Wooden
Boatbuilders'
Trade
Association

Wood - why it's worth it...

A Summary

Most people agree that wood is a wonderful and beautiful material that can enhance our environment and enrich our lives. Not only are trees magnificent within our landscape but they can be managed and harvested to the benefit of our planet. Everywhere you look the versatility of wood emphasises the significance of this most natural of natural products.

In our modern world the relevance of using wood to build boats has never been stronger. We live in a technologically fast society where mass production has given a conformity and obsolescence to many of the things we buy.

As an antithesis to this corporate consumerism a wooden boat stands for an individual choice that has passed from tree to sea through the hands of craftsmen as an expression of form and function that has evolved over the centuries. The diversity of the wooden boat tradition is supported by the commitment of designers, builders and owners to a level of craftsmanship and excellence that is rarely found in the 21st century.

The process that brings someone to the decision to choose a wooden boat over a boat built of another material is more about confidence than almost anything else. Confidence and trust in the builder; confidence in the materials chosen, and confidence in the design. Choosing a boat that will appear unique and individual amongst a sea of white plastic conformity requires confidence as well as an understanding of wooden boats.

A detailed Introduction.

We live in a technology driven society where mass production has given a conformity and obsolescence to many of the things we buy. In contrast to this industrial consumerism a custom boat stands for an individual choice that has passed through the hands of craftsmen as an expression of form and function evolved over the centuries.

The process that brings someone to the decision to choose a custom design over a mass produced item is more about confidence than anything else. Confidence and trust in the builder; in the materials chosen, and in the design. Choosing a boat that will appear unique and individual amongst a sea of white plastic conformity requires confidence.

This set of very brief one page notes is designed to help in making the decisions on a custom build and to correct many out of date perceptions.

The notes cover :-

Over time it is intended to expand these notes on the website of the WBTA to provide as much guidance as we can on commissioning a custom boat

Pride of Ownership – what owners say

There is a something special about owning an artefact that is different from the run of the mill, and has been part of a process in which the builder and owner have participated in its commissioning

Here is selection of customer comments from an independent survey of customer views on their boats

"I could have bought a plastic printed out shell ----this - - - offers far more than that . I think it's a much nicer boat – it certainly looks a lot better and, yeah, it gives you pride in it".

"the fact that people are impressed does flatter one".

"it's not standard; it's the sort of boat which makes you want to go out and play with it and try things out, to experiment.. . . it's the sort of boat that you can do that sort of thing".

"it's unusual, distinctive so that you do have the sort of boat that people notice and come and talk to you about it"

"everybody loves it – I get so many compliments. One of my friends said,'this is far more effective than having pretty ankles!".

"I think it's the way that the design and the construction are two sides of one thing – both lead to a rather pretty end product"

"what sold me the boat was seeing it on the water because it just looked so nice sailing – that's what I went for in the end".

Working with a builder – Lightens the heart (and the wallet) but buys a unique experience

Working with a builder/designer to produce a boat tailored to your requirements is something which customers very much enjoy. This relationship with a craftsman to bring your ideas to fruition is a most satisfying process in its own right

Here are a few comments from owners

"oh ***** is delightful – his whole family is just completely delightful – such nice people to buy a boat from".

"I have just returned from a very pleasant trip to ******** to finalise the new boat which has come about by my creaking joints requiring more space to move about in. I am a previous owner of this companies smaller sloop. As a result I have spent the last 12 months being directly involved in this project and being able to apply my wish list. I opted to have the boat built in marine plywood epoxy sheathed. The joy of wood is that it is quick to build as a one off and easy to personalise the boat. Apart from this wood is lighter, creates less condensation and has a nice smell to it"

"I didn't consider any other boats seriously, no – not once I'd been over there and seen the builder".

"I want number 1 on my sail because I feel I've been instrumental in promoting the idea for this boat"

"I think actually that fits in with *****'s own approach in that he loves doing that kind of thing himself; you can get engaged in conversation with him in the whole process of exploring ideas and playing with boats. So, in a sense, that's an added thing – it's not just that the boat is there but actually you end up having a dialogue both before and after it".

"the relationship is fun .. I like *****, I like the place and the rapport with him really, the sort of personal aspect. The whole process of getting it was not a hassle but a pleasure".

Choice of materials for boats

Today the common materials are GRP (glass reinforced plastics) steel, aluminium, Carbon Reinforced Plastics (CRP) and Wood. Of these GRP is the most common. Looking at their strength GRP and wood compare reasonably but are far weaker than Aluminium, steel, or carbon

However because wood is so very light it can be made thicker, and thickness is a major contributor to strength ( a 75 mm beam is almost 30 times the deflection strength of a 25 mm beam).

Ranking the materials in terms of the strength of a beam of the same weight gives a very different picture, with wood a clear winner

Materials Strength

Weight is important. More weight needs more power to push the vessel through the water, which means bigger engines, more sail area, and more structure to support the engines/rig.

Wood is therefore a good choice for custom boats. It is easily worked into the complex shapes of boats. Hull shapes are not constrained by the need to pop out of a mould. More elegant effects are easily possible. Even for production boats computerised cutting is eroding the cost advantage of GRP over wood.

As an organic material wood requires a very different understanding from the man-made materials it competes with because of the huge variety of species with wildly different properties and the need to have the craftsmanship to utilise these properties in a hull able to stand up to the sea environment

Effect of modern glues and coatings

The most common demonstration of the power of modern glues to transform the application of wood is plywood. It was apparently invented according to WIKIPEDIA in 3,400 BC by the Mesopotamians to better utilise scarce resources of wood. In its modern form it grew as an industry in the USA but it was only with the invention of truly waterproof glues in the 1930's that it became the ubiquitous product it is today

Wood does however decay, but there is a vast difference between the durability of different species. Poor choice of species has been responsible for the creating a view that wood is inevitably inferior to man made products. In house construction windows soffits and other external structures have been made (and still are) with totally inappropriate species that have little or no resistance to rot.

Rot in wood is caused by fungi. They need four things to thrive :- the right temperature, oxygen, moisture and food. They particularly like sapwood which is richer in carbohydrates. For boats we generally have to accept that all four are present and that the problem becomes one of

Whilst new glues such as epoxy have opened up new construction techniques it is in the realm of coatings that epoxy resins have transformed the maintenance tasks in wood construction. By encapsulating the wood in an impervious coating of epoxy the wood is maintained in a dry state so preventing the rot fungi getting taking root.

Epoxy resins also stabilises the surface of wood so that paint coatings applied over epoxy last for many years without maintenance. This is a relatively new area but examples of 9 year old un-maintained paint finishes are beginning to appear setting new benchmarks in terms of maintenance and durability for wooden boats

The chemical industry continues to turn out better and better coatings and glues so this is an area where wood will continue to benefit

Sustainability

Most people agree that wood is a beautiful material that can enhance our environment and enrich our lives. Not only are trees magnificent within our landscape, but they can be managed and harvested to the benefit of our planet. Everywhere you look the versatility of wood emphasises the significance of this most natural of natural products

The sustainability of wood is in marked contrast to its principal competitor - Glass Reinforced Plastic - as a material of choice for boat hulls

GRP is a particularly difficult to re-cycle and is usually broken up for landfill or ground into small pieces to re-use as a filler. The machines that do so wear quickly due to the hardness of the glass

Landfill and incineration were the simplest method of disposal accounting for more than 90% of composite waste. New European waste directives are putting mounting pressure on such practices. As a result the cost of disposal will rise resulting in more owners preferring to litter our waters with hulks that will never be used

Four out of the five photographs in the next sheet were all taken on one small estuary. Every estuary or creek has a similar story where boats made from industrial materials prove too costly to dispose of

As a result of these directives there is some research in hand on trying to find a solution to the problem of recycling GRP in an economical way but as yet there is no clear way forward and GRP hulks will continue to litter our waterways for years to come.

Effects of GRP

Wood

Further reading will be available soon...