Boat Building Woods

Wood has been a boat building staple for thousands of years. Many timbers across the globe have been utilized in boat building, be it a simple raft or elaborate sea-worthy schooners. Straight-grained wood figure that is free of knots and grain runout is prized in boat building. This type of lumber is stronger, easier to bend into shape, and less likely to allow water to penetrate. The wood should be light weight, but sturdy enough not to split, warp, or rupture. The ability of the wood to glue or take a finish, the natural waterproof ability, and rot resistance of the wood are other important qualities. The wood’s ability to take and hold nails is also important. Wood readily available is very important, as well.

Lake Bennett Boats

Many native cedars—northern white, Atlantic white, western red, yellow, and Port Orford, have been used extensively for boat building because they are light weight, easy to bend, naturally rot resistant and have a desirable strength-to-weight ratio. This wood is often used where weight might be a factor, such as for a canoe. Anybody who has portaged a canoe a few miles through a forest appreciates lighter weight construction. Bald cypress was used extensively for boat building in the south, because the wood is very rot resistant, glues well, and not prone to warpage and splitting. Longleaf pine has been used in southern boat building because it is strong, and it is still able to produce long, clear logs. This wood is also able to hold nails and other fasteners well. The major drawback of longleaf pine is its weight, so it is utilized where weight is not a factor. While white oak is not very light, it has closed pores that make it water tight, and is very puncture resistant, making it a preferred wood where weight was not an overriding factor, such as for decking material on larger boats. White pine grew very straight and tall, and were prized as ship masts during colonial times. The English Navy would identify the best examples, and place a King’s Mark on the tree, meaning the tree could only be legally cut and used by the Royal Navy. Osage orange is another very hard and heavy wood that is rot resistant, and was used extensively for long boats that were employed on the Chesapeake Bay. Black cherry has a pleasing color, and it is moderately strong, easy to bend, and fairly resistant to warpage. Douglas fir and Redwood are northwestern timbers that are prized for their strength, rot resistance, and ability to take a finish. Teak and mahogany are tropical woods that are used extensively for boat building due to their superior strength-to-weight ratio, rot resistance, workability, and natural beauty. Teak is the gold standard for boat building—strong, water tight, and very rot resistant. Boats built from teak have lasted for centuries. These days, the cost of teak makes it somewhat prohibitive for large scale production, so it is used mostly for accents and trim.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature note for 3/27/21