Building an Adirondack Guideboat-The “furniture” part 1

My friend Andy at the Adirondack Museum knows just about everything there is to know about boats.  He grew up in Barnegat Bay in New Jersey where boats were a way of life back then.  He knows every boat on the floor of the Museum’s Watercraft Building and can provide interesting stories about them to any visitor lucky enough to meet up with him.

Andy calls the seats in guideboats their “furniture”.  Indeed guideboat seats have evolved into a sort of furniture as the guideboat itself evolved.  Originally guideboats served as a work boat and were built mainly by guides during the long Adirondack winters.  Any amenities such as caned seats were out of the question.  A thin plank of wood was all that was required back in the early boats.

Later, in the 1870’s and 1880’s, those with great wealth built second homes, called Great Camps, on the shores of Adirondack Lakes.  They were intrigued by the beauty of  guideboats and began to purchase them from local builders.  The demand for the boats grew such that the well known builders like Chase, Grant and the Parson Brothers could hire a five or six man crew to meet the demand.

Caned seats and the caned rear seat back became the standard,  At some point a fold down seat back for the middle seat was introduced and became a must have for some.

There are three seats in an Adirondack guideboat.  One sits and rows from the middle seat when he/she is alone in the boat or when accompanied by at least two other people.  One rows from the forward seat when there is at least one other person in the boat.

Seats rest on cleats made of strips of hardwood that are fastened to the ribs.  I learned not to scrimp on making sure the cleats were hefty enough.  My wife and I were out for a row one day.  She was forward doing the rowing and I was in the rear seat enjoying the scenery.  Seemingly out of nowhere a large power boat roared by us leaving behind a large wake.  Fran wisely turned into the wake and we bobbed like a cork as it passed.  But as the second of three or four  waves passed under us there was a loud crack. The rear seat cleat had broken from the extra force on it as the boat slid down the wave into its trough.  I have beefed up the cleats from 1/2″ square to 1/2″ X 3/4″ stock.

There is another cleat that has nothing to do with the seats.  It is the yoke cleat.  The guides carried their boats using a yoke resting on their shoulders so that the boat could be carried over their heads.  The yoke cleat has long extensions facing forward that are used as handles.

The yoke cleat is not hard to make.  I made mine from 1/2″ inch thick cherry.  After laying out the cleat I drilled a 1 1/4″ hole with a Forstner bit where the yoke fits the cleat.  This gives a perfectly round semi-circle that would be difficult to accomplish any other way.  Then I rounded the edges with a contour plane.

Shaping the yoke cleat.

Shaping the yoke cleat.

After several coats of varnish, the cleats are ready to be fastened to the ribs.  I use #8 X 1″ oval head brass screws to secure them.

Yoke and middle seat cleats are attached.

Yoke and middle seat cleats are attached.

Making the middle seat is the least difficult of the three seats.  It is rectangular, probably the only thing on the boat with right angles.

I use mortise and tenon joinery.  I rigged up my plunge router to make the mortises.  As you can see, I built a box with a spring loaded fence to hold the stock while the mortise is being milled.  The rotating router bit is first plunged into the stock.  Then the stock is pushed to a “stop” to mill the proper length of the mortise.

Plunge router set-up to make mortise joinery.

Plunge router set-up to make mortise joinery.

The tenons are cut on the table saw.  I bought a special jig for the saw that makes this relatively easy to do.

I had a decision to make regarding caning of the seats.  I have caned my guideboat seats in the past.  I absolutely abhor it!  It is not hard to do but I find it tedious and not amenable to my large fingers.  I am just not suited for caning.  One funny thing about caning.  When I show off my guideboats some one is sure to ask if I did the caning.  When I reply that “Yes indeed I did the caning” they are absolutely amazed.  When I explain that caning is the simplest task in making a guideboat they walk away not really believing what they just heard.

So I opted out of the caning and got a friend, Hallie Bond, to do it for me.  As you can see below she did a magnificent job.

The middle seat.

The middle seat.

The middle seat is the only set that is not fastened to the cleats.  It is removable and can be positioned fore and aft to suit the build of the rower.

One thing to be wary of with middle seat is that it will damage the inside of  the hull if it is allowed to slide sideways.  I use what I call chocks to prevent this from happening.  Chocks are small blocks of wood attached to the underside of each of the two seat rails.

Chock on the underside of the middle seat rail.

Chock on the underside of the middle seat rail.

So next time we will deal with the bow and stern seats.  We nearing the end of the long process of guideboat construction.



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