Little Man

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I am sitting in the shop tonight looking at a gaping hole and wondering how to fix it. If it was wood or fiberglass that would be ok but it isn’t. The hole is an empty blue-green dog bed in the corner of the shop, one that used to be filled by my ever present and always faithful dog Archie. His story has been tied to the Idle Hands Workshop from day one.

Archie and I first met at the construction site of the Idle Hands Workshop. The walls and trusses were up and I was sheathing the building in OSB in the summer heat. He was malnourished, dirty, and covered in fleas but curious as to what I was doing. He trotted right up to me and had the look of an abandoned dog. “You are going to need a bath if you’re going to stay here” I said. I bathed, flea sprayed, de-ticked, and fed the little dog and then settled into the house for a nap.

Dogs roaming free is a sad truth were I live so I pulled a piece of scrap plywood out front and spray painted a sign that said “Wiener Dog Found” for all to see. I wasn’t really expecting an owner to appear and I had already made up my mind to keep him so I figured it was time to name him. “You look like an Archibald, Archibald Wiener”. The other two wieners in the house didn’t look too enthused but Archie was happy. Cheryl was out of town so I sent her a grainy picture on my old flip phone to notify her of the new arrival. 0522001102

Unfortunately later the next day the owner showed up. Turns out he was a legitimate crack head from down the street. I did try to talk him out of the dog but he took him back anyway. Over the summer and into the fall Archie (whom the crack head named Rocker) was a regular guest at the workshop. He would escape from the porch were he was locked up and head over to his future home to come.

November 1st of that year we woke to our neighbor knocking on the door. “There is a wiener dog in the ditch hit by a car, is it yours?” Both of our dogs were accounted for so out we went and found Archie laying there. He had been hit by a car the night before, his back legs were limp and he couldn’t move. The poor thing had spent the cold night on the ground with fire ants biting his belly. I ran for a board to lay him on as Cheryl flicked the ants away. Archie looked up at Cheryl and wagged.

Once we had Archie safe and sound in the house we debated what to do with him. We went to crack heads door but he wasn’t home so we decided to take him to the vet. Dr. Nunn checked him and pronounced him fit minus multiple broken bones, all he needed was some cash to fix him up. Cheryl left a note on crack heads door and it was the next day before he showed up to claim the broken dog. “Who would spend that much on a nine year old dog! I am going to take him out back and shoot him.” said the crack head. “NO, YOU ARE NOT!” Said Cheryl. With those words she gave up her 40th birthday present, a luxury weekend at the Jekyll Island Club which we had been saving up for awhile, for a nine year old, broken and abused dog.

Much like Dr. Nunn had said Archie healed well. We took him to the Veterinary trauma center in Jacksonville where Dr. Ernie bolted him back together. Five titanium plates, several feet of wire holding his ribs together, a box and a half of screws, god only knows how many staples.  His x-ray looked like a classic comic book drawing of Wolverine, more metal than dog. Even with all of the extra hardware we were cautioned to not let him fall or bump into anything until the bones healed. Because of that we had to walk with him in the yard stooped over stabilizing his butt while he did his business. No fun at all. To keep an eye on our sizable investment, Archie was never out of our site for the first several months. Wherever we moved in the house we set him up in the corner so he could see us and we could see him.


From the start I was Archie’s man. He would look at me with the purest of love like I have never seen before.

He latched on to me hard and I to him. His two favorite places were in the shop with me, and laying on the couch by my side. A close third was sleeping. That dog liked to sleep! we had beds all around the house including the one I am crying over tonight.


The titanium plates had affected the way he walked giving him a rhythmic, slightly off beat sound to his steps. When I would be working in the shop I would hear the “do do doo da doo” sound of his steps and look up and see him standing there checking on me. Satisfied that I was still in place he would head off to do Archie stuff.

As I look through the pictures of the pathfinder build it was hard for me to find pictures that didn’t have him in the frame. Template 2

He would keep track of me during the day and, when it was time to quit working he would walk out and woof at me then start running back to the house with his rhythmic, slightly off beat walk. If I didn’t keep up he would turn around and give me a “hey it’s couch time Big Man!” bark.

Cheryl wasn’t immune to his charms either. His larger than life personality worked his way into her heart as well.


Over the years Cheryl nursed him back to health from malady after malady. When his old belly could no longer handle store bought food she made him fresh food (chicken, rice, and sweet potatoes). When he overheated and flopped over from playing in the sun she fed him fingerfuls of water until he felt better. The metal in his body made him cold so she made sure he was always in his jacket when it was cold outside.

Toward the end of his life he had so many close brushes with death that we started to joke about him having nine lives. He went through two abusive owners, he was hit by a truck, survived congestive heart failure, inability to eat, and heat exhaustion. So you can forgive me for thinking that even though his kidneys were failing that he might, just one last time, dodge the bullet. His last two days were spent the best way we could. He spent one full day on the couch with me. Cheryl tried her best to get him to eat little bites of food off her fingers. Then his last day was in the shop with me. Later at the vets office the blood test had confirmed what I had already knew. His kidneys were gone and there was no saving him. My little man no longer had the strength to stand up and the bright light of his personality was fading. I knew it was time. He went to sleep in my arms knowing he was a good boy and that I was sorry. Seventeen years and one day old my little man died.

All dogs go to heaven they say. I have heard my whole life about streets of gold and angels singing but tonight I realize that is too much for me. When I step into the clearing at the end of my path it isn’t the Pearly Gates I want to see. It is a little blue shop tucked back into the pines, a blue green bed, and the rhythmic, slightly off beat sound of paws on the concrete.






The Mizzen Mast

I have been avoiding this part of the build for quite a while. Time is up.

To get my self prepped up for the task ahead I logged onto my favorite educational website Off Center Harbor, They are a subscription based website that is about wooden boats in all forms and are worth checking out. They have one of the biggest libraries of professionally edited how-to videos on the web and tons of pictures and articles to keep you busy. Geoff Kerr has a whole series on building plywood lapstrake boats that includes a wonderful tutorial on solid and hollow spar making. Geoff takes you step by step through the whole process much better than I could ever do. I’ll take you through the rough steps but if you are building your own spar for the first time I would pay the money and check out Off Center Harbor, you will be glad you did.

The mizzen mast seemed the best place to start so pulled the douglas fir off of the lumber rack and built up my blank in the normal way.

I made the blank super long so I could find the section I liked the most and trim it to length. Fortunately it all came out pretty good with no voids or defect that I could see. Next step was measure twice and cut once.


Mr. Welsford calls out for aluminum tube masts in his plans, 3″ for the main and 2″ for the mizzen. These sizes make really skinny wooden masts but I wanted to keep them as close to designed diameter as I could. I cut the blank for the mizzen to 2 1/8″ to give myself a little wiggle room. A big difference between wooden masts and aluminum masts is a taper on the end. Woodend masts traditionally have a slight taper to them to replicate masts made from whole trees. Since the mizzen mast is already skinny I didn’t want to remove any more material than I had to. In the end I tapered the square section mast from 2 1/8″ to 1 1/2″ on the top third of the mast.

One tip that helps is marking out thick bands with a pencil at regular intervals on the mast.

Mizzen bandsThese bands help with the next step. Making 4 sides into 8.

Mizzen bands 2With the power planer I went around the mast cutting off the corners evenly from front to back until I had a reasonably eight sided mast. You can see from the picture above that the black bands really help you keep track of where and how much you have sanded. Once the mast was at eight sides I re-drew the bands and took the mast to 16 sides with the power planer.  At 16 sides I re-drew the bands and switched to the shoulder plane to get to 32 sides. I am sure a professional could continue with the plane to get the mast to 64 sides but I do not have the skill. From here I switched to a cardboard shipping tube with sandpaper inside. 36, 60, 80, and finally 120 grit.

Mast sander

Reasonably round and straight, not too shabby. In Geoff Kerr’s video he makes a point to say that fairing a mast is an aerobic activity. He isn’t kidding. My hands hurt for days.

Now that the mast was sort of done I had to fit it to the boat. The decking on the transom where the mast passes through gets built up quite a bit to take the load of the mast. I deviated just a little and built the whole area up with two extra layers of 1/4″ plywood. After it was built up I marked it and trimmed it to shape.

While that was setting up I made the mast step out of mahogany.

MIzzen step

I’ll cover the leveling and layout of all of the mast holes, coaming lines, etc. in the next post. It wasn’t hard but there is a lot to go into and this is turning out to be a long post so I’ll hit it later. Drilling the hole for the mast was pretty easy, I lined up the drill with a scrap of wood attached to the transom and rammed her home.

MIzzen hole

The last step of the process was lining up the mast step and securing it to the bottom of the boat. Since the mast has a little lean to it the best way to line it up was with a MK1 eyeball. I poked the stern out, mounted the mast, and then moved the mast step around until the lovely bride and Editor in Chief said it was straight up and down.

MIzzen mounted

Whoo hoo there it is! It was a ton of work but I think it was worth it. Because it was so skinny the mast has a little more flex to it than I would like so I plan on sleeving the whole thing in fiberglass to stiffen it up a little. I have to admit I am glad Cheryl talked me into the wooden mast.



OK to Close Part 2

Three years. I first convinced the lovely bride and editor in chief Cheryl three years ago that I should build a boat. If you have read this blog from the start you know that getting a sailboat fast was never my plan. I wanted a project, something to keep me entertained in my off time. Nights and weekends, vacations and sick days, I have plugged away learning how to build a boat bit by bit. Each step building on the other; every checked box a part of building a larger sub assembly. I would work on a part and set it aside knowing that down the line I would have time to fix this or tweak that until now! I have reached the point in the build where everything I am doing is completing an entire section of the boat.  I am now closing out sections of the boat that will never be seen again and let me tell you that feels great. My thoughts have turned from dreaming of building to dreaming of sailing, it’s a wonderful thing.

When we spoke last I had just finished fitting the seats/floorboards and painting below decks, now it’s time to close it for good.

Hatch Layout 1

I started out with playing with my hatches and deck plates until I got them where I wanted them. Yes I know they are not lined up. I put them where I wanted them, you put yours wherever you like!

You can see on the left hand picture that I traced out all of the underlying structure on top of the floorboards and cut the access holes. The plans call for a round hatch in the bay that contains the centerboard attach point (rectangular hole in the pictures above). I decided to go with a slightly larger hatch so I could work in the area and use it for storage later. Because of this change I had to take out part of the bunk flat stringer.

hatch doublers

Because I had taken so much material out with the install of the hatches I added some really strong doublers underneath to take the load. These also marry up with the bunk flat stringer I had to cut out of the way. The doublers for the round hatches also had to be notched to pass the underlying structure.

hatch layout 4With the hatches cut and underlying structure marked out I laid out my screw pattern, pre-drilled and countersunk.

Hatch FinalsA bunch of glue and a bunch of screws later there it is. I decided a while ago to go back to A/B marine fir for the floor boards and seats because it seems a little tougher than okoume to me and I can get it locally at Langs Building Supplies. The disadvantage of the fir plywood is a fairly healthy bow in all of the panels that I get. To prevent the epoxy from permanently setting the bow in the plywood, I simultaneously sealed the bottom of the plywood, glued the doublers on, and attached the boards to the boat. This was a ton of glue to be working at one time and the only way I was able to get away with it was the temperature.

Frozen BirdfeederThat isn’t something you see every day! Thanks to the ice storm that rolled into South Georgia I was able to work with full solo cups of epoxy without it overheating and kicking. It was a heck of a mess but it seemed to work out well. The last part was to make the doublers for the seats.

seat doublers

As of right now I have not final installed the right hand seat. The boomkin for the mizzen attaches to the seat top and there is a doubler to be installed for that. I think I am going to save that for a little later. Coming up on the list I think it is really time for me to get serious about the masts. Yet another job I have been putting off. Wish me luck.

All Hands on Deck

Now that the pathfinder is right side up, it’s time to finish the interior of the boat. The next step in the build for me (I have long since deviated from the build schedule provided with the plans) was to fit the bunk flats and seat tops. I had a few items below decks that needed attention first.

foot well

During this whole process I am incorporating a lot of the changes suggested/learned from Peter out in Texas. One of those is to glass all of the high wear areas on the bottom. Footwells and below deck areas all received a coat of glass.

Center case woopsie

I also corrected a few small mistakes that had cropped up during the build. I like to think of this mistake as “structural reinforcement”.

The last item on the below decks list was to beef up the mast step.

Mast step

This is the original mast step for the pathfinder. This point takes a big load, not because of the mast but because the hoist point for the center board attaches here. Unless the board is all the way down most of its 100 or so pounds will be yanking on the mast step that is screwed in to this block. Because of that I decided to give myself a little more to attach to.

Mast step reinforcement

I carved up a douglas fir 4X4 on the table saw and glued it up.

Mast step reinforcement 2

With all of my changes and reinforcements made, I returned to the most hated part of a build – sanding and painting. Two more coats of resin were rolled on below decks and then sanded to 120 grit. White BilgeKote enamel was slopped on top of that. I have spent enough time talking about sanding and painting, on to better things.


Like a Joggle Stick!

Joggle stick

This is my new best friend. Over the summer I spent a lot of time reading “How to Build a Wooden Boat” by Bud McIntosh (a little late I know) and it taught me the joys of this little tool. Like most good tools it is ridiculously simple and easy to use. I started with rough cutting some CDX plywood and laying it in place.

spiling with the stick

CDX plywood

At several points you place the stick where the edge of your floor plank will be and then trace the outline of the joggle stick. Once you have enough points you take the cheap plywood and lay it on the expensive ply.

Spiling point

Next you line up the stick with the tracings and mark the point on the marine ply. Once you get enough points the outline appears.

Layout line

A little fitting with the Shinto rasp and they fit like a glove. With the bunk flat boards in place it was time for a family test nap.

Test Nap

The real size of this boat is becoming more apparent every day. I am a big boy, 6’1″/230 and there is plenty of room for me and three wieners on the bunk flats. You can look at plans all day long and even make traces on the floor but until you see it in real life you cannot visualize just how big a Welsford Pathfinder is.

In the next post it’s on to seat tops and cutting access hatches. Until then stay warm and Merry Christmas.



Becalmed, listless, stagnant; at the end of summer 2017 that is where I have found myself. I could blame it on several other things but it always comes back to me. To say I lost my drive after finishing the bottom of the pathfinder is an understatement. For months she sat in the corner as I piddled on other things. I worked on the house, I worked on the bikes. Occasionally I would poke about the pathfinder but never really accomplish anything. The excuse I was using was the fact that she was upside down and I had finished everything I could do with the hull inverted. Things are busy at work, how could I get help to flip the boat when all of my friends (and myself) were working lots of overtime? As the summer ended the old itch came back. I started looking for alternate ways to get the pathfinder upright.

At the end of August, I had the first free Friday I had seen in ages and I spent it in the shop. To get myself moving I decided to jack up the boat, pull it off of its current stand and build a new stand for the bottom.


This move really committed me to getting the boat flipped. I know several people have built this boat and ones like it in smaller places. I cannot live day to day without being able to move stuff around the shop. Now, how do I flip it myself? I tried to roll it over with no luck. The old girl has gained a few pounds since we turned her over the first time so I was stuck looking for other options. The answer came indirectly from my friend and master motorcycle mechanic Darrel. In his garage at home he has placed a beam in the ceiling and a hard point that lets him suspend an entire motorcycle. A sport bike weighs between 400-500 pounds, not too far off what the pathfinder weighs now. Maybe that would work. A quick trip to Amazon and the parts were on the way.

“Oh man I am screwed”

I had rigged the hard point in my ceiling and attached the hoist to the boat. My original plan was to wait until Cheryl got home from work so she could help me photograph the flip and lend a hand when needed. It was around two when I got everything rigged up so, of course, I wanted to test it out. Slowly but surely I tested the limits of my rig. I would lift up on the side and use the hoist to hold the load. Heavy work but still controllable. I raised it higher and higher every time until all of a sudden it stood up right on its side balanced on the oak rub rails. The one thing  I didn’t count on was the boat sliding several feet and now almost touching the far side wall of the shop. This left me in a bad predicament, because the hoist was rigged to the center point of the shop, and the boat had slid meaning I couldn’t let the boat back down easy  with the hoist. As the load went over I had to hold the full weight of the boat until the slack was taken up. I know I couldn’t handle that load. On the other side I could not continue to flip the boat  because it was too close to the far wall. What the hell!

I ran through my options and none were good. My neighbor was at work, no help there. Cheryl doesn’t get home for three hours, no help there. I can’t call my dad because the phone is on the other end of the shop plugged into the stereo. Shit! I couldn’t take my hand off the boat, too unstable. #$@%! I would have to flip it or wait until the lovely bride got home at six. With the rope in one hand and the boat in the other I slowly rocked the pathfinder to the center of the shop. Committed, I slowly let her down.


At the end, I was truly shocked as to how strong these boats actually are. There was no flex in the hull when I had it up on its side and later when it dropped off of my floor jack and hit the ground there was no damage, just a solid thunk when it hit the ground. The only casualty was a little paint scraped off the bottom as it slid around.


With mobility restored, it was time to clean the shop and take a well needed rest.

captains chair



It seems almost un-American to say but I really hate summertime. Not everywhere of course; summer time in my wife’s hometown in upstate New York is phenomenal. Warm in the daytime and pleasantly cool in the evening. No, the summer I hate is the wet, hot summer of the deep south. I think a lot of the reason why I hate the southern summer is I have spent my whole working life outside in the elements. My lovely bride who has a Master’s degree and a respectable job comes home with a jacket on, because the office is so cold. She bought a space heater for under her desk. She mows grass in the evening to “warm up”. I come home covered in sweat with no other goal than to become a hermit; shying from the sun and praying for September. That doesn’t mean I am idle, I just am inside. Last years summer project was the 30,000 mile service on my old BMW. I covered the pathfinder in plastic and dug in to the bike. That kept me busy the whole summer  and in the AC!


This summer project was a little different. It was time to turn the old kitchen into the new kitchen.

New floors in the bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, and laundry. The cabinets were sanded and painted. A new range hood is on the way. I blame HGTV. I have been really busy lately but still able to sneak in some time on the pathfinder – here is a look at what has been accomplished during the “dog days”.

With the hull painted I had some time to take stock of the project as a whole. After all of this work it’s hard to believe that the build list is down to just a few items.

  1. Mast and spars
  2. Floorboards
  3. Splash guard on deck
  4. Finish the centerboard and rudder
  5. Fit the motor
  6. Paint the top and inside.

That’s the big list. Six items and I am off and sailing. There are a lot of little things that are going to take up some time but those six items are the broad strokes. Item one has been a big concern for me for a while. You see Mr. Welsford calls out for aluminum masts and booms. I am comfortable working with aluminum but I really wanted that traditional look for the pathfinder. More than anything else I was worried about my ability to build a proper birds mouth hollow spar mast. With summer here and my free time limited it was time for some R/D.

There is a ton of data out on the web as to the construction of a birds mouth spar so I will not go into it here. Check out Duckworks Magazine, there site is a good springboard for all things boaty. I had some junk pine 2×4’s laying around so I decided to practice.

Test spar 1Test Spar 2test spar 3Test spar 4

It turns out that hollow spar construction isn’t all that difficult. My first 8′ blank came out mostly round and super straight, I was really happy. After the glue had properly cured it was time to go into destructive testing mode. I abused the cheap pine in every why I could imagine and it turned out much stronger then I had imagined. If a mast made out of cheap knotty pine is this strong one made out of clear douglas fir should be bullet proof.  This gave me the confidence to go ahead with a full sized hollow spar. Now I just have to find the wood…

Details, Devils, Whatever

Perfection is the enemy of production. Remember that.

From the start of this project I have known that I want a “workboat” level of finish on it. Still I found myself getting sucked into the madness that is a perfect final paint job. In both composite aircraft construction and in boat building you can measure the quality of the finish by how far away you have to be to see the imperfections. 10 feet is a good workboat finish, Three feet is a work of art, and on occasion you see a one foot boat. Those are best in show winners. I have said several times that I am not the greatest woodworker around and that is very true but, one area I do know well is composite construction.

I have been working with advanced composites for quite a while now and I knew that a three foot boat was well within my abilities. Over the course of almost two months of part time work I found myself sliding deeper and deeper into madness chasing that three foot boat. Follow me on my journey and use this as a warning for yourself.

Picking up from the last post I had the bottom fiberglassed and the center line runner and skeg installed. The next operation was to get the hull ready for paint. The first step in this process was to fill and fair all of the screw holes, panel gaps, and plank edges.

fillet 2

This is a view looking at the junction of the number one plank and the number two plank. You can see that there are voids that need to be filled. The plans tell you to use high density epoxy putty to fillet these areas.

fillet 3

The areas were masked and filleted.

fillet one

I went through a lot of trouble on this step to ensure that I cleaned up all of the goobers left over and smoothed the fillet out so there would be little to no sanding later.

You can see from the pictures above that a ton of screw holes needed to be filled. I broke out the QuickFair and went to town on both the screw holes and the panel joints. I will give you a warning on this. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU PURPOSELY AND CAREFULLY FILL THE SCREW HOLES IN YOUR BOAT, YOU WILL ALWAYS FIND MORE LATER. Enough said. For fairing the panel joints I had a full arsenal of sanding equipment. Stiff long boards, flexible long boards, sander, foam pads, soft blocks etc. It took a while but I finally got the hull to where I was happy with it and started coating the entire outside hull in epoxy.


Coating the hull is a critical part of this style of wooden boat construction. First it seals the wood, and secondly the plywood it is made out of is super soft and needs epoxy to toughen it up. Most designers recommend two coats of epoxy before paint. To make sure that I had a full two coats left after sanding I rolled on two coats of clear epoxy followed by two coats of epoxy with white pigment in in. This allows me to see the color change as I get closer to the base coat so I do not cut to deep. At this point I hit all of the high spots with 80 grit and the whole boat with 120. This is the point where all of the defects stand out. It hurts. To correct it I started the process of mixing epoxy/microballon paste, evenly coating the boat, and then sanding almost all of it off. This went on for almost a full week until the lovely and level headed Bride told me to cut it out, “It’s the bottom of the boat, no one will ever see it!”. Yes ma’am.


During the times the epoxy was curing, I broke out the plug cutter and some mahogany type wood I had laying around and cut plugs for the upper rub rail and installed them.

At this point I stood back and looked at hull and decided that I had done all I was going to do. F&%$ it I am painting.

After reading a really good article in Small Craft Advisor magazine and talking to several people that have painted wooden boats I decided to go with an oil based alkyd enamel paint in a satin finish.  I started with a coat of primer under the watchful eye of the shop foreman.


From there two coats of color on the bottom.

hull 1st coat

The blue took four coats to get a good deep finish.

transom final

profile final

Cheryl picked out the colors and I couldn’t be happier:

Gray – Sherwin Williams Knitting Needles

Blue – Sherwin Williams Navy

With the masking tape pulled I have a little bit of touchup to do here and there but I am super happy with the overall quality. It’s not a three foot boat but I can live with a really good 10 foot boat.  At this point there was nothing else to do but clean up two months of mess and enjoy the view.

Painting final