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Moving Outside

By micahsimmons - Posted on 25 March 2012

transomWith the floor planed and its bevel roughed out, I'm ready to move the boat parts to the carport and begin setting up to hang the planks.  I made a pair of sturdy sawhorses out of two by fours, and when I had the bottom laying across them, I saw right away that they were too short for the stem.  How did I possibly fail to account for the length of the stem when I was making sawhorses for this very specific purpose?  I've found that when I build and fabricate, the most frequent challenge is correcting after the fact for one important point or other that I missed in the planning stage. It doesn't really even surprise or upset me anymore.  It's something I expect.  In this case, I shimmed the front sawhorse with a piece of two by four, and put the back sawhorse on a bottom cleat.  When I braced the bottom to the ceiling of the carport, the boat had about three inches of rocker when the stem was against the floor, which was a relief since I had no idea how to make a form for the curve of the bottom.  I'm not too clear on how rocker affects the way a boat handles, but I gather that it's important and one of the things that makes a dory handle so well in rough water. 

                                                                                                                                                                           KneeWith the bottom up on sawhorses and braced, I started to attach the transom.  I set my table saw blade at a five degree angle and ripped a short piece of two by four to have something to set my bevel square to, clamped the transom in my vice, and planed the angle on where the transom meets the bottom.  The plans call for two braces (called knees) between the bottom and transom.  You're supposed to find part of a tree trunk with a limb growing from it at a ninety degree angle and slice the knees out of it so that the grain follows the bend of the finished knee.  That turned out to be a project that wasn't quite as straightforward as the book made it look.


   My sister and brother-in-law live on a farm that's about five miles from my house, and that seemed like my best bet for a transom knee.  I called Rebecca and asked if I could come cut some knees at her house, and after I explained that it wasn't what it sounded like, she said I was welcome to.  What with one thing and another, my nephew and I shot the better part of an afternoon cutting up a dead locust tree, and I went home with two crooks that looked like they'd yield three or four good knees. When I had the first crook up on the splitting block outside the shop, I saw that I was going to need some way to hold the log upright and leave both hands free  for the chainsaw, so off to the forge I went. 


My great granddaddy Hollen was a road commissioner in Rockingham County, Virginia.  The county owned and operated a quarry, and there was a forge in the quarry that was used to sharpen and repair rock drills.  A charge was set off too close to the blacksmith shop, and a chunk of rock came down and broke a chunk out of the side of the forge.  The county bought another forge, and Grandaddy Hollen took the broken one home and bolted a patch over the broken side.  I'm not sure if he ever used it, but his son-in-law, my Grandad Simmons did until he quit farming, when the forge was moved into the dairy barn and gradually covered in other things that didn't have an immediate purpose, but were far too good to throw away.  When Grandad died, I put his forge and anvil in the back room of my shop, and tinkered with it off and on for the next couple of years.


     I work for a Caterpillar dealer, and about three years ago, our shop rebuilt cylinder heads for a huge generator engine, and I kept all the old valve springs because if you have a forge, collecting scrap metal that's bound to be useful for something is just what you have to do, and if you want to be all uptown about it, you can put the pile behind the shop instead of on the front porch.  Living in Lawn, back yards are a pretty good gauge of community standards, ranging from landscaped perfection to a large collection of unrelated piles.  I have a neighbor on one side who mows twice a week and doesn't have a blade of grass out of place, and a neighbor on the other side who has a bass boat disappearing under a brush pile while falling over onto an old swing set that has blue tarps decaying slowly on it. I'm careful to make sure I fall in the middle somewhere.  My back yard isn't the most orderly, but it isn't the junkiest, and that's what I'm shooting for; I don't want anyone to think I'm putting on airs, but I don't want the neighbors talking about me behind their hands, either, so the scrap pile is out behind the blacksmith shop.  One of the real challenges is drawing the line between useful scrap and junk.  I could cut pieces of sheet metal out of the side of an old kitchen range and burn the paint off, but how long can I have a partial stove carcass in the yard before I start making Kentuckians get misty eyed for home? Given my genetics and ancestry, will I be able to see the line before I cross it? I worry, but I only really started to worry in the year of the squirrel barrel. 

     When I bought this house in 2002, there was a blue plastic barrel that was left in the shop by the previous owner. I used it as a trash can in the shop for several years.  In 2006, I started remodeling one of the upstairs bedrooms, and used the barrel to haul broken up plaster out of the house.  When the last of the plaster was hauled away, I left the barrel outside by the blacksmith shop door and forgot about it. plastic barrel

     Fall came, and the barrel filled with dead leaves and rain water, eventually stained nearly black with tannin.  Winter came, and the barrel froze.  I walked past it one day talking coal to the forge, and noticed that there was a furry gray tail sticking out of the ice.  I looked closer and saw that a large squirrel had fallen in the barrel sometime in the fall, and was face down, enclosed in the ice.  Thanks to the ice, it wasn't an immediate problem, so I forgot about it until spring. 

     That spring, a high school friend I hadn't seen for almost twenty years called out of the blue.  I invited her to come over for lunch, and was cleaning the place up for company when I walked past the squirrel barrel.  Oh my goodness, was that ever nasty, but what to do?  There was no way I could move fifty-five gallons of water without getting covered in decaying squirrel goo, and there was no way I was going to try to fish the corpse out of the water.  I sharpened a tomato stake, and poked a hole in the side of the barrel near the bottom to let the water drain away. 

  At first it wasn't too bad, but the smell got worse and worse as the barrel drained.  The closer the squirrel remains got to the bottom, the stronger the smell got until even the driveway was covered in a sickening miasma of rotten leaves, something closely akin to sewer, and long dead, liquified rodent.  There was no ignoring it, so I had for the first (and I hope last) time to explain to a guest what the horrifying stench was that was covering the neighborhood, and how it was my fault.  That's  why I worry; I'm clearly capable of trashy things.

     Worried or not, I have to have a stash of scrap metal, and the need to saw knees out of tree trunks was a real vindication.  I'd seen pictures somewhere of log dogs, which look like huge staples and are used to hold two logs together at right angles to one another so that the top log can be split or cut.  I found some half inch square stock in my scrap pile, lit the forge, and made a pair of log dogs.  Nailed into the tree limb and chopping block, they held the limb firmly and ready to saw. 

     I cut two slices and found that the limb was mostly hollow and riddled with insect damage, and was therefore useless to make knees out of.  I'd already shot an entire afternoon on the project, and couldn't face heading back to the woods, so I made two triangular braces out of red oak with a pegged mortise and tenon joint at the bottom.  They might not be quite as strong or compact as a naturally grown knee, but I think they'll be strong enough.  I hope so.  And if you know anyone who's in the market for a pair of nearly-new log dogs, let me know.

log doglog dog

Greatest post ever! From stinky dead sqirrels to log dogs and we end up with a nice set of knees. Micah I look forward to the rest of your build and hope you'll continue to share your experiences in this way. A boat is more than a boat when there is a story behind it and a story behind the builder. I enjoyed reading your story this morning and laughed out loud several times. And, you ended up with a very nice set of knees. -- Well done!

;-) Paul

PS - I totally identify with the challenges of holding on to useful junk. Funny, my wife says the same thing about me. ;-)

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