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From a Bare Hull:  The Cockpit (Page 8)

Cockpit Benches

For the cockpit, I envisioned simple varnished mahogany benches, made from planks secured in place on brackets beneath as required.  To that end, one day I milled up a number of planks for the job, each just over 3" in width.  Figuring on 1/4" gaps between the planks, plus a 7/8" trim piece at the outer end, I came up with a total bench width of just under 14", which jibed with what I had figured would be an appropriate width.

Unfortunately, I discovered after milling all the boards that the curvature at the sides of the cockpit was far greater than my memory had allowed me to remember; with a straightedge spanning the length of the cockpit, the curvature was nearly 6" deep at its furthest extent.  I feared that this would mean that it would be impossible to bend the boards into place to follow the curvature, creating a quandary for me.  For now, I placed the milled planks aside, and moved on to the seat supports.

I had imagined some laminated curved supports for the benches, which would eliminate the need for any vertical legs at the outer edge.  I went as far as designing the curve and building a series of laminating molds, but when I tried bending some strips of wood around the mold as a test, they promptly broke--an annoying setback. Certainly steaming the wood would have allowed it to bend easily, but I had no time nor inclination to build a steam box at this point, so I regrouped and considered my options.

Eventually, I came up with a simple brace made from 1" x 7/8" stock, with an inverted L-shaped bracket supported by an angled brace running between the legs.  This design, I thought, would also eliminate the need for a vertical let at the outer edge, and would be easy to build.  To strengthen the brackets, I decided to use a small plywood gusset at the inner corner.

After milling the various pieces, I traced them out on a piece of plywood, and then used the pattern as a guide to help me glue up the braces to the correct shape.  Using resorcinol glue, I glued up the braces, using bronze screws to hold the angle braces and gussets in position.

After the glue cured, I sanded the braces smooth and applied a sealer coat of varnish before installation.

To install the braces, I began with some layout.  I immediately discovered that I had slightly miscalculated my height, and had failed to take into account the fact that the cockpit was shallower at the aft end, a combination of a pitched cockpit sole and the sheerline of the boat and deck working together to reduce the depth of the well.  At the existing bracket height, clearance for the seat slats below the coaming boards would have been an issue.  I had also planned to raise the bottoms of the brackets 1" off the sole, but even with the braces down the remaining inch I didn't have enough clearance with which to be comfortable.

Fortunately, I had enough excess length built into the bottom of my braces that I could trim 3/4" off the bottom without harming the structural integrity.  I also trimmed a slight angle at the after side of the brace to allow it to rest comfortably over the cove at the bottom of the cockpit well where it met the sides.  In the new configuration, there was adequate room at the after end, so I pressed on with the installation.

Locating the braces approximately three feet apart along the sides of the well, I marked a plumb line and then traced out the shape of the brace using the plumb line as a guide.  Then, I applied masking tape around the outline to help with cleanup of adhesive later on.  Once all six brace locations were marked, I continued with installation.

I installed each brace with 5200 adhesive for a permanent and strong bond, and with three bronze screws driven through the back leg of the brace and into the plywood cockpit side.  The cockpit seats would take a lot of abuse during normal sailing of the boat, with people sitting, stepping and otherwise bumping the seats, so I felt the superior strength qualities of 5200 were merited.  I considered through-bolting, but I only had access from behind to two of the three supports on each side, so after consideration, I elected to use the 5200 and screws to hold it while the adhesive cured.

I was not shy with the 5200, and was pleased when it oozed out along the edges when the screws were applied.  Once all six braces were in, I cleaned up the excess squeezeout, and left the braces to cure for several days before beginning any serious work. around them.

After mulling the issue for a time, and even trying a test fit of the planks (no way would they bend), I elected to cut each 3" plank in half, creating double the number of strips, each just under 1-1/2" wide.  After test ripping one plank, I tried the fit up in the boat, and was pleased to find that the new, narrower strip bent easily to the curvature required.  Mocking up the strips with 1/4" spacers showed that the width should still be OK, so therefore I continued ripping the planks.  Afterwards, I used a router to round over the top edges with a 1/4" roundover bit, and sanded the strips smooth with 220 grit.

After applying some sealer varnish to all sides of the cockpit slats, I prepared for installation.  I measured along the curve at the outside of the cockpit to determine the length, and used a bevel gauge to determine the angle at the after end; the forward end would be square against the bulkhead.

With each strip in turn cut to the proper length, installation was easy.  The pieces bent into the curvature nicely, and I used some 1/4" spacers (left over from the ceiling project) to hold the slats at the correct distance from the cockpit walls and from each other.  Since I didn't know exactly where the ends of the slats would fall, height-wise, I retrained from installing cleats at the forward and after bulkheads until later.

I installed each slat with a #10 x 1-1/2" bronze screw at each seat brace location.  This held the slats in the appropriate curve, along with the spacers at the ends, and the process went quickly, other than a lot of up and down the ladder to cut each piece.  I didn't dare cut all pieces in advance to one length, as I was unsure how the lengths would pan out.  (As it happened, a single measurement would have been fine for all pieces).  I installed all eight slats on each side of the cockpit, and then added a final piece on the inside edge, screwing a 1-1/2" strip to the inside of the final slat to provide a finished appearance and add the illusion of additional thickness from inside the cockpit.

The transformation of the cockpit was immediate, as the slats truly highlighted the nice curves of the cockpit as it extended aft.  I was pleased with the look.

With the slats installed, I continued by installing cleats at the forward and aft ends of each seat, now that I could determine where the slats naturally fell.  This was more challenging than I had anticipated, and the process took longer than I had expected, but after a couple hours the job was done.


Finally, I installed mahogany bungs in all the screw holes, using resorcinol glue.  When the clue cured, I pared away the excess bung with chisel and block plane, and then sanded everything smooth.

Now ongoing:  lots of varnish!


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