Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shaky hands

10 days to go to the beginning of the Herbie Paintfest and I'm getting more scared and panicky by the day. I was going to practice my signwriting brush technique today, but I've mislaid the flippin' brush so I'm stuck. I now have a full scale model sign made up at home with the lettering in outline, and my plan is to make a paper or card strip along the top and bottom of the lettering with all the edges to the letters and serifs marked out so I can take it to the boat to lay out the real thing.

Some people use other techniques such as pricking through a paper template, taping it to the boat panel and then applying a dusting of chalk so that when the template is removed you have an outline in little chalk dots to work to. That could work and I might try it yet.

Others use stencils, but I can't see that working all that well - too much risk of paint bleed under the edges I would have thought.

The best real signwriters of course do it entirely freehand using a practiced eye for proportion and spacing and a steady hand with the brush. I would dearly love to do that, but I'm not sure I dare. Using my method I get some freehand, but guided by measured lines top and bottom.

I must be mad to take this on with all the other things we have to do.

In the meantime, I have not been slacking. I have stripped the majority of the rear deck sides and bulkheads down to bare metal, just leaving the nooks and crannies to do by hand. The amount of dust generated is phenomenal. When I finished yesterday my face had a colour not unlike an American native Indian. Rather sexy I thought, although I don't think anyone else did.

Its a good job I wasn't attempting signwriting last night. My hands were still shaking from having been using the angle grinder for hours. Instead I went out with Rob and Pete and we played at a local music session where I found I had developed a very impressive vibrato on my smallpipes!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Losing weight and making tar.

(What do you think of the new blog template?) Anyway, on with the show:-

Forget the winning numbers on the lottery. Forget the odds on Nick Clegg being Prime Minister. The numbers everyone really wants to know are - how are my drying logs losing weight?

Today we had an official 5 week weigh in and it's looking good.
At this rate they should be ready to burn in about three weeks -as someone commented, "just at the time when we no longer need to light the stove". Still, it's interesting, (to me at any rate), that they have dried out so quickly. I thought 6 or 7 months, not weeks, although they might slow down as they get nearer to being fully dry. The logs in the dampish outside shed started drying later, but now seem to be losing weight at the same rate as the ones in the conservatory. Were they out in the weather, who knows what they would be like.

Some larger sycamore logs given to me a month earlier have dried out too and we used a few of them on our recent trip. They burned easily and gave some heat, but boy did they make a lot of tar at the chimney top. I don't know if further drying out leads to less tar or not. Anyway it seems I need to attend to the chimney liner to get a better seal or risk brown streaks on the boat roof.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In praise of hard work (by someone else)

We always like to buy coal, diesel and gas, for Herbie that is, from the boats that travel up and down the canal selling them. In particular we like the young guys on Archimedes who despite their tender years, display all the work ethic of the old time boatmen. These lads cover phenomenal distances in a day - far more than we would contemplate, and still manage to off load dozens of sacks of coal and serve lots of diesel whilst they are at it. And what's more they always seem to remain cheerful and friendly. Quite often they set out at five am. One day they went from Camden to Hemel Hempstead, selling coal as they went. That would take us three days on Herbie. If we hurried.

In Paddington recently we got diesel from Archimedes which was that day without butty (Ara?) because one of the guys was on a break. (please excuse the poor picture, I got the camera setting wrong). Archimedes guy told us he broke his leg above the ankle in January and kept on working for a week, humping bags of coal and all that, thinking it was only a bruise. Only when he popped home to see his mum did she bundle him off to the hospital.

He didn't stay off work long. "It still hurts a bit on cold days", he smiled. I bet it does.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Taking the rough with the smooth - buying abrasives.

If you never have to rub down paint you can skip this and wander off to read granny buttons or no problem or whatever. Otherwise read on and take heed.

I spent the whole morning trying to source sanding discs. I've decided that abrasives can be very wearing and now I feel rough and flat at the same time. The story goes like this.

According to my notes from Phil Speight's painting course, if you are repainting over sound old paint (having fixed any local blemishes or rust spots), you need to:

Rough the surface of the old paint with 80 grit paper
Apply new undercoat(s) if changing colour
Flatten the undercoat to get a smooth surface using 240 grit paper
Apply gloss coats, rubbing down penultimate coat with 500 or 600 grit paper, then lightly go over with 1000 grit paper.
Then put on your wonderful top coat of paint
Stand back and admire.

Do most of the rubbing down using a random orbit sander connected to a vacuum cleaner.

"What's difficult about that?" you ask. You can get sanding discs anywhere.

I'll tell you what's difficult. Getting paper above 320 grit that will fit my (quite ordinary) sander. That's what. Especially in bulk, and without buying expensive mixed grit packs.

No local supplier could help, not even autofactors. I think if I had a rectangular sander that could take sheets or paper off a roll I might have done better, or if I had a big professional 150mm sander. My sander uses standard DIY 125mm velcro backed discs with 8 suction holes. Quite a common format, but not it seems for very fine grade papers.

What is also difficult is knowing how much I will need. I rang Phil Speight and all he could say was "Well it all depends on the condition of the paint etc. We just have a huge box and use what we need." I did manage to deduce that I would need quite a lot.

Eventually I found a source of 600 grit discs on ebay although they have no holes, so I'll have to puncture them through with a pencil once mounted on the sander.

I also bought some more of those scotchbrite discs, this time called non-woven discs, and some natty looking abrasive cloths a bit like the green scratchies we use for dishwashing, but in much tougher grades. They should be handy for getting into corners and inside the deck drain gutters.

For all except the 600 grit papers, but including the non woven discs and cloths the best place I found was www.abtec4abrasives.com, although of course I haven't received the goods to inspect yet. They had a very good range of stuff of all types, at good prices and free delivery.

If I haven't bought enough, we'll have no time to order more once we're in the wet dock. By the time we have it all in,and taking into account what I've already bought, we'll have spent well over £60 on abrasives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


For a brief time today I had rather fetching red hair instead of my usual grey. I thought it would be blue so I was surprised. I was stripping the blue paint from the inside walls and lockers on Herbie's semi trad rear deck using those scotchbrite thingies I told you about recently. Surprisingly the blue dust seemed to disappear but the red oxide undercoat got everywhere, hence the red hair. Next time I'll wear a hat. I got the starboard side done before it started to drizzle, so I slapped on a coat of Fertan, pulled on the covers and stopped for the day.

Its a slow business and its just as well I have started before we go into the wet dock where we are on limited time. I aim to have all the back deck area stripped primed and undercoated before the official start of the "Paintfest".

A couple of facts and figures for fellow anoraks. In stripping about 2 square metres of paint I have worn through one and a half Scotchbrite discs (aka clean and strip discs). Because our electricity meters at the boat yard show cash remaining, I was able to tell that using an angle grinder for about 2hrs continuous it cost 15p in electricity. That seems cheap. Despite using an angle grinder in a confined space for two hours I still have ten fingers. Remarkable!

Stupidly I forgot to take the camera, so no before and after pics today. As a consolation here are a couple of springtime photos taken at Kensal Green our London trip last week.

Note the shiny Brassoed tiller below. I find Brassoing very theraputic.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring and a collapsing sump pump, and Beethoven's hand

A brief resume of our London trip.

What a joy to be out boating in the spring weather this week. Coots are nesting and the flowers in our pot on Herbie's roof are in bloom.

On Monday we moored at Kensal Green, a pleasant spot at any time, but especially nice in fine weather. The warm afternoon encouraged me to tackle a job that's been hanging over me for months. - the pool of oil under the engine where we had a gearbox cooler leak last summer. Oil does no harm down there, but it's messy. In previous times we have squeezed down there and bailed out with a can - a horrible job. Now was the time to try out my recently acquired hand sump pump. 12.95 it cost, so I didn't expect a Rolls Royce. Pacer Marine isn't the maker, they just sell 'em.

Well, it worked, and I retrieved about 3 litres of watery oil, but I was less than impressed when the pump end cap came off in mid stroke. A good job I was wearing old trousers! If you ever get one of these pumps, my advice would be to strip it down before you use it and stick it back together with some oil resistant glue or sealant. It should be fine then. Anyway now I have a nice empty engine drip tray:-).

For the rest of the week we have been in Paddington Basin and doing the tourist bit. We decided to take a look at the British Library, where they have an exhibition of their "treasures". Apart from the usual great old books like the Domesday book and the Lindisfarne gospels etc, they have a great collection of original scripts of famous works. So you can see the final chapter of Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte's handwriting, and then pages written by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and more. You do get a sense of the character of these writers by looking at their handwriting.

Even better was the music bit. Original pages by Handel (dense and bold), Ravel (amazingly neat and precise), Mozart (tiny and busy), and best of all Beethoven - a violin sonata written in full flow complete with crossings out and dashing strokes, obviously written at great speed while the muse was on him. It did feel a bit amazing to have my eyes six inches from this piece of paper on which the great man worked. In the next cabinet, scribbled song lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Worth a visit.

I'll tell more of our trip in a later post and there'll be photos.

At present we're at home while Claire and Joe have the boat for 24hrs. Now we're off back out to the Black Horse to take over again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prep prep, table progress, and a cruise

I'm pleased with trials of my paint prep equipment. Using a sheet of painted steel which has been weathering outside for some months. I tried first the scotchbrite pad on the angle grinder to remove everything back to the bare steel. Then alongside, I used my Wickes random orbit sander to flatten the old paint to see what quality of surface I could obtain.

The scotchbrite pad worked well and showed little sign of wear itself, so should last well. It leaves a smooth finish. I also tried it on an old very rusty box and it ripped off the rust easily.

The sander I really really like. It is smooth, very quiet, has a choice of speeds, and leaves a superb flat finish with no marks whatever. I tried it with 3 grades of paper disc. A coarser one which would be good for flattening undercoat and perhaps the first top coat. Then much finer ones for the prep before the final top coat. Phil Speight reckons the prep for each coat might take as much as three times the time it takes to paint the coat! I wonder how we're going to get everything done in the time we have.

Lastly I even tested out one of the box of 50 tack cloths I bought for about £8. Cheap, but the quality is fine. "Does this man leave nothing to chance?" I hear you ask. In reality it all demonstrates my lack of self confidence in practical matters.

Progress on the cratch table continues. The top is now virtually finished with contrasting trim and chamfered corners to minimise the pain of inevitable contact with people's thighs in a cramped space.

Underneath I have affixed a length of box section aluminium to act as a leg stop, but also to hold lengths of aluminium channel which will slide out to support he table flaps. So far so good.

No further DIY will happen for a week now because we're off tomorrow morning taking Herbie on her final cruise in her blue livery. Destination Paddington for a few days on our own, after a week of deputising for Grace's childminder, who has been on hols. No doubt well take in a few cultural highlights. We've been recommended a visit to St Pancras station which is apparently a sight to behold now that all the refurb for the Eurostar terminal is complete. I'll take the camera and report back.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Log Log

My fire log drying research has been getting pretty technical, or to put it Kath's way - ridiculous

I found a web site giving details for lots of different types of wood and what their ideal burning condition should be in terms of moisture content. For Ash (type of wood, not the white stuff!), it seems that I should be aiming for a specific gravity of about 0.65.

Well, of course I needed to find out what my test logs were now in terms of SG, so after carefully wrapping them in cling film to keep them dry I floated them in water and measured how deep they sank when held vertically. The logs being roughly cylindrical, all I had to do was divide the immersed length by the total length and that gives me the SG i.e how heavy the logs are compared to water. OK so far?

It looks like they are currently at about 0.85 which it seems is typical for fresh cut Ash. The rest is easy. Assuming the volume stays the same I can work out the weight which would give an SG of 0.65. All I have to do is to weigh the log periodically until we get there.

Here's a pretty graph, which I will update from time to time.

Is all this really necessary? Naah! In any case my measurements are not strictly accurate. Also, apparently Ash logs will burn when fresh cut, but they use up a lot of their heat steaming off the water content so they burn hotter when dry.

But its fun.

If you like that kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Grab handles - to keep or to scrap?

This picture shows three special features of Herbie. The first is Pete (see cast list opposite), who is now extra special because in his spare time besides maintaining his day job in computing, and putting four or five new bathrooms in his house along with associated plumbing and wiring and flooring, new boiler and loads more, has studied and has just qualified as one of those guys who can certify domestic electric jobs. He makes me feel very inadequate sometimes. Congrats Pete.

The second special feature is Herbie's unique (?) hinged hatch over the rear doors.

And the third - this is where I need some opinions - is the wooden grab handle you can just make out near the top edge and directly above the RB of HERBIE. Here is a better picture, featuring Peter (not Pete, see cast list also).

I've never seen another narrowboat with these handles. They work pretty well when stepping onto the boat from the bank after pushing out, and for hanging on to when standing on the gunwale. And as you can see, they are also handy as a temporary thing to hang a fender rope from.

However, like the lifting hatch, we are suspicious of them as they are somehow not very narrowboaty, certainly not at all "trad".

It occurred to me today that as we will remove them when we do the paint job, then now is the time to decide if we want to keep them? Or not.

Would you have them on your boat (if you had one)?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hello world

Never get complacent. After last week's high spirits and good news about my tax rebate, I fell ill on Friday morning and have only returned to the land of the living this (Tuesday) morning. Fear not, I'll resist the temptation to give you too much information about the ailment, ask you to spare a thought for poor Kath mopping my fevered brow, and pass on to happier things.

Even as I lay on my sick bed my associates carried on worrying for me (although not necessarily about me) concerning all that needs to be done before we repaint Herbie in four and a half week's time. An email from Rick reminds me that we want to replace the turnbutton thingies that attach the cratch and rear tonneau covers to the roof. I suppose years ago I might have spent a lot of time and petrol in looking for such things. Now thanks to Mr Berners-Lee OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA 's interweb, things are easy to obtain.

Other things which proved impossible to buy locally, and believe me I tried everywhere, were these Clean and Strip discs. They weren't even all that easy to find on the webThey fit on an angle grinder and are supposed to be brilliant at getting off old paint and rust without scoring the metal surface. I don't know if they last five minutes or five hours, but I've bought four. The main area where they will be used is inside the aft deck sides which , unlike the rest of the boat, has too many little chips and scrapes to make treating individual rust spots and blemishes feasible.Excuse the poor photo quality:- I hope these discs will be flexible enough to cope with the gently concave surfaces at the sides. Has anyone out there used them??

I hope to feel recovered enough to nip out to Herbie and give the discs a try later this week. Meanwhile I need to get a couple of coats of varnish on the cratch table - an easy job.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How to buy all the paint you need without touching your savings

I've cracked it. Five hundred quid's worth of boat paint and I don't need to dip into my bank account.

This is how its done.

1. First fail to properly read your notice of income tax coding for nearly five years.

2. Then, just before you have to buy all your paint, notice that HM Revenue and Customs has been stopping you about £11 a month all that time because they still think you have a car allowance from work, (even though you retired nearly five years ago).

3. Ring up HMRC to complain, and

4. hey presto, on the day you put your paint order in, you get a cheque in the post to cover the whole lot.

Simples. Well it worked for me anyway.

Now you might say I should be angry, not pleased, because they have been taking my cash all this time, but I can't see it that way. It's like putting on an old coat and finding a 20 pound note in the pocket. It seems like new money.

Glass half full - that's me.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Progress on all fronts

The cratch table is at last beginning to take shape. The table top pieces are cut and the special flap hinges are all now let in. (Yes the side flaps are supposed to be half an inch longer than the middle piece as you will see when the table is installed.) I forgot to time how long it all took, but it was a very long time. I am not the quickest of woodworkers. However I now know a lot more about using wood chisels than I did before I began, and I shed only the teeniest drop of blood in the process.

Best of all though are the unblemished sawn edges on the plywood. I am proud of them. Not even the tiniest breakout of the top veneer on either side! From now on the job can only go downhill.

Changing the subject, tomorrow I go to Uxbridge to order the paint for the big Herbie repaint. No going back on colours now. Yesterday I rang up Craftmaster paints to check if I had got my quantity sums about right and they put me through to Phil Speight to talk it through. He thinks I have it about right and that the colour scheme should look OK and gave some advice on colours for the signwriting.