lamination butternut)
For the spacers, I played around with a scrap piece of maple and more walnut veneer. I think it is an interesting detail and it really didn't take that much time to make.
Seat spacers (maple and walnut)
The final activity I worked on before stopping for the winter was to clean up the top edge. I had thought that a spoke shave would be the best tool for the job but it turned out that my 102 Lie-Nielsen low-angle block plane worked best (gotta love that little thing!). Now I just need to wait for spring to do some finish sanding (on the decks), touch up epoxy work (on the decks, gunwales, and seats), and then add a few coats of varnish. Until then, it is going to rest in the middle of my living room (which is fine, I don't like using my front door anyway). As is, it weights in at 66.8 lbs. Not bad considering Gil says this canoe should weight about 65 lbs and I used hardwoods that are much more dense than white or red cedar.
An almost finished canoe

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hurry! Don't Forget!

Yes, it is that time of year again. Woodwork (magazine) is on the newsstands (I picked mine up at Barnes and Noble, not sure what other newsstands carry it but you can buy it on-line as well). It comes out only once a year but it is still the best wood related magazine available. This issue has another great essay by Mark Love, and Toshio Odate continues his multi-year serial saga about "Mighty Oak" (there is at least one more year of the saga to go but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes on for another ten, it has been an epic battle (going back to 1997) and in this issue we learn that Toshio suffered a rotator cuff injury working with it in 2000). I was also interested to learn about Thomas Schrunk's work. Someone had mentioned him to me recently but I wasn't able to find much info on the Internet, so I was really happy to get the scoop about his really great, and innovative, marquetry technique. There are always great images, interesting profiles, and useful information about shows and events. Reading through it, I'm always so impressed with the people the work with wood. They always seem to be a very genuine, down-to-earth, unpretentious, and dedicated bunch (or maybe that is just the ones that get written about, hard to tell, but my experience with the ones I meet seem to confirm this conclusion so I'm sticking with it). 

Anyway, I'd be very upset in this publication stopped, so I'm asking you again, hurry! run! go by a copy now! Thank you! 

Note: I receive no compensation (of any kind) for this endorsement, nor has anyone asked me to do it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wendy Maruyama's Executive Order 9066

"Important" is the best one word description for the Wendy Maruyama exhibit, Executive Order 9066, which was organized by, and debuted at, The Society of Arts and Crafts September 8 to November 3, 2012. In this body of work, Wendy has focused her considerable talents on highlighting the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II through the executive order issued by FDR. It is a sad, but often forgotten, part of our history, so Wendy has done a great service to bringing the event back to life so that viewers can learn about it on a visceral level through her art. This show is a wonderful example of how art can be used to teach history without being without being dogmatic or preachy.

The first piece to encounter was this representative of The Tag Project in which Wendy recreated, with the help of dozens of volunteers, the tags issued to each of the interned Japanese Americans. Organized by the ten camps to which they were assigned, there are, therefore, ten sets of tags, each with about 12,000 names attached. Because SAC's space is very limited, only one group was displayed for this exhibit, however, all should be on view at the other museum sites the show will travel to. With The Tag Project, Wendy has created an innovative and aesthetic way to convey the enormity of the internment. 
The Tag Project
paper, string, ink, thread
132" x 10" x 10"
One of the things I found interesting about the series is the restraint that Wendy employed in creating the work. Hinamatsuri (Girl's Day) is a great example. For someone like Wendy, who has tremendous skill and talent in working with wood, to create something so stark and "simple" is an amazing feat in itself. Most artist look for opportunities to "show off" their skill and dazzle viewers with works they know their audience could never do. But here, Wendy is showing she cares more about conveying the stark reality internment than impressing us with works of stunning skill and complexity.
Hinamatsuri (Girl's Day)
wood, tar paper, glass, 40's era doll
26" x 48" x 3"
I particularly like how she uses ripped tar paper to create something that refers to cheap, haphazard, temporary construction of the camps while also seeming to refer to abstract expressionist paintings, like Rothko's deeply emotional black series. 
Hinamatsuri (closeup)
In this piece, ID, you can see the image of a child wearing an internment tag behind a "bar" (a reference to imprisonment I assume) inside one of Wendy's art cabinets.
pine, paper tags, ink
33" x 11.5" x 5"
Landlocked is another "simple" piece that uses common materials, like tar paper and plywood, to convey a direct emotional experience to the viewer. 
wood, tarpaper, nails, found objects
25.5" x 48" x 3"
Landlocked (closeup)
Land of the Free is a diptych made with sliding door cabinets, a faux functional form that Wendy has used several times for this series. It creates a variety of viewing experiences, thereby engaging the viewer to be more personally involved with the work and the past. 
Land of the Free (diptych - first section)
fir, pine, ink, plant materials
7" x 120" x 6"
Land of the Free (diptych - second section)
Land of the Free (diptych - second section, second view)

The piece, Manzanar, refers to the best preserved of the camps which is now a National Historic Site. Although it is, technically, not a diptych like the Land of the Free, it also provides many viewing experiences.
pau ferro, fir, ink, wire, encaustic
7" x 61" x 6"
Manzanar (second view)
I particularly like the curly fir she selected for the sliding doors, I assume because it refers to the mountains that over look the site.
Manzanar (closeup)
You're A Sap Mr. Jap is a black tar paper and nail "painting" that plays a continuous loop of the first Popeye cartoon, of the same name, in the lower right corner. It is a completely racist piece of wartime propaganda which you can view for yourself at this link. Again, the lack of elaborate construction of this piece makes an even more powerful statement than if Wendy dazzled us with elaborate design.
You're A Sap Mr. Jap
tar paper, wood, Popeye cartoon video
48" x 48" x 3"
You're A Sap Mr. Jap (closeup)
I saw this piece, A Question of Loyalty, last year at the Fuller Craft Museum's Furniture Divas show and wrote about it here. The piece quotes what I assume was an oath that Japanese Americans needed to sign, pledging allegiance to the US. The door can be slid to reveal an answer of "YES" or "NO." It is one of the more purely beautiful pieces in the exhibit, being made with live-edge, worm-hole infested, ash.    
A Question of Loyalty
ash, ink
9.5" x 50.5" x 14"
Watch Tower is another deceptive faux cabinet. With the door closed, it looks like just another nice decorative, Asian-inspired wall cabinet that any fine cabinetmaking might build. With the door open, it becomes a work of art that makes a powerful statement.
Watch Tower
pine, sitka spruce, fir, painted wood bowls, glass, ink
31.5" x 17.5" x 7.5"
Zenmetsu is, again, an aesthetically beautiful piece that plays with the concepts of function, art, decoration, and meaning. The English translation of the title is annihilation. In the center, behind some glass, is a pile of broken porcelain.
tamo, ash, paper, porcelain shards
7 x 72.5 x 6
Wendy used tamo, a highly figured Japanese ash, for the top and bottom of the "cabinet."
Zenmetsu (top view)
The exhibit also includes historical artifacts from the camps, including some of the art of gaman, crafts and sculptures made by Japanese Americans during their internment, as well as these pieces of historic luggage. They are much more powerful when you read the names on them: June T. Watanabe; Lillian Sasaki; Gii Yoshioka; K. Hongu. I read the names and I think, "Really? Lillian Sasaki intimidated you so much you had to ship her off to an internment camp in the middle of a desert? What could she do? Knit a sweater with her coordinates in morse code?" It helps to clarify how irrational and senseless this part of our history was, and a good reminder to how vigilant we need to be against letting our fears create such irrationality in the future.

Executive Order 9066 will travel to four additional venues into 2015 and I highly recommend seeing it if you get a chance. Here is the schedule:

Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, February 1 to April 21, 2013

Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ, September 28, 2013 to January 4, 2014

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, March 1 to May 24, 2014

Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco, CA, October 2, 2014 to January 4, 2015.