Gluing Up–And Getting a Lesson in Humility

    The full keel after gluing. Admire the attractive lines, but try to ignore the worrisome gaps in the laminated keel boards.

The full keel after gluing. Admire the attractive lines, but try to ignore the worrisome gaps in the laminated keel boards.

As the crew of the Cimba arrives in the South Seas (after an uneventful nineteen-day passage from the Galapagos Islands), the temperature in eastern Pennsylvania finally warms up. The forecast predicts two days in the low 70’s. This is the minimum temperature needed to use plastic resin glue, which means I can get back to work.

The day starts cold, so I fill time by rereading the instructions about gluing and watching the instructional DVD that came with my plans. The video shows Pete Stevenson (the boat’s designer) and associates cheerfully scooping the dry glue powder into a can and casually pouring in some water and stirring. The consistency should be like “pancake batter,” they say, as the ingredients are combined with easy insouciance. The keel parts are brushed with the glue, slapped together like a sandwich, and quickly nailed together. In the DVD, this takes about five minutes.

It looks easy. It even looks fun.

I watch the thermometer and by early afternoon the temperature has risen to the upper sixties—not quite warm enough, but everything is ready and I am unwilling to cancel my plans. A couple of degree can’t hurt, right?

I confidently scoop some of the powder into a jar and begin adding water. I’m looking for pancake batter, but suddenly I realize just how subjective this consistency really is. Bisquick batter? Buttermilk pancake batter? Or homemade oatmeal pancake batter (my personal favorite)? Each has a different consistency. One is thick and sticky; the other is thin and almost watery. I add more water, then sprinkle in some more powder, trying to find a happy medium.

The final product might be a bit thick, but it’s still thinner than woodworking glue, so I decide it’s good enough. Next, I imitate the video and dip a cheap bristle brush into the goo and begin spreading it—thinly but not too thinly—on all four parts of the keel and stem. It’s sticky, kind of sloppy, and takes longer than I expected. I keep worrying that the glue will start to dry before I am finished, so I pick up the pace and slap the brush with effort, back and forth.

Finally, all the parts are covered and I quickly flip the top half on top of the bottom half and slide the pieces together, trying to line up the edges along all fourteen feet. This, too, takes time.

The next step is to secure the pieces with screws, one every four inches along both the top and bottom edges—more than 100 screws altogether. Still worrying about the glue setting, I work like a madman. I first use a countersink to predrill the holes, moving down the board with reckless speed– zing-zing-zing, over and over again. Now I replace the countersink bit with a phillips head screw bit, grab the bag of stainless steel screws I ordered online several weeks earlier, and drive all the screws within a matter a minutes.

The stem and part of the keel showing screws.

The stem and part of the keel showing screws.

I step back, ready to admire my work and relax, but instead I immediately notice several thin gaps along the top edge of the keel where the boards did not quite come together despite the screws. They aren’t wide, but I know they shouldn’t be there. Gaps let water seep in between the laminations and then…Well, I didn’t know what would happen, exactly. But it couldn’t be good. So I quickly grab my complete supply of clamps and tighten them around the widest gaps. This helps, but I run out of clamps before I run out of gaps, so I simply have to give up.

By now it’s late afternoon and the temperature, which never really hit an honest 70 degrees, is starting to drop and despite my overwrought concerns about premature setting it’s clear that the glue won’t be fully dry for a long time. Confronting this new crisis, I quickly make a tent over the keel with sawhorses, boards and several large tarps. I position a space heater inside and turn it on. Within a few minutes, it feels nice a warm inside the makeshift shelter and I congratulate myself for being able to solve one problem.

Still, I left the garage feeling that I still did everything wrong. I should have carefully measured the glue instead of following the “pancake batter” formula. I should have taken more time painting the glue; perhaps the gaps came from an unnecessarily thick application. Finally, I probably should have been more patient and waited for a warmer day when I wouldn’t have the added worry about glue setting–or not setting, as turned out to be the case.

The next morning dawned bright and warm. I pulled away the tarps, turned off the heater and inspected my work. The glue is dry and firm, but the gaps remain. I wonder if my mistakes—whatever they might have been–will have repercussions for years to come. This thought depresses me for a while, but I spend the rest of the day giving myself a pep talk. “This is your first boat, Paul. You knew this was going to be a learning experience. And, besides, you’ll still be able to get on the water and head down the Chesapeake Bay.” This helps. I have now moved past anger and self-recrimination and have achieved acceptance.

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3 Responses to Gluing Up–And Getting a Lesson in Humility

  1. chris says:

    Use to own the old pocket cruiser called titsaworri, rot eventually killed it but it was a safe solid boat, I think it would be easier to build a new boat than rebuild one, You are doing a great job

  2. Vincentiu from Romania says:

    I started to resize to 112% plans for the PC. All the pictures are very helpful. Congratulations!

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