Fitting Bulkheads

You won't believe it, but you'll have to go through this bulkhead-fitting routine exactly 11 times as often as you now think likely; therefore, you'd better learn how to do it right now. I can think of four major systems, or techniques, for fitting a bulkhead. I'll end up trying to describe, with the help of Sam Manning's drawings, the method I use. It works well for me and can be twisted 90 degrees to do bunk flats and dish shelves. But before I get to this last one, I'd like to touch upon the other three.

The first and most common technique is what I call the Attrition Method. Armed with that most wonderful of precision instruments, the scriber (dividers, pencil-leg compasses), the craftsman holds a piece of lumber in his left hand and with the other makes a sweeping pass that would do credit to a Scotsman attacking with his skean dhu. Thanks to the infallible nature of his marker, the resulting pencil line is everywhere equidistant from surrounding obstructions, and bears a certain family resemblance to the spot it is destined for.

But this workpiece, as we shall call it hereafter, having been sawn to the line, comes out a bit short and bumps in the middle, while the ends are discouragingly distant from their final resting place. Well now: scribe her again, and cut, and try—and after the third or fourth trip to the bandsaw, the remaining half of the piece begins to look pretty good...and a bit of molding and some putty will fix it beyond reproach. (But by this time the inboard edge is by no means plumb and will need recutting and regrooving before the next one goes against it.)

You think I exaggerate? Not at all. I can show you some quick bulkheads I've done when I couldn't be bothered to go through all the proper moves. Attrition works on stone walls and armies, but you don't need it as a way of life.

A second system, developed independently by numerous practitioners, can be called the Staff and Feeler Method (Figure 17-1). It's a good one, too, especially valuable for marking a large slab of plywood. In its crude and simple form, the staff and feeler consists of a plumb post, like a flat tree trunk at the innermost edge of the bulkhead-to-be, with pointed branches reaching out and touching strategic points on the perimeter of this little world: bottom corner of the carlin, top and bottom edges of the sheer clamp and the shelf, eight or ten spots along the curve of the vessel's side below the clamp. Use as many more as you think you'll need. Tack these branches to the trunk; remove the great tree intact, if possible; lay it on the plywood;

figure 17-1

The "Staff and Feeler" system

This is a template made up of pointers fastened to a strongback.

and mark the outline. If vou've worked care-

fully, allowed for bevels, and have remembered correalv which branch meant what, vou should

/ 7 t be able to saw out a piece that needs very little trimming to make it fit.

A third system, which might be called the Skeleton in the Closet, is really a fleshing out of the last method. Scribe and fit small pieces (soft pine or cedar, lA inch thick, easily shaped with a jackknife) to all the flats and curves that the bulkhead will fit (see Figure 17-2). "l ack them lightly in their places and join them with more of the same pattern stock—anchoring all of this fragile outline to the vertical staff at the innermost edge of the location. (Some tiny "quilting" clamps are very handy helpers in this assembly business.) Unhitch the assembly, lift it out tenderly, and mark the stock for cutting.

This skeleton pattern system works better than any other to fit the thwarts to a skiff, a one-piece flat for a bunk platform, a floor timber, or an engine bed. Don't be ashamed to use it even under the scornful eye of a Master Builder. He probably goes for the Explorer's or Surveyor's Method, which I won't pursue any further at the moment. Then there's the Linoleum Layer, or Joe Frogger, Method, excellent in its way, but which I will likewise spare you.

And so we come at last to the simple, logical way to fit a bulkhead. You should be able to probe to the bottom of this great mystery in about five minutes, and never again need to worry about it. If Sam Manning and I can't make it all clear by the end of this chapter, it's our fault, not yours.

I don't know yet how many moves we'll make, so I'll just say, First—Decide where that bulkhead is going and take proper steps to guarantee that it starts, continues, and remains there throughout your struggles. You may think this is a silly warning, but I assure you that it's very easy to mark for one spot and then discover it isn't exactly the right one. You must therefore establish a tangible atlnvartships plane, precisely located at one face of the bulkhead-to-be, and rigid enough to support the staves, by clamps and temporary fastenings, until the fitting is complete and you can install fashion pieces and cleats to tie it all together. This backward approach (something like buying a horse and then building a barn around him) may lead you to suspect that I, too, am about ripe for pasture. This I hotly deny, and ask you to proceed thus:

Cut a straightedged 1 -byA and nail it to the under edge of the sheer clamps, port and star-

1 x 4 laid flat athwartships

"Staff" or strongback

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