Category Archives: Techniques

Percy Blandford’s autobiography is on sale now!

Percy Blandford - A Life Full of Hobbies

Publlishing phenomenon and prolific post-war era canoe and boat designer Percy Blandford’s family have had his autobiography published, and it’s now obtainable from them. To obtain a copy, message his grand-daughter at diane.naested@gmail.com

I think the foreword  (see below) explains it all as well as anyone could… I should add that the grand old fella wrote his autobiography at the age of 95.

Percy Blandford was a man of many talents, interests and achievements. A world-renowned boat designer and builder,
a pioneering Do-It-Yourself expert and the author of countless books and magazine articles on an extraordinarily wide range of technical subjects, he was also a leading figure in the Scouting movement for well over eighty years, an unrivalled long service record for which he was honoured with a unique certificate that had to be created specially for him.

Born in Bristol on October 26th, 1912, Percy was apprenticed to a large local engineering firm before qualifying as a technical teacher and going to work in a school in London.

During the war he was recruited as a technical writer for the RAF, producing manuals for new aircraft. After the war he returned briefly to teaching before launching his career as a small boat designer and all-round technical journalist, making a name for himself in the post-war D-I-Y boom.

In his workshop at home in Newbold-on-Stour he designed and built prototypes of scores of canoes, kayaks, dinghies,
trailer-sailers, yachts, cabin cruisers and – in the sixties – even surfboards! Altogether, he sold more than 78,000 of his D-I-Y boat plans worldwide. They are still available and his boats are still being built today. He himself was a keen canoeist, narrowly failing to qualify as a candidate for the 1948 Olympics, although he was very proud to be appointed a timekeeper and judge for the rowing and canoeing events, staged at Henley.

As well as writing thousands of magazine articles on technical subjects ranging from net-making and ropework to
blacksmithing, knife-making, upholstery and every aspect of woodworking, Percy also published 113 books on an equally broad range of subjects.

For more posts about Percy and his boats, click here.

I’d like to underline the point that his boats are still being built by sharing this shot of one of his PBK canoes launched by Dundee-based canoeist Bill Samson.

Bill Samson pbk canoe

Building Emma and a video diary of building the Fairlie 55

Two contrasting videos: in my mind, the first should be titled ‘Building the beautiful Emma’!

My thanks to reader Keith Johnston for letting me know about these two.

Woodworking skills at the BBA – Pete Bromwich’s experience

My long-time friend Pete Bromwich recently attended a 12-week woodworking skills course at the Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis. Naturally, I was curious, and asked him to pen a shot report about it… And here’s what he had to say. Many thanks for taking the time to write Pete!

‘I wanted to improve my woodworking skills but could not afford the time to do the 38-week boat building course at the BBA. So after a chat with Will, the tutor on the 12-week woodworking skills course and BBA principal Yvonne, I decided the 12 week skills course was for me.

‘On my course there were five other student so we all had a good amount of tutor time if we needed it, but also time to practice what we had been taught without someone constantly looking over our shoulders. Teaching is between 8.30am and 5.30pm, but most students put in a few extra hours in the evening and weekends.

‘As the 12 weeks comes to a close this tends to come to a climax of late nights and early starts to get the project finished.

‘Like all good things in life, you get out of it what you put in. Being a resident at the centre certainly helped me concentrate on my woodwork skills. The housekeeper, Wendy, cooked a mid-morning snack and lunch for students at a very reasonable price – a heap of good, wholesome food that made cooking in the evening unnecessary. So the only thing to really worry about was the woodwork.

‘The first few weeks were spent building our basic woodworking hand skills, working towards a City and Guilds level 1 in construction. This is basically the same course as the people doing the year boat building course.

‘We were issued with a tool kit and spend the first few days familiarising ourselves with the tools and learning to sharpen and use them properly and get to grips tutor Will’s rules of woodwork:

– sharpen your tools

– square up the wood and use face marks

– mark out accurately

– cut to the line confidently

‘The first fully assessed piece was a builders square. Yes.

‘The plans required a 2mm inset on the cross piece, so you could not rely on planning it square when you had glued it in place…

‘The other fully assessed piece was four different mortice and tenon joints. We also made a lap joint and a housing joint that needed to be completed for the City and Guilds, but this was not marked.

‘All the joints had to be completed using hand tools only, starting with wood that needing squaring and dimensioning. Marks were gained or lost for being within 0.5mm or 2mm on dimensions and 0.5 or 2 degrees on square.

‘As well as practical woodworking skills we also had at least one session per day on theory or a practical demonstration on topics such as  like different wood types, steam bending, using the router table or different finishes.

‘This was to build our knowledge for the level 3 part of the course. We also had instruction on health and safety and technical drawing, using paper and pencil – with no Autocad or computers allowed!

‘All of the tasks we were being asked to do were demonstrated and Will, out tutor and Steve our technician were on hand to ask questions or seek clarification from.

‘We then moved on to make a dovetail-jointed box and and to fit the hinges and locks. The lid and bottom was made from plywood laminated with cherry veneer using a vacuum bag. This was the last of the level 1 tasks.

‘We then moved on to the level 3 part of the course, which is centred on furniture design and construction. We still had instruction and demonstrations of the new techniques but were expected to remember the things we had been taught and to evaluate the plans we had been given for the pieces.

‘We made a small table from beech, and at last, we did not have to do everything by hand: we used a table router for the legs and a morticer for the mortice and tenon joints.

‘We were encouraged to look at tools and think about what additional tools we would want in our tool kit. Not necessarily going out and buying everything new from Axminster (just down the road!), but looking at second-hand tools or tools we already owned and how we could improve them by sharpenin, replacing blade irons, cleaning them up and generally tuning them.

‘We also got to use some of the large planers and saws while preparing our wood for our projects, and also to practice using some of the smaller workshop power tools safely and efficiently.

‘We were also working on what our final project designs and having done all the theory on wood selection and faults in woods we went to Yandles, near Yeovil, to select our wood for our projects.

‘This was a great day of making decisions, compromising here and there, and perhaps changing our minds – perhaps because the steamed pear looked fabulous for the legs of the table etc…

‘All of the spaces in the workshop started filling with stacks of wood acclimatising and getting ready for the big project build.

‘We then did our last assessed piece, a small cabinet in cherry. All of the trim was made using a router, and the doors were made using the morticer.

‘Just as we finished off making the cabinet and were preparing to start on our final projects, we had to sit our C&G exams, which included on furniture design and construction, health and safety, a written technical drawing exam and an assessed drawing.

‘The exams are certainly not mandatory, and originally rather than sit them I just wanted to do the practical aspects of the course – but having made all the assessment pieces, I decided to do the written exams as a way of consolidating my knowledge.

‘We then had the last few weeks to make our projects. I chose to make a hammered dulcimer, a musical instrument I had played previously, and wanted to start playing again. Among my fellow students, Sam made a table, Corrine made a ukulele, Bella made a tool box, Alec made a cabinet and Simon made a chest. See them here, and see what students on earlier courses have made in the online archive.

‘The dulcimer was made of Robbins Super Elite marine plywood. I chose this as I wanted to try out making a dulcimer purely from plywood, and hopefully with the best I could afford, hence the Super Elite. The bridges were made from cherry.

‘I also built one using birdseye maple for the sides and a spruce soundboard, but the picture above are of the plywood one.

‘This was the first time a woodworking skills course student had elected to build a musical instrument, and I had to satisfy Will I knew what I was getting into as while he could help with the woodworking aspects of the build, he could not contribute much in relation to the design or advise on what tone woods to use.

‘Also, he had never seen or heard a dulcimer before!

‘I began by making four sets of hammers with different tips to create different sounds. I used the vacuum bag to laminate the plywood frames I made for the dulcimer. I then cleaned up the frames before putting on the base and soundboard.

‘This video shows the finished product, and how it sounds.

‘I would thoroughly recommend the course to anyone who wanted to improve or develop their woodworking skills, the course is about working with wood in general rather than geared to boat building, but the skills you pick up will certainly help on any future boat building or boat repair work.

‘The BBA also runs run short courses on specific boat building topics, that I will certainly attend some of these over the next few years. Also, I’ve found they are a great bunch of people and are always willing to give help and advice to ex-students.’