Anything for a friend

The great thing about being retired is I don’t have to do anything that I don’t find interesting or particularly challenging.  And, these days I’m apt to work on a project gratis just because it meets the interesting and/or challenging threshold.  This freedom is a great luxury and I’m very happy to have it.

A friend of mine (recently retired) decided to get back into sailing.  He picked up a nice little 28 footer.  Upon seeing the boat, I suggested that he needed a carved sternboard to bear the boat’s name and that I would be happy to make it,  just for the experience of doing a ribbon banner type of carving.  Obviously, he thought it was a good idea.

We spiled (scribed) the line of the stern onto a pattern and realized that it was going to take a fair amount of material.  Luckily, I remembered another friend saying that he had a mahogany plank that he was thinking about getting rid of.  After a little “horse trading”, we came up with a 20 bdft (8/4) plank of absolutely clear mahogany.  The stock had come out of a luthier’s shop and was just beautiful.

The first order of business was to cut the stern curve into the blank.  Thank goodness for yet another friend who could get 13″ under his bandsaw guides.  After rough sawing the surface was planed using an old Stanley 113.  (Which I found worked best by keeping the plane parallel with the direction of travel while skewing the cut.  Due to the curved surfaces, moving the plane diagonally changes the relationship between the curve of the work and that of the plane’s sole.)  The waste pieces were saved and used as concave and convex “dollies”.


Mahogany works like “butter” with any sheering tool (provided the tool is sharp).  The finish below is a product of planing with the 113.


I love to carve walnut.  But I have to say that I had forgotten how wonderful it is to carve mahogany.  The grain is consistent in both direction and density, which means crisp details and ease of tool re-direction.


We were both quite happy with the results.  The letters and pin stripes will be painted a marine white after a couple of coats of spar varnish.  Should be able to be read by the captain and crew of any boat “standing well off”.  My friend insisted on paying me for my efforts.  To which I replied, absolutely not.  In this case, the work was the reward.


He did, however, convince me accept a canvas bag which I found contained several bottles of 15 year old Glenlivet.  Hey!  What are friends for?

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7 Comments on “Anything for a friend”

  1. mrogen Says:

    I usually don’t comment on work, but your work work is beautiful! Very, very nice work. Inspirational I’d say.

    Michael Rogen
    ‘Working Wood With ALS’

  2. Very cool. One of these days, I’d love to get into a bit of carving. Nice work.

    • Jack Plane Says:

      When I read of the size of the mahogany plank I thought, if it were me, I would put it to far better use than nailing it on the back of a boat, but the finished banner is marvellous.

      Well done me ol’ mate!

      • D.B. Laney Says:

        Thanks Jack. Lester shared the exact same thought. I suppose we could have encapsulated a piece of sugar pine in some tinted epoxy… Darnit! Wish I would have thought of that earlier.

  3. Sylvain Says:

    I don’t know how sugar pine resist to roting. Mahogany for ship building seems legitimate. Although this piece is not structural. I hope the owner will keep his boat for many years and any new owner will keep the name ( that might be difficult with a woman’s name). Did you consider steam bending? You could have spared half of the thickness.

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Hi Sylvain,

      The sugar pine would have definitely been “a bust”. My poor attempt at humour. In this part of the US, the two major species for “brightwork” (trim) would be either teak or mahogany, both very expensive. White oak is a favorite for structural parts. Black Locust for planking. Sassafras and several other rot resistant species may occasionally turn up, especially with amateur boat builders. I thought (briefly) about bending the “billet”. But it was 36″x12″x2″. It would have required the construction of a massive form and the help of a number of very strong men as it would have had to be a compression bend. The other problem was the allowance for “springback”. There’s every chance that had I successfully bent the billet, I would still have had to scribe and re-cut the convex curve. I also considered doing a laminated bend, but carving through glue is not my idea of a “good time”. So I opted to take the “path of least resistance.” The other good news is that I have a lot of small, clear, mahogany scraps that will find their way into a number of uses. Thanks for reading, always appreciate your comments.

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