Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Woodwork: the Finishing Bench and the Sea Chest


Certain objects cry "nautical" from the first glance: A wooden ship's wheel, a brass lantern, wooden shell blocks. Not practical, though, and cliche on a modern boat. There are items we accept as functional and usual: a stitching palm, a life ring with the yacht's name, coach whipping on the wheel or tiller. And then there are half forgotten objects with real utility, in my opinion at least, underutilized.

 The Finishing Bench. Still used by traditional sailmakers, a simple bench holds the implements used for roping, adding a grommet, or mending. I made this one about 5 years ago from nothing but scraps and a little varnish, a very pleasant way to spend a few winter evenings. Mostly it sits by my favorite chair, holding magazines and what ever books I'm reading, but my stitching tools and materials are ever present on the far end. Yes, I catch a pant leg on the bench hooks now and then. But whenever sail work is required I carry it out in the front yard where it serves its traditional purpose very well. Smaller projects get sewn up right in my chair, reaching back for traditional tools and materials that are kept conveniently at hand.

No directions. I just followed an old illustration and fit it to the scraps I had. I suppose they were generally built that way, from bits and pieces.
  • Cleats on the underside reinforce the legs.
  • Numerous holes and vertical dowels on the cutting block secure spools of thread or hold knives and fids. Some holes only go part way through, holding needles and small things.
  • Dowels angled just above horizontal on the cutting block end hold scissors, palms, webbing, thread, and a small ditty bag.
  • Bench hooks need to be sharp, and it is handy to have 2 different lengths. These were bent from steel tent skewers.


That first step is about 30 inches.
Sea Chest. Although my boat has some cavernous lockers under the bunks and salon seating, there are never enough small lockers handy in the staterooms. Additionally, getting into the bunk is rather athletic, as the bunks are high and without steps. Additionally, a seating platform with storage blocks the way to the bunk, and it is at an unfortunately awkward height, far too high for putting on shoes. At first I built stools, but they were really too small and too single purpose. A small sea chest, fit to the space, is the perfect answer.

Though I didn't take any pictures of the construction process, anyone with the carpentry skills to make a box should be able to do just as well.
  • Traditionally these were painted a muted color and only the inside of the lid would be decorated and bright. Paint best withstood hard knocks, and the interior decoration reminded the sailor that his chest was the one thing on board that was his. However, my wife liked it varnished--all of the reproduction examples I showed her on-line were varnished--and it works, I think. Perhaps I'll paint it later; if so, going from varnish to paint is more reasonable than the reverse process. Because I originally planned for paint, I made no special effort to hide fasteners; I focused on building it strong enough for regular use as a step. I think I like the utilitarian look.
  • Strap hinges are traditional, but a piano hinge fits better, and I had a cut-off. I cut a recess for the hinge so that it closes perfectly, with no need for a chain and with all of the weight transfer directly to the sides.
  • Be mindful of protruding hardware. While a few scratches didn't matter on a whaling ship, they do to us. For example, the handles were traditionally attached with exposed rivets, but I substituted counter sunk brass bolts. Same on the inside; nothing to snag on clothes. I smoothed all interior hardware with a Dremel tool.
  • Side Relief. A characteristic of sea chests is that the sides lean inwards. The practical reasons for this only became obvious as I measured the intended space: if slammed against a bulkhead (ships move) the lid will still open and the handles are still accessible; they better resist tipping; there is less binding when push into or pulled from a tight space. The trim strip on the bottom also helps; it takes a beating and thus should secured with screws, not brads.
  • Rope handles. Mine are boring. Starting with a bit of old 3/4-inch 3-strand line, I placed 2 whippings about 9 inches apart, unlaid both ends for about 3 inches, and pinched the strands between handle blocks and the chest sides (I had drilled 1/2-inch holes with the handle blocks clamped together, making half-round groves for each of the three strands), trimming the excess. Tape held the strands in in the groves while the bolts were tightened. Strong and compact enough to fit the narrow space I had to work with, but not fancy; I lack the marlinspike skills to do a proper job. However, even simple rope handles are strong, comfortable, and non-scratching.
  • Square the sides up on a flat floor before screwing them together; you don't want a rocker. Likewise, true the lid to the top; otherwise the hinges will work loose in time. When working with scraps, never presume anything to be square or true.
  • No latch. I didn't see the need for my purposes
  • Hold down. In the stern of a catamaran the motion is never lively enough for the chest to move, but I can certainly imagine boats and places where this is not true.
  • Lid cleats. These not only hold the 2 boards that make the lid together as one, they are also carefully tapered to lock the lid in place when close, transfer lateral forces when used as a step to the sides and away from the hinge. Remove the hinge and the closed lid does not shift, not a fraction of an inch.
Something more traditional





Tool Box. There is a window shelf outside the head that is of no particular use. Sometimes we keep shoes there. Because of the hatch, spray is always a possibility, limiting possible uses. Nothing tall that might block the hatch. I reason a light box I can pick up and move will find some purpose and stow some clutter. I like the semi-traditional look, it kind of works on a sailboat that is only semi-traditional; though sailing is by nature nostalgic, multi-hulls have to keep there distance.

A simple scrap lumber project, it is made of 3/4-inch pine and 1/4-inch ply. What will we keep in it? I won't know until we've been cruised with it for a while.

__________________

All from scraps. In the first example, I used a few boards that were left in the basement by the previous homeowner and a bit of left over shelf. The dowel was from a discarded seasonal decoration. In the second example, I salvaged a neighbor's old garage shelves and some line left over from a Practical Sailor testing article--the stuff we found under a dock and cleaned. The brass bolts--16 x #8 x 1 1/2"--were also left overs from a writing project--laboratory corrosion testing of gasoline anti-corrosion additives. I think that is the way these sailor's tools would have been made, from the bits and pieces. The finishing bench was free, the sea chest a $2.45 project (a bit of 1/4-inch plywood for the floor--I wanted something lighter than the scrap I had on hand). The tool box was even cheaper and quicker, though I took my time and finished it neatly and well. Very affordable.



    1 comment:

    1. Love the idea of the chest doing double-duty as a step! I have short legs and it is indeed an exercise to get in the v-berth ... may have to borrow your idea. Thanks for sharing!

      ReplyDelete