Selecting a Project or Construction Technique


...and some thoughts on "reverse engineering"

...The Cult of the Kludge & The Great Paradox of the Kludge

Please consider these thoughts before proceeding...

Kludge (pronounced: kloodge) Description: The act of adjusting (cobbling together) what one has in hand or has access to, in order to overcome an obstacle, usually involving some degree of compromise and creativity. Probably derived from the German word Klug: intelligent, clever, bright smart wise; or Klugheit: cleverness, brains, good sense, and knowledge.

If you have never come across the slang term "kludge" (=kloodge) as in "kludged-together" you have never built a boat, restored an old house, or been trapped in a business meeting with a fool. You can kludge your way out of a lot of nasty situations. This is simply done by facing-down futility by settling that feeling of hopeless fear in the pit of your stomach, then making due with the cards that you have been dealt. The crux of the apostrophe (as the late, great Frank Zappa would say), is to become so masterful with the kludge as to have all of your friends and family thinking that you are not a Red Green jerry-rig-style handyman, but a fine artist, designer and craftsperson on the order of, oh say, Leonardo DaVinci.

Wood and fiberglass boat building can be very forgiving, and forgiving construction techniques and patience are what elevate we commoners to the level of those great masters like Leonardo. There are a few places where common sense (if in doubt, measure and lay it out two or three times) and caution (if that epoxy may not be mixed correctly, discard the batch and start over) must take precedence over any thoughts of later "adjustment." There is an aspect of letting go of written and verbal instruction and other guides and allowing your intuition to help direct your decision making. So it goes... this is what makes the project fun and challenging.

It can be argued that most great sculptors and painters are the ultimate kludge masters. They start with a rough sketch, then let their brain and eyes guide them through a mostly subconscious series of adjustments to come up with a "perfect" finished project. Some lay individuals mistake the true path of the pure refined (positive) kludge for some goofey thing called "creativity." It is painful to note that some individuals (negatively) kludge away without using the eyes and brain--- the result usually is a swirling vortex of unworkable options which poorly address the problem, if at all. (It is ironic to note that one frequently must employ the greatest amounts of "creativity" to rectify the negatively kludged-up mess of another person --- this is known to true kludge masters as the Great Paradox of the Kludge.)

In the following sections I will use kludge as a positive descriptor to help you focus your time and energy in ways that will help you to get a nice looking, functional watercraft.
If you want to focus all of your anal-retentive tendencies into a project, take up thimble painting, become a brain surgeon... ---and go elsewhere.

If you have elected to stay, then welcome to the Cult of the Kludge. You will have fun, get your clothes full of dust and epoxy, and probably end up with a beautifully detailed boat and a feeling of accomplishment that will blow you away!

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Thoughts on Selecting a Project

Elsewhere on this web site, I am providing drawings, notes, and my ideas on the Koboldjager (Goblin Hunter) a start-to-finish strip-built touring kayak. This project assumes that you can transfer plans to wood and work with a few tools, and most importantly, calmly kludge your way though any difficult spots. It also assumes that you, like me, have a lot of scrap plywood and crap lumber that is too nice to burn, but too crappy to use in anything that you want people to look at, as well as plenty of tooling (band saw, router, table saw, random-orbit sander, etc.).

Kayaks and canoes do not have to be hard or expensive to build. A beautiful birch-bark canoe can be made by a skilled craftsperson from a few trees and spruce roots using only a hand ax, an awl, and some spruce gum. The Inuit peoples ("eskimos") traditionally built kayaks from found materials. A traditional Inuit-style kayak can be built for about $60. Conversely, a lavishly detailed strip-built kayak or canoe kit will yield a showpiece easily resold for $3000 to $6000.

My project may not be for everyone. It is here as an example of what one person is in the process of constructing in his garage. This is my second kayak project. My first was a 17-foot 5-inch Pygmy Ospery-HP (High Performance) stitch-n-glue kit. The confidence and skills that I acquired when building that boat have led me to design the goblin hunter, and prompted me to try another construction technique; although I am completely satisfied and impressed with the stitch-n-glue construction method. Before you commit to trying the project that I describe, consider one of the fine high performance stitch-n-glue kits from Pygmy or Shearwater; or perhaps one of the stressed-plywood boats from Chesepeak Light Craft. (My ready-to-build stitch-n-glue Pygmy Ospery-HP kit ran about $800.) If you want to spend more money and are willing to take on a more involved project, a strip-built boat may be the way to go. Full-size plans for a strip-built boat are around $100 and full ready-to-build kits are around $1500; please consult the boat-building bibliography and Links portions of this site for ideas.

Before you select a boat and building method, read everything that you can find on the subject (see the
boat-building bibliography). In particular, this includes the Ted Moore books Canoecraft or Kayakcraft and the fine Nick Shade treatment The Strip-Built Sea Kayak. You absolutely must own a copy of the relatively inexpensive The Epoxy Book from System Three, or study the brochure supplied by West-System with their epoxy kits. The epoxy-related reference materials are provided, free-of-charge with most epoxy and boat kits. Additionally, before I selected the Pygmy Osprey, I downloaded all of the construction notes, tips, etc., on different boats and building techniques from the internet and bound them, along with color fliers from various vendors, into a large three-ring binder. This eventually helped me figure out what I could build with my available time, space, tooling and talent.

If you want to try to build a boat from the tables of offsets in the (Moores) books Canoecraft or Kayakcraft, you will have to be familiar with the boat-building design technique of lofting, or know how to read lofting offset charts. You may opt to purchase the book Lofting by Allen Vaitses. The The Strip-Built Sea Kayak by Nick Shade offers a comprehensive treatment with excellent designs, drawings and offset instructions.

You may want to build a skin-on-frame boat, if so, consider the books by George Putz and Robert Morris (see the boat-building bibliography). This is a great technique for ultra-lightweight, somewhat fragile boats for craftspersons with little tooling and little money. I will eventually build a boat by this technique, just to make a real Inuit-style kayak, as well as explore the construction technique. I will probably just build a frame so that I can eventually hang it from my living room ceiling--- homage to those countless circum-polar aboriginal boatbuilders, and have on hand one very cool wood sculpture!

My friend Kevin built a couple of nice, simple, functional stitch-n-glue boats from public-domain plans available elsewhere on the internet. He crafted them out of luan. Luan is "el-dirto-cheapo" ($4 per sheet) vinyl floor underlayment mahogany plywood. It is the diametric opposite of okumne, the very expensive ($80 or more per sheet) marine mahogany plywood. The resulting first boat I dubbed the LuanaCraft (with apologies to CrisCraft, AlumaCraft, SmokerCraft, etc.). It was made for very little money and with a lot of kludge technology, the boat(s) came out fine and frighteningly sturdy. One of them even has a dedicated on-board foam-lined beer cooler just behind the cockpit. Kevin used cheaper auto epoxy and a super-heavy weight auto glass cloth, to make up for the poor strength of luan, instead of the lighter marine glass and resin--- the result almost doubled the finished weight of the boat--- Yipes! The big lesson here: You can kludge on some of the critical materials, but it may be better to pop the big bucks for the right ones ---if it will make a major difference in the finished boat.


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Notes on Reverse Engineering

Pulling lines off another boat or otherwise adapting an existing design falls into the realm of reverse engineering. If you decide to come up with your own design, be sure to sufficiently change the boat so as not to infringe upon the hard work and intellectual property of another designer. Anything less is simply copying or stealing the work of another individual. If you wish to so flatter another designer by completely ripping him or her off, please consider contacting them and buying their plans instead. This will save you a lot of hassle and is well worth the money in time savings.

My own project involves some lines and dimensions from three different kayaks that I have morphed into what I feel will be a nice boat for my significant other and for our friends to paddle. I am confident that the various permutations have resulted in something original that would stand up in court if so tested. If you are interested in doing a bit of designing, consult the book Lofting by Allen Vaitses (1999) ISBN: 0937822558, to get the necessary information on taking lines from existing boats, as well as reading offset tables. (Note: This book is a necessity if you opt for the designs presented in Canoecraft and Kayakcraft, since Ted Moores gives no information on how to interpret the tables of offsets presented in the texts. In his book, The Strip-built Sea Kayak ,Nick Shade presents the concept and other relevant information.) (Again, you may wnat to see the boat-building bibliography.)

Another way to copy some lines is to make what amounts to a large "feeler-gauge" out of a rectangular piece of cardboard or plywood that has a crescent, large enough to fit over half of a boat hull, cut from it. A reference groove is cut in the top and bottom of this form, and a series of stout rods or wires (secured by bolts, washers and wing-nuts) that can be adjusted in or out to contact the hull of the subject boat are then mounted. The more wires; the more data you take from the subject boat. For the sake of our example, let us say we wish to copy what is left of an old skin kayak that your grandfather has had moldering away in the hay loft of his horse barn (i.e., no proprietary design implications) into a new strip-built boat.

Starting from a #0 cross-section center point on the hull, the subject boat is tagged into something like 9"-, 12"-, or 16"-sections to correspond to the eventual station mold positions (see the photos of the Goblin Hunter project). This interval is your choice, but consider an equal division of the overall length of the boat, taking into account endpoints and the number of station molds that you want to use, is helpful) with little masking-tape tags. The boat is then suspended from some convenient rafters, or otherwise supported. Equidistant lines are then stretched above and below the decks as the reference (guide) lines for the feeler gauge. The gauge is held to the guidelines at a (tape mark) referenced point along the hull, and a helper adjusts the wire "feelers" to contact the boat while you hold it in position.

The gauge is then removed and the contact points are transferred, via the tips of the gauge wires, to a large sheet of paper or cardboard, after top and bottom reference points that correspond to the guidelines are aligned. Take a set of numbered cross-section points going forward from the #0, and a set going aft from it. Either transfer a set of points for a #0 station, or start your first station measurements half of the distance that you plant to use between your stations, this helps keep them equidistant on the construction frame. If you are taking points from station #1-forward, then number each point with a #1b (b for bow or s for stern). You can overlay about half of the hull sections to a set of top/bottom reference points into a single reference sheet, beyond that the drawing will start to get pretty complicated. Keep it simple one complete set of points for the bow stations and another for the stern stations. Cool! You now have the outline contours for your station molds.

Next, grab a marker, perhaps tape it to a ruler, and trace the silhouettes of the bow and stern profiles onto sheets of cardboard. Now you now have your bow and stern profiles. If you are making a kayak and follow my building technique, these are the lines for your stern and bow spars, otherwise, these are the lines needed to construct bow and stern station molds as outlined in the recommended reading.

Use your own creativity, kludge-away, have fun.


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