Main topmast and a breasthook

We’ll start with John’s new breast hook. He needed to start with a substantial timber to allow for the sweep of the hull (imagine looking down at the bow of the boat from above… that fore-aft sweep) as well as the sweep of the camber of the bulwarks (imagine standing on deck and looking forward at the bulwarks… that sweep going down towards the sides from the center of the boat). On top of that, the piece is tall and deep. He started with this log from our collection out back.

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It’s been out there a while. Note the plants that have taken root in the bark. This is live oak, and it had some very tough spots inside. This photo was taken the first day the crew tried to cut it using the chainsaw mill. You can see the trashed chainsaw chain hanging out on the left side.

They did not like cutting this log.

However, they persevered (no choice really) and eventually gave John this log to work with. Here, he’s making the initial shaping cuts with a chainsaw.

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He’s drawn the shape that he wants and is cutting down close to that line.

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Lots of adze work to cut off the waste.

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The cuts act as witness marks and tell him when he’s close to his lines. A power plane finishes up the curve, and then it’s on to defining the next curve.

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Flipping on its side.

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Hard to believe that this is the same piece. Note the debris pile.

Now, more fine tuning with the pattern,

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and some more chain sawing to get to the final shape.

Now we’re talking.

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Fastend in, and painted.

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Whew. That check on starboard looks ominous, but it’s not deep enough to be a problem.

Walt has been working on the main topmast recently. In case you’re not familiar with the nomenclature here, the main and foremasts are composed of 3 spars, the lower, the top, and the top gallant, abbreviated t’gallant.

By the way, here’s a nice page with many rigging illustrations designed for model ship builders. It may be useful for visualizing some of these terms and parts as we go along.

He starts by taking the round bottom end of the topmast and 8-siding it. Usually things go in the other direction, with stock starting square and going to 8-sided, 16-sided, 32-sided, round. Since we received these spars already turned, we go from round to 8-sided at the ends. He’s marked off the corners of the sides and is now using an adze to get to his final shape.

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People often ask if we use traditional tools (like an adze) exclusively, or if we use modern power tools. I usually tell people that we use the tool that works best for the job. In this case, the adze takes a lot of material off quickly and accurately. Walt was able to side the end of the spar by lunchtime.

Walt checked the diameter of the spar and found that it was about an inch oversized at the bottom end, tapering to the proper diameter a ways up its length.

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So, how to preserve the nice, even round shape that came from the spar being turned on a lathe, while quickly bringing the diameter down to the proper size? Walt came up with using a router to cut a grooves of set thicknesses in the spar up to the end of the taper.

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With these cuts acting as depth witness marks, he was able to run a power plane down the spar until he just nicked the bottom of each groove.

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A little hand planing to clean things up and smooth out the curve, and the spar diameter was set.

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Note the wheels under the spar. These allow him to spin the spar easily as he works on it. It’s a lot easier than bringing in a forklift and sling to turn the larger spars!

Next, he cuts a slot through the mast near the base. He starts by making a series of holes with a drill and a long bit to define the slot edges. Kevin monitors the drill angle and makes sure that Walt keeps the drill in line with a horizontal guide stick.

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With the holes drilled, he uses a chisel to refine the edges of the slot.

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With the edges defined, he can use a saw to connect the drilled holes and pull out the waste from the center.

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A little cleaning up with a chisel, and the slot is finished.

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The upper end of the topmast is squared and tapered (called the Doubling), just like the upper end of the lower foremast. Walt has laid out the lines for this shape and uses a sawzall to cut down to his marks.

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As with the lower end, an adze makes quick work of the waste, and he’s on to defining the shoulder of the doubling. The shoulder is tapered to account for the slight mast rake, so he has to make a cut that carries the taper all the way through the spar. He uses a flat pattern going around the spar, set at the proper angle to guide his saw cut.