by Gene Smith

On Models

One of the great drawbacks of being an amateur anything is that you never seem to get enough *practice*. It doesn't seem to matter what you are making, the more you do it the better you get at it. I just completed some shelves for my kitchen and the first one was sooo slow and painstaking...and after all that care in construction, I had totally failed to notice I was obstructing an electrical outlet. Each succeeding shelf got smoother, faster, better. Practice is good!

On the other hand, the amateur also suffers from the fact that he is usually building a 'one-and-only' something-or-other, and spends a lot of time worrying about getting each little detail right - because he imagines he will have to 'live forever' with the results of his un-handiness.

An interesting possibility that used to be more common: build a model first. Weston Farmer has some great stuff about building and testing models in his book "From My Old Boatshop." Dynamite Payson also has a good book about making models directly from plans - "Boat Modeling with Dynamite Payson."

If your plans are full-size (as in, lay them on the plywood and cut) then Dynamite's method won't work, because you are basically treating reduced-size plans like they are full-size and making a little boat from them. But, even if your plans are of the lay-and-cut variety, there are probably smaller ones available from the designer - "study" plans or the like. Get yourself a sheet of "doorskin" (thin, waterproof plywood) from your local home center for around $10 bucks and build yourself a small version of your full-size boat. You'll see how the thing goes together, and it will ease your way when you build full-size. Plus, you end up with a nice model of your boat.

A model built from cardstock and tape will only show you shape...but one built from plywood (like a doorskin) will show you a lot about how the boat goes together, where it's easy to bend to make joints - and where it doesn't want to, and where things just generally want to cause trouble. You do have to pay attention, otherwise the scale 'horsepower' you possess as essentially a giant boatbuilder will obscure some of the information.

The closer the constuction of the model is to the full-sized boat, the more useful the correspondence will be. A very nice example is the series that Dynamite Payson did in Small Boat Journal a few years back, building a 12' skiff as a model that could also be built as a full-sized boat from the same plans.

Speaking of the cardstock model, shape can be valuable information if you contemplate altering anything in the plan. If you want all the reasons/advantages that induced old time boat builders and designers to build a model first, get the aforementioned Weston Farmer's "From My Old Boatshop." It's a great read, full of useful information, and ought to be on every boat-nut's bookshelf.

Many folks would rather hack and hew and get on with it. That's just how they're built, mentally speaking. I have friends that would rather get busy building the Taj Mahal with a tack hammer than "waste" even 5 minutes in preparation. It's a matter of personal preference, really.

My suggestions are intended as an inexpensive way to raise the comfort level for someone with no applicable experience, and are intended not so much to save money as to avoid - or at least allay - beginner's paralysis caused by fear of *wasting* money.

There are beginners...and then there are beginners. I have never built a boat, so when I finally do it I will be a first-time boatbuilder. But I *have* built tracker organs. And I've been a motorcycle and foreign car mechanic. I've used all but the most exotic woodworking tools (though I don't claim to be expert with any of them) and I've built, repaired or modified a lot of strange stuff. And one wall of my living room is also bookcases full of boat books...I'm one of those irritating people who give you a history of clocks when you ask what time it is.

None of this means that I won't have plenty of difficulties building my first boat - or even that they won't be the very same difficulties that any rank beginner might experience. But it does mean that I know how things go together - and how they don't, and I have the confidence that I can figure my way out of any of the difficulties that present themselves. In short, I don't suffer from worries that I somehow "won't be up to the task" of finishing a boat...and that's the kind of useful confidence that I am suggesting might be aided by building a model first.

Gene Smith
who can't give you issue numbers for the Payson articles in SBJ because his books just got moved and are all in piles