April—July 2022: Assembling and installing the rails and skeg

Rorschach diagram in the manual

The boat is constructed of thin plywood, 6mm. thick. So that is what is exposed around the edge of the boat, so far. The next step is to install rails. These go around the boat, flush with the edge, adding strength and improving the appearance.

I read the instructions on how to assemble and install the rails. A rail is a single strip of wood, 1" x 3/4" in cross-section, that traverses the length of the boat. Two rails are placed on each side, so on each side there are two 3/4" thick rails attached to each other.

As with the panels of the boat, it is not feasible to ship a rail as a single piece, so each of the four rails is assembled from three pieces. For each set of three pieces, two pieces are about 8' long, and the last one is 2'. (The boat is 16' long, and the ends of the rails will be sawed off, but it's handy to have the longer pieces during assembly.)

Got it? 12 pieces. Four sets of 3. Each set of 3 has two 8' pieces and one 2' piece. All of them are straight.

So what on earth can this possibly mean?

The caption does say "rails as supplied in the kit." However:

  1. The rails are straight, the curvy things are not.
  2. I count nine rails in the picture, which does not match the 12 rails actually present.
  3. What is 3/4"? What is 1"?
  4. What is the double-sided box containing these supposed rails?

This is even more puzzling than the Sjöbergs Smart Vise assembly instructions. So I call CLC, and a very helpful support person (they're all very helpful) sets me straight. That diagram is, technically speaking, a depiction of the rails. But not in the way you would expect. It is a picture two of the rail ends, side-by-side. And those curves? That is meant to evoke wood grain.

Look, this is stupid. If you are asked to provide a selfie, you don't put your phone on the ground, stand over it, and get a close-up of the interior of your nostrils. If you are giving driving directions to a building, would you provide a photo of the front of the building, or of the roof, taken from directly above? (The answer might be different for flying directions.) Similarly, if you — yes you, CLC — if you provide a diagram labeled "The rails as supplied in the kit", then why on earth would you take a photo of the rail ends? I mean, you got it right earlier in the manual:

Now to be fair, they are making a point, as the instructions call for tapering the rails, and they are showing before and after diagrams, (the puzzling diagram above is the "before" one). Here is the "after" diagram:

And the text does discuss tapering, but says "taper the rails ... as seen in the photo." BUT THAT'S NOT A PHOTO! I figured they were referring to some other photo. And that left me completely mystified about what was being described in the diagram.

I will concede, in hindsight, that mysteries 3 and 4 above (the 3/4" and 1" dimensions, the double-sided box), are now understandable. They are showing the two smaller dimensions of the rail. Pairs of pieces are taped together in the kit. I thought that they were claiming that each rail was 1" thick on one end, and 3/4" at the other. (Those bent rails, nine in number, bearing no relationship to the rails that actually exist.)

Anyway, I know now how to proceed. Epoxy the three pieces of each rail to form one long rail. Taper the ends. Attach a rail to each side of the boat using clamps, epoxy, and screws. Then do the same with two more rails. Sand and shape to taste and that should be that. I'm going back to Maine tomorrow to get started on this part.

Assembling the rails

First, a weather report. For the first time this season, there is no ice in the lake. Is this nice, or what?

Second, I did clean up my work area.

Third, I applied the last coat of epoxy. I delayed this previously, because the surface wasn't as smooth as I was hoping for. But 1) it isn't that bad, and 2) I really want to get the boat in the water this summer.

Okay, back to work.

Now that I actually RTFM and understand TFM, assembling the rails was pretty easy. The usual caveat applies, about discovering problems later. But at least carrying out the steps was easy.

I laid out the rails in another part of the basement.

These are scarf joints. The diagonal parts get coated with epoxy and put together.

I put a piece of wax paper under each joint, and set out the clamps I needed, to hold the joints together as the epoxy is curing.

I mixed the epoxy, went to each joint, applied it to the faces of the joints, put the pieces together, and applied the clamps.

I'll check the joints tomorrow, but won't be able to do anything else before next week.

Rails assembled!

It is now a week later, and the rails have dried. They seem to be good! A little cleanup is needed, but otherwise, I'm ready to start attaching the rails to the hull. I'll start that tomorrow.

Tapering the rails

So I have four rails. On each side, one rail will be epoxied to the boat, and another will be epoxied to the first rail.

But the rails are straight and the boat is curved. The panels of the boat were forced into shape by wiring them together, epoxying, and then removing the wires. The rails will be curved by clamping them to the side of the boat, screwing them in temporarily, and then epoxying, and replacing the screws.

According to the manual, the ends of the rails need to be tapered. To make sure that I did taper the correct side of the rail, I called CLC support. They said that the tapering is needed to increase flexibility. This was confusing to me because I would expect that to increase flexibility, you would make the rail thinner. I.e., reduce the thickness of the rail, not it's height. But no, I was told that it is the rail height that needs to be reduced (1" to 3/4"), not the thickness (the 3/4" dimension), and that this would increase flexibility.

Okay, as I'm typing this, and re-reading the manual, I am confused. The manual says: Tapering the ends of the rails enhances their appearance enormously. The manual gives one reason for tapering (appearance), while support gives a different reason (flexibility). And the reason from support doesn't make sense to me. Also, it seems like tapering the height of the rail will be just about invisible.

Also confusing, in the manual: The rails are laminated to the sides of the boat; you’ll only taper the inner of the two layers. The outer layer will be planed to the same taper on the boat. Why? If, as the support person said, the tapering is done to increase flexibility, wouldn't it make sense to taper before? And if the tapering is for appearance, again, wouldn't it just be simpler to taper before installation?

Time for another call to CLC support.

Anyway, I did taper the inner rails, because that much is uncontroversial, even if the reason for doing so is unclear.

To do the tapering, I used a new tool, a block plane. Surprisingly complex little thing. There are two screws, one adjusting the amount by which the blade protrudes past the bottom surface of the plane, the other holding an adjustable plate in place. That plate slides back and forth to vary the width of the gap where the shavings make their exit. That plate is adjusted by a lever, and then there is another lever for the angle of the blade.

I watched some youtube videos to understand how all this works. And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't. When the plane didn't work, it would either get stuck in the wood (blade protruding too far); or it would slide back and forth with no resistance (blade not protruding far enough). And further complications result from the gap being too big or too small. I found it quite tricky to get everything adjusted right, but I was occasionally able to get the plane working. Look, shavings!

I finished the tapering and cleaned up the shavings. I am now cleaning up as I go along, since my workspace turned into such a disaster before. (In computer science terms, I am doing incremental garbage collection instead of stop-the-world garbage collection.)

Then I turned the boat over, and fitted the rails to the boat with clamps.

No epoxying until I call CLC and understand tapering better, and perhaps decide to taper the outer rails before installing them.

Next day: I called CLC and now I understand. The outer rails, when bent around the inner rails, will trace a slightly longer path. So tapering to match the inner rails before gluing them to the inner rails will result in mismatched tapers. Now needless to say, with my tapering skills, this wouldn't matter. My work with a plane is not so precise that it's going to matter. Also, I don't see how even skillful planing could produce a good taper. Getting a uniform angle for the taper from a plane, that removes wood in thin layers, seems impossible, (except asymptotically).

So here's my plan: I'm going to unclamp the inner rails, pencil in the taper that I want (starting with the currently tapered rails, of course), and then sand to get the taper right. Then attach the inner rails, and attach the outer rails. Finally, plane and sand the outer rails to match the inner rails.

Inner rails installed, mostly

Today's project was to install the inner rails on the boat: epoxy them in place, and screw them in at each end. I'm mostly there.

The first side went pretty smoothly. This doesn't look much different before, except this time, the rail is now installed permanently. The clamps are there until the epoxy cures. And note those two screws, that went in successfully. It doesn't always go that way.

The screws didn't go in so well on the other side. I managed to drill way too deep, so I had to drill more holes. I'll patch these up with filler later.

In dealing with one of these problem holes, I managed to strip a screw. Can't go forward and can't go back. I will go crying to the forums and CLC support to get help.

The rails were actually too long for the boat (by design), and had to be sawed off. I got to use my Japanese hand saw.

The saw is very thin. Just taking it out of its packaging, it vibrated and made a sound like a sword being removed from a scabbard, (in movies, at least).

This is an astonishingly good tool. My experience with sawing is that it takes a lot of effort, and results in a sore hand and arm. But this trimmed the rail in two easy strokes, much easier than I was anticipating. To be fair, the rail is pretty thin, but I expected more resistance.

I took the sawed off piece, put it in my vise, and tried cutting it with the saw I had used previously:

And this was pretty easy too, but definitely took more effort than the Japanese hand saw required.

Next day: It's April 28, 2022, and unseasonably cold. And windy.

We have been doing a lot of work on the house, getting ready for the summer, but also doing long-postponed maintenance. We put in a generator, because of increasingly bad storms, bringing down trees, and resulting in power outages. If that happens in winter, we lose heat, and then out pipes will freeze and burst. We replaced the furnace, because it started flaking out last summer, and it's 40 years old. While we were at it, we put in a bigger hot water tank. We're now off oil and on propane (furnace and generator). We're getting the motorboat detailed and fixing the problems it has accumulated over 15 years. (We're also getting a retractable top, so we don't roast out on the lake, on the really sunny days.)

And we've been fixing screens and windows. A repairman came to the house today to work on the windows. He saw my boat project, and we discussed it a little. I asked if he knew how to remove a stripped screw, and sure enough, he had the right tool. As you can see above, the screw is protruding. I tried using pliers to remove it, but couldn't get them to grab on tightly enough. This guy had a vise grip which could grab on tightly enough, and that was that.

So even though the problem was fixed, it looks like a really handy tool, so I bought one.

Inspecting yesterday's work, I noticed that at the bow and stern, where I had problems with the screws, the rail wasn't tight against the boat. I could actually see through the gaps.

So today I filled those gaps with epoxy, and added screws where needed. I'll come back next week to check and see whether I can move on to the second set of rails.

There Will be Blood

Here's some foreshadowing for you.

It's May 5. The epoxy has dried, so I removed the clamps, and here it is. The boat with the first set of rails:

I clamped on the second set of rails, to prepare for installing them. Following advice in the manual, and from the CLC forums, I needed to cut a notch into each end of the outer rails, to create a place for clamps to secure the ends of the rails during installation. I used my favorite saw to do this, (the picture shows the two rails clamped together. Easier to get things symmetric this way.)

Now I try to be careful. I really do. But as regular readers of this blog know, my attempts to execute various tasks on this project often fail. This time, I tried to be careful not to saw off my left hand (the one not holding the saw). But that made the sawing pretty awkward. I was unable to both hold in place the rail that I was sawing, and to saw away from all body parts. Perhaps I could have used the vise, clamping it to the sawhorse. Next time. But this time, I reasoned as follows: the saw is already sawing into the wood, nowhere near the top end of the saw blade. There is no way for the saw to jump out and attack my hand holding the rail.

Well, of course there was a way, and just as I finished cutting the notch into the last of the rail ends, the saw did in fact, somehow, slip out and land on my left index finger.

There was quite a bit more blood after this picture was taken. Not enough to require the services of Mr. Wolf, but there was more of my blood outside my body than I would have preferred.

I sealed up the screws and abandoned screw holes at the bow and stern with epoxy, and when that sets, I will install the second set of rails.

Second rails installed (?)

Oh yeah, I'm a pro at this by now. Sand the boat where the rails will attach, mix the epoxy (mustard consistency), apply to the boat, apply to the rails, clamp in place, screw in each end. And it all went pretty smoothly, and without further bloodshed.

Those notches, which I paid for in blood were useless. The large clamps I had didn't fit around them, the larger clamps slid off, and finally the rails past the notches broke off. Just a fiasco. But between the other clamps, and my holding the rail end in place temporarily with my hand, I was able to get the screw holes drilled, and screws put in.

This picture is not a duplicate. It looks a lot like the picture after installing the first set of rails, but there is indeed a second set of rails present.

But it wasn't pretty. There is a lot of cleanup to be done.

As usual, I won't declare victory until I see how things are on my next visit. Epoxy runs, rails popping off, who knows what I'll find.


It's May 11. It's been a week since I installed the second set of rails. With some trepidation, I removed the clamps. It's like that moment in movies when the kidnapper removes the gag and handcuffs from his victim, and the question is whether the victim is going to scream or try to escape. In this case, I was wondering whether, with the clamps removed, the rails would violently spring off the boat. And nothing happened.

So moving on. There is epoxy all over the place. The ends of the rails need to trimmed and rounded. Remember the tapering? I tapered the first set of rails, but I was supposed to taper the second set after the rails were glued on. So that still has to be done. And then I've got to seal the screws and abandoned screw holes, sand everything down, and coat the rails with epoxy.

Here is the bow end of the boat before all the cleanup.

I trimmed and rounded the rails, sanded everything, and while the signs of epoxy slop are everywhere, it's looking better. Here's the stern:

You can see that the tapering still needs to be done: the outer part of the rail is thicker than the inner part:

Here's the bow:

I flipped the boat upside down to taper the outer part of the rails. As before, the plane was sometimes working, sometimes not. And also, the blade kept moving around. It finally occurred to me that the screw holding the blade and plane together could be tightened!

Yes, that should have been obvious to me last time. Once I tightened that screw, the plane worked perfectly and consistently, and I was able to taper the rails quickly.

Look at that rail. Just look at it. You can actually see a thin line running down the middle, because it is two separate rails, glued together. Declaring victory on this. And here we are:

Tomorrow, I get to buy a router, to finish the edges of the rails. (That tool will also be useful later, when I need to open a slot in the bottom of the boat to accommodate the daggerbaord.)

Backward and forward

It's May 12, and it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, (view from the 3rd floor).

I was reluctant to do this next part. The rails were looking so neat yesterday. But part of finishing up the rails involves adding more epoxy to seal up various holes and accidental gouges, then more sanding. There's a lot of that in this project. Get something done, it looks great (more precisely, as good as I'm going to get it), but progress requires creating another mess.

So today's work was to apply the epoxy, combined with wood flour, mustard consistency. I made it a bit thicker than normal because some of the gaps are pretty big, and I wanted to minimize dripping. In particular there are still pretty big gaps between the rails and the boat at the two ends. Here is the stern:

This really looks like a first pass. There are two gouges where the epoxy did drip, in spite of my efforts. (Those are the result of misdrilled holes. I forgot to allow for the fact that the rails were tapered there.)

The bow isn't quite so bad.

More next week.

Finishing the rails

It's May 18, and it is starting to get warmer here. Still a bit windy.

I sanded down the epoxy from last week, that I added to fix the mistakes I made installing the rails.

The bow and stern are starting to look better.

After that, I needed to round the sharp edges of the rail. Mark came to the rescue again. My plan was to buy a router for a couple of tasks, including rounding the rail edges. I sent him questions about brands and features. He volunteered to loan me what I needed from his extensive collection of routers. For the rail edges, he sent me on my way with his smallest router, and a collection of bits.

First some practice.

Between youtube videos, and Mark's instructions, rounding the edges was quite easy.

There was a lot of sawdust.

Next there will be three rounds of epoxy on the rails, (sanding in between), first on the rail bottoms (currently facing up) and sides, and later, when I next flip the boat over, the tops. But the rails are done.

Starting on the skeg

The next project is the skeg. This is sort of a mini-rudder that gets attached to the rear of the boat, to keep it on course. Reading through the instructions for installing the skeg, I can tell that this is going to provoke much anxiety. I have to shape the inner edge to match the contour of the boat, where the skeg attaches. I will have to both glue and screw in the skeg. It has to be installed exactly along the centerline of the boat, and at exactly 90 degrees, or the boat will, I guess, constantly pull to one side or the other.

But the immediate task is easy. I just have to take the two skeg pieces and glue them together.

Fitting the skeg to the hull

May 19. I applied the second coat of epoxy to the rails (bottom and side). The ends are looking better still.

The skeg has to be fit to the hull. It should fit perfectly, but since my work on the hull has not been perfect, it doesn't quite fit. The gaps are easy to see here:

And easier to see here:

I spent a couple of hours alternating between: fitting the skeg on the boat and looking for contact points; and sanding down those contact points. I'm being very conservative, as I can easily see how I could sand the skeg away completely. I would sand down one point of contact. But I would sand it too much, leaving another point in contact, sanding that down, and so on. But that didn't happen, so far at least. I just kept sanding the same three areas, reducing the gaps, and improving the fit.

But the skeg still doesn't fit right, there are still gaps that I think are too wide. So I called CLC support. This was a valuable phone call. I learned three things. 1) The guy I spoke to (Terry, I've spoken to him many times over the years), said that he was just working on a skeg, and he also has to deal with gaps. Good to know that it isn't just me, and that even literal professionals have the same problem. 2) Gaps are fine if they aren't too big, they will be filled in with epoxy. 3) Terry had a neat trick for sanding: Adhesive sandpaper is a thing that exists. Apply it to the boat, where the skeg will attach. Then fit the skeg to the boat, and move it back and forth wherever the skeg is in contact with the sandpaper. Those points, of course, are exactly the places where sanding is needed. Then, when the skeg fits well, turn the adhesive upside down, and use it to rough up the hull where the skeg will be glued. I'll try that next week.

Filling time ...

May 27: I was in Maine for a couple of days, but couldn't work on the skeg. Apparently, a roll of 80 grit adhesive sandpaper is not a common item, not in stock at Lowe's. So I ordered it online and did other things this week. Including, installation of the dock:

Installing the dock requires balance (walking on the frame of the dock before the boards are in place), and small amounts of agility, fine motor control, and strength. It is one of the things that I use as a sign of impending decrepitude. I figure that if I can still put in the dock every spring, and remove it every fall, I'm still in reasonable condition. This is my getup for installing the dock (from five years ago):

The aluminum frame has sharp edges, and once I slipped and received a really nasty gash on my shin. So now I wear a hockey goalie's shin guards.

Audrey tested out the dock as soon as it was in.

While I wasn't working on the dock, I worked on the top sides of the rails and breasthooks, after flipping the boat over. First I sanded:

Then, I checked one more time for gaps between the hull and the rails.

I filled those in.

I will start sanding and epoxying those parts next time, and get back to work on the skeg. (My roll of adhesive 80 grit sandpaper has arrived.)

Moving day

Audrey has had enough of sawdust and epoxy dust floating through the house, and it's getting warm, so I once again moved my work area from the basement to the lower garage. I spent the morning cleaning out the lower garage: trash from the last time I worked there, whatever the critters brought in over a couple of winters, and just the spontaneously generated schmutz that somehow appears in garages.

First I moved everything but the boat.

Then we had to move the boat. Nearly two years ago (!) we moved the boat, I dropped my end, and split it open. The problem is that the boat is 15' long, and 56" wide, and my two work areas are connected by a door that isn't wide enough.

I thought about taking the boat outside, and carrying it around the house. But that proved to be unworkable. There is a path, but it is too narrow:

And the path is adjacent to a steep hill.

I though about going under the deck, but there is no path wide enough.

So we just did what we've done before, carrying the boat inside the house, tipping it sideways to get through the door.

The only actual work on the boat itself was to put the first coat of epoxy on the rail tops and the breasthooks. Things always look so much better once epoxy hides all my mistakes.

Back to the skeg

It's June 8. There was very dense fog this morning, but it cleared up to a beautiful day. (Except for lingering mayflies.)

I only have one day to work on the boat this week, between a trip to Atlanta (Audrey and I visited Mario & family, while he and Simos attended the "blade show"); events in New York and at home for Hannah's fourth book, and then a road trip to Canada to visit Chris, Gord & Leslie, and attend Andrew Bronfman's wedding. So no more boat work until late June.

My adhesive sandpaper arrived.

I applied it to the boat, where the skeg will go.

And then I started sanding, by moving the skeg back and forth, and left and right. I also needed to sand some spots by hand, and with the sander.

The gaps are much smaller, but not completely gone. I may do more sanding, but I should be able to attach the skeg when I return. Here are the gaps now. (Seems better than before.)

Skeg installed

Here we are, one month later, July 8, 2022. Here's what I've been up to, instead of working on my boat:

So, yeah, a lot has happened. But nothing on the boat.

But yesterday and today I got the skeg installed. I spent another couple of hours sanding the skeg to conform to the hull. Then I lined up the skeg on the hull, marking where it was going to go permanently, drilled pilot holes through the hull. Audrey helped me duct-tape the skeg into place. From below the boat (which is currently upside down) I drilled through the pilot holes into the skeg.

And it was not good. The skeg was off-center.

So I tried again today, drilling some new pilot holes, and finally got it right. Then it was time to epoxy and screw the skeg into place. I thought I would approach this very methodically, since I had two epoxy tasks. I also needed to repair a broken bowl. So my plan was to mix some plain epoxy, fix the bowl, then add wood filler, epoxy the skeg into place, screw it in, and then apply more epoxy to the outside edge of the skeg.

And it all went well, through the second step, anyway. But something about epoxy makes me frantic. I am still paranoid about the epoxy drying too fast, positioning the pieces incorrectly, dripping, and in general, making difficult-to-fix messes. So I forgot to consult my checklist, and forgot to add the wood filler.

Fortunately, I didn't get very far before realizing this, so I mixed in some wood filler, and resumed. And here we are.

The bowl is fixed (no, the duct tape is not permanent).

And the skeg is in place: