Above is the Drake 19, designed by Clint Chase

Wood is Good
by Walter Baron

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.