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From a Bare Hull:  The Cockpit (Page 9)

Cockpit Bulkhead Trim

From the start, I had threatened to create a raised panel effect on the bulkhead in the cockpit.  Now, with little time remaining in the project and the remainder of the cockpit more or less complete, it was time to fish or cut bait.

With the cockpit seats complete, the final shape of the exposed bulkhead was finally revealed.  After contemplating the size and shape for a time, I decided to mill a series of 2" wide rails and stiles from solid mahogany.  After milling a board into a few lengths of the appropriately-sized stock, I prepared to make the actual pieces.

I began with the lower horizontal rail just above the cockpit seats.  Since the seats were built with an angle, I decided to install the rails level, but with the lower edge scribed to match the shape of the cockpit seats.  After some trial and error, I decided upon the correct height for the rail, and scribed the line on the seat.  Then, I cut the waste with a jigsaw, and installed the first rails temporarily with screws.  I repeated the process on the other side.

With the first rails in place, the remainder of the process went quite quickly.  With the horizontal rail to work from, it was easy to cut and piece in the remaining rails:  a top piece that followed the angle formed by the camber of the cabin trunk overhead, a short  vertical piece on the outboard side (leaving room to allow for clearance for the coamings later), and a long vertical piece that I held flush with the companionway opening and led down to almost cockpit level. 

At the bottom of the bulkhead, near the cockpit sole, I placed a long rail across the entire span, held above the sole by 7/8" to prevent any pooling water from ruining the varnish or rotting the wood, and butted the long vertical stiles (along the companionway) tightly to the lower rail.  Beneath the companionway opening, I filled in the remaining space with a final piece of mahogany cut to fit.

This completed the frame.  With all pieces tacked in place with screws, I measured for the upper panels, which would be raised from solid mahogany.  Beneath the seats, I chose flat panels made from mahogany plywood.  Because of some intricate shapes caused by the cockpit seat supports and the seat angle, I made paper patterns of the lower panels to ensure a proper fit.

After allowing additional material on each panel to accommodate their installation in rabbets in the frame material, I cut two blanks for the upper panels.  I was fortunate in that I had on hand a 13.5" wide board, from which I cut the panels (which were about 13" in maximum height).  This eliminated the need to glue up a panel to the correct width, saving precious time.  The wide board was too wide to go through my 12" planer, so I used my big grinder with a soft pad to quickly surface the material and remove the coarse saw cuts from the sawmill, after which I finish sanded with more traditional sanding tools.  After laying out the panel shape, I cut out the raw blanks.

Next, I set up my big router table with a large panel raising bit, a 3" cutter designed to turn at the relatively slow (for a router) speed of 10,000 RPM.  Although I didn't remember the problem in the past (not that I had made that many raised panels), I found that the hole in the router table base plate was not large enough to allow the bit to be retracted below table height.  There was simply too much material to remove in one pass, so to reduce the cutting height of the bit I cut a temporary plywood table top from 1/4" stock.

I raised the panels in two passes, first with the temporary 1/4" table top installed, and then with it removed to make a deeper pass.  At the end, I had two panels with a large raised section in the middle, and reduced edges designed to fit into a slot or rabbet.  The panel bit profile left a hard square edge on the raised portion that I didn't like, so I used a block plane to create a chamfer there to ease the edge and add more dimension to the profile.

Next, I cut the lower flat panels from a sheet of plywood, using my patterns as a guide and adding material as needed to allow  for the panel to slide into the rabbets that would hold it in place.  With that done, I removed the rails and stiles from the boat and set them up in the proper orientation on my bench to keep things straight.

I milled a series of chamfers on the rail sides and ends.  Since the frame would not be glued together, and because wood movement is inevitable, I chose to highlight the seams between pieces with chamfers on both sides, rather than attempt a flush fit that would probably shrink away over time.  As they say, if you can't hide the joint, highlight it.  I also milled chamfers along the inside edges of the rails, into the panel openings, and then milled 3/8" deep by 5/16" wide rabbets along the inside edges of the panel openings to accept the panel edges.  After checking the fit, I was ready for installation, once I had sanded all the pieces smooth.  First, though, I applied a seal coat of varnish to the back sides of all the pieces.

I installed the frame pieces with bronze screws and polysulfide sealant at the screw locations to prevent water ingress into the bulkhead.  After installing the outer rim of the frame, I added more polysulfide to the panel area, to help tack it in place without firmly securing it, and slid in the panels before installing the final vertical stile along the companionway that held both panels (on each side) in place.  I cleaned up any excess sealant (which I tried to avoid), and then plugged the screw holes with mahogany plugs.

This completed the bulkhead trim.  All that remained was application of many coats of varnish.

Click here to go on to the companionway trim, which truly finished off the bulkhead area.>

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