Productive shop days



It is amazing what can be accomplished over the course of a couple shop days by two guys who half know what they are doing (you do the math). Shop partner Joel and I may need time to puzzle things out, and maybe debate and discuss various strategies, manipulations and sequences, but once we get going we are if not proficient at least efficient.

I largely try to stay one step ahead with the prep work, laying out (and putting away) of tools and materials, cleaning of shop benches and belated process questions (“Did you alcohol wipe that area before you traced the outline with a sharpie?”) while Joel assumes his shop identity as Manuel Laboré.

I desperately needed some snowed-in shop time, and Joel brought his new rides up for some outfitting and sundry refinement. Those new rides being a new, still resin-smelling Current Designs Nomad HV and a used Magenta boat trailer with gear storage box.

We were reduced to snow-sliding boats down the hill, and transporting gear and materials on toboggans and sleds, but we filled the shop with projects aplenty.

The Nomad is a looong boat, and sticks out a ways on trailer or roof rack. It needed some High Intensity reflective tape on the bow and stern. And rudder. And hatches (good place for some reflective tape in case a hatch cover escapes).

That style CD hatch cover doesn’t float (ask Joel how he knows this), and if escaped into deep water that can be a problem. A little foam floatation contact-cemented inside the hatch cover resolves that.

The Nomad is also a narrowish and tender boat, and some hands-on-paddle-shaft assist behind the seat makes sliding out easier. Rather than (already, further, after just one trip) scarring up that lovely red gel coat behind the seat we carved a couple of low-profile minicel paddle shaft saddles and glued them to the deck behind the seat, positioned so that they were over the bulkhead, with space left for a paddle float to be readily accessible.

Unlike the Nomad, on which the construction was flawless, the trailer was a mess. The original owner’s assembly attempt was just wrong. All kinds of wrong. For starters the turn signals were hooked up backwards and the wiring dangled loosely hung. Joel had those issues driveway fixed at home before the trailer appeared in the shop.

The trailer’s gear storage box was a mystery at first. The box lid would only open 8” before hitting the middle set of crossbars. The previous owner had rectified that by raising the crossbar until it was 5 feet in the air, effectively eliminating two slots for boat haulage. This mishap was largely because he had installed the rear crossbars on the inside of the vertical post, instead of the outside where it belonged.

I’m guessing “he” because, well, I’m a guy and I don’t need to steenkin’ instructions either. But at least I go back and correct my obvious assembly errors.

Moving that crossbar to the (proper) outside post position should do it and, crap, the box lid still hit the crossbar by a quarter inch on either side. What the….

Some cogitation and the use of a framing square revealed another assembly miscue – the owner had malpositioned the bolts on the top spreader bar so that both verticals were pulled inwards / \.

We opened the spreader bar a full 3” – and they were still canted inwards a bit - and presto, a storage box with a lid that opens fully. I had already begun to hate the box in general, and that 8” lid opening especially, so that alone was a 100% improvement on trailer functionality.

Now that we had things where they belonged Joel eyeballed the crossbar from end on and noticed that they had not been installed anything close to level; another easy fix. While we were at it (and at it and at it) we added lock washers to the critical nuts and bolts. I’m guessing the owner still has a bag full of lock washers is his toolbox. Or if he has a toolbox. Little wonder he found the trailer a re-saleable loss. Maybe he should have read the instructions. Maybe we should have.

Joel had been pondering a second storage box for trailer, to free up as much space as possible in his vehicle. The OEM box is an 8 foot long fiberglass “dock box”. I wonder what those cost?

Yowza! Even the Craigslist used ones were overly pricey.

For $800 you would think the dock box would at least be lockable. Nope. Off to the hardware store to buy a couple of hasps. And a stop at Case & Keg for more beer.

What should we happen to notice in the hardware store, in the same area as the hasps – diamond tread aluminum truck boxes. Wayyyy better built than a dock box, with pneumatic lifts for the lid, and locks, at less than half the cost.

Half the cost is still a might pricey, but a Craigslist search turned up an abundance of used truck boxes, including one for $50 three blocks from Joel’s home. Some square U bolts, nuts and washers and a few (now sealed) holes later and it was attached to the trailer.

Installing the hasps on the fiberglass dock box may have taken us as long as bolting the truck box in place. Putting the hasps on was a puzzle. I had come to hate that damn box when the lid didn’t open properly, and when trying to install the hasps I wasn’t feeling much more favorable.

The lip and cowling overhang on the box lid precluded any normal hasp installation. Some thoughtful metal bending and manipulation produced a hasp with a couple of pre-strategized right angle bends that…uh, ok, that won’t work either. This puzzle necessitated a spell of sitting, looking, thinking and drinking before the proverbial light bulb went off – a single 45 degree bend in the right location and all is well.

That design solution light bulb was Joel’s, although I’ll take credit for insisting that we sit on the shop floor, drink a beer, stare at the hasp and think about it. I am continually pleased that the two of us can usually figure a way out of whatever corner we’ve painted ourselves into. Sometimes I even listen to him.

The dock box, when the trailer arrived in the shop, had puddles of water inside from a short but rainy drive across town. Sitting stationary on a dock they probably work fine, but towed behind a car at 60mph in the rain and tire spray, meh, not so much.

We weather stripped both box lids (something you would think the manufacturers would do, given the price), sealed some drilled holes with Plumber’s Goop and laid thin minicel foam on the box floors for paddled gear storage. (Postscript – After a day’s rainy drive south Joel reported that both boxes were still dry).

The crossbars on the trailer likewise need padding. Not just the crossbars, but the frame and other structural members. Pretty much anywhere a hull could touch. That’s a lot of padding.

I had saved the thin strips of puzzle end pieces from a bun of minicel exercise flooring previously used to insulate the back of the truck. Puzzle-hooked together those two strips are 2 ½” wide, which by happy coincidence, is the exact width of the crossbar and most other strut members on the trailer.

Every horizontal surface in the shop was soon covered by minicel strips awaiting adhesive. Half a can of contact cement and a zillion brain cells later the trailer was fully padded everywhere a hull could touch. With the rig stuffed max-full of sea kayaks the hulls will at times be canted on their sides, two to a crossbar. That’s a lot of foam, and nearly all of it is scrap puzzle-edge pieces.

Note to self – never throw away scrap minicel of any remotely useable size.

Keeping a / angle resting kayak hull from jiggling further prone needs some kind of padded hull stopper. The big box of leftover minicel cylinders comes to the rescue again. I had been waiting to use that box of minicel donut holes for 5 years, and suddenly multiple uses have appeared. See previous note to self.

A slice taken off those minicel cylinders with the band saw (gotta love a band saw for minicel shaping), some DIY webbing straps and the hull blocks are done. As an added bonus the hard chines of the Caribou fit the crossbar and upright perfectly. I’ve got a lot of minicel chunks and webbing pieces to play with in the shop scrap bins; I see another bout with the trailer in the spring to make some crazy-custom minicel saddles and blocks.

The trailer is long - 17’ long from hitch to back crossbar, a fact that I am made continually aware since the tongue rests just at ankle level outside the door to my shop office. I can show you the scars.

It’s also nearly 7’ wide at the crossbars. That’s a lot of stuff fore, aft and sideways for a passing vehicle to hap hazardously clip while on the road or in a parking lot. Those protrusions need some added visual awareness.

We added High Intensity reflective tape to both sides of the crossbars, fenders, trailer hitch and tongue. In all a couple dozen strategically placed pieces of reflective tape on the trailer so that it is visible from any angle. The front facing tape on the crossbars and fenders may be of assistance when backing the trailer in the dark.

Add to that the reflective tape on the various boat stems and that sucker should light up like the Vegas strip. I want to follow it on the road at night – I bet you could lead shuttles in the dark with it. Or parades.

Taped up reflectively we could move on to some G\flex work on the Nomad and Caribou. The ‘Bou, which is traditionally repaired in the spring after every season’s guiding, has a mysterious new gel coat chip acquired in storage, and the Nomad needs pads and fastex buckles for an under deck bag. Opie needs more upside-down work as well.

Time to do some work up inside the boats. The shop floor, currently housing three boats plus an ankle-biting boat trailer tongue, is getting crowded and hasn’t enough room for the extra tall sawhorses. Still, we need to work up inside the inverted Nomad hull and inside Opie.

Trailer to the rescue. The crossbars are at a decent stand-up-and-face-your-work height. Well, shorty needed a boost to see that he was doing up inside the Nomad. If you don’t have 4’ tall sawhorses available a canoe/kayak trailer will do nicely as an elevated, work-inside platform.

A little spacing, tracing, G\flex, wax paper and sandbag work and Opie got two Northwater double-D rings G/flexed to the underside of the deck fore and aft for floatation bag or gear tie downs. And, once back right side up, extended heel pads and some additional grommet straps and pad eyes.

Opie’s original configuration, with foam pillars under the decks and odd sharp appendages glassed in here, there and everywhere, was not intended for gear storage. This was made more evident by the slices cut in my chair bag by the sharp, unfinished ends of Opie’s internal keelson. The big box of minicel cylinders to the rescue once again. Padded keelson ends cut, shaped and glued; every sharp edge in Opie is now protected.

The Nomad got four fastex-buckle pads G\flexed in place for an underdeck bag.

There is space between the underdeck bag and peaked deck of the Nomad, perfect for storing a folding saw and bilge pump. A couple of Bungee Dealee Bobs stretched between the fastex buckles held everything securely in place and away apeak.

With the trailer driven up the (previously impassible snow & ice covered) driveway at the last possible moment I had space galore in the shop, no more tripping over a trailer tongue. A now familiar activity which would be even worse with a brush and paint can in hand.

Time to tackle some fine artwork. OK, some artwork.

OK, some shaky-handed painting inside a carbon paper trace. I am a terrible artist and couldn’t freehand the simplest design if you held a gun to my head. I can (barely) fill in an outline, so painting inside a carbon paper trace is the best I can manage.

Opie still needs the shop Gogetch and re-badging.

All of my major rebuilds sport the shop Gogetch (see The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, pages 82 – 85: “The personal mark of the owner-builder would usually be found near the ends….the Passamaquoddy mark for an exceptional canoe, this mark or ‘Gogetch’ was a picture of a funny looking kind of doll”).

The shop Gogetch is a heavily stylized combination of the marks of Passamaquoddy builders Noel Polchies (paddle), Old Peter Polchies (pipe) and Joe Ellis (crescent moon and star). I should have painted one on the dock box while I had the trailer held snowbound hostage.

Damn that was winter fun. And dang, I’m about out of shop projects. It’s time to start packing for a trip while I look for the next rebuild. Shop Days
Jul 25, 2012
Hi Mike, What a description of the process of a project! It was a hoot reading about all the miss-deeds of the previous owner of the trailer. Oh, do I know that kind of thing well. My wife, the eternal optimist, often tries to get me to see the positive side in my fellow man. If I hadn't seen him in action so frequently there might be a hope.
That part where you were fitting the hasp on the box; it's really amazing how if a person can just take a break and ponder, a solution or a better solution will pop to the surface. Probably the worst thing I do in the shop is to get "locked" into a solution and until it is just painfully obvious that it ain't a-gona work will I pull my head up (or out) and start to consider plan B.
Thanks for letting us in to your shop to watch how it's done properly.

Best Wishes,