A Master Class in Wooden Boat Building


A Master Class in Wooden Boat Building

In the past I have published several links to retired Australian boat builder, Ian Smith’s blog (Smithy’s Boatshed) on the building of his 24’ Ranger Class yacht. Today’s link is to the full blog; it is a truly amazing record of how to build a wooden boat. If Ian was to appear on the TV program Mastermind, his specialist topic would be ‘Australian Open Boats’, the man is a living legend. Read / view the story, if you are too busy, bookmark it for later reference.

(thanks to Robin Elliott for pointing me in the direction of Ian’s build / blog)  






Back in 2012, in the days before waitematawoodys.com , I posted a story on the WoodenBoat magazines online forum about the building of Spangalang, a 14’6” Whilly sail boat, designed by Iain Oughtred.

She was built by Gary Drummond, who lives in Nelson & is the father of a good personal friend. Gary started the build in May 2011 & finished her in March 2012.

I followed the build with much interest & was amazed by Gary’s build quality & attention to detail. The boat won best new build at the Lake Rotoiti (Sth Island) classic boat show in 2012.

Last week I was contacted by Gary who sadly is having to look for a new owner / custodian for Spangalang. It’s not often that any Ian Oughtred craft pop up for sale in NZ & even rarer for one of this quality.

Interested parties could initially contact Gary via email    gvdrumdoon@gmail.com

I have reproduced Gary’s story on the build – it’s a good read – Enjoy.

PROJECT – WHILLY BOAT   (as told by Gary Drummond)

“This is my fourth boat project. For many years I have been looking for a suitable dinghy design and finally after checking out many designs settled on this one admiring the lovely sheer line. The other criteria was that it had to fit in my existing workshop. After cramming all my machinery in a huddle between two doors there was enough room including a fold down plan desk.

The frames were all 25mm dressed cypress fastened with reclaimed 65mm roofing screws and Titebond adhesive. The building frame was bolted to the concrete floor which allowed me to pack and level to adjust for the uneven floor  and a slight bow in the main 140×45 bed beams. All of the framing timber came from trees that we had planted years earlier in our small forestry block.

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(Building frames setup)


STEMS – The stems were laminated using Rock or Cork Elm (Ulmus thomasaii) as the timber was recommended for boatbuilding in Iain Oughtred’s book “Clinker Plywood BB Manual” and also in Clinker Boatbuilding by John Leather. I had previously flitched some trees we had growing on our creek bank and was aware on how well it bends. Not wanting to set up a steam box I first tried a wet soak for a day then clamping in the mould with additional spring chocks and left it to dry out. That was successful but it was quite easy to pull the laminates round the curve dry and clamp in place, so that was the method adopted. The building notes suggested a 3mm spring each end to the curve, but after release from the jig 5mm would have been better to allow for the relaxation or creep after gluing.

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(Stem pre-soaked bending trial)

 PLANKING – I discussed plywood species and potential suppliers with two local boat builders and the recommendation was, “Meranti Ply” Part of our local coastline has beautiful golden sandy beaches compete with rocky granite headlands and submerged rocks, so reckoned a heavier garboard strake could be an advantage. I settled on the 9mm for the garboard and 6mm for the upper strakes. (8mm thickness is unavailable in NZ)

It was only when I was cutting out the garboard planks that I realised all laminates were not of the same species. On enquiry the suppliers comment was “Well 100% Meranti would be expensive and it is normal to have a mixed hardwood core” After all of my research on attributes of marine ply I had missed this one. A usual, don’t assume anything. The supplier was in another city so I didn’t see the ply before purchase. By comparison the 6mm ply appears to be 100% Meranti.

With some careful placement of the templates I managed to cut both of the garboard planks from one 2440×1220 sheet. Still I assume that is how it was supposed to be. I have been using my Hitachi jigsaw to cut out planks and have found that hollow ground Makita 2mm tpi blades give a good clean cut without the usual hairy edge.

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(Fastening the Garboard plank)

Bending the 9mm garboad plank to the stems seemed a bit of a mission for a start, until I devised a simple lever system with some short rope ends fastened through the frame one side, timber batten and light chain to hook over screw head fixed to each mould. This was especially useful when fixing the second plank, being unable to use clamps to the keelson. I have delayed fastening the ply until after the epoxy has set up for a couple of days and after trimming down to the stem-keelson surface. This was so I could locate a nail line that would be below my plane blade.

(Fastening the second Garboard plank 9mm+ ply)

 To locate the plank template and ply strake precisely in the same place each time for fitting and especially when at the glue stage I drilled two push fit holes for 50mm nails (minus heads) just below the 20mm joint through the template and into two of the station moulds. When I was happy with my template, marked and cut the paired planks about 2mm oversize (Not forgetting to drill the two location holes). Next I sandwiched the template between the two ply strakes and the faired the ply carefully to fit the template. On the second plank I glued the scarf as part of the plank gluing operation. The scarf was just clamped between two 40mm wide timber pieces without any location screws at the upper edge and to my horror after cleaning up and eyeing over the upper edge noticed a slight out of a  fair alignment. Oh well with a little luck it should take up with the fitting and fastening of the next strake. Just one temporary screw would have kept all in line. Oh bother.

For additional temporary fastenings in between clamps I have been using 30mm “Button Head” screws which worked well except for at the finishing stage having to plug the many screw holes. The plank scarf misalignment didn’t go away, I just had to rectify it before proceeding further it so purchased the second Japanese Saw without the backing rib, recut the epoxied scarf and also cut back 200-300 along the glue line between planks all to allow some movement. To ensure the correct fair line along the strake I cut and fitted a curved beam between the adjacent frames that I could clamp the re-cut scarf to achieve a fair line.

When fitting the outer stems, skeg and brass wear strips I made a sketch locating all of the screw locations to ensure when fastening the next layer I didn’t end up drilling a screw hole into an existing one below, however I did have one senior moment and had to move one hole.

This brings to mind the fragility of the posidrive square head silicon brass screws when forgetting to back off the torque setting on the drill. After shearing off a few I resorted to a hand held square driver for the final tightening.

The brass wear strips were, for better or worse polished and coated to minimise later tarnishing. When countersinking for the screw heads using a suitably reground 10mm twist drill the drill picked up the brass strip and a formed neat 10mm hole clean through. A moment of dilemma as I didn’t want to alter the screw spacing and have a spare hole. Anyway I didn’t check on the potential difference between brass and solder and soldered up the hole and started again this time with the strip in the drill stand vice. Since then I am told when modifying a twist drill for countersinking grind back the spiral cutting edge to near vertical so it is working with a scraping shearing action. This modification has since worked satisfactorily on some stainless steel.

Turnover – At Christmas time with the help from daughter Paula and two nephews we carried the hull out on the lawn and made the turnover, replacing it back on the build frame. I took care to reposition the hull exactly beneath my overhead centre line fixed to the roof truss collar tie and then set up a system of props and braces making sure all was vertical so I could make use of the level to align some of the interior components.

Interior Fitout – The mahogany strips for the gunwale needed scarf jointing in two places over the full length so set up a jig for cutting them on the circular saw which was quick and accurate, but in hind sight wonder if hand formed scarfs with the plane (once I got the hang of it) would have been just of quick. A lesson learned. I machined the qunwale strips to final dimensions, when I should have allowed say 3mm extra width for the final top trim of the four laminations incl, the ply sheer strake. To form the quarter round edges to the gunwale I cut them using the router hand held and inevitably left some black burn marks which would require a filler to disguise, so have left them as is just as a reminder of my folly.

Once again, sometimes a hand formed shape can be equally crafted successfully without the potential problems inherent in using power tools.

I formed the breasthooks from southern rata and the individual pieces when finally formed almost looked like small pieces of a sculpture. I opted for two 13mm oak dowels to reinforce the two halves. Setting up a jig on the lathe to drill the dowel holes was more of a challenge than making the dowel pins. Just this small operation to form and fit the two breasthooks ran away with three days.

Interior layout – Locally we have several tidal estuaries and a maximum high tide of some 4.8 metres and so decided on the pivoting centre board as being the best option for these conditions.  This option required the center thwart to be moved aft 200 mm. Next I decided to include the stern sheets (Aft decking) for which the forward bulkhead is positioned 150mm forward of station#6. Now, all of that was hopefully simple until you get in to start rowing only to find that with my 1.8m tall frame I couldn’t straighten my legs out for a comfortable rowing stance with the shortened cockpit length.

 Well at the Lake it wasn’t a problem to sit on the stern sheets and row looking forward and it also helped in keeping clear of all of the other canoes, yachts, skiffs, steamboats etc, during the drive past. To sort the problem, I have formed a shaped clip-on thwart extension that sits over the center case. The only potential problem being that the seating position will be further away from rowlocks requiring a bit more back bending when rowing.

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Protective Coatings – The complete hull firstly had two coats of West Epoxy. The exterior then had two prime coats, two undercoats, and two finish coats of paint, all wet and dry sanded I could only find one small flat on the second strake. Those final glossy finishes sure show up any earlier mistakes, and at that stage  too late to rectify just like the odd pencil line I failed to erase before applying the epoxy. The interior is all bright finish using a two pot varnish.The thwarts and floor boards received an matt oil finish with “Deks Olje”

Timber Spars – My idea was to obtain some unwanted spars and recut and reshape them to meet the requirements. Well what was a light rectangular boom to be formed into the yard, was after I had started splitting it longitudinally turned out to be a hollow spar and what initially was to be a simple say cut and re-glue turned out to be a little more complicated. On completion though I must say that it is light. A similar complication with the mast thought to be hollow as it was so light, I think it is spruce timber. After detailed checking of the diameter I found that it required widening in one direction to achieve the design. So it has ended up also as hollow spar. Next was the boom. A friend of a friend had a surplus oregan flagpole which after splitting it on the bandsaw and being careful not to cut it with a longitudinal wind managed to machine two suitable pieces from it. Having two hollow spars couldn’t resist now running the router along each piece to hollow them out. All went well but I will be holding my breath when under sail and the first big gust swoops in.

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 Rudder- I chose the swivel rudder option and it was all fairly straightforward until I came to choosing the gudgeon and pintals.  No one locally seemed to have anything like what I needed and I am now wary of purchasing fittings from the net as the nice pictures you see and the product you receive aren’t always the match your expectations. Anyway I drew up what I needed and had a Stainless Steel Fabricator make them without any fastening holes and extra length to allow for fitting modifications. There just aren’t that many double ended boats around to get any ideas from. Luckily there was sufficient room behind the formed pin holes to be able to redrill a set of new holes in a straight line for the pins with the pintal frame sitting snugly against the curved stem. I should have drawn them on the full sized on plan and then could have worked out the offset hole positions pre fabrication. Next time.

The Tiller is laminated cork elm with a 10mm hardwood dowel either side if the slot which fixes over the rudder head to ensure it doesn’t part company.

Choosing the name – With both sides of our family being of Scottish decent and the boat design coming from the Shetland Island the name just had to reflect all of this history. Firstly I scoured Celtic Scottish on line dictionaries and finally resorted to making contact with a relative from the Shetlands. He supplied me with a list and that was it.

Building Aids – Masking tape – should have used it more often to eliminate the many epoxy runs that are difficult to clean away under clamps.

Skarsten Scraper – great for removing epoxy runs and gauging grooves in the ply.

Steel Scraper – As well as straight I have made several with varying curvatures from old band saw blades.

Cam Clamps – Hadn’t seen one until I read Iain Oughtreds book, made a prototype and then a few more with a 200mm reach. Clamping pressure is not as great as a G Clamp, but is quite adequate for clamping glue jobs and just holding things.

Drawings  – These were good to work from, but, always read the fine print as I have in the rack a 1.97m half made boom. The actual Balanced Lugsail boom was 2.62m long.

Rigging – Iain Oughtred directs the builder to previously written articles, none of which I managed to locate. However on one of the many web searches via the site “The Mother of all Maritime Links”  http://www.boat-links.com  From this site I found just what I needed at,  http://www.storerboatplans.com/GIS/GISRigging.html

Now for some rope and fittings and we will finely be under sail on the water.

 Conclusion – This has been a great project and has drawn many favorable comments. Apart from the personal satisfaction of having created this thing of beauty it has been a great brain teaser. Every day there have been problems to solve such as how do I, set that out, clamp it, etc., etc.,. I am sure the brain has had a good workout and I will miss all of the challenges.

However, getting out on the water is going to be fantastic.”



The Continuing Issue of Electrochemical Damage To Our Wooden Boats – Lady Ellen


The Continuing Issue of Electrochemical Damage To Our Wooden Boats

 I recently received an update from Bruce Mitchinson on the restoration work underway on his 36’,  McGeady built (c.1950) classic launch, Lady Ellen. Unfortunately the old lady has a been struck with a dose of electrolysis.

You can see when the secondary shaft log was removed, electrolysis had destroyed the planking around the plate fastenings. The same problem around the main shaft log, and strut fixings, through structural members, which were all bonded together. The affected timber has been removed and new kauri blocks glued in and around the shaft log, keel bolts and floors.

The to-do list this week includes laminating up pilularis frames insitu, to replace the 15 broken, or electrolysis affected members that have been removed.This will complete the inside structural work, below the waterline, that had been put off until things dried out enough.

Other work has seen the old fuel tank removed and a clean up around the bilge in the engine bay Following this Bruce will be working his way forward with stripping and refastening on the outside of the hull.

The shaft, prop and drive couplings have gone down to Whangaparoa for adjustment, set up, and balancing.

Hats off to Bruce for doing the best of Lady Ellen. To read more on this problem, the causes & remedies – visit Chris McMullen’s WW story – link below. Its the most referenced story on WW.


Read more on her past & current restoration work at the links below.



A Woody Trip Out West



Steve Cranch

A Woody Trip Out West – NZ Traditional Boat Building School Re-opens

I received an invite the other day in the mail (nice for once to not be via email) to the re-opening of New Zealand Traditional Boat Building School. Getting it made me very happy – firstly, because we all need the school to be a success & secondly because I personally have fond memories of the original school (read more below), I attended numerous CYA meetings there & also participated in two events – the Robert Brooke – Caulking / carvel planking workshop & a basic boat building techniques course that ran one night a week over winter. Learnt so much & meet some great people.

Today’s function was to share the vision for the future of the school & to meet some of the past & present stakeholders.

I’ll let Steve Cranch tell you the story:

“After nearly four years in recess the New Zealand Traditional Boat Building School has just re-opened its doors in new premises on the Te Atatu peninsula.

The school was founded in 2005 by trustees Robert Brooke, Harold Kidd, Bruce Tantrum and Ron Jamieson and successfully ran wooden boat building courses at Hobsonville for seven years before being forced to move to make way for the new housing development.

During that time hundreds of students attended classes on everything from traditional boat building to apprenticeship training and small boat building in which students built their own small boats to take home, often involving a son or daughter in the process.

Our new premises are much smaller than previous so we have been forced to restructure how we run our courses and a new program is being developed. It will kick off with a full day seminar on winter maintenance. Six specialist speakers will present on topics ranging from Diesel engine maintenance, Batteries and Electrical, Sails and Covers, Marine sealants, Paint systems and common splicing all common winter maintenance issues for the larger boat owner. Following on from this will be a course on re-ribbing clinker built boats and a laminated stand up paddleboard paddle course plus many more to come”.

In a few days when the dates are finalized, I’ll publish them on ww. I would encourage you to support the school; it’s a big step forward in bringing increased visibility & sureness to the wooden boating movement. There is a website, currently getting the final finishing touches, so I’ll let you know the link to that later as well.

Today was also a wee bit of a reunion with a lot of woodys catching up. The best chat was in the car park, where I got to view a very cool RC model of the Bailey designed ex Waitemata Fisheries trawler – ‘Waiwera’ (photos below). Built by Murray White. Stunning attention to detail.



How To Steam Ribs – Sailing Sunday

How To Steam Ribs – Sailing Sunday

Robin Elliott sent me the youtube link below to Australian Ian Smith ribbing the 24-foot Ranger class gaffer he’s building for himself. Its good viewing. Ranger, was designed by E.C. (Cliff) Gale and built by Billy Fisher in 1933 & is still going strong under the ownership of Cliff’s son Bill Gale and races with others built to her design with the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, photos below, again ex Robin.


Ranger Aust 2

Ranger Aust 1

The below photo of the yacht Kotiri B20 was sent to me by Lesley Brennan, who commented on ww that she had come across an old B/W 6×4 photo with Kotiri hand written in pencil on it. Lesley will give the photo to the most deserving – no doubt the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust?



Do You Have One Of These?

I have asked before but the repairs did not last – so has any woody got a switch like the ones below in their bottom draw?

WW t-shirt if you have a spare one 😉




The Most Referenced / Viewed Story On WaitemataWoodys


What Is The Most Referenced / Viewed Story On WaitemataWoodys ?

By a clear mile it is Chris McMullen’s story on electro-chemical damage to our classic wooden boats. link here > https://waitematawoodys.com/2015/05/15/electrochemical-damage-to-wood-the-marine-version-of-leaky-homes/
Taking to Chris the other day he mentioned that he inherited around 100 copies of the ‘Professional Boatbuilder’ magazine, from the late Max Carter.
Browsing the magazines, Chris came across the June/July 2000 issue & noted that one of the feature articles – ‘Wood Behaving Badly’ – by Larry Montgomery is very similar article to his ww article on the electro-chemical damage caused to wood by the use of anodes and bonding. Chris (being humble) commented that he considered it better written than his. The article had also been endorsed by the editor of the magazine.

Given the severity of the problem in NZ & in the interests of saving our classic boats, I have taken the liberty & re-produced the article below. Read it & heed it 😉






Aussie 18′ Racing Woodys – Sailing Sunday

Aussie 18′ Racing Woodys – Sailing Sunday

Robin Elliott sent me the above link to a very cool video that Australian Ian Smith has just put up on-line of how he built a replica of the 1919 traditional seam-batten Sydney 18 footer – Britannia in 2001-2002. Its approx 15min long & covers from lofting to launch > sailing. Great footage & a good commentary.

Robin also shared the link below to the ‘The Open Boat’ website which is a treasure trove of videos on the Australian small wooden sailing world. Do not blame me if your still watching it hours later 🙂


CYA 2017 Classic Regatta
I snapped a few quick photos, below, yesterday while I was heading over to Westhaven to fuel up & then decided to pop in at Regatta HQ for a cleansing ale. More photos tomorrow from the Regatta’s classic woody launch parade &  lunch cruise to Riverhead Hotel. If you are out & about this morning & want to see the fine collection of classic woody launches, we will be passing in front of the RNZYS at approx. 10.30am.