Things of Interest


Sharpening Station

This is a bench I built dedicated for sharpening tools. It's outfitted with a slow-speed wet grinder, a Veritas stone pond for keeping/using water stones (my preferred method of sharpening), a granite surface plate, a stationary 1"x42" belt sander, and a drill doctor which I use to sharpen drill bits. 

It is critical to keep hand tools sharp in order to effectively use them. The woodworking craftsman needs to develop their tool sharpening skills right from the onset of learning their craft.

Shipwright's Tool Chest

I built this tool chest as part of the Classic Woodworking curriculum while attending the Great Lakes Boat Building School. It is constructed with hand-cut dovetail joinery. The trays I made using box joint joinery that I cut on a table saw with a box joint jig that I also made. The bottom cabinet has a flip up door that retracts revealing draws for tool storage.

It is a stacked 3-piece modular design with two chests and a dolly so that it can be transported in pieces.

10" Contractor Table Saw

While I think this 20-something year old Delta 10" contractor table saw is pretty decent, there is nothing really special about it... it does what is expected of it and does it well.  But what I do think is notable is the aftermarket Incra TS-LS Table Saw Fence I upgraded it with... I think it is great! I like this fence primarily due to its ability to make repeat cuts of exact dimensions. You adjust the fence to the dimension you want simply by sliding it and referencing the measuring scale on its sliding arm. Then you pull the lever taunt and it will automatically be dialed in to the closest 32end of an inch. This means I can ripsaw a board to, say 2-1/32", and come back a week later (or whenever) and adjust it to exactly 2 - 1/32" again with just a pull of a lever. I don't have to tweak and tweak the fence by tapping it into position with my hand while using a ruler of some sort to measure the distance from the bade to the fence. With this Incra fence... once it has been calibrated it correctly, it takes just seconds to set it...  Awesome!

 I bought the saw about 20 years ago and have made several upgrades to it.  It was built when Delta still made quality tools before the company was sold. I've become disappointed with the quality of Delta tools in recent years. Upgrades include:

I've also wired the motor to run with 220 volts as opposed to its factory configuration of 110 volts.  The motor seems to run better using the higher voltage... it gets up to speed faster and seems to maintain its speed better when under a heavy load.

The table saw is often thought of as the main milling tool for cabinet and furniture shops. However, for the boat shop it is not. The most necessary stationary power tool for the boat shop is a band saw. As much as I'd like to have a nice cabinet saw in the shop, I like the convence of easily wheeling this out of the way into a corner when not in use... so its a keeper. The only draw back I have on this fence is that it is a little delicate and needs to be handled with some care. I plan to upgrade the fence in the future to include router table functionality by installing the Incra Wonder Fence and router table inserts.

Boat Gantry

Essential to any boat shop is a boat gantry for lifting boats to place on boat jacks or boat trailers.

The big challenge for me was to determine what size beams to put up. I was surprised to learn how hard it was to determine the proper size.  I simply wanted to be able to lift a boat weighing up to 5,000 lbs. But to find out how much weight a beam of a particular span, width, and height could support at a single point was just simply not easy to learn. Suppliers would not divulge the information for fear of being sued if the beam failed. They all said to "hire an engineer". So I enlisted the help of my soon to be son-in-law, Justin, a civil engineer.

I explained to Justin that I had a span of 14' and wanted to use Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) as a support beam as LVL is stronger than construction lumber. After some figuring using the LVL tables publicized by Georgia Pacific and his engineering know-how, he figured out that three 14' LVL beams 1¾" wide and 10" deep, bolted together side by side, ought to handle a 5,000 pound load at a single point. He suggested I go one size higher (12") to add a "safety factor", as it wouldn't be a great expense. That made sense to me so that became the plan.

I also put a 2 x 10 on the top and bottom of the LVL to form a wood I-beam in order to resist twisting and also to help better secure it the the ceiling of my shop. Justin explained to me that a beam doesn't fail when overloaded simply by breaking apart.  Instead it twist's onto it's side and then breaks. So the wood I-beam made the most sense to me. I've probably over-built it, but this is a case where "better safe than sorry" applies for me as it is a one-man shop.

To support the I-Beams when under a load, I added removable lally columns. They can be removed, and stored out-of-the-way when the gantry is not in use so they are not an obstruction in the shop. The way I hung the wood I-beams they will be able to support their own suspended weight when not in use supporting a load.  They are bolted from the bottom up into two roof trusses, and from the side into 3 studs.

With my wife's help I hung the I-Beam piece by piece from the ceiling and bolted it together as the pieces were put in place.

To actually do the lifting I'm using four Roughneck 3-ton Levered Chain Hoists that I bought at Northern Tools here in Duluth which I hung from nylon 3-ton Lifting Slings that I bought at US Cargo Control which were slung over the wood I-beams.

Here's the gantry in action.  Using 4 chain hoists lets me lift the boat spreading the weight over 4 points on the gantry.  Also having four separate chain hoists gives me far more control in leveling and plumbing the boat as it is placed on boat jacks.




"Pag's Steamer" (A Shop-Built Steam Generator)

Pag's SteamerNo wooden boat shop is complete without a steam generator. Steam bending wood is very much part of the process in the construction of a wood boat. Many parts of a boat are curved and steam bending is the only way to achieve the appropriate bends of severely curved wood parts.

In addition to a steam generator, a steaming box is required in which the wood parts are placed and "cooked" (rule of thumb is 1 hour of steaming per 1 inch thickness of wood). The steambox first needs to be brought up temperature (at least 200°) before placing the wood pieces inside.  My steam box consists of two individual 12"x12"x8' long boxes that can be joined together or used separately.  The inside is lined with 3/4" evenly spaced dowels to allow two layers of wood to be suspended.  An ordinary automotive heater hose is used to direct steam into the steambox from the steam generator.

After the wood parts have "cooked", they are then bent to shape around a mold and clamped in place. They stay in the mold long enough to cool off and dry out.

There are few commercially available steam generators available to the boatwright for steaming long lengths of wood requiring lots of steam. So its up to the boatwright to make his own steam generator.

Having successfully used a shop-built steam generator while attending boat building school that produced enough steam to keep a 12" wide, by 12" high, by 16' long steam box plenty hot and steamy, it seemed to make to perfect sense to base my own steam generator on it. Its concept was simple... a 3' long pipe with a 2" wide diameter used as boiler chamber in which a hot water heater element was mounted to boil water and thus produce steam. 

In doing some research on steam generators useful to boat builders, I found two popular designs. In Allen Tuabe's book, The Boatwright's Companion, he describe's in detail a basic, small, portable version of a water heater element based design. And in Don Danenberg's book, "The Complete Wooden Runabout Restoration Guide", he describes in detail the construction of a more elaborate water heater element based design, "the Danenberg Steamer", that includes a site tube for monitoring the height of water in the boiler chamber, and a double fill valve to aid in precisely controlling the fill rate of the boiler chamber.  

In order to prevent the heater element from burning out it is necessary to keep it fully immersed in water, so monitoring the height of water in the boiler chamber via the site tube is a helpful aid in preventing element burnout. And the double fill valves allow one to precisely control the fill rate of the steam generator with the objective of filling the boiler chamber at precisely the same rate steam is being generated.

The boat building school's steam generator appears to be built to the specifications of the "Danenberg Steamer".  In using this steamer while attending boat building school, I felt the wiring to the water heater element posed more risk of electrical shock than I was comfortable with. And I also found that the double valve required more tweaking than I wanted to attend to. So I addressed these two issues in my own improved version, the "Pag's Steamer". I mounted the steam generator on a 2"x4" framed stand on rollers, enclosed the bottom of the boiler with a weather proof electrical enclosure box, added a weather proof switch, and introduced a water tank equipped with a toilet fill valve. I learned of the idea of the water tank and toilet fill valve on a boat builders forum, but could not find any details, so I constructed my own version.

Pag's Steamer right view

The picture (on left) shows the right side of the "Pag's Steamer".  You can see the grey electrical enclosure box mounted to a piece of plywood at the bottom of the boiler chamber. The plywood has a hole drilled in it a 1/4" larger than the diameter of the of the boiler chamber. This area gets hot so I did not want the plywood to be in contact with the boiler chamber. Nor did I want water to seep into the electrical enclosure box. So, I sealed it with high temperature silicon. I also drilled a small hole in the lid of the electrical enclosure box to allow water to drain should a leak occur on the bottom of the boiler chamber. From the electrical enclosure I wired into a weather proof switch box and from there I wired a 15' power cord.

The water heater element I chose was a 4,500 watt, 240 volt element known as a "Sandhog" (part number SGW2457X). This element is a little more expensive than a standard water heater element as it is sheathed with a nickel based alloy that resists burnout in the event that the element is not fully submerged in water (which can happen in this setup). A 4,500 watt, 240 volt, water heater element uses approximately 18 amps of current, requiring 12-gauge, 300 Volt insulating power cord. I also selected a 240 Volt, 20 Amp double-pole switch for switching the steam generator on and off and installed a 240V/20 Amp plug at the end of the 12-gauge power cord.

Pags Steamer left view

This picture (on right) shows the left side of the steam generator. I mounted a 16 gallon water tank at the height where the top of the heater element inside the boiler chamber is at the same height as the bottom of the water tank. Inside the tank I installed a toilet fill valve. This is the key to keeping the water level in the boiler chamber at a constant height above the top of the water heater element. I purchased a toilet fill valve with a minimal height adjustment of 7" that had an anti-siphon valve.  The tank I chose comes with 4 mounting nuts molded right into the bottom of the tank making it easy to mount to a plywood base.

I chose a tank with a large volume of water on the horizontal plane because there will be times when I will have to manually fill the tank with a bucket of water. I do not have a water supply in my shop and running a hose from my house to the steam generator in the winter time will become an issue due to the possibility of freezing. A smaller 7 gallon water tank, with enough height to accommodate a toilet fill valve would be appropriate if you are able to always use a garden hose to feed the steam generator.

Pag's Steamer Toilet Fill ValvePlumbing for the water tank consists of an inlet via a garden hose, and an outlet to the boiler chamber.  I installed a drain valve along the outlet piping at the lowest point so that I can drain both the tank and the boiler chamber when not in use. I also installed a plastic hose site tube to monitor the height of water in the boiler chamber, but this is not really necessary as you can clearly see the water height in the tank. Scientific law predicts that the level of water in the boiler chamber will be the same as the level of water in the water tank (assuming there is no blockage in outlet plumbing).

I also installed a shut-off valve to close off the inlet in the case that I'll be filling the tank manually. But this is not really needed if the fill valve you choose has an anti-siphon (check valve) built in.

I am very pleased with steam generator... it produces enough steam to keep a large steam box hot enough (should be as close to 212°as possible) for steam bending wood. With the installation of the toilet fill valve, the boiler chamber is automatically filled as steam is produced alleviating me from monitoring the water height in the boiler chamber. And the addition of a weather proof electrical enclosure box and switch puts me much more at ease with electrical shock concerns.


Electronic Vacuum System (Shop Built)

My first lamination project required the acquisition of a vacuum press/bagging system.  I was inspired to build this Electronic Vacuum System (EVS) as I felt the ability to auto-cycle was very appealing... who wants to listen to a vacuum pump running all day long? Using the EVS will eliminate the vacuum pump from running continuously.  The PVC pipes in the rear provides for a "vacuum reservoir", and an electronic vacuum controller monitors for a vacuum set-point (I set my set-point to -22 IN HG).  Once the vacuum pump has achieved establishing the vacuum set-point, the vacuum controller shuts off the vacuum pump and leaves it off until the vacuum falls off (about 5 IN HG below the set-point), at which point the vacuum controller turns the pump back on. In this way it auto-cycles with a tolerance of 5 IN HG.  How often it cycles is determined by how well your vacuum press holds a vacuum. My EVS, with the supply valve turned off, held to -22 IN HG for 5 days before dropping by 0.5 IN HG to -21.5 IN HG.

The EVS is the brainchild of "Joe Woodworker" of and  Joe provides a thorough free planset to build this professional level Electronic Vacuum System (EVS) and sells the vacuum pump itself, the heart of the system, along with a kit to build the EVS. The cost is far less than purchasing a commercial version.

The vacuum pump I choose is a piston style which handles 5.5 CFM, which should be enough CFM for any vacuum press project that I can envision doing.

Here's the EVS in action... I'm laminating together a new transom from two ¼" pieces of plywood and epoxy using a vacuum bag technique.

Click here for more information on "Vacuum Bagging Techniques for Wooden Boat Building" from West Systems.