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Book Review


Rodger Swanson wrote this nice review for Messing About in Boats

Building Strip-Planked Boats

With Complete Plans and Instructions

for a Dinghy, a Canoe, and a Kayak You Can Build

International Marine/McGraw Hill

Camden, ME

Copyright 2009

280 pages, soft cover

by Nick Schade

The Book and Boats that Changed my Mind

Review by Rodger C. Swanson

Upon receipt of a new book, I like to read the back cover. Publishers' promises tend to be extravagant. Many times, I've been assured of a like-changing result if I would "just follow a few simple suggestions." You know the drill. The most recent arrival's included the following:

Build a Wooden Boat

THAT IS LIGHT, DURABLE, AND FURNITURE QUALITY BEAUTIFUL

. . . Inside Building Strip-planked Boats, you will find:

  • Complete plans for a canoe, a kayak and a dinghy
  • Step-by-step instructions for any strip-built boat
  • Everything you need to know about materials, tools, and safety
  • Tips on how to adapt your favorite boat design to strip construction
  • Photos and ideas for decorative treatments to inspire you

"This book distills Nick Schade's artistry, craftsmanship and decades of experience into the essential bible of strip-planked boatbuilding." - John C. Harris, Chesapeake Light Craft

It so happens John is owner of Chesapeake Light Craft, the company which markets all of Nick's kits. One might expect him to be a tad biased, and to engage in a bit of hyperbole. Well folks, in my opinion, Mr. Harris did not overstate himself. The book really is that good!

Before going further, I must confess that as a stripbuilder I have been "in rehab" for for three decades (that's right, 30 years). The first boat I helped build was a 16' woodstrip canoe. Armed with youth, enthusiasm and a first-edition copy of David Hazen's The Stripper's Guide to Canoe-building, my friend Jack and I turned out a fine boat. We were thrilled with the result and thoroughly enjoyed using it. Not surprisingly, we envisioned a fleet of custom beauties stretching toward the horizon.

As work on Hull #2 progressed, however, the sheer tedium of strip-building (as then practiced) began to sap my enthusiasm. Midway, I attended the 1979 Small Craft Workshop at Mystic Seaport, coming home with plans for a decked 12' Rob Roy double-paddle canoe. My plan was to coordinate construction of the smaller hull with completion of the larger. I thought this would constitute savings in time, energy and money, and restore my ardor. I used the same strongback configuration as for the 16-footer and followed the same planking sequence. The process wasn't pleasant and the result wasn't pretty. Hull #2 turned out even better than #1 and went on to a good home. The Rob Roy (and this is putting it charitably) was a "lumpy little clunker" and went onto the scrap heap. At that point, NEVER would be soon enough for another stripper.

The real problem, of course, was not being (at the time) experienced enough to turn out a truly elegant boat. And that's the kind of boat the Rob Roy deserved to be. I wanted to build it to the level promised in John Harris's endorsement, furniture quality beautiful. As it turns out, thanks toBuilding Strip-planked BoatsI believe I can now achieve this.

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As anyone familiar with Nick's work (designing, building, teaching, writing and getting out on the water at every possible opportunity) would expect, Building Strip-planked Boats is exceptional. I regard Ted Moore's books as benchmarks in the strip-planked canoe and kayak genre' and this book puts Nick solidly in that category. No small accomplishment.

As to the author's goals, I'll let him speak for himself:

"The goals of this book are to introduce strip-building to beginners, to provide new ideas to novice builders, and to help experienced builders bring their work to the next level . . ."

My first focus when reviewing a building manual is: Could one build a boat they're pleased with and proud of solely from the information in this manual? RE Building Strip-planked Boats, absolutely!

My second focus: How clearly and efficiently does the author impart the information necessary to accomplish the above? My "lifetime list" icons in this area are Ted Moores, Walter J. Simmons, Thomas J. Hill and David Nichols. Simmons and Moores are sparse, no-nonsense writers; Nichols employs some wry humor at key points; and Hills' style is self-effacing but direct. Nick's style is a match for clarity. His text engages the reader so they feel they're both learning something and getting somewhere (even though all they've done so far is read). Nick's forte' is the occasional chuckle-inducing curve (as in, "Don't even think of using your significant other's measuring cups!"), which I find refreshing.

He devotes the first 10 chapters to laying out the tasks and methods entailed in just about any strip-building process you might want to attempt. The last three chapters describe how you can apply these to three (very different) designs. In each case, he includes demonstration of design-specific tasks (install- ing gunwales, seats, and accomplishing decorative treatments) that provide a full exploration of the building process. In order, Coot, Nymph and Petrel present the reader with the "beginner-to-novice-to- experienced builder" progression promised in the statement of goals.

In this respect, Building Strip-planked Boats is a rarity. Most books of this type, however excel- lent in other respects, focus on a specific expertise level. It seems that once most craftsman have gone on to the next level, they can seldom any longer do justice to the prior one. Nick moves from the simple to the intermediate and on to the complex smoothly and seamlessly. Coot gets as much attention as Nymph and Petrel, and isn't required to apologize to its more evolved kinfolk. Consequently, a beginner can build the dinghy with the assurance they're producing a craft worthy in its own right. Nymph and Petrel builders can rest with equal comfort on their own laurels.

Many of the best builders are also gifted designers. Their hulls have a distinctive aesthetic signature that sets them apart, you know them when you see them. Pulling this off requires a surety of skill that allows application of a specific construction technique to a given hull form in a fashion resulting not just in structural integrity and excellent performance but also provides visual delight. All the designer/ builders mentioned above bring this to their work. Again, Nick shows himself to be in excellent company.

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Turning, then, to the high-lighted focal points laid out by the good Mr. Harris: - Complete plans for a canoe, a kayak, and a dinghy All the designs are excellent. I learned to sail in an Atkin pram and have retained a liking for the type. Coot's an excellent example, with the lines to be a good performer. While I think it's at its best in the rowing version presented, Nick points out its adaptability to sail. I wouldn't rule this out if one would like a boat that can either sail or row well within its design limitations. My principal reservation about dinghies is their tendency to "ride light." This isn't surprising, given their original purpose was to ferry people and provisions back and forth from dock to larger vessel. Myself, lacking ballast in the form of a passenger, I just toss in a couple of sand bags and proceed happily on my way.

In its original ten-foot version, Nymph was intended as an ultralight craft for the smaller under 150#) paddler. The more recent 12' incarnation will happily handle a two-hundred-pounder. Nick weighs in at 190 (sorry, fella, but the information is technically pertinent) and finds 10' to be marginal (water getting a bit too close to the gunnels) but 12' "just right." Visually, Nymph is the most out of the ordinary of the three. Her most striking feature is the concave tumble-home sheer- strake, it's gorgeous and just the right touch for setting the hull off as a unique visual feast. But, is it worth all that extra effort? I'd say so. In regard to configuration, the treatment results in a narrowing of the gunnel-to-gunnel width. This makes for greater comfort and efficiency while paddling. Structurally, it provides the hull with extra stiffness. An additional function is to bring the top margin of the sheer- strake more toward the vertical. This allows for easier fitting of the gunnel and greater structural integrity, otherwise, the inner face of the gunnel would require an extreme bevel. There would be extra (and difficult) work in fabricating and the top surface of the outwale would cant at an odd appear- ing angle.

The Petrel speaks at multiple levels. Its hull form suits the experienced paddler. Its structural elements suit the professional level builder. As the author points out, it can serve as a set piece for going beyond ones previous level. Regarding the internal strongback called for by this design, the preliminary (pp. 67-73) text lays out the how of constructing one, it's in the building chapter that one really begins to capture the why of going to so much effort. Design and fabrication of the deck brings home the visual enhancement achieved through such techniques as book-matching of strips (pp. 6, 63, 106-108, 225 & 240). On this boat, one can pull out all creative stops and go beyond "eye- catching" to "mesmerizing." - Step-by-step instructions for any strip-built boat Overall size and intended use are the primary limitations in selecting a design suitable for strip construction. I can't think of any reason why one couldn't use this book to accomplish the task. The only caveat I might state is there would be some instances that would call for choosing a type- specific manual. For example, if ones' desire is a full-size cane, then Ted Moores' Canoecraft would be the more straightforward route. For a transom-stern outboard skiff, Thomas J. Hills' recent two-part article on building the Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff (WoodenBoat Magazine, Issues 210 & 211) would get one on point quickly. For a guide-boat, one can't do better than Michael Olivette and John Michne's Building an Adirondack Guideboat: Woodstrip Reproductions of the Virginia. All that being said, though, I would still recommend reading Strip-Planked Boats first and keeping it ready to hand. - Everything you need to know about materials, tools and safety At the simplest level, I can't think of anything he skipped. Regarding the materials section, what's available changes constantly. The occasional builder like myself simply isn't in a position to keep up. Nick's design work (he does a lot of mock-ups and trial runs using materials and techniques) and building efforts are ongoing. He's in an ideal position to experiment, make a truly "informed" choice and go forward with what works best. Books get outdated quickly, though. A good option for keeping up is to check Nick's website (www.guillemot-kayaks.com) and click on to "Nick's Blog" for ongoing notes, tips and pointers. - Tips on how to adapt your favorite boat design to strip construction While accurate enough, don't interpret this too broadly. It doesn't mean major modifications such as altering the lines of a hull as drawn by the designer (not something to ever enter into lightly). What it does entail are more on the order of configuration changes. Examples would be cockpit location, size and shape; larger or smaller deck area; substitution of conventional framing with bulkheads, thwarts and decking systems; seat/thwart/backrest/footrest style and location; and the like. These aren't inconsequential matters.

Time to invoke my ill-fate Rob Roy effort. The original was built ca 1880. Dimensions: Length 11 _', inside beam 27 3/8", depth at coaming 12". Construction was lapstrake (1/4" white oak planking over sawn frames, all framing white oak or mahogany); copper fastenings; mahogany fore, aft and side decks; rectangular cockpit with coaming; mast collar and mast step for a downwind sail; and stern post fitted with gudgeons for a removable rudder. Amidships, the sheer strake carries a moderate tumblehome, tapering to the vertical as it approaches the stems. Altogether, a most handsome little craft.

My basement workshop will accommodate up to a 16' boat. The computer and drafting table are in an adjacent office area. Comes in handy.

As said, my original effort resulted in a "lumpy little clunker." I decided to "take a page" (both literally and figuratively) from Nick's book and do some mocking up to determine how I could improve my approach.

Using the table of offsets, I got out forms from uniform pieces of scrap plywood. While adept enough at lofting, I took the opportunity to check out Nick's lofting suggestions (pp. 47 to 50) and found them clear and helpful. The forms were tacked to an external box beam strongback (pages 67 to 73) with drywall screws.

The Rob Roy has (proportionally) a short, wide hull. A difficulty encountered in my first attempt was being unable to get the strips to conform smoothly to the curves required of them. Looking at the bottom patterns suggested on page 110, I could immediately see my first error. The stripping sequence was started with fabrication of a "parallel football" bottom and proceeding from there toward the sheerline While fine for a long, slim hull (15or sixteen feet and up), the parallel football requires subsequent strips to conform to an unmanageably sharp arc as the sheer is approached on a shorter, wider hull.. It also requires more "twist" toward the stems to get the strip to lay flat. If one compounds these effects with strips that are unnecessarily thick (strips used were 1/4 x 3/4 inches), they are well along the road to "lumpy clunkiness." The strip rigidity in both dimensions provides the "lump;" the excessive thickness the "clunk."

Having some 1/4 x 3/4 strips left over from a repair job, I thickness planed them to 3/16 of an inch. Using the thinner strips and starting at the line demarcating the tumblehome sheer margin (i.e., stripping from the sheer upwards), I found I could manage strip distortion well enough to be able to plank fairly close to the bottom. It was apparent a "straight line bottom" could be closed in with reasonable ease.

I'd used 6 ounce cloth originally (inside and out) as that's what was on hand from the larger canoes. Again, this was overkill. As indicated for Nymph, 4 ounce cloth would do just fine. Weight savings: Significant (i.e., vastly reduced "clunk factor").

Turning to the sections on strip fabricating and book matching of strips (pages 62 to 63, 106, 108), I was able to use woods on hand to make choices that would be both structurally appropriate and visually enhancing.

The other activities aren't pertinent here (they fascinated me of course, but are likely to merely bore you). Suffice it to say that an hour-and-a-half of re-reading and 4 to five hours spent in the shop experimenting with mockups resulted in a strategy that I'm confident will produce the result I've so long desired. - Photos and ideas for decorative ideas to inspire you There are a lot of them. Read, dream and enjoy!

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Regarding oar and paddle selection for the designs, Nick doesn't state any. I do regard this as an oversight. These are the recommendations he made when I phoned him:

Coot: Good quality 7-foot light weight wood oars. (I'd suggest leathered oars with open top oarlocks. Check out Shaw and Tenney's offerings.)

Nymph: 239 cm. double paddle. (The Herreshoff style double paddle offered by Shaw andTenney would complement Nymph beautifully.)

Petrel: 210 cm. kayak paddle. Nick favors what he calls "conventional" kayak paddle styles. He isn't a great fan of the Greenland style that's recently come into vogue. If you want a paddle that would perform wonderfully and would be a perfect visual match for this boat, check out his instructions on making your own in his book The Strip-built Sea Kayak (pp. 160 to 169). If you want ready-made, check Chesapeake Light Craft's online site. They have some good options.

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That's about it. Buy the book. Build the boat. See you on the water come Spring!