Notice anything wrong with the curved piece of wood on the left distinguishable by the two small holes on either side?
Not for three months, and
certainly not when I initially glued it and four others just like it — they’re called seat cleats — onto the face of the bulkheads of the wherry I’m building.
But last night, I stepped into the garage to take a look at how the second coat of epoxy was drying, and, yes, I’ll admit, admire my work. That’s when I spotted a problem. Why I hadn’t noticed it before, I’ll never know. The wide part of each cleat was facing toward the stern…they should have been facing up.
I didn’t need to look at the instructions for confirmation. I’d screwed up. But I was determined not to wallow in self pity and move quickly through however many stages of grief I was going to need. A Black Butte Porter would have helped, but I was fresh out. I made it to stage five and decided any more would be self-indulgent. The best way to start feeling better was to figure out a hack. Or as my grandfather would have said, “suck it up.”
First, a little background on seat cleats. They aren’t just a decoration but serve an important structural function. They provide places to attach the drop-in rowing units to the hull while at the same time, strengthening the bulkheads.
One of my hacker mantras is to do no harm, either to the thing I’m trying to fix with one of my hacks, or to myself. Little danger of the latter in this instance, unlike some of my other hacks that involved electricity. In this particular case, I needed to add a modification that would provide a secure place to attach the rowing units without damaging the bulkhead, or weakening the cleats in the process.
Also, whatever solution I came up with couldn’t look stupid.
My child of the depression dad was a fairly talented hacker. After he hurt his back working as a logger, he returned to school, received his degree, then worked in the mortgage banking field for a time, and from there, went on to work in real estate and finally owned his own real estate development and investment company. Until he went bankrupt, but that’s a story for another time. At his heart, I think, he was always a blue collar guy faking it in the white collar world. And nowhere was that more apparent than when something around the house had to be built, painted, or repaired. Why pay money for something he could do? He didn’t see it as a chore; it was entertainment, for him, as relaxing as watching ball game on the TV. His final results weren’t always pretty. For example, he was a rotten painter. But they usually worked.
I’ve inherited the same do-it-yourself tendencies, though I’m more sensitive to aesthetics than my old man ever was. I’m a decent carpenter, know how to tile, can fix most plumbing problems, and can paint better than most professionals.
And unlike my dad, it’s not only important to fix something right, but make it look right in the process.
No where was that going to be more important than with my wherry. I was building something that was not only going to be functional and fun to row, but I was hoping it was beautiful, too.
The first step in my hack was to assess the extent of the problem. If the wood along the top of the cleat was wide enough, maybe all I would need to do is re-drill the holes from the top. It would leave an ugly blemish exposed, but it would be the simplest solution.
As it turned out, the wood wasn’t wide enough for that option. That was just as well. If I’d gone that route, the blemishes on the exposed surface of the cleats would have bugged me until I died.
On to considering option two. This would involve cutting the cleat from the bulkhead and reinstalling it in the correct position. If I was really careful, and used a super thin blade, I wouldn’t nick or cut into the bulkhead or take off too much wood from the cleat. Once I was done, I’d need to redrill some holes, sand and prep the bulkhead, and the rough side of the cleat, and then reattach the cleat.
It was tempting. But I wasn’t confident I could cut away the cleat without cutting into the bulkhead and affecting its integrity.
That led to option three. It would involve leaving the cleats as is, and gluing pieces of identically shaped mahogany to their faces. These additions would serve two functions: 1) provide the extra width I needed to re-drill the hole used to attached the rowing unit to the bulkhead, and 2) cover up the old holes. Even better, it wouldn’t put the bulkheads at risk, and I was fairly confident I could replicate the shape of the original cleats so it would look like my fix was part of the original design (albeit installed wrong), and not one of my hacks.
So, that’s the solution. Instead of making my own replacement cleats, I bought perfect matches from Chesapeake Light Craft. $30 plus shipping seemed like a good deal.
Here’s how the fix looked before I glued it in place:
By the way, Sandy doesn’t think anyone will notice my hack, and the other blemishes I pointed out to her. As usual, she’s probably right.