Solid Wood for Boatbuilding

Boatbuilding Lumber

What Makes Good Boatbuilding Lumber? First, the lumber should be largely "clear," or free of knots. Wood won't bend properly if there are knots of any size, although knots smaller than a pencil eraser seldom do any real harm. Secondly, the grain should be as straight as possible. Watch for run-out, or areas where the grain runs off the board, and for twisty grain. These affect the strength and bending properties of the wood. Third, the material should take and hold fasteners strongly. Wood that is too hard to drive a nail in, or too soft to accept a screw without splitting, is to be avoided. Last, avoid warped boards. Warping is caused by changes in the humidity of the wood. Minor warping is usually canceled out when bent into a boat, but severe warpage will make it frustrating to fit a part.

What Types Of Wood Are Best? A huge variety of species are acceptable for solid wood parts in stitch-and-glue boats. Let one thing be your guide: the wood must take glue well. Oily woods such as teak or white oak tend to repel epoxy. Softer woods like spruce, pine, fir, cedarcypress, juniper, and redwood glue well and are likely to be available in knot-free lengths. Don't worry much about rot; thoroughly epoxy-coated boats are largely exempt from that terror.

Don't Be Afraid To Scarf. Of course, it's preferable to obtain lengths of wood as long as the parts you need, but this is seldom possible. You'll be cutting a simple 8:1 scarf to stretch stringers, rubrails, or masts to the lengths you need. Scarfs are very strong and won't affect the bending properties of the wood. If you must choose between short lengths of good quality lumber or long lengths of questionable quality, take the shorter pieces and plan on a few scarfs. It's better than working around knots.

Where Should I Shop For Lumber? My first instinct is always to search the Yellow Pages for the smallest, dirtiest looking little country lumberyard. In my experience such establishments often have the finest lumber, delivered straight from the mill, and you'll get better advice than at the Home Supply Barn. It is possible, however, for you to find good lumber at the big home supply chains, especially if you comb patiently through the stacks. Ask local artisans where they get their lumber.

What Should I Use For Sailboat Masts? Several of our designs call for freestanding wooden masts. Obviously, you'll want the cleanest picks from the pile for these critical struts. A traditional choice is Sitka Spruce, but hardly anyone can afford it anymore — even if they can find it. I've built a number of masts from Douglas Fir, which is clear and strong but can be rather heavy. Unlike most woods, Douglas Fir boards with loose, not tight, grain are best. I've also built a dozen or so masts from western red cedar, which is very light and available in beautifully clear lengths, but it has a very strong and splintery grain which can "tear out" easily, so shape it cautiously with sharp tools. A good material for masts is plain Spruce, which has the right combination of strong grain and light weight that makes perfect spars. It's very hard to find clear boards, but small tight knots are acceptable.