Friday, May 24, 2013



It's good for the soul to have a change of pace occasionally. As a reprieve from sanding and priming and sanding on the decks and cockpit I checked my list looking for a nice small project to tackle: the tiller looked interesting.

Priming and Sanding.

The Ballad tiller is a simple shape: a curve near the yoke and a gentle sweep to the forward end. The previous tiller had been smashed when the mast was lowered. I'd glued it back together to get the shape, and also used it to cut plugs from for patching holes in the interior Mahogany joinery.

Rather than cut from one solid piece of wood like the one I was replacing, laminated construction seemed the best option. Instead of using thin strips that would bend easily I decided to try using  1/2" strips and steam bend them before laying them up. This would relieve most of the stress in the wood fibers.

A simple steam box about 5' long was made from some 2x6 material, leaving an inside box about 4" square and 5' long, with 1/2" ply end caps. A 6" x 4" slot was cut in the center of the bottom and a piece of 1/2" plywood, large enough to cover the boiling water pot with a matching hole, was attached. The whole rig sat on a Coleman propane camp stove set on the garage floor.

30 minute steam box.

The wood I chose was Sapele, a type of Mahogany that is quite strong.  Some straight grained pieces were selected and cut into 1/2" plus wide strips on a bandsaw then run through a thickness planer to smooth them out. It took about 30 minutes in the hot box for the Sapele to get supple enough to bend, and I quickly clamped them to a jig to be held in place while they cooled.

Clamping a 'hot' strip.

There was some "spring-back" when the pieces were removed, but enough bend remained to make clamping  very easy.

Some spring-back.

The strips were left to dry overnight and the following morning glued with epoxy, and clamped . I used the usual technique of coating all the strips with un-thickened resin, then layering thickened resin (ketchup consistency) between the strips. Having the pieces already bent allowed less clamping pressure in the jig, preventing excessive epoxy sqeeze-out and the possibility of a dry joint. A strip of Maple was added to the center to highlight the laminations.

Clamped trips, oozing epoxy, and the old tiller.
 After letting the glue set overnight the new blank was cleaned up: first with a belt sander and 40 grit paper to remove as much of the epoxy as possible, then a run through the planer to get both side faces even and parallel.

Dressed blank.
Using the old tiller as a rough guide the tapers were transfered to the blank and cut on the band saw. A hand plane, spoke shave, belt sander, and finally a router were used to massage the piece into it's finished form.

New tiller, looking very "Albin".
I'm not sure if it'll get varnished or oiled ... I prefer the feel of an oiled tiller, but I'm wondering if varnish would provide better protection for the laminations ... anyway, that's a decision yet to be made.

It has a nice heft to it. I can visualize having both feet braced on the opposite cockpit seat, new tiller in hand, struggling against weather helm caused by a sudden gust ....  ah, thoughts of sailing to keep me going!


1 comment:

  1. Great work, she is looking very fine indeed. There are lots of jobs you have done that I should do to my Ballad (#50, When do you hope to launch her??