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Chaloupe Armee en Guerre by Decoyman - from the Delacroix plans

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My next project is the Chaloupe Armee en Guerre or Longboat Armed for War. This will be a scratch-built model at a scale of 1:36, from the plans available here: http://www.ancre.fr/vaisso25.htm.


I ordered my copy of the monograph and plans direct from ANCRE and they came speedily and at a very reasonable rate of postage. This is the first publication from ANCRE that I have seen, and I must say I'm impressed. The six sheets of plans are drawn beautifully and the accompanying booklet, which describes the boat and the construction process, is very well laid out. There are many illustrations of the construction process, as well as detail photos of a 1:18 version of the same boat. I should note that the original text was in French and has been translated into English by David H Roberts, who has done an excellent job.


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Whilst finishing my Agamemnon (http://modelshipworld.com/index.php?/topic/1115-hms-agamemnon-by-decoyman-caldercraft/) I have been collecting pieces of wood I thought might be useful when scratch-building. I discovered The Toolpost (http://www.toolpost.co.uk), a treasure trove of woodworking equipment, in Didcot, about 15 minutes drive from where I live. They have a good selection of hardwoods and fruitwoods, mostly in turning blanks, as well as a selection of pieces of boxwood of varying sizes. They were also happy to cut every piece I bought into 1" slices on their bandsaw. This means I can now machine them to exact dimensions on my Byrnes table saw, which is a pleasure to use! I haven't finally decided which woods to use where, but I'm starting with apple for the keelson and ribs and will probably use cherry for the planking. I acquired a box full of odd pieces of wood, including a large amount of ebony, from eBay for a very reasonable sum: I might try turning one of the ebony pieces to make the large bow-mounted cannon.




The picture above shows (from the top) ebony, apple, box and cherry.


Before I could get going on the good stuff I needed to make a mould, over which the basic hull will be constructed. The instructions say to make this from 5 mm ply, which actually measures nearer to 4.5 mm thick. Unfortunately French plywood is not available in England; here we have 3 mm and 6 mm, which isn't much use. In fact the nearest thing I could find was 4 mm MDF, available on the internet in packets of ten 400 x 300 mm sheets at a reasonable price. This is still not thick enough. The mould is made from layers cut to the shape of the waterlines, if the layers are too thin then the whole boat will end up compressed vertically.




My solution was to interleave the MDF with layers of 0.5 mm cherry veneer, which I happened to have around, so that each layer was 4.5 mm in total. There were some benefits to this method: I could glue photocopies of the plans to each piece of veneer and then cut out each layer accurately using a scalpel. Once that was done I coloured the edges with a black permanent marker. This was so when I sanded the mould to its finished profile I knew that when I reached the black I was nearly there.


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The next step was to glue the veneers to the MDF and remove the photocopies. I left them to dry overnight, interleaved with cling film and weighted down, and then cut each MDF layer out with a fret saw, slightly larger than the veneer stuck to the top. Each layer was drilled on the centreline at stations 5F and 5A and then stacked up and glued in order with dowels in the holes to provide alignment. I used dowels instead of the drill bits because I could sand the dowels along with the MDF.


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There was a lot of arm-aching sanding to bring the mould to its final form. I used a Surform for quick removal and then coarse sandpaper on a block for accuracy. The end result was pretty accurate but not perfect.




To check the profiles while sanding I glued copies of the frame profiles to 1.2 mm card, as well as the keel. I used these to check I was getting the shape right, but I also cut them so they would slot together. Once the mould fitted all the card frames and the keel I was just about done!


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In the last of the photos above you can see marking out for the recesses to take the keelson and the knee of the stern. To ensure the keelson recess was the right size I made a start on this piece. It's cut from a piece of 2.3 x 6 mm apple on the table saw, which I also used to cut the rebates for the frames. It curves up towards the stern so I soaked it in hot water for a while, then taped it to the mould.


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Once the keelson had the correct profile I used it to adjust the recess in the mould. The last thing to finish the mould were two coats of varnish and a polish. The purpose of this is to protect the markings showing the frames and the wales and to try to stop the glue sticking the frames to the mould. We'll see how we get on with this in due course.




In the meantime the next task is to bend the frames round the mould.


More soon!



Edited by Decoyman
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I saw your log and the photos of the finished boat - fantastic work. I hope mine is somewhere near as good (although I have my doubts… we'll see).




Thanks for the encouragement - do you have a build log of your own?


Here are some more photos of progress to date. I've set the keelson in its recess in the mould and started adding the frames. The instructions suggest pinning through the frames. I decided to use push-pins. A big benefit is that they can be removed more easily once the frames are finished (you don't want to miss a pin after adding the planking - removing the shell from the mould would be a bit difficult…). Another advantage is that lifting a pin slightly allows the frame to be adjusted laterally until its position is perfect.


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I'm using apple for the frames as well as the keelson. Slicing it up into 2 x 2 mm pieces results in incredibly smooth faces straight from the saw. I give them a rub-down with 400 grit wet and dry used dry then soak them overnight. The first picture above shows all the pieces cut up: there are 30 of them, corresponding to 30 frames, each strip is 300 mm long. The second picture shows a set of timbers for a typical frame - a long piece for the floor and two shorter pieces for the futtocks.


The following pictures show steps in adding the frames to the mould with the keelson in place. Interestingly nothing is glued yet. The keelson is intended to remain loose until the hull is removed from the mould, at which time it will be pinned and glued in place. Initially I soaked the wood in hot water, but I found I broke quite a few pieces trying to bend them round the sharp curve between the floor and the sides, so I added some household ammonia to the water. I am now having more success, but this may be because a] I'm getting better at forming the bends or b] I've left the wood to soak for longer or c] I tried microwaving the container with the ammonia solution before taking the wood out. Anyway it seems to be going OK!


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In the first three images the floors are being added; in the last three I am starting to add the futtocks. The darker pieces have been added later and are still wet.




Edited by Decoyman
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I am getting close to finishing the initial fabrication of the frames. In the next couple of pictures you can see all the frames across the keelson finished and then the futtocks added to the rearmost crutches.


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Unfortunately I noticed that the keelson had acquired a pronounced downward curve (upward in the photos since the mould is inverted).


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I wasn't happy to leave it like it was, so I stripped off all the frames - they were only pinned in place - and then planed off the first MDF layer from the mould down to the veneer leaf.




At this point it became clear that the whole mould was slightly curved, probably because I didn't clamp it to a flat surface when it was drying. Nothing serious, just slightly annoying! I was able to sand the veneer slightly more in the middle until the top surface was flat. Then I added a strip of cherry the same plan profile as the keelson, as thick as the distance between the top of the keelson and the lowest waterline and with a curve at the stern end. Once this was glued down I fixed 4 mm deep strips of veneer each side to set clean lines for the bottom of the mould (the MDF tends to flake off). Now I have a straight base for the keelson.


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Next I cut a new layer of MDF in two pieces to fit around the keelson trough and, once the glue was dry, planed and sanded it to shape. Another couple of coats of varnish to stop the frame glue sticking and job done! A nice straight keelson ready for the frames to be re-fitted.


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Thanks Michael.


It probably looks worse than it was. As you say, it's an interesting way of building, particularly at such a large scale. It would be useful if I was mass-producing chaloupes, but for a one-off, it's quite a lot of work which is ultimately redundant. The acid test will be once the planking is finished and I have to try to remove the boat from the mould. I'll admit I'm feeling a certain amount of trepidation at the moment.



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I'm considering that. The problem is keeping the cling-film in place and flat.


In actuality (as far as I can see having not tried yet) the main area where glue might get onto the mould is the overlap between floor and futtock. Perhaps a strip of cling-film just there might do. On the other hand it might get in the way.


Because I'm not gluing the floors to the keelson yet the frames should be loose until the planking goes on; that ought to let me loosen them if they get stuck temporarily. On balance lots of opportunities to avoid mishaps, at least in part thanks to Jeronimo's pathfinding!



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Thanks for the advice chaps!


I'm thinking about Ron's test suggestion and, short of making another mould, I haven't thought of a quick way yet.


I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I have polished the surface of the mould with a wax-based spray. Hopefully this will help too, however I don't want it too waxy since it might affect the surface of the ribs.


The instructions suggest that a frame inadvertently glued to the mould can be freed by giving it a sharp tap with a hammer against a block of wood placed alongside the frame. I think this might be my first test.


In the meantime I have been making the 'spine' of the boat; that is: the keel, the stem, the sternpost, the apron, the deadwood and the knee. This took two goes: the first keel was too long and I had already cut the rebate for the sternpost, so I couldn't shorten it. I had made the half-lapped joint between the stem and keel, but nothing else. This at least was good practice for the second attempt! I think the keel was too long because the paper pattern, which I glued to the cherry blank, stretched when it was wet with the glue.


The second time I made two changes: I left the keel over length at the stern to start with so it could be cut down later, and I cut a mortice for the sternpost, rather than a rebate since this looked more in line with the prototype illustrations (despite the drawings, which show a rebate).


This project is a big learning exercise for me, especially with the use of my new Byrnes table saw (thank you again MSW!). I have no thicknesser yet, so I am reliant on the fine blade in the saw to get a good, parallel-sided finish on the wood. In practice this means that the widest I can make a plank is about 24 mm, cutting from both sides. Fortunately this is just enough for the curve of the apron.


The first image shows all the blanks rough cut and roughly in the right relationship. As many of the straight cuts as possible have been made with the table saw. The remainder will be cut using a fretsaw.




The next picture shows the stern components after they have been cut and sanded to the right profile. I made a rudimentary 'bobbin' sander with a piece of MDF with a hole fixed to the bed of my pillar drill and a sanding drum in the chuck. It's actually very effective and accurate. I use this for all the concave curves and a hand sanding block with a shooting board for the convex and straight faces.


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I fixed the apron to the stem and keel prior to cutting out the inner curve. This was because I thought such a thin piece of partially-crossgrained timber might break when I tried to cut it or sand it. Fixing it to the other members made it stronger.




Finally some shots of all the components assembled and sanded. No too shabby for a beginner!


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When the glue was well dried I offered the whole thing up to the mould, only to find that the mould was marginally too long. I assume this was for the same reason as the keel being over-length: the paper patterns stretching when glued. My solution is to sand off the back face of the transom. I'll let you all know how I get on in my next report!



Edited by Decoyman
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  • 2 weeks later...

As I suggested in my last post I needed to sand off the end of the mould so that the keel assembly fits properly. This was hard work, but pretty straightforward. As you can see in the following pictures the keel now drops over the frames with no problem.


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The next issue was how to stop the frames sticking to the mould when the components were glued together. I took all the frame parts off the mould and gave it another good polish. Then, starting at the MC position, I assembled each frame over the mould, glueing the futtocks to the floors with medium cyano and using the pushpins again to hold everything in the correct relationship. Once the glue was reasonably dry I removed the pins and then the frame. If the frame was stuck I held a piece of wood against the side of the joint and tapped gently until it popped off. Once or twice a frame became glued quite firmly and a bit of the mould came away stuck to the inside. The MDF is actually quite soft, so can be removed easily, and it is certainly better for a bit of the mould to be stuck to the frame rather than a bit of frame stuck to the mould. Occasionally the futtock/floor joint was a bit dry and came apart, in which case I just put everything back on the mould and re-glued the joint.




The small dots on the sides of the floor and futtocks mark the glued faces.


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The next step was to drill through the frame joints twice each and insert short lengths of 0.5 mm brass wire. These represent the bolts used on the prototype and also strengthen the joint because they are glued in. Once these were dry I trimmed the over-length floors and futtocks using a razor saw and then rounded off the upper corners in each case. Finally I sanded all the exposed faces, making sure there were no traces of glue left around the joints and the ends of the bolts.


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The finished frames were put back onto the mould and pinned in place, making sure the sides were vertical.


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I made every other frame to start with so that I had more working room.


I haven't quite finished the frames yet - there are three still to do.


Next time: making the rebates in the sides of the keel and finishing the frames preparatory to fitting the keel.



Edited by Decoyman
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Thanks for the support and the likes everyone!


I have cut the planking rebates in the side of the keel assembly. I used a couple of different scalpel blades: a small straight to cut the inside of the chase and a large curve-ended one to scrape it clean afterwards. Mostly however I used a small V-profile gouge with a very sharp edge. This cuts beautifully and I'm almost happy with the result. The only disappointment was that my very last cut was a wrong'un! I forgot to stop the rebate on the stem and ran it straight out the top. I haven't shown this in the photos below (still feeling slightly annoyed with myself…). My only thought so far is to cut the profile of the short section of extended rebate as neatly as possible and then piece-in a very small sliver of cherry. If anyone has a better idea I'd be pleased to hear it.


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I have also made the last frame components. The crutches are over-deep so they can be sanded to shape once the frames are assembled.


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Edited by Decoyman
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  • 5 months later...

As you may have noticed I have not made any posts for a while. Pressure of work and now a new job have all made work on my chaloupe nigh on impossible, sadly. I do have some progress which I have not yet reported on and in which you might be interested.


Since my last post I have faired the frames as far as possible. Here are a couple of photos:


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However at this stage I began to think something was wrong.... It took me a while, but after much fiddling trying to get the keel, stem and stern posts aligned to each other and square to the mould, I realised that the mould itself was not true. This photo shows the problem:




I think that the stack of MDF laminates was able to slide sideways at the point while the glue was still wet and I was tightening the clamps. I considered sanding the sides square, but concluded that this would only lead to a misshapen mould. So I made a new one, taking more care this time to ensure everything was aligned properly.


Here are the two moulds side-by-side. The differences are not obvious, but the second one is unquestionably more accurate.




Because I had not glued anything to anything else at this stage (with the exception of the floors and futtocks making up each individual frame) I was able to unpin everything from the old mould and re-fix it to the new one. Although the frames had been made over the old mould they fit the new one well enough, so in the end there was not much other than the mould to redo.


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So now I was able to make proper forward progress with the transom. You can see the top piece in the picture with all the frames above. This pinned nicely to the back of the sternpost and square to the mould. The next step was to fix two pieces of thin (1.5 mm) ply, roughly profiled to the shape of half the transom, to each side of the stern post, tucked under the top piece. These were pinned in place until the glue was dry. The outer profile was sanded using a round sanding stick running across the last few frames. The outer surface of each side of the transom was boarded with 5 x 1 mm cherry and again the ends were sanded to the correct profile.


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The final pieces of progress are the two wales. These needed spiling to the correct longitudinal shape and then profiling in section using a scraper filed into a piece of scrap brass. Once they were soaked and curved to the right plan form they could be glued in place. At this point the framework is strong enough to remove from the mould as you can see.


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And that is nearly as far as I have got to date. I have made the two garboard strakes, but they are not finished yet or fitted. Hopefully I will get some more time soon!


Thanks for reading.





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