Laminating the stem

Having -thankfully- finished fairing the planks, we needed to make a stem for our boat before starting fibreglassing. A stem is essentially like the front bumper on a car, except for on a boat. Although it is a little more structural than a car bumper, if you ran into the back of another boat (which of course we’re not going to do…) that would be what you’d hit first. Up until now the furthest forward bit of our boat has been the bit of wood our planks are fastened to at the bow. This is called an ‘apron’, for reasons unknown, except that like the one in our kitchen it sits there and ends up with things piled on top of it and covered in dust.

So to go over the apron and the plank ends we needed a single, strong, shaped piece of wood to make our stem. The only problem being that trees don’t grow to exactly the same curve as our bow, or at least not any more. Back in the day, when the New Forest was actually a forest and trees were grown in places like that especially for building boats, different parts of a tree would be selected according to their shape and properties for building different parts of a boat. But these days you’re more likely to be buying timber in uniform machined chunks and it makes more sense to make the shape up as a laminate.

A laminate is basically something made up of two or more layers of material joined together. So a sandwich is a laminate. It could be a cheese sandwich or a ham sandwich or ham and cheese sandwich; it doesn’t matter what the materials are, it is still a laminate. To stretch the bread analogy a little (and possibly unnecessarily, but I’m going to do it anyway) further, we made our stem as an all bread and butter sandwich, out of white oak bonded with thickened epoxy. A twenty slice multi storey Scooby Snack of a white oak and epoxy sandwich, bent into a curve and left overnight to cure.  Yum.

Bob very kindly offered to cut the solid piece of oak into strips for us using his table saw, which saved us no end of time and frustration and meant that our piece of oak was in twenty thin slices ready to glue in the space of about half an hour. Lovely Bob.

We made a pattern for the stem out of thin ply….

…which we then laid down on the workbench and drew around, screwing in blocks on each edge to form a jig to fit our glued strips into.

Then we started making our sandwich. Unlike butter, epoxy has a limited working time before it begins to start curing and hardening. So we needed to get the glue on the strips in time to clamp the stack into the jig before the epoxy went off and stuck everything together in the wrong shape. Making a twenty slice sandwich several feet long in the twenty or so minutes available is no mean feat, but with Si doing the rolling and me mixing epoxy like our lives depended on it we managed just in time.

We put one end of the glued stack into the jig and clamped it into place, then bent the other end of the stack round and screwed the last blocks in place behind them. The picture below was in fact taken of a dry test fit we did of this before we started glueing, to check it worked. It did. And despite being slightly more unwieldy when covered in epoxy, it worked again fine when it came to doing it properly, to our relief!

Once all the blocks for the jig were screwed in place we added clamps and cleaned up any excess epoxy, then left the whole thing overnight.

The newly laminated piece of wood came out of the jig fine the next day, and once we’d given it a sand it was satisfyingly hard to tell it wasn’t one solid piece of oak rather than lots of thin bits glued together. Lamination is officially amazing.

After some minor reshaping to make it fit over the apron as tightly as possible, we made some holes in the stem and using a combination of bolts and epoxy fillet blend fixed the stem to the rest of the boat.

Once this had hardened we coated the stem in a layer of clear epoxy to match the rest of the hull, and then stood around for a while admiring the lovely shiny oak. It’s amazing the difference adding the stem has made; the whole boat looks altered and more complete. It’s like someone getting a new haircut so that you can’t remember what they looked like before. In a good way.

All we had to do before the end of the day was to wait for the man from Autoglass to turn up and mend our car windscreen, which in a fight with the oak for our stem on its way back from the timber yard had lost and cracked. After a few weeks now of using tools and operating machinery all by myself, I was really grateful to the Autoglass man for the lesson in how to open my car’s bonnet and especially for the painstaking, loud, slow and clear fashion in which he delivered it. I never would have been able to work out that pesky ‘key in the lock and turn’ action without his help. To be fair to him, he did mend our windscreen most beautifully, all ready for the next time we take a speed bump at a jaunty angle and ram a solid block of oak through the glass….


9 thoughts on “Laminating the stem

  1. Karl says:

    Seriously….you need to get a viking helmet. She is looking more business like by the day. Soon you will able to go Marauding all over the place.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Marvelous Keep up the good work xx

  3. Steve says:

    Looks great, how did the glassing go?

  4. jeanniethemum in law says:

    Oh Cat – Is it going to be fairy wings all over again???! Be fearless, I say!
    I shall never think of a sandwich in the same way again. British Rail had perfected the banana- shaped sandwich a long time ago …..

  5. Tim Hall says:

    I think I lost my specs dreaming about all that wood & gluey sandwiches? Any sign of them in your boat?

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