Will Aurigemma: Internships in the Philippines
There are differences between how we do things back in Newport and how we do things here. A lot of differences. At school, a 64th of an inch gap between joining pieces is sloppy an unacceptable. We all hold ourselves and each other to very high standards. And I am persnickety even by IYRS standards. I took those exacting standards with me to Samar, and they didn’t help. I got strange looks when I brandished my bevel gauge (angle measuring tool) and adjustable square and marking knife. My beautifully-fit lap joints didn’t seem to impress the local builders. I suppose it is because it doesn’t matter much. Speed matters. Everything is stuffed with epoxy, anyhow. A 64th of an inch is meaningless here. These boats are different. If our wooden yachts are Ferraris, these bangkas are lawnmowers.
To help you understand the difference between the wooden boat construction that we do at school and the builds we are doing here in Samar, I will use two common boat parts as examples: the stem, or front part that sticks up out of the water where the two sides of the boat meet, and the planks, or outside walls of the hull that separate sailor from swimmer.
The stem of our Beetle Cat was made from thin strips of wood that we steam-bent and laminated together using a very strong adhesive. Then, we cut long grooves called rabbets on either side of the stem where the planks (outer walls) would be fastened. We cut those rabbets at precise changing angles (rolling bevels) based on full-sized drawings of the hull that took a team of four people three or four days to complete. We attached the stem to our keel and laid them upon a series of wooden forms, also derived from those full-sized drawings, to be perfectly plumb and sitting right where our drawings said they should sit. The whole stem was a few days of work.
The planking of our boat in Newport was another long and careful process. In one eight hour work day, I could cut, shape, steam-bend, and fasten one plank by myself with a few extra hands to hold clamps now and then. And that was on a good day. There were 16 planks on the boat, and not every day was a good day.
These processes, along with all of the other steps of building our classic wooden boat, often involved talks with teammates and instructors and dragging out the full-sized drawings and bevel gauges and water-levels. It isn’t needless nitpicking, either. The parts of those boats are curved and interconnected with screws and bolts sticking through them at weird angles. One error can cause a lot of headaches down the road. I know this because I made a lot of errors and got a lot of headaches. If those rabbets are wrong, the planks won’t sit properly and difficult repairs would need doing on an inconveniently fastened stem. It all requires thought and planning and a steady hand on a sharp tool.
Months later, here we are at the Poblacion boatyard.
I am about to chisel the rabbet into one side of the stem, which took under two hours to cut, shape and attach.
Leo leans over, makes a long mark with a pencil, and in an accent that says ‘I speak twenty words of English and here’s one of them,’ utters a single syllable: “line.”
I look at him. I blink. I give him the universal “what the hell are you talking about” face. “Line.” Oh! Right. That’s the rabbet line. But don’t you need to use a bevel gauge or a batten or perhaps even a planking fid? We want that plank to sit in there nicely on the first shot. Can we at least talk about this for a second? “Liiiiine.”
The planking went on that very same boat in four hours. All of it. The entire thing went from old dugout keel to a finished and painted boat in three days. I got the feeling that these things were a good deal easier than my skill level would allow. And I was right. I can make a mast out of rectangular pieces of wood using nothing but hand tools and fit planks with rolling bevels and complex curves so that there isn’t even a 64th of an inch of space between them. This is wiffle ball for me. Besides watching Leo, what does a careful builder get out of all this?
Thirty-five boats is what he gets. By the end of my time here, I will have had a hand in making some or most of each of the 35 boats we have to replace or repair. That’s 35 boats worth of mortises and tenons and 70 stems (there are two on these boats) and 70 stringers and over 800 frame notches and countless cases of checking and eyeballing and marking and paring and chiseling. That is all basic stuff. We do it back home, albeit to more exacting standards, but it is still part of the foundation of our work. A mantra I remember from the Marine Corps was “Brilliance in the Basics.” That’s what this is. It’s the Beatles at the clubs in Hamburg. Doing these cuts and fits over and over and seeing so many boats come together under my hand is my education.
But as I loosen my standards, I haven’t put away my bevel gauge. I still wield it like Don Quixote with his lance, tilting at windmills. I don’t care if it takes me a few extra minutes to cut a stem or if Leo shakes his head at me. I might learn a lot from these folks, but I’m a New England boat builder. Our way is pretty damn good, too.
And so my third week in Samar ended. We packed up and headed back to the big city of Tacloban. As we left our house on the way out of town, there was Leo, week’s pay freshly in his pocket, sitting on a wooden bench with a cold liter of Red Horse beer in front of him. Some things are universal.
Sorry I didn’t get to the bolo! I’ll save that for later.
07/03/15 CAD & CNC Machine Training COMPUTER-AIDED-DESIGN (CAD)
Computer Aided Design (CAD) has almost totally eclipsed traditional drawing and drafting in design and manufacturing. CAD refers to powerful software which dramatically accelerates the design/manufacturing process and allows, even encourages, global collaboration.
CNC Machines read computer-aided-design (CAD) files which instruct the machine the milling pattern, including the tool path; where to move; and how fast to move when milling a material.
IYRS School of Composites Technology students spend approximately four weeks learning CAD software on the Rhino3D CAD software & platform. Students demonstrate their CAD proficiency by creating a virtual model of an object they will produce in the composites shop.
COMPUTER-AIDED-MANUFACTURING (CAM) & CNC MACHINE TRAINING
The other piece of this digital revolution is Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). There is a misguided belief that we don’t manufacture anything in the U.S. anymore. In fact, manufacturing is strong, but we are producing more with many fewer people. What makes this possible is CAM utilizing Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery.
Once IYRS Composite students have demonstrated CAD competence, they are introduced to CAM. The students will begin this by learning the rudiments of G code, the machine language for virtually all CNC machines. From there they will learn to use RhinoCam which is a software plugin operating in the Rhino CAD environment. This powerful software facilitates the generation of complicated machine operations and tool paths that are automatically converted to G code.
All of this knowledge allows an individual to “bring the virtual to life.” These digital skills are extremely valuable throughout our advanced manufacturing economy.
CAD & CNC MACHINE TRAINING PROCESS AND SKILLS
• Understand the Conventions of CAD Drawings
• Generate 2D Drawings & 3D Surfaces Using Rhino Software • Use an Existing 2D CAD Drawing to Generate a 3D Surface • Understand How to Create 2D and 3D Tool Paths Using RhinoCam Software • Understand the Safe Use of CNC Machines • Understand the Operation of CNC Machining Center Including Part Setup • Ability to Load & Run a 5-Axis Machining File • Accurately Fabricate a Tool From Design to High Quality Finish Product Using CNC Machine 07/01/15 Will Aurigemma Volunteering in the Philippines: On to Week 3
I have finished two weeks working in the boatyard at Barangay Población 1. We work 54-hour weeks: nine and a half hours per day from Monday to Friday and six and a half hours on Saturday. The heat is stifling and there isn’t a beach in sight. There are just stinking mud flats and twisted mangroves full of trash and debris. Though I am enjoying my time and am glad to be here, this is not a tropical working vacation and I am certainly not having a” blast.” Working all day in the beach-less tropical heat with a sub-par toilet situation does not fit my definition of the word. I have a blast when I am skiing or cosmic bowling or playing with a cat. But I’m not here to have a blast. I’m here to help. This isn’t about me. Well, it’s kind of about me. This is part of my schooling, so I am also here to learn. And when I think about the most important lessons I have come upon, not one of them has been learned whilst having a blast. To answer the question of what it is that I hope to learn, I must introduce you to Leo the boatbuilder.
Leo is a native of the Pinabacdao municipality. He stands five feet tall and is built like a power lifter. He is our master builder, subject matter expert on bangka construction, and the project’s ultimate authority on quality assurance. He can fix any screw-up, never loses his cool, and speaks no English other than about 20 words for tools and boat parts. After one day of working with Leo and talking to him through an interpreter, it became clear to me that anything I would learn from him would not come from him explaining anything to me.
I was watching him prepare a stem and keel to be joined together. He was making pencil lines with a less-than-straight edge and taking measurements with his finger and eyeballing the critical angles to be cut. My hand was twitching. It wanted to leap into my tool bag and give him my bevel gauge and sliding square. I held back. I asked him, through the interpreter, why the cuts went where he put them. Was a certain depth of cut based on the thickness of the keel? He replied,“That’s how the stem fits on.” Okay, but is that based on the size of the stem? And does a certain angle give the joint the maximum strength? “That’s so it fits together.” Thanks, Leo. You’ve been very helpful.
Then I remembered an exchange I had while I was learning Spanish. I asked a Dominican if it would be right to use the subjunctive mood in a certain sentence. She stared at me blankly. She explained that she had no idea. “Surely you know. You just used the subjunctive in that sentence explaining that you had no idea! Come on, you speak Spanish!” Then it occurred to me that she didn’t know what I was talking about because she was a native speaker. To her, the subjunctive and all of the other grammar rules came as native speaker’s intuition. Would you be able to explain the use of the subjunctive in English? Neither would I. But we would know if someone used it incorrectly. That is how I learned much of my Spanish. I heard enough native speakers talk and learned to imitate them and eventually it started to sound good to my ear.
That’s how it is with Leo. He’s a native speaker of the language of boat building and craftsmanship, and I am not. I have to watch how he works and imitate him until it becomes intuitive to my hand and eye. Or, as close to intuitive as it can get. I want to absorb that natural panache. To be fair, the boats we build back in Newport are way better than the boats here in every possible way. But that doesn’t matter. Even if I could build a perfect S-boat by myself with zero mistakes, I’ll never be a native speaker of the language. No matter how good I get, there will always be something to learn from guys like Leo. The naturals.
Stay tuned for next week. I’ll tell you all about how out-of-place my bevel gauge is, and about my awesome new boat building tool: the bolo.
Boatbuilding & Restoration student Will Aurigemma is spending his summer on internship in the Philippines. He will be in Tacloban City, which was hit by two category-5 typhoons (Yolanda and Ruby ) in 14 months. Fleets of wooden fishing boats were destroyed, and fishermen have been left without their main source of income. An international disaster relief organization called All Hands Volunteers is working with local builders to rebuild boats in the communities most affected by the storms. Will has joined their team as part of his IYRS summer internship. 06/30/15