Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Removing Dust & Allergens from Your Pillows with a Vacuum

Check out my new video blog.  This is an experiment with the latest fashion in shaky hand-held camera work. I asked Sheila to film the piece and she's got an essential tremor in her hand, so it turned out like those new avant' garde movies or TV shows with the hand-held (shaky) camera work. Think Battlestar Galactica meets Martha Stewart.  If you or a family member has allergies or asthma, your pillow can be one of the primary culprits for making you sneeze and wheeze.  All kinds of dust gets into your pillows.  If you'd like a nice clean smelling dust-free pillow in just a couple of minutes, here's a really slick and really quick way to do it. - Tom

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rolling a Yak

No, I’m not talking about mugging a shaggy Mongolian protein source.  I’m talking about tipping over that far-to-skinny-for-my-ample-behind kayak you bought. Now, because I am, in fact, an expert paddler, I can keep one upright quite easily.  That is, if it remains afloat at all.  I once climbed into a kayak at a small craft boat demonstration at Tyler State Park one time.  Simpson’s Bike and Sail let you try out the kayaks in hopes you’d love them so much you’d buy one of the over-priced little darlin’s.  Unfortunately, I have a rather distorted mental body image. I keep thinking I’m 155 pounds like I was when I was 18.  So I sat myself down in a little rodeo boat, one of those short ones they use for playing in the rapids.  It went straight to the bottom.  I decided to test a larger model.  Turned out I had to solo a kayak meant for two people in order to keep the deck above water.


Finding yourself upside down in a kayak can be a disconcerting experience.  Getting yourself back upright is literally a snap (hip-snap that is).  There is so much to fuddle your brain when you flip your yak.  First you're upside down.  Then, the double bladed paddle adds to your confusion.  Finally, the paddle stroke you need to do is upside down from the way you normally paddle.  Now, this guy below shows how it's done. He's in a pool of known depth, so he's not wearing a helmet.  It's better to practice with the helmet to get used to the extra drag.

The Setup
As you turn over, tuck your head down low and pull the paddle alongside the cockpit, lengthwise to the hull on the side toward which you are rolling.  Place the opposite side blade forward toward the bow and the near side blade toward the stern.

Orienting Yourself
Once you are upside you’ll experience confusion since the world has gone upside down.  Take a second to get your bearings.  To flip back up, you’ll have to push down on the water – what to you, being upside down, will feel all wrong.  You’ll probably need to pause to reorient yourself until the skill becomes second nature to you.  Katrina here is practicing in a pool for photographic purposes, and doesn't have a helmet.  She is shown below practicing in more realistic conditions.  Note the helmet.

The Reach
Bring your head up near the water surface on the side you’ll be rolling up on.  Get your head above the forward blade, so that it feels like you are pressing down again when you sweep the forward blade wide and backward. Bring your trailing elbow in close to your body so the trailing blade tips up out of the water and doesn’t drag.

The Sweep and Snap
Begin to sweep the blade wide and toward the stern of the boat. As you sweep, pressing downward and backward, snap your hips so your body tilts to the opposite side. This rotates the hull of the boat upward and starts it rolling the right direction  Resist the urge to bring up your head till you complete the hip snap.  Keep pulling the sweep as you snap your hips.

The Recovery
As the hull rolls up, press hard on the end of the sweep stroke and let your body be pushed out of the water and back to the vertical position.  The boat will jump forward. Immediately bring the opposite blade down and take a strong stroke to get the boat moving and stabilized.

Practice this a lot.  It should become second nature so that you pop back up almost without thinking about it. There are three other standard ways to do this or you can make up your own way, but this method is the easiest, requires less finesse, balance and physical strength to perform (a natural choice for big awkward klutzes like me then).

Always wear a helmet when kayaking and especially when practicing this skill.  In the river, it’s even more important because the bottom can be rocky and quite close to your face.  Also, helmets don’t bleed and attract piranha, gators or those big mosquitoes they grow here in East Texas.


These links show how to perform the standard roll.

Eskimo Roll

Gorp:  Four Elements of The Kayak Roll

Aquabatics Kayak School: Sweep Roll Tutorial

Patagonia Kayak School:  Kayak Roll Identifier and Troubleshooter

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SEQUENCES: Iron Your Own Shirt

As Patrick McManus once observed, women don't understand about sequences. My wife, for instance, asked me the other day why I had to spend 6 hours cleaning out the garage in order to repair a simple scratch in a coffee table or something.  It's because women don't understand sequences that they ask foolish questions like that.

You see, before I could repair the table, I had to find the tools I needed to fix the scratch, I needed to find my sandpaper which was in a box buried in a pile of boxes in the corner of the garage where it has been since we moved.  I need tools and solvents, stains, varnishes and other things to do the job.  I need a place to work that's clear and well-ventilated. To be able to do that, I have to clean and organize my stuff before I can even think about fixing the table and who knows where else that whole project will take me.

So I've decided to do some articles on sequences for some basic tasks we all perform, but we may not always do correctly.  I did an article on making good pancakes for instances. I may do one on how to grow tomatoes or the correct way to polish a floor.

My first "Sequences" article concerns a skill every young man should learn - ironing a shirt.  Since the advent of permanent press clothing, we've been able to get away with wearing pants out of the dryer, but you can't really look crisp unless you iron your shirt.  Here's the sequence:

  1. Set up the ironing board and iron.  Fill the iron with water.  My Mom used rain water or distilled water. We had hard water and she said it yellowed the collars or something.
  2. Set the temperature for steam and whatever type of material the shirt is made of.
  3. Pick up your shirt and lay the collar flat over the ironing board.  Before you iron, spritz the target area with a little water mist or spray starch. Iron both sides of the collar.
  4. The yoke is the flat panel on the upper pack below the collar.  Lay it over the end of the ironing board so it's very flat and iron it.
  5. Next iron the right front panel of the shirt.
  6. Work your way from button holes down under the arm and around the back, pulling the shirt toward you over the end of the ironing board.
  7. Iron the back and then around to the left front panel of the shirt by the buttons.
  8. Lay the left sleeve flat and iron the front and back.
  9. Lay the right sleeve flat and iron the front and back.
  10. Hang the shirt on a thick plastic hanger till you are ready to wear it. Wire hangers will leave little stretch puckers on the shoulders - not good.
If you follow the sequence above, you can crank out a half dozen or so shirts in no time at all and crisp shirts make you look sharp.  If you want to keep your shirts sharper longer, spray starch really makes a difference.  


Monday, June 14, 2010

PVC Beach Cart for Canoe, Kayak or Cooler

Need to get you boat or picnic cooler down to the beach from the car through the sand and beach grass. How about a nice beach cart.  This easy to build lightweight PVC rig will tote your kayak, an empty or light canoe or a cooler full of ice and picnic stuff.  This doesn't take much to build.  Just run down to your Home Depot or Lowe's and pick up this stuff:
  1. 20 feet of 1-1/2 inch PVC pipe (the heavier schedule 40 pipe, not the lighter stuff)
  2. PVC cement and cleaner
  3. Hacksaw
  4. 6 PVC T's, 1-1/2 inch schedule 40
  5. 2 PVC 90 degree elbows, 1-1/2 inch
  6. 4 PVC caps, 1-1/2 inch schedule 40
  7. 2 wheel (wide and low or tall and narrow)
  8. Axle to fit the wheel - 3 feet long 
  9. 2 foam swim noodles
  10. Zip ties

Start out by measuring the axle you are using.  Cut an 18 inch piece of pipe.  Test fit two T's and measure the length.  Measure the depth of both wheels put together, subtract that from the length of the axle. Next subtract the thickness of the end bolts and washers.  Then subtract the length of the pipe and T's.  Divide the remaining length by 2. This will be the length of the final piece and cap on the outside of the T (far right and far left in drawing). Cut a piece of PVC including cap so that fitted into the T, it extends
beyond the T the end that final distance.  If, for instance, the axle is 36 inches long, the two wheels are 3 inches deep each, the bolts and washers an extra inch each.  That leaves 28 inches in length.  If the 18 inch center pipe is 18 plus 2 inches each for the T's, the total length is 22 inches. Subtracted 22 from 28 inches gives you 6 inches. Divided by 2 equals 3 inches. So the final the two short pieces with caps need to extend 3 inches beyond the ends of the T's on each end.

Test fit the rest of the assembly.  The upright pieces should total 12 to 24 inches tall total including the T's, depending on how tall you want to make the cradle.

Test fit the pieces of the axle assembly to make sure the length against the length of the axle.  Make sure you'll have enough axle left to bolt the wheels on.  Clean and cement the joints of the axle assembly.

Drill holes in the caps the size of the axle. To make the caps last longer, insert a metal or wood bushing inside the pipe that fits the axle and protects the pipe from wear from the turning axle. You can get buy with replacing the cap as it wears. Just don't cement the caps in place and let the wheel bolts hold them in place.

Next glue together the legs and top brace.  The T's on top should face each other and the pipe should be glued parallel to the lower axle assembly.

Clean and cement the short pipe sections on top of the T's holding the top brace and then glue the last two T's that will hold the cradle so the ends are perpendicular to the axle as shown.

Push the axle through the end caps of the axle assembly then thread large flat washers to protect the caps, then the wheels, then bolt them in place. Make sure the wheels turn freely. Attach a cotter pin or keeper bolt to hold the wheels in place as they turn.

Cement the forward support arms in place as shown with caps on the end.

Next cement two 4 foot long PVC pipes to the other end of the top T's to make handles.  Clean and cement two 90 degree elbows to the end and cement an 18 inch PVC pipe between them.

Split two foam swim noodles (the kind with the hollow centers), then wrap them over the pipes as shown in the diagram.  Zip tie them in place and you are done.  To attach a kayak or canoe, set it on top of the cradle and bungee cord it in place balanced on the cradle lengthwise.  Then lift the back end of the boat and roll her down to the beach.  You can also set a cooler on top of the frame and bungee it in place. Pick up the handle and roll it down the hill. This little cart will carry a lot of stuff.  Bungee a net over the cradle arms and you could throw most anything on there (grocery bags, paddles, suitcases, blow up swim toys or whatever).  This thing will cost you less than 30 bucks, especially if you can scavenge wheels and an axle somewhere.

Tom King - Tyler, TX

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Adding An Extra Seat to Your Canoe

Here's a simple way to add a third seat to your canoe.  Why you'd ever want one is something of a mystery to me, though if you only paddle quiet lakes with an extra kid in the boat, this might be useful.  The problem with a third seat is that it puts the weight of the extra person a bit higher in the canoe than if that person were sitting on the bottom.  The higher the weight, the more tipsy the canoe, but if you've got a bit boat, this extra seat should give your middle passenger a high enough position that he or she can paddle comfortably rather than sitting in the bottom like a big sack of rocks.

Take out the center thwart so you'll have room for the seat and your legs.  You'll want the weight of the third seat passenger balanced at the center of the canoe.

Drill holes for the screws that are large enough for the 4 inch long sheet metal screws you are going to use. Make sure they are the same distance apart (7 inches for an 18 by 10 inch seat. These holes will allow you to screw into the center of the hardwood dowels.
You can use 2x2s if you stick with hardwood for strength.  Use a 1 to 1-1/2 inch hardwood dowel otherwise. Use screws with washers to fasten the dowels. in place.  The washer distributes the binding force across more hull area and reduce wear and potential damage to the hull.

Dab a little epoxy or butyl sealant on the ends of the dowels and position them so the holes are at the center of the dowels. When you cut the length of the dowels, make them as exact as you can.  You don't want them to push the sides out or pull the sides in and distort the shape of the canoe.  Predrill holes into the ends of the dowels once they are in place.

Dab a little butyl rubber sealant over the holes and then drive the screws into the ends of the dowels to hold them in place.  If your canoe is aluminum or wood, you should have plenty of side strength to handle the weight on the seat. If you've got a plastic, fiberglass or composite boat, you may need a brace.  more on that later.
The half inch marine plywood seat should be at least 18 inches wide for comfort if you have that much width to work with. If you don't you should really rethink adding another seat cause buddy, if your boat is that narrow, you are going over if you add more weight that high in the boat.  Use a router to round the top edges to avoid splintering and chafing you skin when you sit on it.

Turn the seat over and screw 1 by 1 strips to the front and back edges of the seat (the long sides).  Glue them down first, then predrill and add 1 1/4 inch screws along the length of the strips.

Once you get all the screws into the 1x1 strips, use the router to round the edges so they won't chafe your legs while paddling in the kneeling position (which you should if you've got a third paddler.  It keeps the weight of your legs lower so the boat is more stable.

Set the canoe seat over the top of the dowels.  The two 1x1 strips should fit snugly outside the dowel to prevent fore and aft movement of the seat.  This view shows the dowels without the canoe.  Of course, when you do this part, you've already got the dowels in place across the gunwales.

Once the seat is in place, Drill holes through the seat down into the dowels.  Don't put more than about 5 holes into the dowel to avoid splitting or weakening them.  Screw 3/4 to 1 inch screws into the dowel to secure the seat in place.  Use butyl sealant in the holes before you drive the screws in to seal them against water. Then stain and apply 3 to 6 coats of marine spar varnish to protect the wood from getting wet.  If you want to be especially thorough, varnish the dowels and seat separately before attaching them.  You'll have better water protection that way and the seat will last for years and years.

If you're afraid your boat won't be able to handle the weight on its sides, especially for light plastic, fiberglass or composite boats, add a center support by simply cutting a 2 by 6 and setting it lengthwise under the center of the seat.  Screw the top end in place through the seat.  Attach the lower end with epoxy or, if the canoe hull will accept fiberglassing, just fiberglass the entire support and base to hold it in place. If the canoe is fiberglass, you can always fiberglass the entire seat assembly and glass around where it attaches to the hull to strengthen the seat.

This, will of course, increase the weight of the canoe, but if you've got one big enough for a third seat, it may not matter much.

A third seat may be just what you need for paddling around the old pond. I wouldn't want to use one in whitewater, but not everyone does rough water anyway.  A canoe rental on a quiet lake could probably add seats like this for the comfort of those threesomes that want to take out a boat and not have someone get his or her butt wet by sitting on the floor of the boat.

Also, this seat design works if you want to replace an uncomfortable seat or add a seat to a thwarts only canoe like the one I learned to paddle in at summer camp.  

Have fun and remember.  It's your boat. Do what you want to it just so you don't sink her.

Tom King - Tyler, TX

Monday, June 07, 2010

Pick the Perfect Kayak Blade

When you choose your kayak blade size, shape and shaft length, two factors come into play.  The first is your height and corresponding arm length.  The second is your paddling style.  How you do most of your straight-line paddling will determine the most efficient shape and size for your blade and the optimum blade and shaft length.  The angle at which your blade strikes the water dictates the shape. If you are an inexperienced paddler, you'll want to take a paddling class first.

  • Tape Measure
  • Kayak paddle samples
  • Kayak
  • A Nice Lake somewhere
  • Choosing a Blade
Paddle Length

Choose a good paddle length based on your height.  There are 3 optimum ranges of paddle shaft lengths.

Paddler Height                                                           Paddle Length Range
Shorter than 5 feet 2 inches.......................................  188 to 194 centimeters
Five feet to 5 feet 8 inches........................................   191 to 197 centimeters
Taller than 5 feet 6 inches.........................................   194 to 200 centimeters

Boat Width

Measure the width of your boat at the center.  A wide boat is over 25 inches.  A 22 to 25 inch wide kayak is considered middle width and anything under 22 inches is narrow.  This will impact how you select a comfortable blade length.  Wide boats tend to require a longer paddle.  Narrow boats favor shorter paddle lengths. If you have a wide boat, choose toward the longer end of the range above.  Narrower boats would lead you to choose toward the shorter end.

Paddling Style
Your paddling style will affect the length and shape of the blade itself.  Experienced paddlers tend to favor a specific angle of attack when paddling.  The angle of attack is the degree of slant at which the paddle enters the water.

A high angle blade enters the water almost vertically. It's most commonly used in whitewater or close quarters paddling.  The low angle style is used primarily in flatwater paddling with a wider boat.  The mid-angle style is a compromise between the two styles.  Use your paddling style, boat width and paddle length to determine the optimal shape of the blade.
  • A low angle blade tends to be narrower and longer to sweep through the water more effectively at the shallow depth of a low angle stroke.
  • A mid-angle blade is a compromise between the two - narrower than the high-angle, but wider than the low angle. A mid-angle paddler also wants a blade that lengthwise, falls between the high and low style blade lengths.
  • A high angle blade calls for a shorter, wider blade that grabs lots of water without having to plunge the paddle too deeply into the water - very important if you're in shallow rocky whitewater.  The shorter, wider blade is far more effective when a high degree of maneuvering is called for, but also calls for some arm strength that a low angle paddler may never need when making deeper power strokes.  
Testing with Your Own Boat
Your boat's width will determine, to some extent, your angle of attack when paddling.  Wider boats calling for lower attack angles and narrow boats allow for higher angles.  So grab any old paddle of the approximate correct length and take your kayak out on the lake. Take the boat you will use most and take off in a straight line without thinking too much about it.  After you've taken 8 or 10 strokes, observe the angle at which the blade strikes the water when you paddle.

Straight-line paddling is a good standard from which to determine your style, since you'll likely do more straight-line paddling than anything else. If the paddle is at 45-degree angle or less when you pull, you are paddling at a low angle.  If you tend to paddle at more than a 45-degree angle, you are middle angle paddler.  If the blade is nearly vertical when you pull the blade through the water, then you are a high angle paddler. Flatwater kayakers will tend to paddle low, while whitewater or surf kayakers tend to paddle high to get deep power strokes or shallow control strokes in tight spaces.

Choose Your Blade Shape
If you've got the length of your double-bladed paddle right and you know what your most comfortable angle of attack is, it's time to choose the blade shape for your paddling style

The low angle blade shape is longer and thinner and the tip may be angled.

The mid-angle blade shape is symmetrical and not too wide or too long, but somewhere in the middle.

The high angle blade shape is shorter and wider for quick control strokes.


Because the two blades are connected by the shaft, if you wish to feather the recovering blade, it needs to be set at an angle to the opposite blade so that when one blade is pulling through the water, the blade in the air is angled so that wind resistance is kept to a minimum.  Blades are typically canted 30 degrees to 90 degrees from one another.  The best way to figure out which feathering angle is best for you is to try it out. Two part paddles often can be assembled at adjustable feathering angles. 


If you paddle low and have a wide boat, choose the longest lengths. If you paddle low and have a mid-width or narrow boat, you will tend toward the middle of the range.  If you paddle high and have a narrow boat, a shorter paddle will probably suit you better. If you paddle in the middle position, the boat width will probably extend or shorten the length you want by a few centimeters either way, but not likely all the way to the end of the range.  This will give you a guess that's probably accurate to within a centimeter or two. Try out some paddles in the length that is closest to the length you've calculated might be best.  See how the blade feels when you use it before you buy it if you can.

Drip Rings

One of the problems, especially during cold weather is that with a double-bladed paddle, when one end is digging into the water the other is lifted high out of the water (hence the need for feathering your blade). When the high blade comes up, gravity sends a stream of water running down the paddle shaft, up your sleeve and down your pants till you are sitting in a puddle of cold water freezing parts of your anatomy you'd prefer not to have frozen. You can buy commercial drip rings that deflect these icy rivulets away from the cockpit of your kayak. You can also make some handy home-made ones like the ones in this article from foam swim noodles. I highly recommend some kind of drip ring in any case.


Paddling styles are not set in stone. Allow yourself time for paddling experience to help you turn the basic style you learned in beginner's class into your own personal paddling style. As a beginner, blade shape and size doesn't much matter since you are still finding your "style". Find your style before you pick that perfect blade shape.


Making a Custom Double-Bladed Paddle

Rutabaga Paddlesport Shop: How to Select a Kayak Paddle

Werner Paddle Sizing Guide

Topkayaker Net: Choosing a Kayak Paddle

Resource Websites:

American Canoe Association          http://www.acanet.org/
United States Canoe Association    http://www.uscanoe.com/
World Kayak Federation                http://www.worldkayak.com/