Shipyard Memories #2: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, Backbone and Framing

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by shipwright posted 11-13-2010 03:49 AM 5489 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, A Trip to the Sawmill Part 2 of Shipyard Memories series Part 3: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, Bending the Ribs »

Besides the yellow cedar which will be used for planking, deck framing and various timbers and knees, an assortment of other woods and materials have been gathered together from their various sources and the actual building can now begin. The traditional “laying of the keel” was not however, the first step. In this case the main body of the keel will be the lead ballast casting which we will come to much later so for now the backbone setup will consist of the erection of the stem, sternpost, keelson and the stubby bits of the keel that will fit in front of and behind the lead keel.

In the first photo the stem has been assembled and mounted on the forward end of the keelson. The stem was cut from 6” thick gumwood. These pieces are too big and heavy to cut on the bandsaw so they are roughed out with a chainsaw and fitted with chisels, power planes and final fitted by repeatedly running a handsaw through the joint until it fits perfectly. The fit is checked by chalking one side and fitting them together and then checking for chalk transfer. At the waterline this assembly is about 18” through….. very strong. The pieces are bolted together with 1/2” galvanized steel rod bolts.

The next photo shows the sternpost assembly with the top part of the propeller aperture ellipse. The sternpost itself is douglas fir and the deadwood is yellow cedar. There are some interesting locking joints here. This photo also shows the bit of actual keel that will fill in behind the lead and the after end of the keelson with the pockets chopped in anticipation of the ribs. These parts are douglas fir.

The next shows most of the building stations erected on the keelson. The gap for the lead keel is easily seen here. This is the first real chance to see her in three dimensions and excitement is running high. There aren’t enough hours in the day. If you look closely you may notice that the bottom ends of the station frames have a big jog in them making the bottom foot or so much bigger than the rest of the frame. This will be easier to explain later, but it’s interesting.

Now the stations are all up and the permanent stringers are being fitted. Normally the stringers go in after the ribbing is done but for the same reason as the jogs mentioned above we had to do it this way. I will explain when we get there. The stringers are clear 2” x 3 1/2” douglas fir.

This was from the start and still is one of the nicest angles from which to view this hull. Her sweet lines are the work of yacht designer and personal friend Jay R Benford. During this setup period constant checks are being made to assure that everything is plumb, level and square. A small mistake here can cause a lot of grief later. As I remember the sternpost was 6” x 6” and at this point has been rough shaped as has the stem.

The permanent stringers alone don’t give enough support or shape to bend the ribs over so “ribbands” are added to fill in the spaces and the sheer clamp and beam shelf (deck edge members) are fitted to strengthen the frame for the stresses of bending 1 1/2” oak. Again you will notice that the ribbands at the bottom fit over the stem while those above fit against the side of the stem.

In the last picture the deck framing has been added because with the ribbing method we are going to use, the stronger we can make the frame the better. Bending all those ribs puts a tremendous strain on the whole structure. The deck framing is all yellow cedar and for the most part it is sided 1 1/2” with strong beams larger.

Tomorrow we’ll fire up the steam box and bend some ribs. See you there!

As usual all feedback and questions are welcome.


-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

10 comments so far

View Schwieb's profile


1877 posts in 3697 days

#1 posted 11-13-2010 04:19 AM

Wow! Incredible!! There is simply nothing more beautiful that wood boat. I really appreciate seeing this series of photos.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View sras's profile


4969 posts in 3365 days

#2 posted 11-13-2010 05:16 AM

Having built a strip kayak, this looks familiar, but WAY MORE cool! I can just imagine seeing the finished ship with a friend and saying “Yeah, I built that”. This is so much fun to see – thanks again for sharing.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 4009 days

#3 posted 11-13-2010 08:46 AM

Very interesting. Thank you!

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 3176 days

#4 posted 11-13-2010 08:52 PM

Paul, as boat builder, you built what I dreamt of. As a young man, I was already a huge fan of Benford’s work. Studied his designs, read the books. I worked as boat builder for many years but South Africa is the wrong place to be if one wants to build wooden boats. It was mostly repair work, refits, laying new decks, one very nice restoration and some small wooden boats. Wanting to build complete yachts, I ended up building a few steel yachts with traditional lines and gaff rigs. At least the rigs, deck work and interior was timber!

I envy you (in a nice way…) and enjoy the blogs! It puts me on my own trip down memory lane and might just inspire me to post some more boats….need to have my old photos scanned….

I look forward to the next installment!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3092 days

#5 posted 11-13-2010 09:04 PM

I’m following this wonderful time capsule and sharing it with my Faither.
He built timber and canvas canoes & aircraft.
He also thanks you for sharing what must be many folks dream.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View shipwright's profile


8185 posts in 3033 days

#6 posted 11-13-2010 11:10 PM

Thanks again all of you for the encouragement. I don’t think this is a subject that a lot of people here are very interested in but it is worth doing for the ones who are.
Sras, yes it is very cool to see a boat that I have built, restored or even worked on and think to myself “I did that”.
Div, Thanks and I’m glad you are enjoying this. I met Jay in about 1971 and have built about 500’ of his boats. We have referred each other business several times. A good symbiosis. I’m actually mentioned in several of his books.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Woodwrecker's profile


4211 posts in 3811 days

#7 posted 11-13-2010 11:23 PM

As a guy from Chicago, this is like looking in to another world for me Paul.
And it is fascinating seeing it come to life.
Thanks a bunch for sharing this.
It’s very cool.

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3254 days

#8 posted 11-14-2010 05:50 AM

Wow, what a show of craftsmanship! I would have loved to have worked with you on this but I probably wouldn’t have passed muster! ;-{ I enjoyed following your blog and appreciated you doing so. Thanks.

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Manitario's profile


2703 posts in 3119 days

#9 posted 11-14-2010 06:45 AM

Amazing work. I don’t understand any of it, but if I had another life I think I’d want to be a shipwright. Really enjoying the blog!

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View stefang's profile


16209 posts in 3570 days

#10 posted 11-02-2013 05:49 PM

I was trying to find a woodworking analogy to wooden boat building, but I am having a hard time finding one. My first thought was ‘artistic housebuilding’, but that certainly does not do justice to the art, science/knowledge and level of craftsmanship that goes into boat building. I guess there is no real analogy to find in the woodworking world that can compare to it. This boat is a good example of that thought.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics