Little parts take just as long to make as big ones. This is a disconcerting fact of woodwork. Some, however, take a really long time to make, especially if one has a propensity for making things more complicated. It took the long holiday weekend – four days in fact – to almost finish making just one little part for each boat: the Mast Step. Two of those days were spent just figuring out how to do it.
The hole in the deck where the mast enters is called the Mast Partner. The socket where the end of the mast gets bedded into the keel is the Mast Step. Making the Mast Step is disproportionately time consuming, anyway, considering their small size. The Steps have to fit well and be fastened firmly to the stem in the narrow complex V of the bows. They also have to be strong. I’ve seen easier ways to do it, but essentially they’re smallish chunks of wood that have to be sculpted to precisely fit a tight space of odd curves and angles. You basically carve them from some tough, rot resistant wood like White Oak, because they take a lot of abuse and spend a lot of time sitting in water and muck. I used Ash, since I have a lot on hand. Ash is tough though not rot resistant, but it will be sealed in epoxy to keep the water out.
Hardwood doesn’t work easily with hand tools and sandpaper, so shaping takes patience. Roughing out the basic shapes from blanks on the table saw helps, leaving lots of odd shaped pieces of waste wood behind. Even figuring out how to do that made my head hurt. The rest of the process involves checking the fit over and over as you remove a little wood here and there until it nestles in place.
Checking screw depth on the finished shape.
The Step has to be firmly fastened in the junction of Stem, Hull and Keel.
All the pressure of the wind in the sail gets transferred to the hull through two points where the mast contacts the boat – the Mast Step and the Mast Partner. The wind uses the mast like a long lever to try and knock a boat down. Weight in the boat and pressure from the water resists this to keep the boat upright. The battle between the two opposing forces is focused on these two components, so they have to be strong.
The relative position of the two parts is also critical, since it determines the angle of the mast and, through that, the balance of the boat. I want to be able to change the angle later, since I won’t be able to insert the masts to set the angle while the boats are still in the basement. But also, I like to change sails for different conditions or just for fun, so want to be able to change the angle of the mast and re-balance the boat as needed. This means my Mast Step needs to be adjustable, and that adds complexity to a part that’s already surprisingly difficult to make.
If you don’t need to adjust the mast angle, you can just carve a chunk of wood and put a hole in it. In larger boats, it can even be a heavy square plank with a hole it, bolted to the keel or on mounting blocks.
To make it adjustable, though, I decided to make the actual socket a piece that would slide back and forth, held in place by stainless steel bolts. That meant the bolts will have to be embedded in epoxy from below, and the individual pieces strong enough to withstand the pressure.
Almost done. A little final shaping left.
Tape protects the bolt threads for now.
They’re almost ready to epoxy and screw in place. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out. Just wish they didn’t take four days to make.
Traditionally, coins are placed in the Mast Step under the mast for good luck. I’ll carve out a little shallow cup to hold the coins first, before fastening everything down. At that point attention can move on to the Mast Partners and the rest of the framing. And that other difficult piece – the Centerboard.
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