V-Berth, Alcove Box, Trim, Part 1: Analysis and the Splitting of the Mahogany

The mahogany that would become the trim pieces for the V-berth alcove boxes
Trimwork in exotic woods does much to give sophistication and class to a sailboat. Many an Ericson yacht was trimmed in mahogany on the interior. The Ericson 25, although one of the smaller boats in the Ericson line, likewise received many a piece of mahogany on the interior. Quite a few of the Ericson 25s were fitted with mahogany trim on the alcove boxes in the V-berth. Others, however, were not. This trimwork in the V-berth on those Ericson 25s that possess it, provides some relief from the excessive amount of glossy white fiberglass that is a defining characteristic of the hull liner. Having seen numerous pictures of this trimwork in various Ericson 25s, and knowing that Oystercatcher, my own Ericson 25, was less attractive because it lacked this decorative mahogany, I resolved that I would bring a more distinguished look to the V-berth of my boat by constructing my own trim out of this exotic wood. While this project, on its surface, might appear to have been undertaken simply for the sake of appearances, there was another, more practical motive involved; this trimwork in mahogany would be used to anchor a V-shaped shelf, one that would provide much-needed storage space for clothing and other personal items when cruising in this vessel.

In the first part of this three-part article, I describe my analysis of the problem, and I present, in considerable detail, my first solution to it - the initial construction of the trim through the splitting of a single, rough-sawn piece of mahogany into two separate pieces.
The V-berth as it appear at the time of purchase
When I purchased the boat in the fall of 2009, I found a V-berth that was not very attractive. Leaving aside the fact that the interior of the alcove boxes was filled with the disintegrated remnants of a filthy, foam-and-cloth liner that dated to 1975, the V-berth itself was cold and uninviting - a glossy, white angular box that looked not unlike the interior of a refrigerator.
The mahogany trim which covered the chain locker on the forward end of the V-berth and the mahogany bulkheads on the aft end did indeed provide some richness to this space, but these pieces of mahogany were nevertheless overpowered by the white. The photo below I took when I first visited the boat, about a month before I purchased it. One thing I did like about this space was that it was far more accommodating than the V-berths of the O'Day 25 and the Catalina 25, both of which I visited on this same day.
In the year or two after I purchased my boat, I noticed, as I said, that quite a few other Ericson 25s were fitted with mahogany trim in the V-berth. This, I thought, made the space much more inviting. In the picture below, if you can disregard the oddly-located spool, which I suppose is for the anchor line, you can see that the trim in this space is original to the boat. It has the same warmth and consistency as the mahogany trim in the main salon.
Below, we see that an Ericson 25 owner attempted to replicate, in his boat, the original mahogany trim found in other boats. In lieu of mahogany, he appears to have opted for plywood, specifically plywood manufactured from pine or some other soft wood - the very type of wood normally used as sheathing in residential construction. The stain is helpful, but it's clear from the grain, that this wood, which was never meant for finish work, is of a lesser quality.
Wanting to use the same high quality material that Ericson used back in 1975, I purchased a piece of rough-sawn mahogany from Southern Lumber here in Charleston, South Carolina and got to work (for more on Southern Lumber and the mahogany I use, refer to the Labels section on the home page of this website). I knew that I wanted the two pieces of trim to be 1/2 inch thick. Rough-sawn lumber is not available in this thickness. The smallest thickness is 4/4 inch, in other words, 1 inch. I did not want to purchase two separate pieces of 4/4 mahogany and then plane each one down to 1/2 inch. This seemed like a waste. Instead, I decided that I would buy a 5/4 inch piece, in other words a 1-1/4 inch piece, and try to resaw it. I figured that by the time I planed the faces of the board and by the time I resawed the board, I would end up with two pieces of 1/2 inch each.

I began by running the board through the table saw, so as to square it up.
Then, I set up the planer, so as to remove the rough outer surface from each face.
Below, we see the board after I've passed it through the planer several times. Always better to make lots of small passes rather than a few big ones.
Once I had cleaned up the board, I took it over to a friend's house to see what sort of luck we would have in using his bandsaw to resaw this board.

The mahogany put up a lot of resistance.
For this reason, the blade tended to walk. In other words, it would not cut a straight line. After struggling with this for while, we decided to try a different approach.
Back at my house (in an addition to the house that I continued to use as my workshop and that I had thus not yet surrendered to the Admiral), my buddy and I pushed the board through the table saw in an effort to resaw it in this rather unorthodox fashion. Note that we have clamped the board to another large board in order to hold it steady on the table. I should note that the large board is an 8/4 piece of mahogany. This would be the board that I would soon afterwards use in my construction of a new companionway hatch. For more on this, see my multi-part article on the subject.
It would have been impossible for me to do this resaw on the table saw alone. My buddy held one end of the board-on-board assembly and pushed. I held the other end and pulled. I took the picture below after we had completed the first pass.
Having completed the first pass, we flipped the assembly over and pushed the other side of the board through the saw. We knew that this second pass would not result in a complete cutting of the board, so we were not worried about the blade getting hung up on one of the pieces and causing a kick-back event.
Back at the band saw, we once again attempted to push the board through, and once again we ran into problems. The blade was old, but then again, the wood was dense and resistant to the thin blade.
Undaunted, we resolved to finish this resaw job the old fashioned way - with a carpenter's hand saw. How long do you think we kept this up? I'll tell you. After about five minutes of futile sawing by each one of us, we decided this approach might take us an eternity.
It was then that my buddy got really old school with this piece of wood. He grabbed a tool that he had fashioned out of two pieces of iron which he had welded together. The tool consisted of a wedge with a handle that could be used as a pry-bar of sorts to provide leverage for the wedge. The name for this type of tool is a froe. My buddy had read about the froe in a book on traditional woodworking. Craftsman long ago would use this tool for the very purpose he was now using it - to split boards in two.
The froe was incredibly efficient, and in a short time there were two halves beginning to be visible.
Hammer and pry, hammer and pry. This was how he worked the froe through the wood.

Everything was happening just as it was supposed to happen, until suddenly a crack appeared on one side.
This was really depressing, for it seemed that the whole project at this point was a complete loss.
Nevertheless, we persisted.
Worried that, if we continued to use the same method, then the entire board would be ruined, we opted to finish the job with a reciprocating saw. In the background of the picture below you can see the saw that we used. Even with a new blade, this job was tough and time-consuming. There was no doubt that this mahogany was incredibly stubborn.
Eventually, the mahogany gave up the fight, and with great pleasure we beheld the two halves, more or less evenly split.
The burnt wood on one end was indicative of our failed attempt to resaw this board with the band saw.
Just as I had planned, each half was about 1/2 inch thick.

Back at my house, I used the electric, handheld planer to remove some of the high spots on the split sides of the boards.
Then I pushed each board through the planer to clean it up as much as possible.
Again I broke out the handheld planer as I worked to hide the major imperfections that remained from the splitting of the two pieces.

This process continued for some time.

In the end, I was left with two pieces of mahogany that were both between 3/8 and 1/2 inch thick. As for the crack that appeared in one of the boards during the splitting process, we shall see that I was fortunate with regard to its location. As it turned out, that crack fell perfectly within one of the oval-shaped cut-outs that I would make in the trim.
All-together, this splitting of the mahogany took almost an entire work day. Yes, it was time-consuming and difficult, but it saved me the expense of having to buy two separate pieces of mahogany, and it provided me with yet another tale that I could tell about the refitting of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.