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EphBoat: A video of the movement

Following the extreme popularity of my EphBoat posts, I have made a video of the boat moving, in case the exact mechanism was unclear from my eloquent written descriptions.

There was a version that I narrated, but it was too annoying, and there was a version where the music was the Ode to Williams, but it was also annoying, so I settled on this. Let me know if you’d like the narration or the school spirit special editions. [Edit: those versions are now linked in the text.]


EphBoat: Fourth installment

(Web site; first, second, and third installments)

Kim Daboo ’88 requested holiday cards, and this is mine, since this happens to be the picture on my family’s holiday card this year. Alums, don’t let current students upstage you; send yours in.

Anyway, this is the penultimate EphBoat Monday because nobody seems very excited about this subject except David. If you are excited about it, check out the web site linked above; that’s what it’s there for. Also, if you are excited about it, let me know because I am thinking of bringing the boat to Williams after Christmas — I might as well, since it’s silly to never bring a Williams boat to Williams at all — but it’s kind of an involved endeavor so if I am the only person who’s excited about it, that wouldn’t make it quite as much fun, so I might not bother.

I made a crew boat because I needed a challenge to keep me busy, and we have a lot of wood lying around and a few power tools from building our house. I had previously made a train, convertible, and even an eight-foot-tall totem pole, so I needed something more complicated. This project was definitely more complicated.

The most intricate and annoying, yet most important, part of this project was making the rowers. Each one is made of 12 pieces of wood connected by dowels and wire, which I had to painstakingly make.

I cut the heads and torsos with a jigsaw and drilled holes in the bottom and top, respectively, so that I could attach them together via a dowel neck. This process was nontrivial. To make the limbs, I bought hardwood dowels and then cut them into chunks of a specified length at a specified angle so that the figures would be able to bring their limbs in close to their bodies. I drilled holes in the ends and then wired the body parts together and to the boat.

This is a picture after I installed the coxswain and the starboards (rowers whose oar is on the right-hand side from the coxswain’s perspective). I did the starboards all at once and the ports all at once because the oar-side arm is put together differently than the other side’s arm so that one elbow goes out and one goes down (see clarifying illustration). You can see the extra limbs and disembodied torsos lying around on the table.

My final installment next week will be about the coxswain. Get psyched.


EphBoat: Third installment

(Web site, first installment, second installment)

It took me a long time to figure out how to engineer my boat so that the rowers would all move together. At first, I wanted them to all be able to actually row together, in the sense that they would move their seats back and forth and move their arms back and forth with the oars, and it would be simultaneous. But this problem was too hard, so like all good mathematicians, I decided to work on a simpler problem instead.

In a real crew boat, there is a “foot board” that is attached to the boat, with shoes glued to it; the rower puts her feet into these shoes and “ties in.” The seat is on rollers which roll along a metal “slide,” with the slide attached to the boat and the seat merely rolling along it.

In my model boat, there are roughly wedge-shaped footboards attached to the boat, with a hole drilled in each parallel to the long direction of the boat. A long dowel passes through all of these holes. Seats are glued to this dowel. The rowers are wired to the seats. Thus, the seats are all attached together, and can move rigidly but freely back and forth through the holes in the footboards, and the rowers move with them.1 See picture above, and more information about that.

Actually attaching everything together in this manner was nontrivial; I explain this in detail on the web site. In the end, the rowers don’t slide smoothly as I hoped they would, because the holes in the footboards don’t line up quite right. But nobody really cares about this except me, so it’s okay.

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EphBoat: Second installment

David Kane requests more EphBoat posts. Here, I deliver. If you don’t like it, use EphBlinders.1

Today I’ll talk about the beginning of making the boat, i.e., making the hull. I think I made it out of a two-by-four; I don’t really remember, because we have a lot of random pieces of wood lying around from building our house, and it could have been a two-by-three or something unconventional like that.

I actually didn’t start out with a two-by-four from the beginning. I thought that, to make a boat, it made more sense to start out with a cylinder than with a rectangular board, so I used a leftover railing-post from building our deck. I made the ends pointy and carved out the inside in the same way as described below, but it ended up being much too short, about the proportions of a boat for two or three rowers with a coxswain (which does not exist in the rowing world). I painted that boat white and green and gave it to my dad for a birthday present, and then started over. Crew boats are actually quite long and thin, as you can see.

finished boat from above

To make the eight-with-coxswain, I took the two-by-four and cut it into something like a half-cylinder, cut the long way. To do this, my dad and I used a table saw, which is a round blade that spins, mounted on a flat surface. First we cut it so that it was about 2.5 inches wide, which was easy. Then we passed it through at various angles so that one side was approximately round. (And by “we,” I mean “my dad,” because I am quite terrified of the table saw. I rather like my fingers right where they are.) If you put the rounded side down, the crew boat is right-side up.

Once I had the (slightly-less-than-) half-cylinder, I needed to make the ends pointy. To do this, I used a jigsaw, which is a tiny saw blade that goes up and down, and is used to make wooden jigsaw puzzles or curvy cuts. I essentially just held the proto-boat up to the saw and cut off pieces at various angles until it was tapered and pointy at both ends. I cut off a little bit too much in one place, so I had to round it out with a lot of wood putty later.

boat in 2004 boat in 2006
This is the boat as of August 2004 and August 2006, respectively.

Now I had the right shape for the boat, but there was nowhere to sit inside. We took the boat and put it through the table saw sideways so that the top half-inch or so of boat was cut off parallel to the water. Now my boat was in two pieces: The top part, with two parallel faces, and the bottom part, with one flat face and the other part curved for the bottom of the hull.

The idea was to cut out most of the inside of the top part of the boat, so that it would actually be a “hull.” I drilled holes in it and then used the jigsaw to cut out the inside. I put the jigsaw table at a 15° angle so that the inside was sloped about as much as the outside, again so that it would be like a hull, or “shell.”

However, the arm of the jigsaw was not long enough to cut out the middle part; I was only able to cut out the inside of both ends. After a while of pondering this problem, I cut the boat in half (bow four and stern four are in separate parts), cut out the interior of each part individually, and then glued the two halves and the bottom of the boat back together. Then I filled in any mistakes with wood putty and sanded everything up so that it was nice and smooth, and then drilled holes for the steering mechanism and the stern deck cap (below left). (Any boat of mine has to have a deck cap — the deck cap was a large part of my novice crew experience; see my humorous WSO blog post on the subject.) Finally, I painted the outside and edges white, and (two years later) added purple and yellow trim and the rest of the details, such as the bow deck cap (below right).

Also see the original post and the Diana’s Crew Boat web page.

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An EphBoat

Some spend their free time providing constructive criticism on Op-Ed submissions; others spend it painstakingly cutting and painting small pieces of wood and wiring them together into intricate functionless models. I fall into the latter category, and since the end product qualifies as “All Things Eph,” I thought I’d share it with you.


Over the course of the three summers between my four years at Williams, I made this boat. It’s about five feet long, and the boat is about three inches wide (about two feet wide with the oars out). I started with a two-by-four, which I made into a hull, figured out a way to engineer it so that the seats would move like in a real crew boat, and then made detailed and unreasonably accurate rowers that can go through the whole motion of rowing, and a coxswain who can actually steer the boat. I painted everything purple and yellow in the appropriate places, and it really does look rather accurate and sharp.


Because this whole process was very thought-intensive and the end product was basically the most awesome object I’ve ever made, I made a whole web site to explain every step of the process in excruciating detail, including many pictures of the final product as well as photographic documentation of every step of the creation process.

I don’t know how large the intersection between Williams rowers and EphBlog readers is, but I expect that some alums might find it interesting.


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