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.