Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I had thought I would enjoy gluing since it seemed a delightfully swift easy and imprecise business. It isn't and I don't. It's surprisingly hard to find out how anybody else does gluing, so my method - thus far - is this, which will be a useful addition to the sum of human knowledge only until such time as my boat falls apart and I drown to death.

1. Gloves. You need an awful lot of rubber gloves. Disposable ones, latex. Not the thin plastic disposable ones: they don't mould to your fingers. And not kitchen gloves: they don't turn inside out easily. The game is to don gloves, commence operations, and the moment stickiness is detected on the fingers, peel the glove off by turning it inside out, and drop it on the floor. The glue is thereby contained inside the glove and will harden, and tomorrow you can turn the glove back outside-in by spinning it round on its own wrist, using the trapped air to squeeze all the fingers out. This I discovered courtesy of the Arthur Rickwood Experimental Station where rubber gloves were worn extensively, and where I learnt that blowing into the gloves to pop the fingers out results in a moist interior, which means you can't then get your hand in. - The most significant contribution that august body made to the cause of science. We are apt to over-rate our place of importance in the world, especially if a government research station. - If I remember correctly, there was a senior scientific officer there called Brian Tucker and daily another of the senior scientific officers took a felt pen and altered the spelling of the label on his office door. I remember this fact whenever I hear of a schoolteacher admonishing a teenager to act his age. - A certain teenager whose name I shall not mention is about to leave school, and has received a good deal of schoolteacher admonishment of late. His final prank a few days ago was to tell the local newspaper that he was a rugby player and that (quoting)  he singled out the Principal for his "inspiring speeches in assembly" which, against all the evidence, they believed and printed. - During the interview the reporter asked him what position in rugby he played, for which question he was wholly unprepared, and knowing only one position in a rugby team he declared 'hooker'. Afterwards we looked up hooker and found it to be the biggest, muscliest man in the team, not a spindly bespectacled boy with a head for calculus. Evidently the reporter isn't a rugby enthusiast either, since he printed the story intact. - Where were we? - Recycling gloves, that's where. - Gloves last three or four uses, I find.

2. Syringes. The epoxy requires accurate measuring of resin and hardener. I use a 20 millilitre syringe for the resin and a 5 ml syringe for the hardener. Each has a length of 5mm PVC tubing jammed onto the spout to reach the liquid towards the bottom of the canister. The used syringe is immediately put inside a sealed screw-top plastic jar, so it stays wet and uncontaminated, and later I use it again. As everything's hardening you find bubbles of air under some of the glass-fibre tape, and a 1ml syringe, having a small bore, allows high enough pressure to inject epoxy through a 1.6 mm hypodermic needle. Obtained by mugging a drug addict. - Actually this region doesn't do hypodermic needles, only cannabis, which one stumbles upon deep in the bush, a small clump of carefully weeded plants growing behind a fence of chicken wire to keep the feral goats out. I've happened on it several times in the National Parks. The police used to harvest the plants and do a large bonfire in the car park until the locals became too enthusiastic about yesterday's bread. - The police station is next door to what was the baker, and the car park was adjacent to the air intakes of their ovens.

3. Mixing. The resin is injected into a round plastic ice cream carton and the syringe put away. Then the hardener is injected on top of the resin and that syringe put away. Then a lolly stick is used carefully to mix the two together. Mostly I use 39 ml resin and 13 ml hardener and that's enough to keep me busy. Takes a couple of minutes to mix it. Mixing became easier when I abandoned the Thai takeaway dishes which had a ridged centre section. There's an army of plastic extrusion engineers out there making shapes more complicated than they need be and they ought all to be sacked. The mixed resin-and-hardener is a slightly viscous liquid. I use it raw (without fillers) to wet the fibreglass tape.

4. Tape. As instructed by everyone, I cut the cloth into tape on the bias (that is, all strands at 45 degrees to the length) so every fibre crosses the joint. At first I cut a single length of tape, but when wet with epoxy all the fibres turn into parallelograms and the tape became a rope 1.414 times as long and I needed a third hand to apply it, which I didn't possess. So now my method is to:
a) cut twenty pieces of fibreglass cloth, half of the pieces an inch wide, half two inches wide, all of them three inches long.
b) mix 39ml resin with 13ml hardener.
c) put the first bit of cloth in a Thai tray and paint it with epoxy till it's wet through. I use a stabbing motion of the brush, not a brushing motion which draws the fibres out and makes a mess. (Stabbing motion with a brush is called stippling, if you're the sort of person who knows what stippling means.)
d) put the next bit of cloth on top of that one, and again stipple it till wet with epoxy.
e) carry on till all the bits of fibreglass cloth are soaked through and piled on top of each other.

5. Glue. To make the epoxy into glue you have to use HT120 filler. Otherwise it's just a liquid without any body to it, and it runs out of the joints and leaves them starved of glue. I add a teaspoonful of HT120 and stir it in to make a very liquid glue and use the paintbrush to wet out the wood thoroughly and penetrate all the gaps between the seams making sure every bit of wood is wetted, and there's a healthy inch or so wet on either side of the actual joint. Work the wet under the fishing line. Then I squeegee it all as dry as is possible with my stippling brush, and this leaves about the right amount of glue.

5. Filling. To make filler you use HT450 filler. Both these fillers are fine white powders. I add filler to the remaining epoxy glue, half a teaspoon at a time, until the viscosity feels right. It needs to be stiff enough not to run out of the joint, with the appearance and consistency of a white putty.

Some of my fillers, the bits where I rounded off the inside gaps in between planks, have been a weird mixture of epoxy and HT120, HT450, and teaspoons-full of sawdust. This gives lots of body and appears to be pretty robust material when hardened. The pointy-bits of boat end are filled with this stuff.

I use Mini Magnum lolly sticks as trowels to trowel the filler into the joint. The children provide me with adequate supplies for which I am most grateful. The sticks are washed and dried, and the edge sharpened on a bench grinder. Lots of filler is poked into all gaps and under each of the nylon fishing-line bindings. Any wedges holding the planks in proper alignment have to be removed, glued, and reinserted wet, and this is a ghastly fiddly job because wet wedges go straight through and pop out of the other side of the binding, and you can't get hold of them because you've got wet gloves on, and you can't use a hammer to delicately tap them into place or the hammer handle gets wet and then you'll pick it up afterwards and get glue all over yourself.

When enough is trowelled along the joint, I use either the lolly stick or a piece of closed-cell polyurethane foam as a shaper. This is 6mm thick, 40mm wide, and cut to a semicircle. A single smear of the shaper works well. A second smear roughs everything up and you have to start again, dammit. Both of them seem to work equally well.

6. Tape. Next I lay wet, glued-out tape onto the filled joint. The first layer of tape is laid and pressed down gently into the middle of the filled joint with the fingertips, and then pressed outwards towards either piece of wood. Each short length of tape overlaps the previous one. When the first, inch-wide tapes are down a second layer of two-inch wide tapes are overlaid and pressed down. Wherever bubbles appear, I gently press the tape down with the tip of a lolly stick. And then, because I am rubbish at gluing, I notice a series of worrying white bits of fibreglass and these white bits suggest Glue Starvation inside the glass, so I frantically mix another 9 ml of resin and 3 ml hardener and a small amount of HT120 to make a runny glue, and stipple it into the joint.

7. Lastly, I remove gloves and with great care press strips of two-inch wide masking tape onto the edges of the seam. The masking tape holds the fibres firmly on the wood and allows me to press them home with my fingers. Several hours later it can be peeled off without removing any fibres and I'm left with a clean smooth feather into the woodwork.

8. This process takes about two minutes per inch of joint, and 39ml+13ml will do about 40 inches. Afterwards I wash the brush in acetone, which does actually clean it of epoxy, so I can use it tomorrow. I tip a little acetone into the mixing pot, wash the brush, dry the brush on a sock and put it to dry - the brush, not the sock - and use the sock to dry the mixing pot. And I don't touch any of the gloves on the floor till tomorrow.

9. Fascinating, wasn't it?

10. If you have a broken bicycle spoke on your desk you can twang it like a ruler and annoy everyone. This discovery is not material to gluing a joint of a plywood proa, but as I happen to have a such a spoke to hand, I thought I would kindly slip it in.

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