|Wood is a good material to build boats out of.
Anyone considering a new boat should give some thought to a wooden boat. Here are some
reasons why you should.
Boats have been built out of wood for thousands of years. Both
boat design and materials technology have been evolving from the original hollowed log ,
and a modern wooden boat has benefited greatly from this long design history. Traditional
plank on frame construction makes use of modern fasteners, adhesives, and a better
understanding of materials in general, to produce boats of great beauty and longevity.
The boats being built by Gannon & Benjamin of Martha's Vineyard are local examples
of this type of construction. Strip planking, in which square or rectangular strips of
wood are glued together around removable molds instead of wide planks being fastened to
frames, produces sturdy, seamless hulls with smooth interiors. Modern epoxy resins
combined with fiberglass sheathing results in low maintenance finishes. Arey's Pond Boat
Yard has used this construction to produce a 16' cat boat and a 20' power cruiser.
Another modern technique is called cold molding. This method involves layers of thin
planking glued over molds or stringers to produce curved, one-piece plywood hulls. These
methods of construction are best suited to larger, displacement type hulls such as sail
boats, but boats of all sizes are built using them.
There are two construction methods which I find more suitable for small boats. One is
called composite construction, also known as stitch and glue, which uses shaped panels of
marine plywood joined with epoxy resins and heavy fiberglass tape. The resulting hull is
then sheathed with epoxy resin and fiberglass cloth, producing a boat which benefits from
the light weight and high strength of wood as a core material,joined and protected by
modern plastics . The other method is glued-lap construction, which is like the
traditional lapstrake technique, except that marine plywood is used for planking and is
glued together at the laps. This style of building uses no permanent frames, creating a
strong, light boat with a clean interior.
- Wood is a light-weight, high-strength material. When properly engineered in a composite
structure, the resulting boat has the same strength as a conventional fiberglass boat at
about half the weight. This allows the purchase and use of smaller motors, resulting in
reduced operating expenses for the same performance. Or, in the case of limited power
sources such as sails or oars, better performance.
- Wood is versatile. Wood construction can be high tech or low tech, suitable for small or
large boats, used by professionals pushing the edges of performance and design, and also
by back-yard builders putting together a kit boat with their kids. Recent examples of the
above would include offshore racing powerboats built of light weight marine plywood,
spruce, epoxy, and fiberglass, and 60 twelve foot skiffs built by family teams at the last
Wooden Boat Show . Wood is a familiar material, readily available, workable with common
tools. Wooden boats can be easily and reliably repaired. Even wood's ability to rot can be
an advantage. At the end of it's useful life an old wooden boat can be allowed to rot back
into the earth, or recycled by other means.
- Wood is quiet. Wood's ability to absorb vibration results in a reduced sound level, an
important factor in fishing.
- Wood can be low maintenance. All boats need maintenance. Motors and bottom paint need
annual attention , as do synthetic sails and rigging, no matter what hull they power.
Acres of bright work need the same care on a wood or fiberglass hull. Paint on a composite
boat can last 3 or 4 years, and is not much more work than compounding and waxing. Any
boat can be neglected.
- Wood is beautiful. The infinite variety of color and grain pattern, the shapes produced
by the tension induced in bending, and the patina gained by use combine to produce a
unique expression . Wood looks good and ages well. Wood also feels good. Wooden boats have
a nice feel to them, a warmth that invites touching and use. The best thing for a wooden
boat is to use it often, and keep it clean.
- Wood is good. Consider it for your next boat.
Old Wharf Dory Company
170 Old Chequessett Neck Road
Wellfleet, MA 02667
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