A few weeks ago, Ben mentioned how he was making a few new blocks for the boat, but ultimately the wood became pretty checked (cracked) as he worked through the process. Building those few blocks gave him a good idea about how to approach the project, but soon we realized quite a few more blocks could be replaced. Ben figured we could be more efficient in a complete woodshop, where tools didn’t have to be shared with the other woodworking projects taking place in the yard (graving pieces, shelves in the forepeak, lids for below bunk storage, the main salon butterfly hatch, deck boxes... the list goes on!). Fortunately, his uncle has a woodshop not too far from the boat and generously let us take it over. Ben spent a few days developing a suitable workflow, then armed with a list of measurements for 30 block replacements, and a Volkswagen convertible Bug worth of wood, the two of us headed off to our makeshift block factory.
After we spent a day planing the wood to workable, uniform thicknesses for various block sizes and components, we squared up the pieces. At this stage, we were strategic to maximize our wood stock while avoiding any preexisting checks that might compromise the future strength of the block. Ultimately blocks are rounded along the edges, but keeping all the pieces square until the very end allowed us to use guides (or “jigs”) to replicate our cuts. Every block is made of two outer cheeks and two spacers that create the gap for line to fit, but blocks with multiple sheaves have additional spacers and inner cheeks. Keeping everything square and using three different guides for the three different sized blocks helped us move much faster than if we remeasured for every cut.
As I cut spacers on the chop saw and Ben used the table saw to create notches in the cheeks for the ironwork, we entered an almost seamless flow. Soon we were using jigs on the drill press to round off the spacers (to prevent chafe from the line entering the block) and create pilot holes (for the rods on each corner of the block that will eventually keep the wooden shell together). With everything nearing it’s final cut, we test assembled a few blocks with threaded rod and nuts!
In the photo above, you can see our pieces for 20 blocks in a jenga-like pile that I’m always nervous might chaotically fall on the ground. The cheeks are the large rectangles and the spacers are the skinny rounded strips in the middle.
Tomorrow we can start the whole process over again with some more wood, hopefully producing another 8 blocks. Then we can clean some things up, and start cutting and sanding the blocks into their more familiar rounded shape! While it’s a little weird to be working away from the ship, the blocks that we make during this period should serve the ship well for the next few years. An essential part of the rig, the blocks can help keep us safe, raise the sails, and teach students about simple machines.
The test-assembled blocks!