How to build a modern wooden boat

Although there are many die-hard traditionalists who are practicing the art of building wooden boats the old-fashioned way, using skills and tools little changed from the days when all boats were built of wood, the tremendous resurgence of interest in wooden boats is due to the advent of modern adhesives and the composite construction techniques they make possible.

Wood has been used as a boat building material by practically every culture around the world that needed the means to take to the water, its advantages being ready availability in most places, easy workability, low cost, and good strength to weight characteristics. The biggest drawback to wood, however, is that it rots, and boats built of wood are also subject to attack by wood-eating organisms such as the teredo, or shipworm that is common in warm seawater.

Wood was starting to fall by the wayside in boatbuilding in the years after World War II, as new technology made it possible to build almost any kind of boat out of aluminum, steel or fiberglass. But there was another kind of wood product introduced around this time that was not previously available and that opened up more possibilities for boat building in wood.

That product was the sheet material known as plywood. Boat designers realized they could draw easy to build wooden boats by taking advantage of these big, flat sheets of wood that could be cut in clever ways to make surprisingly curved surfaces that could be adapted to almost any hull design. In addition, plywood made interior fitting out much easier on boats that required a lot of structural bulkheads and cabinetry.

Along with the development of plywood, better waterproof adhesives were formulated and a new method of boat construction using fiberglass and plastic resin came into widespread use. Wooden boat builders soon adapted fiberglass lamination techniques to wooden boat construction, using layers of fiberglass cloth saturated in resin to form a tough, protective sheathing over the wooden hull.

This completely eliminated the problem of leaky seams common in traditional wood construction and provided a barrier against boring marine organisms. The result of this marriage of fiberglass and wood construction was a new type of composite wooden boat that would not rot and that could potentially have a lifespan equivalent to a boat built of steel, aluminum, or solid fiberglass.

Using this new technology, several methods of wooden boatbuilding have been perfected making it easier for amateurs and professionals alike to build a quality wooden hull. Plywood, as stated above, is especially easy to work with and boats are built from it in two ways: using the plywood to cover a wooden frame of interior bulkheads and stringers, similar to traditional boat construction, and by a unique method known as stitch and glue.

Stitch and glue construction involves literally sewing the precut hull panels together with wire “stitches”, then gluing the seams with epoxy resin and fiberglass, removing the stitches and then glassing the entire outside of the hull. This method produces quickly built boats that need little complicated interior framing. It is only possible with the use of super-strong epoxy resin.

Another method of building with wood, epoxy, and fiberglass is laminated construction, in which thin strips of wood are bent around a mold that determines the boat’s shape and is glued together and then sheathed in fiberglass. Laminated boats are built by two methods: strip building, which is one simple layer of longitudinal strips formed over the molds, and cold molding, which involves three or more layers of strips oriented diagonally across the molds.

Strip building is frequently used for ultra-light canoes, kayaks, and other small boats, while cold molding can be used to build large yachts of the finest quality. Boats built by either method are not limited in their shape by flat panels as in plywood construction, and so can have the same graceful curves and lines as the most complex fiberglass boats.

Modern wooden boat construction is in on-going development as both craftsman and wood technologists continue to evolve and perfect the many ways it can be improved. Despite all the synthetic materials available to designers today, wood is still an amazing material for boat building and has excellent structural properties that make it hard to beat. There is little doubt by anyone in the marine industry that wooden boats are here to stay and that those who appreciate the natural beauty of this material will continue to buy boats made of wood.

Modern wooden boat

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