Carvel & Oakum for a James River Batteau

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by SedaliaEndeavor, Mar 31, 2009.

  1. SedaliaEndeavor
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    Location: Forest, VA

    SedaliaEndeavor Junior Member

    Hi everyone! I'm new here but I think someone here might be able to give me some advice on a boat project.

    I (and about 7 friends) am building our second James River Batteau. A Batteau is a keeless boat propelled by poles and steered by two sweeps on each end, used for shallow water river travel moving freight from about 1780 - 1810 before there were railroads. (Check out Batteau.net for some pics)

    Once a year we have a Batteau Festival where we take about 20 of these boats from Lynchburg, VA to Richmond, VA ~120 miles on the James River.

    These boats must be historically accurate, based off of plans drawn from actual Batteaux dug up from the James River Basin 20 yrs ago.

    These boats are made entirely of white oak, and are carvel planked, with oakum in the seams. Let me just say I don't know very much about boats, but I'm learning a lot as I go.

    With the last boat, and all the batteau on the river as far as I can tell, there is only oakum in the seams. Everything I have read on carvel planking says you add some sort of putty afterwards, and I'd like to know the purpose of that? I have also read about using cotton, but everyone here just uses oakum, why? Also, these boats are unpainted and unfinished - just raw oak boards.

    Thanks in advance for helping me figure out the answers to these questions - there isn't a ton of info out there on this topic I can find.
     
  2. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    makes sense
    white oak is virtually waterproof in itself
    even untreated its durability in boating is legendary
    linseed oil helps if they let you use it
    the oakum is used to water proof the joints and the putty is used to seal the oakum
    basically oakum is a hemp loosely braded or frayed rope thats soaked in some form of tar or tar like substance
    its driven into the seems and sealed into place by both its own presure and the putty your going to be paying over it
    my two cents
    there is a mallot a wedge and a lot of beer your going to be needing as well

    best
    B

    there is a pretty good site that describes the process in detail along with all the tools that make it easier

    http://trawler.ca/planking.htm
     
  3. SedaliaEndeavor
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    Location: Forest, VA

    SedaliaEndeavor Junior Member

    Cool, we've definitely got the beer covered. :) So does the putty help to seal it? I guess I am asking if you feel like the putty is important b/c as far as I can tell none of the other batteaux use it and I can't figure out why. I thought maybe the putty was so you could paint it, which we don't do, hence the lack of putty on all the boats. Is the putty authentic to that time period? Perhaps that is why?
     
  4. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    well we always used it
    I lived on cape cod and boat building was a real tradition in the family
    on the kind of bare hull your talking about if I remember we would leave a paying seem in the planks and drive the Oakum into it once we washed it with something like linseed oil
    kinda of a long arduous task but you get pretty fast at it
    then we always sealed the seems with hull putty
    comes in a huge can that you can barely lift with a picture of an old schooner on it but I cant remember the name of the stuff to save my life
    it will come to me but for the moment its just going to drive me nuts

    I think the putty fares the hull some and keeps any loose fibers from waving in the current
    but its the Oakum that makes things water proof

    as far as historic accuracy goes I have no idea
    I could tell you whats traditional out on the cape but I have no clue about your area

    best and watch your fingers
    B

    if the other guys dont use it
    well thats kinda a big hint right there

    sounds like your going to have a great time

    were you getting your Oak and how much is it costing you a board foot if I might ask
    I got a good supplier but it always pays to keep an eye out
     
  5. SedaliaEndeavor
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    Location: Forest, VA

    SedaliaEndeavor Junior Member

    So I went to the source and asked some of these 20 yrs of Old Timey Batteau Men why they don't putty and the answer was so obvious. When you are constantly dragging a boat over rocks, you need easy access to be able to quickly repair the gushers. duh

    As far as the lumber, we've had friends mill it both times for us. The first time we got Taylor-Ramsey Corp. to mill for us, but they are now out of business. One of the Ramseys was on our boat so we got a heck of a deal.

    This time we got Dreaming Creek Timber Frame co. to mill for us. They are also buddies and Batteaux men. They build incredible timber frame structures all over the country. I don't know if they'd even do this kind of milling regularly or if it was a strictly friend deal or what - I can ask...


    Can't wait to get out on the river! This warm weather & high water is getting to me!
     
  6. SedaliaEndeavor
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    Location: Forest, VA

    SedaliaEndeavor Junior Member

    Oh, one more thing... About how much spacing did you leave for your seams. We are presoaking marked boards to get an idea of the swell, and then we're gonna take a skillsaw down the seam to get an even gap to pack, but I'd be interested to hear how other people figured that out.
     
  7. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    we used to bevel the edges before we installed each piece
    bevels different on each

    best way to do it is to bevel the piece as you normally would and when your satisfied with the fit
    take it to the bench and stand it on edge
    run a door planer with a fence down it to give you room for paying
    dont take the board down to a point but instead leave about 1/3 of the wood to contact the next piece
    it depends on the thickness of the planking but I seem to remember about 15degrees as the magic number on the plainer
    wait till you get all the planking on till you start calking or you can drive the planks apart
    if you use a wooded mallet it wont get to your wrist so much
    you guys are going to have a great time

    I like your way of thinkin on the seams but the trick is to clamp the plank into place with whatever edges it has and run run a router with a straight 1/4 inch bit down it along a guide to keep it lined up properly
    set the depth a little as you go if your working more than say 5/4 stock or you are going to break a few bits and those things can put a pretty good dent in your day
    we used a 1x4 scarfed to the length of the boat and flex it to approximately match the curve of the planking and use that as a guide for the router
    goes real fast once you get on a roll

    the skill saw will work and the tool is easy and safe but your going to be making a lot of passes and more passes = more work
    the router trick should take you about five minutes a plank depends on the length of the boat and two passed tops or you need to switch to a 1/2 inch bit
    oh you might need to set up runners on the bottom of the router ( couple of sticks ) and run it in a specific orientation to clear the angle of the planking
    and it helps shed wood a little better

    I dont recall any adjustments we made for swell but Im not sure white oak swells once its pretty waterproof stuff
    although on another thread another member made it clear he felt the stuff swelled just fine
    its also not common to plank with the stuff as generally you want a wood that does swell and thus makes a water tight seal between planks
    lease we seldom used it unless as a plank backing and thats not a trick for the faint of heart

    be sure to alternate getting one plank on one side and then one on the other or you will twist your boat

    you got it down as to how to measure the taper on each piece?
    its real easy

    oh and no mater what anyone tells you build the ******* upside down
    otherwise its you that is upside down and that get old fast

    can those guys beet say 2$ a board foot
    for certified quercus alba

    Ill be ordering about 3500' board feet white oak
    2500' of red ceder
    2000' cherry
    if your buddy gives discounts for bulk
    Ill also need it wrapped and loaded on a truck for shipping
    highest grade wood he has
    send sample first of each along with grading schedule

    ask em for a price and contact me off list by clicking my name and the hitting send a private message

    thanks

    B

    and your buddies right about fixing old school Oakum
    once you pay in the putty its a pain and time consuming to dig out
    in order to get a good patch if you spring a leak
    basically the Oakum sticks to clean wood best and the putty can cause problems if it gets in behind the Oakum
    B
     
  8. peter radclyffe
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    If your gonna use a skillsaw grind the blade to taper out, so you cut a wedge seam ,if you dont want to use putty, you can paint the seams, to protect the oakum, oakum is used because the oil makes it last longer, cotton is more uniform so its used for fine yacht seams, the planks should be touching for the third of plank thickness at frame, & the seam should taper to open 1/16th-1/8th inch, this increases on bigger boats but you have to be very delicate as a novice , else you may smash the seams, usually you have a feeding iron, thin, to feed the stuff in, then a crease iron just narrower than the seam to harden up, the difficulty is filling the seam to an even depth, dont rush it
     
  9. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    I advise you to coat the boats with raw or cooked linseed oil, they'll look beautiful, this transforms your work, & you can use linseed as a barrier cream when working
     
  10. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    seals the wood really well and makes the Oakum stick better to
    keeps it blond longer
    thanks for the help Pete
    my experience is all from wayyyyyyyy back in the day
     
  11. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    Hello Boston, sounds like we had similar training
     
  12. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    once you have worked with linseed & steamed oak, like teak, you may never look at wood quite the same way again, a luxury
     
  13. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    yerp

    I keep thinking 15degrees on the door plainer
    we used a porter cable spiral bit door plainer with fence
    thing was more like a hand held joiner
    and was bomb proof

    on a 1" plank it would make a seem about 3/16 wide maybe 1/4

    teak is nice for decking and steps and things but I hate the way it works the tools and the way it splits
    white oak on the other hand is a dream come true
    hell I want my coffin made of the stuff
     
  14. peter radclyffe
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    if you use putty, mix it with red lead paint, again for longevity
     

  15. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    whats the name of that putty used to come in a ten gallon can brown with a picture of a schooner in black on it
    had the old school ring fastener on the lid and smelled kinda funny
    stuff was an off gray color about the same consistency as plumbers putty
     
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