by Mark Kaufman
While building a Crandall Midget Flyer 10’ runabout, from plans published in the January 1938 issue of Motor Boating, I wanted a bow handle, a foredeck fitting, and transom tie-down U-bolts that were appropriate to the period. I wasn’t able to find anything on the market, so I decided to make my own, and instead of shaping wood patterns and having a foundry sand-cast them, I would fabricate them myself with brazed brass and bronze. Another hobby of mine has been building fillet-brazed, lightweight steel bicycle frames, so I’d use some of the same techniques.
By using a brazing alloy that would build up in fillets at the intersections, the resulting radiused transitions would have the appearance of custom-cast fittings. After some experimentation with different alloys, I found that Harris Safety-Silv 45% Silver Brazing alloy, purchased in a coil of 1/16” wire, produced a nice fillet with a golden color that is a good match for brass, though not quite so dark as bronze.
I started by making the bow handle from brass plate 1/8″ x 2″ x 24″ acquired from Hamilton Marine. The 3-1/2″ x 6″ base had to be shaped to fit the camber of the white oak breasthook under the fabric deck, so I hammer-formed the two halves of the plate over a curved section of heavy steel. To silver-braze the two halves together, I set them on a firebrick and coated all areas where the brazing was to occur with GFM Type U Silver Brazing Flux. I use a small Meco Midget oxy-acetylene torch, with the acetylene’s regulator set at 4 psi and the oxygen’s at 10–12 psi. These settings have worked well with other torches; the pressures are set with the valves opened slightly. After lighting the torch, starting with the acetylene, I bring up the oxygen and adjust it to get a gentle, quiet, neutral flame, just off-feather of the outer cone. It is important that the area for brazing is heated slowly so that the flux is not burnt or blackened. The flux will first turn to a chalky white and then, as it reaches the proper brazing temperature, it will become clear.
I hold the torch at a 45-degree angle pointed in the direction the work will progress and position the brazing alloy at an opposing 45-degree angle. A puddle is created when the brazing alloy comes in contact with the adequately heated metal; after creating the initial puddle, you dip the brazing alloy into the molten material–either the heated metal or the puddle of molten brazing material–as you travel along. Don’t try to melt the brazing alloy with the flame. Heat control is critical—apply only enough heat to melt the brazing alloy and not the brass. The part should also be positioned and repositioned so that there is always a valley for the molten material to flow into and create a radiused transition.
When the brazing is finished, the residual flux will be a very hard, glassy coating that needs to be removed. Let the part cool to room temperature, then place it under a faucet of hot running water and scrub off the flux with a brass-wire brush. When the brazing was done I did some additional contouring and shaping to the base plate before fitting the curved handle.
I used 3/8” bronze rod for the curved handle. It was too rigid for my handheld tubing bender, a General #153, so I heated the rod with the torch to a dull red and bent it while it was still hot. The next step was to drill the holes in the base plate for the handle to fit into. Sheet brass really catches the flutes of the drill bit as it exits the back side, so use extra caution when drilling it.
After inserting the handle into the holes in the base, I used the torch and flowed fillets in around the joints. The final profiling of the fillets can be accomplished by using a small round file, followed by 80- and 150-grit emery cloth and working through the various grits of sandpaper to 600-grit. Parts can be polished with a buffing wheel and buffing compound.
I also made a small deck fitting and transom tie-down U-bolts with 1/8″ brass plate and some 1/4” brass rod. The bolt ends were threaded to accept 1/4-20 bronze nuts.
Using a brazing allow to build fillets provides a way to create flowing transitions between joined pieces; the result, with practice, is elegant metalwork that can pass for cast without the investment of the equipment required for melting and pouring metal into molds.
Mark Kaufman is a technology and engineering education teacher at Garden Spot High School in New Holland, Pennsylvania. He has been fascinated with boats and boatbuilding since his childhood days of boating with his family on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. As a teenager he built his first boats, a wood-and-canvas Trailcraft canoe and a Minimost hydroplane. Over the years, many of his high-school students have built skin-on-frame Greenland- and Aleutian-style kayaks. Mark has also taught classes on building these types of kayaks at WoodenBoat School since 2010.
Editor’s note: For a simple method of fabricating parts with brazing alloy and silver solder, see the review of the Bernzomatic TS 8000 in this issue.
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