Thursday, 18 December 2014

Ben's splinter removal By Abbey Molyneux

As I’m sure you can all imagine, splinters are a hazard of the job here at Pioneer. You can don your most fashionable PPE for all the other flying objects and big bangs but splinters are the invincible villains of the workshop.
Mick, our wise (old) shipwright AKA Mick Allen The Great even after years of experience was signed off work with a splinter that swelled up like a sausage not so long ago. Although there were many rumors
flying round the town about alligator attacks and spider bites…to set the record straight it was indeed just a splinter. Yet another splinter incident was when Charlie got a biggun stuck under his fingernail, Charlie being Charlie though could not just pull it out like a normal person…he had to drill into his fingernail to relieve the swelling pressure, hoik it out and then parade it round the workshop while a few of us were quietly vomiting in the corner. Oh the joys of carpentry ey.

Luckily for us we now have Ben The Big Friendly Giant. His mum is a nurse and he is famous for being a little bit anal about cleanliness in the yard. He even showers twice a day! With all this in mind we put our heads together, used our initiative and set up Bens Splinter Removal Surgery. It probably wouldn’t pass any Health and Safety checks but hey the yard has saved a lot of money on plasters since (needless to say this blog is probably the first The Management have heard of it)!  Now when the time comes we know where to go. He also offers a finger removal service for serious cases although Aidan is the only one to have this service to use so far.

I had an appointment with Dr Ben last week, all suited and booted with his mask, latex gloves and his biggest Sorby chisel (bearing some resemblance to a medieval torture set up) I walked up to him and put my hand on his custom made extra tall bench. Turning away, wincing, cursing and stamping my tiny steel toe caps on the floor Dr Ben got to work. “Abbey, I haven’t even started yet…have a can of man the **** up”. Either way it was a total overreaction, it didn’t hurt at all although it did give Charlie a reason to mock me for a few days. With his steady hand, finely sharpened chisels and a few antiseptic wipes he had it out in no time! With puss oozing from my humongous wound a bit of masking tape and tissue was applied and I continued building our famous rowing gigs. Dr Ben saves the day again! 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

So Who's the Boss of the Backbone? asks Jake Anderson (with Julia Jones)

(JJ) I was warned when I first visited Harker's Yard that there was a certain amount of 'banter' between the apprentices. I began to get a flavour of that in The Great Oar Race (Liam's blog) so when I went to interview his rival, Jake, I wasn't entirely surprised when Jake pointed out that the final photo of oars on Liam's blog were actually HIS oars and also Liam hasn't yet finished (because he's making an entire extra set). 
So I'd better get these photo captions right....

Liam's oars -
with their varnish drying in the winter sun
(and a little bit of help from the central heating?)
Jake's oars -
a complete set destined for the gig 'Mehalah'

Jake is making yet more oars but is also hard at work on the backbone for the next gig - number 14, I think. Even there all is not peace. I asked him to explain...

Jake, pointing to the stem, apron and forward knee,
 three of the nine components of the backbone
Jake: Making the backbone is a fun, yet slightly challenging, job. There are nine components to the full backbone. Each has to be made separately and then it has to be put together like a big jigsaw puzzle – with only one piece being fitted at a time.
Jake begins to explain how it will all fit together
Jake: It also does help that I'm currently making a whole new set of oars whilst Aiden, who is working with me on the backbone, is repairing a broken oar from a previous set. I say he is working with me – actually there is an amusing dispute between me and Aiden about who is leading the operation to make the backbone. Aiden believes that he’s leading it as he started the job and made the keel. I believe that I am leading it as I have already made one backbone. Dunstan, the gig manager, has backed me up – much to Aiden's disgust.

Aiden, who made the keel,
tells Jake he's doing it wrong
(Don't worry Aiden – it's your turn to be interviewed for the blog next month – JJ).

Jake: The backbone, for those of you who don't know, has nine different components: the stem, apron, forward knee, keel, hog, aft knee, deadwood, stern post and transom. The stem, forward knee and aft knee are all made from laminated mahogany, glued together on a jig. This is because they all have a large curve in them that would be hard to achieve from solid timber.

Layers of mahogany
Jake: The apron, keel, deadwood, stern post and transom are all made from Iroko. This is the main wood that we use for making and fitting out the rowing gigs. Lastly the hog is made from Douglas Fir. The hog is the component that nearly all of the mahogany planks which we use in the gig hull are attached to. It's an important part to make correctly as it ensures that the shape of the hull is true.
Jake ignores Aiden
 and fits the stern post, deadwood and aft knee to the keel
JJ You  come from Dorking. You'd never done any sailing so how did you arrive at Harker's Yard?
Jake: I'm in my second year of my apprenticeship here at Pioneer and I arrived in an odd sort of way. I left school after GCSEs and was at a college in Surrey doing carpentry and joinery at levels one and two. I wasn't really enjoying it very much as the teaching wasn't very good so I didn't want to stay for level three. I was looking around for alternatives but I wasn't having any luck.

Suddenly my Nanny found an article in one of her women's magazines for a boat-building course in Devon. I got in touch with them but I found I wasn't eligible for some reason that I can't remember – I think it was that I didn't have my own boat. However they told me to get in touch with the Pioneer Sailing Trust which I did.
I was invited for an interview, which just happened to be on the day I arrived back from a holiday in Turkey and soon after I heard back from them saying they would take me. I was extremely nervous at first. I'd been living inland in Surrey and I'd never even really thought about boats. After the first month of starting I knew I'd made an extremely good choice and I've learned more there that I ever did – or would ever have done – in college.

JJ: What Next? 
Jake: I'll be finished at Pioneer in July and that's beginning to feel rather soon. I asked the owner of a boatyard in Turkey for advice on my next move and he told me to travel and get jobs in boatyards throughout the world.
So that's my plan. When I finish here I'm going to apply to boatyards in a variety of locations and stay maybe six months in each. I plan to do that for about three years. I think I might start in Oz....

The Harker's Yard gig, Matchless,
showing off her pretty transom in her winter cover

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Priscilla discovery Fred's Blog

The Priscilla discovery... 
So the time has finally come to put years of planning, organising and excitement into the next big project at Pioneer, Priscilla. She was built as a general 2nd class sailing smack in 1893 at the “Stone Brothers” of Brightlingsea and is the oldest “Stone” built vessel in existence, well, hanging on by a thread!

She’s had a mixed life, originally working out of Brightlingsea fishing during the winter months until she was lengthened from her original 36ft to 43ft overall which enabled her to perform at a faster speed. In 1931 she was sold and operated out of West Mersea and used for oyster dredging and to some extent Stowboating for sprats. The sailing rig was removed in 1933 and engine fitted. She held the Colchester registration of CK 437 for the first part of her working life but was changed to MN 76 in 1970 while still in operation. In 1975 she went into retirement and carried on as a leisure vessel after restoration and a new rig. By 1981 a final attempt to prolong the life of this prestigious vessel was undertaken by the addition of a Ferro Cement “skin” and kept her on the water till she was recovered in a derelict state from a boatyard in Bristol in 2003 by the Pioneer Sailing Trust.
Throughout my time at the PST I’ve known of Priscilla and after seeing what could be done to rebuild Pioneer itself I’ve always thought it would be great to tackle something of similar interest. Through a lot of help from all members at Pioneer that time has come. After months of seeing this boat sitting in the yard waiting patiently for her next step and we have now taken a huge step in completing the breakdown, analysis and plans for restoration with the new keel timber on site ready to be shaped accordingly!

One very exciting find from what remains of her was probably the smallest item to be a part of her, something that could have easily been swept away with the rubble, something seemingly unimportant but is all but that. It certainly looked that way on first glance as a rough, brown clump, but due to its location on the old mast step we knew it wasn’t. After carefully cleaning and washing away the years of corrosion I discovered what can only be assumed was the original coin placed under the mast when she was first built over 120 years ago! It’s an 1893 Silver ½ Crown portraying Queen Victoria and was placed under the mast as a sign of good luck, common among most vessels still today.

As it has served her well for the past 120 years I will replace her under the mast and hopefully she will do her job for the next 120!

I’m really looking forward to the restoration of Priscilla with Mick Allen and apprentices over the next few years and although we have a long way to go, this coin will be a reminder of what needs to be done, a goal in the future of this boat and my own ambitions as a carpenter. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The race was on with no water in sight by Liam Hymus

Making oars: the race was on  with no water in sight     by Liam Hymus

Making oars is one of the tasks that every apprentice has to do at some point and the time had come for me to start my second set.  Jake had already taken five weeks on his set and I reckon he was over half way. He was about to take a week off so Charlie bet him that I would be able to have two rounded looms before he got back. He accepted and the race was on.
So that Monday I started machining the timber for the two oars to try and get them rounded before he got back. After the first day I was feeling confident. I had most of the timber machined up and I'd smashed out the two loom cores gluing the blades on. By mid-week I hadn’t slowed down a bit. I had hollowed out and glued on the outer looms and the other two oars had their loom cores shaped and blades glued on
 Finally it was time to start rounding. This involves a lot of planing and took me about three days to complete.  Luckily Jake took the Monday off as well which gave me just enough time to finish off rounding the two oars that were required for Charlie to win the bet. I believe the bet was that who ever lost had to buy the other person's lunch that day.
As it hadn’t taken me that long for me to round those two oars, there was a lot of talk about me finishing completely before Jake. All of a sudden I found myself in yet another oar race. This time we decided that whoever had their oars in a state ready for varnishing would be the winner.

I really wanted to beat Jake - especially as there was now a prize on offer from Felicity and another prize from John  - so I asked some of the other apprentices to help me by distracting Jake as much as possible to help me get the upper hand.  Unfortunately I think it's safe to say that they didn’t distract him very well.  Or maybe Jake was just as determined to win as I was. He needed to save face after all.
Another week went by and I was still behind so then I really started to pick up the pace. I wouldn't let anyone upstairs. It had become my domain. I had a good set up and I knew exactly where everything was.  I had finally finished rounding the second pair of oars and then I had to shape the blades. That's a another job which seems to take forever.
Onto the third week and I'm not feeling anywhere near as confident as I was when I first started.  I’m still behind and Jake seems to have found his fifth gear, which he doesn’t use that often. So I decide to tell Jake that I’m miles behind and I haven't got a chance to catch him u
p. I'm hoping that he'll  take it a bit easier and slow down.  To be honest I think might have worked for a day or two but then he realised that I was a lot closer to finishing than what I'd said.
Around comes Friday of the third week . Ash tips glued on the ends of the blades,  looms rounded,  handles...  Oh yes,  the handles...  I'd made a massive balls-up on the handles by not leaving enough excess. I knew exactly what I'd done but I decided to carry on regardless, hoping that no one would notice just so that I might still get declared the winner.
But no.  John walked in and the first thing he noticed was how tidy the room was. The second thing was, of course, the handles.  And, as it turned out, I had made two oars the same length.   This would prove to be a problem as each oar is made a different length depending on what rowing position it is made for.
I was really annoyed with myself -  so annoyed in fact that I’m now making another set.  Soon I will have two complete sets – twice as many oars as Jake.
So I definitely win when it comes to quantity.             


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Anyone for coffee? By John Lane

Anyone for coffee?
It’s 10am, morning break for the apprentices.  “Why does this coffee taste like…like….Smokey Bacon crisps?” asked Dunstan.  It was Jake’s turn to make the coffee that morning, so it must be his fault.   Charlie grimaced as he took the first mouthful and characteristically forthright in his opinion said: “Who made this *really* awful coffee?!?  It tastes even worse than Aiden’s!”  (* insert an inappropriate expletive here).
Aiden, known lately as “Fingers” Lateward, already had a reputation for his coffee-making abilities.  How can it be so bad, using just the same three basic ingredients – boiling water, coffee granules and milk?  Apparently, he puts the milk in first, which possibly explains everything.                                                                                                                                         
Why “Fingers”? Well, Aiden is on a mission. From what started as just a tendency, then a predilection, Aiden now appears to have a compulsive determination to shorten, or even remove most of his fingers.  The last attempt involved a pile of firewood, an axe and some beer – although this was obviously not during work hours, as we don’t possess an axe).   Nothing good has come out of this, except to say we now know that the possession of shorter, or even fewer fingers, has not improved Aiden’s aptitude as a coffee-maker.  But then, why should it?
After just three days of the ghastly Smokey Bacon-flavoured brew, the consumption of coffee at break and lunchtimes had reduced significantly and by the end of the week none of the apprentices – indeed anyone else - was drinking coffee.  When Felicity finally spilled the beans (no pun intended) she explained that the cost of tea and coffee had been getting out-of-hand and was now comparable to our monthly outlay on timber and wages; clearly, something had to be done.   Instead of continuing to buy our beloved Nescafe Gold Blend, her solution was to order in the very cheapest instant coffee she could find.  Cause and effect, QED or whatever – it had certainly worked!  Fair enough you might think; but really, to refill the Gold Blend container with this stuff - and hoping nobody would notice - was very sneaky indeed.
However, every cloud has a silver lining.  Fed up with Smokey Bacon-flavoured coffee, several of us have become coffee connoisseurs.  For instance, I took to bringing in a cafetiere, together with some beans and a little electric grinder.  My preference nowTop of Form is Lavazza Caffe Espresso, a 100% Arabica medium roast, which, at just £3.60 for 250 grams, provides an intense yet velvety blend with a distinctive character, as found in the best traditions of Italian espresso.  According to Tesco, it is “Italy’s favourite coffee”.
Others who “have seen the light” include Ben.  He prefers Wittard’s Morning Coffee, which is described as a classic breakfast blend, designed to “gently ease you into the morning”.  Ben maintains it is the best, as it produces - in his words - “a superb chocolatey finish with delightfully subtle undertones”.   He has also tried various other weird concoctions, including rhubarb tea, which he pretended to like, but clearly didn’t. 
Never let it be said that working at the Pioneer Trust is not an education.  Abbey, unable to drink the coffee (or even Mick’s Redbush tea), on sudden impulse asked Ben if she could try some of his strange granulated tea infusion, Lipton’s “Berry Medley of Temptation Summer Fruits”.  “Wow!” she exclaimed, after just one sip. “This is fantastic!  What have I been missing?” This chance experience has obviously opened up a whole new world for Abbey.
Some of the hardened smokers also got in on the act.  With taste-buds shot to pieces from years of rolling up “dodgy” Golden Virginia, Drum or worse, even they began complaining about the coffee.  “It tastes like the sticks you give to dogs with bad breath”, said Tyler, who presumably has tried at least one stick of Pedigree Dentastix to know.

It all came to a head when one bright spark came up with the idea of installing a coffee-making machine in the mess room.  Great idea, but with nowhere to put it, I suggested it could go in the office, where as luck would have it, a Canto Expresso B2C would tuck in nicely between the laser colour printer and the photocopier.   But alas, “Management” stepped in at last minute, baulking at the cost.  After all, for £4,350 you can buy an awful lot of Nescafe Gold Blend.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Meeting Tariq 5.11.2014

The view from the apprentices'
My name is Tariq Abdel-Rahim but in the month that I have been at Harker's Yard I have acquired a number of different aliases of which Darius seems to have stuck. (Don't ask!) Joining the team was rather spontaneous for me and came about very luckily. I was starting my gap year and scrolling on the internet looking for a job when I noticed the apprenticeship space. Then, when I was building a box to bring with me to the interview, I found that woodwork appealed to me more than I'd ever had the chance to know.

For me this apprenticeship is everything I need and it just seemed to fall into place. There is the perfect mix of independent and team work and a brilliant sense of satisfaction. I think some people are put off by the sound of an apprenticeship because the pay is lower and it sounds like a perfect opportunity to be ripped of by an employer. But here at Pioneer they have been very professional in terms of my training, arranging what I will be doing in a such way that there is maximum benefit to me as well as to them.
Tariq, posing with his file

I do eight hours of lessons a week with John: two morning and two afternoon sessions, half theory and half practical. I find that these take away any feeling of monotony in the laying-up (cold-moulding) work which can be a little repetitive if there's nothing in between. The challenge of the cold-moulding is fitting each plank to the right size, not covering myself with glue and then finding my way around all the different tools and machinery and such like. The lessons are the other side which might feel irrelevant until a certain moment and then every thing you've learned intertwines to make the job a whole lot easier.

The team here have made me feel very welcome and I have already made good friends. This type of work allows you to choose whether you want to socialise or stick some earplugs in and ignore the world (as long as you get the work done). I agree with what Abbey said about 'healthy banter'. It's never unkind and people will soon lay off if they see that you're not in the mood. Personally I enjoy it. The workshop atmosphere makes it really easy to get to know one another and it never feels awkward to ask for help.

Battening applied to hold down the
second skin while the glue dries
They are very keen on their health and safety here, which is good. I have found that most things anyway are just part of a series of small mistakes that I hope I'll only make once – like running my finger across the sharp edge of a plane and then wondering why I'm bleeding. However leaving all little things like that aside I feel very safe using the machinery and tools as it's been explained so thoroughly what I should and shouldn't do.

Progress on the gig
All in all I'm happy to be here. I've learned a lot already – though I'm not saying I don't have a long way to go – and each day seems to offer a new challenge, so that there will be nothing to get bored about any time soon. I look forward to my first sail on Pioneer and all the fun stuff that the crew seem to get up to every now and then. There's been rumours of clay pigeon shooting over Christmas so that will be exciting. And then I just happened to look at the view out of the window from the apprentices' workshop and I thought – yes!

Tariq is 18. He took A levels in Economics, Sociology and Psychology and was all set to continue on the academic path and study Osteopathy at university after taking a gap year. He has no background in boats though he'd often wondered what it would be like to go sailing. It was the experience of building his tool box to bring to the interview that first made him realise how much he enjoys working with his hands. (JJ)

Tariq's tool box -
only a saw and a sledgehammer so far

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Vertical Challenge

(By Ben Lucas – 6’8” in his socks)

Sharp tools are absolutely essential when in the business of building wooden boats.  This is drummed into new apprentices at the very outset and it doesn’t take long for the “penny to drop”.  Everything becomes so much easier with really sharp edges – and it’s safer too.  That said, grinding and honing tools can become a bit of a chore - something which is too often delayed until it can’t be put off any longer. 

Then one day, John, our tutor, suggested we invest in a “Tormek Sharpening System”. He’s got one at home and swears by it.  He said the advantages were numerous – accurate sharpening, no over-heating, safe to use and versatile – and you can sharpen almost anything on it – plane blades, chisels, knives, scissors, axes, spoke-shave blades, gouges, lathe tools and so on.   The only disadvantage is the cost – not just for the basic machine, but the numerous jigs that go with it.  And spares aren’t cheap either – a replacement grinding stone is about £250!

Anyway, John put up a good case and the machine arrived after a couple of days.   I was asked if I would take responsibility for the machine – not only to maintain and generally look after it, but also train others to use it.  John pointed out that bolting it down onto a standard bench was no good at all, because this makes it too high and you can’t get to both sides of the machine.  So he asked me to make a little stand for it.

I did a bit of thinking, made a few drawings and then set about making the stand.  Although I say it myself, the result was an absolute masterpiece.  Made from scrap plywood, the stand covered “all the bases”.  It was cheap, strong, reliable, portable, and even had a shelf for all the bits and pieces – spare jigs, honing paste and so on.  I was so proud of this stand, you would not believe it.  And everybody liked it, or so they said.

Mk I Stand, abandoned....

“But why is it so tall?” asked Abbey.  “I’ve got to stand on a tool-box or a milk crate to use it.  I’m only 5’3”!”   I said the stand was fine, as most people in the yard are taller than that, and we can’t just cater for the odd shorty.

“But it’s too high for me as well”, said Aiden.  “I’m 6’ and even I have to stand on tip-toe to use it”. 

“And why does it rock about?” asked George, one of the work-experience lads.  “If you put it on three legs instead of four, it wouldn’t matter if the concrete was uneven – and you wouldn’t have to put a wedge under it every time you use it………. as well having to stand on a milk crate”, he added as an afterthought.  For a fourteen-year-old, George can be very sensible indeed, but I didn’t tell him that.

“Well, yes” I said, “but apart from it being just a bit too tall for a few people and it rocking about a little bit and needing a wedge, I think it is fine - magnificent in fact”.

After a few weeks of general complaining by the apprentices, John asked me to shorten the stand and put it on three legs.  I think he had to ask me three times before I finally gave in. 

But I just couldn’t bring myself to butcher my creation and decided to make a completely new stand.  “Tormek stand Mk 2” is six inches lower and has three sides, which was probably a mistake as it involved working out lots of angles - although this did solve the problem of giving it three feet. 
But somehow I had now lost all enthusiasm for the project; I didn’t even bother to make a shelf and just screwed a plastic container on the side for the bits and pieces.

Mk II Stand
In my opinion, Stand Mk 2 is absolutely hideous and has no place in our workshop – although strangely enough, nobody complains about it anymore.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Alex's Blog

I’ve often wondered… what does a Bosun do…?

Wherever you sail you may find the term Bosun or Boatswain batted around and wondered what it actually means.  Having looked at various and somewhat dubious online dictionary definitions, I think we all agree that roughly, a Bosun looks after the running of deck operations, sail setting, supervising crew members, dealing with anchors and warps and driving the ships tender.
So how is it, do I find myself in the middle of the river Blackwater, holding a live, edible (and rather unimpressed) crab, bigger than my own head surrounded by a franticly cheering group of young people?  Oh, yes, I remember, I’m the Bosun on the Pioneer! 
I joined the Pioneer Sailing Trust at the beginning of 2014, having sailed as relief staff with numerous Sail Training organisations; this was to be my first full season on my own boat (metaphorically speaking, of course, I don’t actually own Pioneer)
I have to say, between then and now we’ve had the most amazing adventures.  We’ve covered around 1000 nautical miles, with groups of people from all walks of life, young and old.  We’ve dredged, rowed, been swimming, flown kites, danced, played cards, celebrated birthdays… oh, and sailed (a lot).

 We’ve had the best weather this season you could possibly ask for which means we’ve been able to make to most of every day.  I can only think of one occasion this year when we’ve motor sailed and that was only for a couple of hours.  We’ve played with topsails, jib topsails, reefs in, reefs out, big jibs, storm jibs, you name it, we’ve had all manner of curtains up!
I guess the point I’m trying to make here (and there is one there somewhere…) is that life on the Pioneer is neither all about sailing, nor about larking about on boats.  It’s a package.  We get to take groups of people on a once in a lifetime opportunity, where they will experience their own personal journeys with highs and lows, overcome challenges, make new friends and discover the wobbly and watery world that is life at sea.
So, back to my original point- What does a Bosun do?
Who’d have thought that I would have to bring my (very rusty) sign language skills back into play for our groups of hearing impaired young people, or learn the difference between native and Pacific oysters to ensure my watch (portside pirates) won the dredging competitions?  I’ve acted as a bow thruster in our 4hp dinghy to make sure Pioneer got into the lock at St Kathrine’s, London, safely and stood waste deep in water at the Hard in Brightlingsea scrubbing barnacles off our fine vessel’s bottom!  I’ve learnt new card games, found an adult seal sitting in our dinghy while we were anchored.  I’ve also had the challenge of learning how to sail a boat of which there is only one in the world, and though some might say all gaff rigs are the same, it’s not until you sail the old girl that you realise how unique she is.
What does a Bosun do?
Frankly, I still have no idea but it’s good fun trying to find out…

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Meeting Tyler - 15.10.2014 - Julia Jones

The first task for an apprentice at Harker's Yard is to make his or her own tool box. Tyler's was painted a cool, practical grey – a different colour from everyone else's so he could identify it easily – and he'd also added a drawer. This had been his own idea as he wanted somewhere to keep small things, like pencils and safety goggles, so they'd be easily retrievable. I asked him if he'd always been good at making things and he said no, not really, he'd never done any woodwork before he came to the Pioneer Sailing Trust I wondered what had prompted him to apply for an apprentice's place. He'd been away for a week with his school, sailing Pioneer herself, when he'd heard about the scheme. He'd then spent two weeks doing work experience at Harker's Yard and that had helped him decide that this was what he wanted.

Abbey's work
It had probably helped the other folk decide that they wanted him as well. Harker's Yard does not have the fiercely competitive attention-seeking ethos of Sir Alan Sugar's "The Apprentice". It's necessary for people to get along together and co-operate as they work on different jobs on the same three or four boats. I've also noticed from my own experience how many boat related problems need to be talked about by the shipwrights or engineers before the way forward is agreed – talked about, not argued about. It's not to do with power and egos, it's to do with finding the best way of tackling a problem. Old wooden boats are individual, there are few standard solutions.

Tyler's school career had been a bit disrupted. “You don't realise how much missing learning matters until you've missed it,” he said but he'd clearly worked really hard in the Sixth Form and done well – one A, a B and two Cs as his A-level equivalents at the end of year 13. He'd taken the BTEC route of constant coursework, continuous assessment, weekly deadlines rather than the stop-go panic of revision and exams. He spoke about this really well and I just wished that the some of the gung-ho educationalists who argue for a return to 100% assessment by exams could shut up and listen to someone like Tyler.

Fellow-apprentice Tariq
stapling the gig
I asked whether he'd considered university. No, he was clear that that wouldn't have been for him. He was fed up with sitting around in a classroom listening and writing stuff; he wanted to get on and make things and be able to see his progress. To be accepted as an apprentice at Harker's Yard he'd had to take a written assessment (mainly maths and 3D awareness as well as a personal statement) and he'd also had to follow the instructions to make a simple half-lap joint. On his two week's work experience he'd made a paddle. I just have to say here how impressed I am that someone who'd never previously done any woodwork could so calmly get on and tackle these jobs. But that's probably because I know I'd have failed the test myself.

So he's in and he's one of the team and that's where he'll be for the next two years, as well as attending Colchester Institute on Fridays to keep up with the more theoretical skills. After making the toolbox he spent the first couple of weeks doing bits and pieces, scraping out excess glue, learning how to mastic in between the planks of the former Trinity House work boat that is one of the yard's current restoration projects. He applied primer and gave other people a hand where needed. 

Now Tyler is properly at work on the latest gig. These tough elegant rowing boats were designed to be a real project for the apprentices offering them a range of skills to learn. In a previous post Abbey described the careful task of covering the plug (the mould) with a thick layer of tape to protect it from the gluing that will come later. Tyler and others are stapling on the first diagonal layer of thin mahogany veneer. The technique itself is simple but what's really important is to be working with care and precision. Tyler describes himself as a perfectionist so I would guess he'll find this a satisfying task. I'm looking forward to following his progress – and I hope that new toolbox will soon be filling up nicely.

A half-lap joint

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Boxes of tools

Boxes of tools

By John Lane, Tutor, Pioneer Sailing Trust

When Julia Jones emailed to tell me her friend, Seona Ford, was “ruthlessly” clearing out her garage and needed a home for some old tools, it prompted me to “put pen to paper”. 

We are offered tools from time to time, and get quite excited, expecting a chest-full of rare and desirable woodworking tools, each lovingly preserved with the patina of care by some old, wise master-craftsman – sadly, most often deceased.  Rosewood mortice gauges with brass fittings, a selection of bollow and rebate planes, long paring chisels, Diston handsaws – perhaps even a nice No.73 shoulder plane?  

Charlie's No 73 plane, found on ebay

It usually starts with a phone call – “Well, yes, the apprentices, especially the newer ones, always need tools.  What do you have?” I ask. 

And it usually goes something like this:  “They’re in an old wooden box; some planes, saws and chisels and things – surely too good to throw away?  They belonged to my father”, they say.  “He was a boat-builder before the war, down in the yard… you know, where they’ve built all those ugly flats.  Are you sure you want them?  I can bring them round to you this afternoon, if you like?  I just don’t want to see them thrown away……………….”

“Mum’s” the word as we await the arrival of the mysterious box with eager anticipation.  There must be no hint of its impending arrival or the apprentices will gather like vultures squabbling over a freshly-killed zebra on the Serengeti.  
The box arrives.  Although the apprentices pretend not to notice when someone comes round to the yard, they never miss a trick.  One of the lads sees us lifting something from the boot of the car and comes over to help.  His eyes light up when he sees the box.  Then others begin to join him, smelling blood. 

A box of assorted tools donated to PST

The box is indeed quite old and heavily built, with some initials carved in the top.  Sensing a kill, more bodies begin to gather round as the box is set it down on the concrete.  Resisting the temptation to rub my hands together, I slowly open the lid.  Inside there is a rusty Record No.4 plane with a broken handle, a wooden jack plane – split, with no blade and spattered in yellow paint – a selection of cheap plastic-handled screwdrivers (ca 1980), a tenon saw of dubious quality (blunt, with no set) and in a wooden tray, a range of old drill bits and other paraphernalia, all quite useless.  There are several chisels with short, worn blades and split wooden handles, some with no ferrules.  Rummaging about in the bottom, there are old files, blunt by varying degrees and mostly with no handle, and a coping saw with a flaking chrome frame and no blade.  A seized hand drill might be salvageable, but of the two spokeshaves, one has no blade and the other has a broken casting.   Then, at the very bottom, we suddenly see a box marked “Stanley Combination Plane”, but our brief moment of hope is dashed by more disappointment: the box contains nothing but an assortment of rusty steel screws.

A selection of good quality donated tools
The apprentices begin to drift off, almost unnoticeably.  Nobody says anything. As for me, I find it difficult to appear both delighted and grateful as I thank and assure the donor we will find a good home for the tools.  Unsure if they believe my attempt at sincerity, I begin to lie.  “Our newest apprentice can certainly use some of these”, I hear myself saying.  “Mostly, they just need a good clean”.  

Our new apprentice Tariq
As the car drives away, the box is taken into the workshop and shoved under a bench.  It will sit there for a “decent interval” - probably a couple of years - and then someone will decide the box itself is useful - and the tools probably thrown in the skip. 

But in reality, more often than not, there is always something of use in a box-full of donated tools – as evidenced in the photographs.  And sometimes, just sometimes, there is the odd gem to be found.  So, if you do have any tools needing a good home, please do not be put off by this rather tongue-in-cheek post.  We are ALWAYS grateful for donations of tools, whatever their condition!