Recently, the Griggs building, the new building located at 100 Union Street in Nevada City, received an architectural achievement award from the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. This new building was designed by local architect Bruce Boyd and built by Tintle, Inc. of Nevada City, in conjunction with Robinson Enterprises, also of Nevada City. All those involved in the creation of this new building were very pleased.

It is rare that a new building within an important historic district rises to the level of its older brethren. 100 Union seems complete in its setting, like it was always there or at least always meant to be there. Yet in the not too recent past the site contained an aging gas station that had outlived its usefulness and made anyone walking along Union Street painfully aware of the sunken freeway behind it.

While my firm can proudly take some of the credit for the planning, siting and design of 100 Union Street, its stunning success can better be attributed to the team that constructed the Griggs building. The names of the original architects and builders of many of the notable buildings in the Downtown Historic District have been forgotten in the march of time. Yet their work has lived on. It is in that same spirit of anonymous good work that we undertook the creation of 100 Union Street.

The team approach allowed the participation of everyone who worked on the project to add their contribution to its success. From Robinson Enterprises’ willingness to commit the site to a totally new use and building; to the City of Nevada City’s willingness to work with us to make sure that the street scape and the adjoining Robinson Plaza achieved the same high standards of design and execution. Everyone involved added something to the mix. Nevada City Engineering and Holdrege and Kull also contributed to creating the joint project of the Griggs building and the reinvented Beryl Robinson Plaza.

Don Hoffler and his crew from Robinson Enterprises did the demolition work and the excavation work on the site. While doing their careful work, they uncovered some old and beautiful cut-granite stones from previous buildings.  At the time we did not know how we would use these stones, only that we wanted to use them on the site. They were carefully excavated and stored. Eventually, the stones were reused to form the curving retaining wall leading to the basement parking. Many were recut using ancient stone masonry techniques to fit together in a stunning wall, new in form and purpose but old in materials and spirit, placed using a Robinson Timber grapple operated by Gary Tintle.

Part of the design idea behind 100 Union street was to create the impression that the building consisted of four individual buildings similar in scale and detailing to the older commercial buildings downtown. To that end different brick types and brick detailing were used on each facade.

Two different local masonry contractors took on the work: Behr & Son Masonry and Yukon Masonry. Each worked using their own methods and contributed their ideas to the brick detailing. This gave each face its own personality and a wonderful place for the masons to display their talents.  Some of the brick actually came from another building, 109 North Pine, (Friar Tucks) that burned in 2003. Recycling this old brick was an important element in the design. Other faces of the building were done in stucco by Tom Burns Plastering and in natural wood and metal by Tintle, Inc. Local suppliers included Caseywood, Hills Flat Lumber Co. and Meeks.

All of the exterior woodwork detailing was crafted by Tintle, Inc. carpenters and Travis Cabinets. Mike Rugge, Gary Tintle's able superintendent, worked with the architect, the City Planning staff, and Patti Tintle on selecting colors that were both historically accurate and complementary - no mean feat when trying to provide individuality to each storefront while maintaining a cohesive whole. Bob Nunnick Painting aided Mike Rugge to produce a high quality finish.

Welder Dave Lott put together all the exterior metal work. This included balcony railings, exit stairs, gates, fences and knee braces. The metal work added just the right jewelry to complement the brickwork and woodwork.

The Griggs building is a deceptively simple looking building. In fact, it is a very complicated 14,000 square foot structural puzzle, built to accommodate modern needs dressed in the style of the nineteenth century. It comprises three floors, complicated foundations, a sophisticated wood frame and an elevator. The interior is fully insulated, heated and cooled, fully fire sprinklered, plumbed and wired to meet the 21st century. All of these “interior trades” must work closely together to prevent conflicts and solve problems not anticipated in the the design phase. JM Plumbing, Shoemaker Electric, Haines Heating and Air Conditioning, Insulation Solutions, River City Fire Protection, and the Beam Easy Living Center all worked together to insure that the building met the needs and requirements of its tenants. These subcontractors, who have worked locally for many years, have years of experience in their respective trades. The builder, owner and architect look to them for sage advice, good solutions and reliable service.

Interior finishes were provided by Young’s Carpet One, Summit Tile, Bob Nunnink Painting, Pro-Glass, Travis Cabinets, and Sean Thompson Drywall. There is a fine consistency of finish whether the space is used as office, retail or apartment. Much of that comes from the involvement and attention to detail, including selecting light fixtures and hardware, of Patti Tintle and Sandy Hansen.

Part of the pleasure of working as a team comes as trust is developed between all the participants. This trust allows team members to develop new ideas and additions to the design as work progresses. The process is not rigid, nor is it top down. The owners, builders, engineers and designers maintain a flexibility to entertain new ideas from all sources. Few realize that 100 Union has a 30KWH solar electric system on its roofs, or that this power is distributed between the tenants. The system was planned by Plan it Solar and installed by California Solar Electric.

This solar system, highly efficient HVAC equipment, low water consumption plumbing fixtures, and the recycling of materials; brick, metal roofing, stone and steel has helped the Griggs Building become a model building for Nevada City: one that is simultaneously environmentally sensitive and a perfect fit to its environment - Historic Downtown Nevada City.

The success of a building is based on the success of all its parts. The whole will not stand without all the pieces fitting together. I wish to thank all those who worked on the Griggs Building for putting those pieces together into a truly fitting final building. Our names will be forgotten in one hundred years, but I think the Gregg building will be there for coming generations.


Published in the magazine "Messing About in Boats" in 2009. There have been many more boats built since this was published.

It has been 17 years since I built my first Pygmy Boats, Goldeneye, kayak. My wife bought me the kit for Christmas following our first kayak trip to Baja California in 1989. After my sixteenth boat launch, I thought that it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts and experience building stitch and glue plywood boats.

I have just finished my sixteenth boat. After eleven Pygmy kayaks, a Merry Wherry, a Bolger Cartopper, and a Wee Lassie strip canoe. The latest boats out the door include an Osprey for Mike Getz, a paddling buddy, and two Arctic Terns for Bay area paddlers. It is satisfying to see the progress in kit quality over the years, but I also think the high finish level of my latest boats out the door reflect both my experience working with stitch & glue/plywood/epoxy/fiberglass boats, and some hard won skill.  

Boat building.

In my far distant youth my thoughts were all about building a boat and sailing away, with an emphasis on the sailing part. A lot of other ambitions, adventures, and life choices, including establishing a rural based Architectural practice, have gotten in the way of those first thoughts on seeing the world.  Slowly, boat by boat, I have come to the realization that I love building boats. The paddling and sailing are still important elements of my life, but boat building satisfies a need to work with both my hands and my head that has been absent since I gave up trying to do house construction and practice architecture at the same time. Boat building isn’t always easy or fun. There is plenty of room for mistakes, but wooden boats are a joy to build and use.

What attracts me to boat building is the opportunity to build something beautiful. It certainly was my motivating interest in building my first Goldeneye. A boat that John Lockwood designed with style roots in English sailing canoes and the kayaks of L.F. Herreschoff. A kayak with a definite sense of history and the continuity of sensible designs for practical paddling. In the same way, the Wee Lassie, as developed by Mac McCarthy, carries with it the early outdoor ethics of Nessmuk. This was very appealing to the poet Gary Snyder as he searched for a canoe model to have me build for his use.

People sometime give me a certain look when I say I build from kits. A look that says, “Oh that’s not real boat building.” I want to make it clear to anyone attempting to build a boat from a kit that this is true boat building. The fact that the materials come nicely packaged in a box;  that the material is perfectly cut to the right dimensions, and the tool needs are minimal; does not take away from the boat building experience. I had the opportunity to tour Eric Goetz yacht building yard. He starts many of his world class racing boats with a kit of parts cut by computer. It does not take away any from his status as a premier boat builder. (I do not claim to be in his league by any means.) As I said before, there is plenty of room for mistakes, creative additions, and modifications of technique. There is also that learning curve. It continues on forever. Building from your kit of parts is just smart boat building.

The Pygmy boat design implementation has gotten better over the years. Partly I think this comes from good feedback from builders as well as the increasing design skills of the folks at Pygmy Boats. I am sure that the other companies offering stitch and glue kayak kits have also benefited from the experiences of the many Mess About builder community. We have an advantage in the kayaking world by having the rigorous boat tests of Sea Kayaker magazine, which does not discriminate on the basis of manufacturer or building material in testing kayaks in the field.

Todays kayak kits go together with minimal stress or torturing of the plywood. I remember fighting the ends to get them to align equally at the bow and stern in the first boats. I don’t seem to have that problem anymore. In fact, I have been experimenting with using fewer wire ties lately, especially on the decks for a cleaner look.  I believe this is a testament to the accuracy of the panel shapes more than my skill. Some of you other kayak builders may remember setting string lines for panel layout in the first kit instructions. So bold to leave all that out.

My Building Practice

Generally I stick to the well written and clear building manual furnished with Pygmy kits as my guide to construction. I still read it once through when I get a new kit. Over the years I have made some observations, changes, or deviations, to the building process that other builders might find interesting. Some that come to mind are as follows:

On my wife Holly’s Goldeneye Standard I just taped all the inside seams with 2 inch wide tape and a coat of epoxy. There is no inner cloth. Her boat is one of the lightest boats I have ever built. It has survived 14 years without any damage except a crack in the coaming which I caused practicing a wet entry. I would not recommend this technique except for those who really need the absolute lightest boat. Holly doesn’t need it, I just wanted to try it out. The drawback to omitting the cloth on the inside is very visible checking of the plywood, staining and some difficulty keeping the inside clean.  If someone asked me to build a boat with taped seams only, I would put four coats of epoxy on the inside surfaces for ease of maintenance. I would also seriously question the need. Why sweat one or two additional pound of boat. Carry less weight instead. Besides, these wooden boats are still much lighter than the plastic jobs.

My fiber-glassing skills have improved over the years. My goal in each task is to minimize sanding. I use techniques learned from the writings of the late Robb White. Mainly the assiduous use of stiff chip brushes to spread epoxy and always working with plenty of heat. Epoxy flows slowly. Most of the runs show up after you have cleaned up and are about to leave the shop. This is especially so when the shop and epoxy is cold. I use rasps and files to clean up joints and filled chines and don’t sweat the small drips and runs until I have all my coats on. Sanding the bare plywood is very dangerous with any kind of power sander (the surface veneer seems much thinner in todays plywood) so I tend to use a sanding block when I do sand. I have gotten into using a sharp chisel or a scraper to shave the edges of fiberglass tape, runs, and drips.

I have been installing a tiny inner gunwale in most boats lately. It provides a wider shelf for the thickened epoxy glue line when you put the deck on. It is usually a piece of ¼” quarter round or a piece of cedar about 1/4” x 1/2”, I glue it on with clothes pin clamps. One of the nice things about this little inner gunwale (the ¼” x ½” piece) is that it allows me to use small plastic electrical wire clamps, screwed to this inner gunwale, to attach rudder cable tubing. This is much cleaner than using thick globs of epoxy to hold down the tubing. Even with my wider glue joint at the gunwale, I still fillet and fiberglass tape the gunwale/deck joint on the inside.

We don’t have bulkheads or hatches in our personal boats. I like loading from the cockpit. If I am asked to install bulkheads and hatches, I install the bulkheads before I glue down the deck. It makes for neater and cleaner installation. When I am asked to do bulkheads after the deck is on I use a technique I learned from Guy Light. He first glasses the fiberglass tape to the bulkheads, with half hanging past the edge and lets it harden. He then installs the bulkhead. The tape bends to the hull sides and bottom as it is pushed into place and then he finishes the epoxy work. The other side of the bulkhead is filleted and taped using short lengths of pre-wetted fiberglass tape.  Guy has also been using peel ply over the bow and stern tape, at the keel wear strip, and the deck edge. It gives a very smooth finish, but is a little tricky to use. Practice first.

Because of our local climate and my shop --- cold in winter and hot in the summer -- I switch between the System Three epoxy supplied in the kits and West System Clear Coat epoxy. The less viscous West epoxy works better at low temperatures and I seem to get fewer runs and drips. I can’t say there is any difference in performance, but I do like to use the West epoxy for my final coats because it has some UV protection in it. I have never had a problem putting on a coat from one brand over another brand on the same boat.

Having a dedicated space to build boats is really valuable. Epoxy drips and sanding dust  is inevitable. I share my shop with my wife. She has her own woodshop with all the cool tools, but she finishes her fine art wood sculpture in the boat shop. Drips on the floor don’t bother us, but the sanding dust is an issue. I use a shop vac hooked up to my sander most of the time.

I  can fit in two boats under construction at one time. This is sometimes really advantageous as it mitigates some of the drawbacks of the stop and start nature of stitch and glue construction. As epoxy is hardening on one boat you can be doing another step on the other boat.

In Mike’s Osprey I wanted it super sturdy so I did a fairly extensive end pour before putting the deck on, (We often put in at a concrete ramp and the ends inevitably get dragged over the rough concrete) I also added a third layer of glass under the seat and added a layer of glass to the underside of the deck around the cockpit. It is still a light boat.

Final Finishing of the boats is the most difficult and longest task of each project. I mostly use a brush, sometimes a roller, and like to add color accents. Getting a good brushed on finish takes more patience than I seem to have. The boats look handmade, which I think looks better than a handmade kayak trying to look like a shiny automobile. Someday I will learn to spray. Bristol Finishes two part polyurethane is fantastic, but the solvents require a vapor mask. I have gone back to good quality varnish for my health.

Living with Pygmy Kayaks

The boats that come back to the shop for scratch repair and refinishing are generally in good shape. Folks take care of their boats because they love them. Keeping them out of the sun is so important. Keeping them clean and dry on the inside is essential.

I cannot emphasis enough that putting four coats of epoxy inside and out is really important, regardless of any weight savings. Inside, it makes it easier to keep the boat clean and water vapor has less chance of penetrating through the plywood. My Goldeneye has some exterior delamination after fifteen years without maintenance (the builders boat) I really think it is caused by moisture vapor on the inside getting through the plywood and under the fiberglass skin. ( yes, it is time that I fix it.) Putting on four or more coats of epoxy makes the epoxy part of the final finish. It builds thickness faster than varnish and helps give your finish depth. Most people want a clear varnish finish. In the beginning I did more decorating with stripes and color sections; now I spend my time getting the varnish job right. On the water, a little color shows up better, so I still think it is a good idea, but whatever the owner wants...

I try not to sand until I have built up those four coats of epoxy. Using a stiff chip brush and West System roller covers for the later coats keeps runs and drips to a minimum. Between coats I go over the boat with a file and sharp chisel to get rid of brush hairs and runs, keeping the sanding to one pass, using 100 grit down to 220 grit, between the last epoxy and the first varnish coat.


I keep a spray can of polyurethane varnish handy along with a scrubby. If you get a scratch that looks deep, spray it with the varnish. The scratch will disappear, but more importantly, the varnish will protect the fiberglass cloth. The fiberglass fabric, if exposed to the weather and water too long, will discolor. When you do get around to sanding the finish down and filling the scratch with epoxy, the glass cloth won’t disappear again. Then it is a nasty job of grinding and patching fiberglass to bring the looks back. Most folks just start painting their boats with solid colors at this stage of the game.

My goal when I build a boat is to get to a level of craftsmanship and finish that pleases the eye from ten feet or so. Of course there are goofs. These days, because of the thinness of the veneers, it is easy to sand the plywood just a little too much and expose the dark glue line, and sometimes, the deck edge lap joint isn’t perfect. The real objective is to get on the water in your own safe and sturdy kayak; just put some vinyl tape along the edge and go paddling.


Other boats that I have built have given other lessons. Strip planking a Wee Lassie to squeeze out the last ounce of weight was a challenge. Devising a sailing rig for the Bolger Cartopper gives me the chance to experiment knowing it will not be a dead loss. Building the Merry Wherry gave me insight into the work of another designer and stitch and glue construction on a larger scale. So far, I have not had any failures. I have two larger boats I still ‘need’ to build: an experimental asymmetrical catamaran of my own design and Phil Bolgers’ Beringaria design - A boat I have wanted to build for many years but have not begun because I absolutely want to know that I can start and finish it in the style it deserves.

That’s about it. I would like to thank Pygmy Kayaks for making such nice boats. It has allowed me a wonderful avocation building boats for other paddlers from time to time. Pygmy kayaks have given my family great adventures over the years. One of my greatest pleasures is to be with my friends paddling wooden boats that we have built. But the best is surely --the pleasure in the paddling.

Bruce E. Boyd


17894 Tyler Foote Road

Nevada City CA 95959


 © Bruce E. Boyd, Architecture & Planning 2012