Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flat Canoe Rack

Easy Canoe Rack for Lakeside

This easy to build canoe and kayak rack is simple to build and use, though it does take up a little more space than some of the other designs I've posted here.  It's pretty easy to build:

1.  Dig 4 post holes.  Each pair to which you will bolt a cross member should be as wide apart as you want the rack to be (3 feet times the number of canoes you have).  Put the pairs about 9 or 10 feet apart. That's half to two-thirds the length of most canoes and kayaks and supports well enough so that summer heat doesn't cause the boats to sag and distort the hulls.  Use treated posts. They should stick up about 2 to 3 feet depending on your comfort level and be treated.  Pour concrete around them to set the posts.

2. Lag bolt a 2x12 pressure treated cross member to the posts as shown in the picture.  Pad the cross member to protect the boat.  I like to buy used fire hose from local volunteer fire departments and screw it on top of the cross members n accordion pleats. The pleats keep the canoes from sliding around on the rack.

3. The canoes sit upside down on the cross members. You can mix canoes and kayaks. If you get more canoes than you planned you can nest them and get more canoes on the rack.

4. To make tie-down easier, screw some eyelets to the face of the cross members to create attachment points for bungee cords.  Tying down the canoes prevents them from taking flight in a wind storm.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The ancient art of rope-making is a skill that not many people possess anymore.  It’s not really hard to do though once you get your head around the principle.  First you’ll need a a rope-making machine.  Here’s how to build one.  Once you’ve you’ve got one you can whip up lots of rope from light cord to massive hawsers.  It’s actually a lot of fun, especially if you drag a couple of grandkids into it.  You’ll need three people to make a rope.

The Sleds

You are going to build two sleds as shown in the pictures to the right.  They are simple wooden sawhorse-like affairs with skids on the bottom and a seat for the rope turners who act as both rope twisters and ballast.  Build a frame on one end of the sled with a 2 foot by 2 foot flat ¾ inch plywood plate for setting the hooks and cranks.  Build both sleds alike.  One will have 3 hooks and one will only have one. Start with the 3 hook  individual strand twister.  Drill 3 holes at the corners of an equilateral triangle with 10 inch legs.  Make sure it’s centered.  You’ll need room to turn the cranks.

The Strand Twister.

You’ll need 3 steel rods about 12 inches long.  Bend them into a ‘Z’ shape with equal length sections.  The rods must be identical to crank together.  The center section must not be more than 4 inches in length in order to crank freely without bumping into each other.  Insert one end of the “Z” into the three holes in the end plate so the crank part is on the .  Allow them to hang down. 

Next you’ll need to thread about 3 inches of the crank ends so you can bolt the crank plate in place. 

Cut a triangular plywood plate about 12 inches on a side and cut 3 holes 10 inches apart.  They must match the holes in the end plate for this to work.  Thread bolts and washers over the end of the cranks and slip the crank plate over the ends.

Bolt the plate in place with a double nut so the plate will turn freely. 

Finally, you’ll need to a attach a handle to the center of the crank plate in order to turn the hooks.  When you crank the plate, the three hooks will turn together at the same speed.

Now you need to heat and bend the other end of the cranks to make 3 hooks.  These will turn when you crank the opposite end.

The Rope Twister

For this you’ll need another 3/8 in steel rod bent to an identical “Z” as on the first sled.  Drill a hole in the center of the end plate, insert the crank, thread the crank end and screw on some sort of handle.  On the opposite end, bend the rod into a hook facing away from the sled seat.  Now you have the two sleds.  You only need one more tool.


Make another ten inch equilateral plywood triangle with a notch in the center of each side. The spreader separates the strands into their individual parts. 

 Rope-Making Materials

You’ll need nylon or grass/hemp bailing twine from which to make the strands.  Tie one end of the ball to the single hook and start stringing loops back and forth to one of the three hooks.  10 strands of twine per hook is a good thickness to practice on.  It will make a thirty strand rope. 

Depending on the thickness of the rope you want, string an equal number of strands of twine between the single hook and each of the three twister hooks. Fit the spreader board between each strand and push it back next to the single hook.

Tensioning the Strands
You’ll need 3 people to make a rope - one on the 3 strand crank, one on the single hook and one on the spreader board.  Place the sleds about a third farther apart than the length of rope you want to make. Begin cranking the three hooks clockwise as you face the crank.  Continue until the strands become tight and begin to twist.

 While the person on the 3 hook sled keeps steady pressure on the crank, the person on the single hook needs to gently begin turning the single crank counterclockwise rotating toward the same direction the strands were twisted.  As he turns the single hook, the person on the spreader board moves the board toward the three hook sled allowing the rope to twist itself from the single hook end.  Both crankers should keep steady pressure on the cranks turning them so the strands lay themselves naturally and evenly. The tighter you keep the strands twisted as you you put them together, the tighter the rope will lay up and the better quality it will be.

When you’re close to the end, remove the spreader and tighten all the way down.  Wrap the ends of the rope with duct tape to keep it from unraveling or wrap fine cord around the end.  Cut the rope loose from the hooks with a sharp knife and coil it up for storage. 

Make yourself a big old hawser if you want and take it to the next family reunion for the tug of war competition.  Brag on it if you want. After all, who else do you know that can make his own rope.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Splicing the Main Brace

Repairing A Broken Rope
by Tom King (c) 2009

I broke my heavy three-strand grass tow rope pulling my son's truck home after it broke down. Even a heavy rope will break if someone stomps on the brakes suddenly while someone else keeps sailing merrily on down the road.  Don't ask!  It's a very sad story.

So how to restore the lost length to my rope without weakening it, you ask.  It's an old sailor's trick, once used by ancient mariners to repair a parted main brace, halyard or mainsheet.  So without further "Yo-Ho-Ho" here's how to do it up right.

First lay out the broken rope.

Next use a sharp knife to trim the ends neatly.

Next untwist 4 to 6 inches of strands.

Butt the ends together and put the strands of the first rope (on the left) between the strands of the second rope (on the right).

Pick a strand of the first rope and put it over the strand of the second rope immediately to it's left and then under the next strand to the left. 

Do the same with the next strand on the first rope - over the next strand and under the one after that.

Tuck the third strand over and under as shown to complete the first row.

When you complete the first row, tucking in all three strands, simply do the same thing again with a second row.

When you get to the end of the second row, if you still have enough strand left, tuck in another row until you have the strand tucked in as far as possible.

When the last strand is tucked in, you'll need to pull the rope to set the strands.

Pull the rope tight to set the strands before starting on the strands of the second rope.

Tuck a strand of the second rope over the strand from the first rope that lies next to it and under the rope strand just to the left of that one.

Do the same with the second strand.....

Once all three are tucked under to make the first row of splices, start the next round.

Once all the strands are braided, pull both ends of the ropes to set the splice.

Tape the ends of the splices with a couple of wraps of duct tape.

The spliced section will be as strong or stronger than the original rope, forms a solid connection between the two ropes without a bulky knot. 

When you're all done, you have my permission to beat your own chest and do your Tarzan yell!  Well done, O' Lord of the Jungle.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fake Rocks & Boulders

Making Artificial Rocks
(c) 2009 Some Rights Reserved
by Tom King

A friend of mine makes his living building rocks and designing exhibits for zoos and theme parks. Billy Williamson’s notable work is incredibly lifelike and graces zoos and theme parks all over the country. He kept pestering me to come and help him work on a structure he called a "feed lot for Rose Queens". The structure was a backyard waterfall, stream and swimming pool in the backyard of a local member of Tyler, Texas high society. The waterfall includes a Batcave-style garage underneath the falls where the owner planned to store his Bentley. I finally agreed to join his crew for an afternoon and found myself in welding gloves with an odd bending tool, bending and tying ¼ inch rebar in the Texas summer sun. I was sore for a week. What I learned:


The first part of building artificial rocks is to create the basic shape. You do that by driving rebar into the earth and then using a bending tool to create the skeleton of the rocks and boulders you plan to construct. The vertical rebar, once bent is cross braced by laying horizontal rows of light rebar tide at the point where the bars cross. The tying is tedious, but if you use standard tie wires and a wire tying tool, you can make pretty quick progress. So long as you keep the bars close together and don’t make gaps too large, it’s pretty hard to mess things up. Leave room under the rocks to crawl around under there because you will need to place plastic sheeting behind the rebar.


Attach heavy gauge plastic sheeting behind the rebar. Use wire ties to pull the plastic up against the rebar to prevent pooling of concrete behind the rebar. Be careful not to rip the plastic. Duct tape can be used to cover tears and holes.

Chicken Wire

Chicken wire makes a perfect framework for the surfaces of artificial rocks. It is shapable, easily cut and quickly attached to the rebar framework. Once all the surface of the structure is covered with chicken wire, go back and tweak the shape a little. Make boulder shapes, cracks, crevices and ledges as you go. Use your creativity. You can even create artificial tree stumps, fallen logs and other natural looking bulky structures.


There are two ways of applying the concrete. Lightweight vermiculite or gunite normally used in swimming pools and decks works very well here. The only problem with using a pump, you have to finish the job in one go. For large jobs, this may not leave adequate time to do basic sculpture. To get the proper look for rocks, mix gunite or vermiculite concrete in a wheel barrow and trowel it onto the wire frame. You’ll have to play with the thickness of the mixture to insure it penetrates the wire and rebar without being so thin it is runny. Build up a layer that is at least an inch an a half to 3 inches thick and smoothly covers the rebar and chicken wire. In some places the coating of concrete will be thicker to fill gaps between the chicken wire and rebar. Make sure the rebar below is covered so the rock formation will be strong. Use a flat trowel to smooth the surfaces into the basic rock shape. Do a section as large a section as you can do in half the time you have for the day. Work from the bottom up and apply gently so as not to break through the underlying layer..


When the first layer is partially cured, mix up  a sand aggregate concrete mixture (the kind used for stucco walls and similar surfaces and start at the beginning of the base section you just did. Spread a thin layer of wet finish over the concrete base. You may mix rock colored surface stain in with the mixture or spray coat it on later if you have any special effects in mind. Cover the surfaces of the concrete shapes completely.  Go section by section so your working surface doesn't dry before you can texture it.


Next, cover the large flat areas with aluminum foil. Do not crumple the foil, but wrinkle it just a little bit and then spread it over the still wet ‘rock’ surfaces and press down firmly as shown in the picture. The foil will give the ‘rock’ surfaces a natural texture.


After about 5 minutes, remove the foil and use the edge of the trowel to etch a few cracks into the concrete and to trace seams and layers between separate rock shapes. This takes a steady hand, but don’t make the lines too straight either. Vary depth and width of surface striations to imitate features of natural rock. Lightly brush the rock surface with a paint brush to remove concrete crumbs and create a weathered look. Allow the concrete to set overnight before putting weight on it.


Once the “rocks” are set and dried, brush or spray on stain. Even if you applied stain to the finish itself, you should add contrasting colors to accent cracks, seams and shadows. It requires an artist’s eye and a lot of practice as you can see from these shots of Billy Williamson’s finished projects. It’s an art form and if you ever get a chance to work with someone like Billy who understands it, take the job! Mimicking Mother Nature is a whole bunch of fun!

This is one of the exhibits at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge that Billy designed and help build (below).  Tiger Creek is home to a large collection of rescued tigers, tiger cubs and other big cats located just north of Tyler, Texas.  Tiger Creek is a not for profit organization providing rescue services and shelter care for tigers and big cats.

These tigers below are enjoying the summer sun sprawled on the waterfalls and rocks built by Billy and the volunteer crew and Tiger Creek staff.

 These guys play rough, but the rock formations can handle the pounding.

 This next exhibit was built for a Tennessee zoo by, also by Billy Williamson.  The black bear in the exhibit enjoys the waterfall and stream in his new home.

This fat bear is having a little soak.  Not a single rock here is real.  All were sculpted by hand using the method described above as was the creek below in a chimpanzee exhibit.

Note, there is not a single loose item in the picture below.  Chimpanzees love to throw rocks and loose objects.  Billy's knowledge of chimp behavior led to this design in which everything in the river is part of a single piece of concrete, sculpted and staied to look like an ordinary stream full of rocks and deadfall trees, but without the hazard to keepers and visitors of having a loose rock heaved at you by a mischievous chimp.

Photos (c) 2009 by Tom King, Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge and Billy Williamson (All Rights Reserved) 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yak on the Rack

Luggage Rack / Kayak Rack Conversion
 by Tom King

Canoes are easy to strap on your SUV’s luggage rack.  Flip them over and the gunwhales rest flat on top of the crossbars and it’s a simple matter of bungee cording the canoe down tight.  Kayaks have curved decks and curved bottoms, so they don’t strap down flat.  You want to create a padded cradle for the kayak to rest in.  Fortunately, it is really simple to make one your self in a few minutes.

What You’ll need

You’ll need two foam swim “noodles” – the kind with the hole down the middle.  You’ll also need a roll of duct tape, a sharp knife and 4 zip ties.

Step 1

Cut the two foam noodles to the width of the luggage rack on top of your truck.

Step 2

Mark a line down the center section leaving about a foot to a foot and a half on either end.  Use your knife to cut through the noodle to the center hole.  Cut along the marked line from the outside to the hole. Don’t cut more than halfway through the noodle. Stop at the end of the mark, leaving the two ends uncut for 12 to 18 inches from the end

Step 4
Wrap the ends of the noodles with duct tape to prevent the cut in the center from splitting down to the ends.

Step 5
Open up the noodle and wrap the open part over the luggage rack crossbar as shown.

Step 6
Zip tie the noodle in place as shown so that the center is down over the crosspar and the ends are curled up to form a padded cradle for the kayak.

Step 7
Now simply rest the hull of the kayak in the foam cradle and bungee cord it tight to the rack.

When you want to remove the cradles, simply clip the zip ties. You’ll zip tie it back in place next time you take the kayak out..

Have fun!

© 2009 Some rights reserved