Rocky Mountain Shipwrights

Chinese junk
Chuck Stroble displays the Chinese junk he built from cedar. He said it took about four months to build. The sails can be removed and raised and lowered. The rigging hasn’t had its final tautening.

Because I don’t have enough hobbies, I went to a meeting today of the Rocky Mountain Shipwrights, which as the name suggests, is a group of almost entirely men in their retirement years, who build mostly wooden model ships and boats.

I don’t really anticipate being a model ship builder. I just want to build that 1/350th Minicraft Titanic I have in my to-be-built pile and the scratchbuild narrowboat I’m contemplating. But it is fun to see how people congregate happily into groups around a common interest. I am a member of an almost exclusively female group, the Jane Austen Society of North America, and ship builders seem almost exclusively female. I have met women plastic modelers, but I’m guessing there are few female wooden ship builders (although the RMS members swear there’s a woman named Alice who’s a member).

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there were about 30 people attending in the basement of Rockler Woodworking and Hardware store. It was a general meeting and, perhaps because of naval traditions (and the fact that many of the members are ex-military), it was all shipshape and bristol fashion. The meeting started with the pledge of allegiance (always an uncomfortable moment for me), a treasurer’s report, the librarian’s report and various motions were advanced and voted on. It’s really quite cute. The meeting was chaired by the group’s skipper. I mean really cute. They wearing matching blue vests or polo shirts. Their newsletter is the Scuttlebutt (a name shared with a Sherlockian newsletter).

John McGann’s table sawAfter business was concluded, the meeting continued with a show and tell, which included the Chinese junk pictured above and a Civil-war era gunboat model. Both were wooden models. After a break, several members talked about the custom tools and jigs they’d made over the years and everyone was very impressed by John McGann’s homemade table saw/sander. He said it cost him about $100 to build (although that was some time ago and the cabinet was repurposed).

The box frame has finger joints and the saw bed can be raised or lowered and held in place with set screws. He built a fence with a long brass screw that allows micro adjustments. The arbor and bearings and a 1200 rpm 1/2hp motor were bought from a local industrial supply store. A pulley drives the 54 tpi carbide-tipped blade bought from MicroMark.

It really is a thing of beauty and can also be used as a drum sander and bench sander. A board that rests on a hinge and that can be raised and lowered allows him to sand down to a predetermined thickness (presumably at the cost of a test piece).

As I said, I doubt I’ll become a wooden ship builder, but I am tempted. The club’s dues are very affordable at $12 a year. Monthly meetings are the third Saturday of the month at Rockler. A monthly workshop is the first Saturday of the month at the Arvada City Hall (the information is at the website). The Denver Post has recently run an article, which attracted me to the meeting.

Apparently several of the member’s models are on display at the Littleton Museum/Bemis Library, but I don’t see any confirmation of that at the library website, so I can’t say how long the models will be there. The club usually has a week-long display at Rockler at some time during the year.

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