Boat Building Wood 2

Besides the Alaska Yellow Cedar, here are my observations about several more of the wood species popular in boat building:

White Oak – This is a tough, hard, strong, and rot resistant wood. It even has fashionable flavors. If you prefer, you can get the contemporary quarter sawn straight grain without the flake decoration. The market price is reflecting that popularity right now, as it is used in much furniture. You can visit a nice example of this style in the blog titled Butler Desk.

If you appreciate the flake pattern of the quarter sawn variety, it is a common trademark of the historic Craftsman Style furniture. In either case, quarter sawn white oak is very dimensionally stable and useful in boats. Since it is also quite heavy, I used white oak for the keel of my first boat, and other parts near the bottom to keep the center of gravity lower.

White oak is a good wood to steam bend, but as a general rule, I don’t like steam bent parts. They don’t follow perfect curves, as knots or grain variation affect the result. Much more satisfactory for me, is to cut the wood in slices which can dry bend the curve I need. With a three or more piece lamination, they self correct and create a beautiful curve without much need for additional fairing. The photo shows the three oak pieces making the chine stringer.

White oak might even be my favorite wood if hadn’t been for leading the entire field of wood entries in the competition for poking splinters into my hands.

Mahogany is next up. It is beautiful, strong, works well and is rot resistant. So many woods go by the name mahogany, including most of the souvenirs you might buy in a foreign country, that it gets confusing. For me, it needs to be the red brown variety, most likely from Africa, more dense with not so much grain porosity, and beautiful figure. This prime wood is expensive, but worth it in the most demanding circumstances, as shown by the number of classic boats it covers.

The Mahogany below, on my first boat, came to me a long time ago from a Swartzendruber Hardwood Creations garage sale of unused boards. It stayed in my shop 10 years or so before I had it sliced into 3/16″ veneer and put on the boat. The lighter top veneer planking is Curly Maple, which is does not compete well in boat building categories, except beauty.

Marine Plywood is most commonly available in two species, Okume and Meranti (Hydrotek), and an integral part of contemporary wood boat building. It has meet International standards for glue strength, water resistance, and having no internal voids.

Plywood is much more dimensionally stable than any solid wood, and as the inner core of a composite layer, it can make an exceptionally strong, curved surface. In my first boat, I used tongue and groove marine plywood hull planks, covered inside and out with fiberglass cloth embedded in epoxy.

There are no leaks and not much water ever gets in the boat, so rot resistance of interior parts is not a problem as in the old woodies. I prefer Okume plywood for its light weight, but used Meranti, (Hydrotek), for the cross frames, as it is cheaper.

I will return to Okume for hull planks this time, as I find it easier to fair with hand tools, and sanding boards. However, using T & G planks gives a self fairing head start.

This time around, I am looking around my shop, using some inventory hanging around for awhile, and buying the rest locally in Northern Indiana. The interior will likely be mostly Cherry. It is medium in weight, strength and shock resistance, but good for bending and it works so well with machines and hand tools very well.

The decision for the deck wood is still uncertain, but if I find a particularly gorgeous curly spalted maple plank, I might ignore the rules . . .

Boat Building Wood 1

The design of a new wooden boat requires thinking about the choices of wood. Trying to keep the water out of the floating space takes a combination of strength, stability, toughness and endurance. Western Red Cedar, Alaska Yellow Cedar, Sitka Spruce, cypress, teak, ash, white oak, and mahogany are some of the most highly prized woods for the beautiful traditional wooden boats of the last century. 

Some physical properties that matter most for the wood in a boat are: strength, density, hardness, stiffness, bending properties, moisture resistance, and dimensional stability. From a practical standpoint, some of those factors may be overridden by cost, being able to source them close by, and working ability. With all of that in mind, here is one of my personal favorites:

Alaska Yellow Cedar – It is not cheap, in 2023 around $10-15 / board foot rough. But everything else about yellow cedar is amazing. Mine came in generous 4/4 thickness 1″ x 6″ x 16 feet long with no knots. The prime vertical grain boards are straight, lay flat, are very stable and weather resistant. It is very light weight, and has an exceptional strength to weight ratio which is great for boats or airplanes. The distinctive aroma advertises its unique personality, which is like your Grandma’s cedar chest, spiced up a bit. 

But it really shines when you actually pull it off the rack and put it to work.

Alaska Yellow Cedar cross frames and stringers.

The tight consistent grain cuts so consistently and smoothly, that it makes hand tools seem like a good idea. A bonus is that it over a few years working with Alaska Yellow, it has never once given me a splinter. I love this wood.

Perhaps you can imagine how sorry I am, that the original stash I bought in 2013 to start the first boat is coming to the end.   But, there are other wonderful wood choices . . stay tuned.