Shipyard Memories #4: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, Planking

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by shipwright posted 11-15-2010 06:01 AM 5558 reads 1 time favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, Bending the Ribs Part 4 of Shipyard Memories series Part 5: The Smaug Blog: Wood Boatbuilding 101, Decking and Casting the Keel »

Probably the most anticipated part of building a wooden boat is the planking. The old boat builder I learned from used to call it “boardin’ ‘er up”. It represents the transformation from a building project to something an owner can start thinking of as “My Boat”. There are many tricks and nuances to planking that I will not try to explain here; suffice to say that it’s not as easy as it looks – until you’ve done it a few times anyway. If done well the boat looks “right”and it won’t really be noticed, but if done poorly it really shows and will most definitely be noticed. On this job it was made a bit more critical because the owner wanted to finish bright, no paint. The planking here is 1 1/2” yellow cedar, fastened with silicon bronze screws.

The first photo shows a batten that has been tacked to the ribs about mid girth. This batten represents the most important line in the planking scheme. It is the dividing line between the topside planking and the bottom planking and getting it in the right place before you start to cut any boards is crucial. All planks above this line will be the same width at any station on the hull. This not only gives a handsome appearance but makes it much easier to mark out, cut and fit the planks. Below this line there is a great deal more area to be covered aft than forward so it is not possible to have the repeatable pattern used in the topsides. It’s an acquired “eye” that lets you fiddle this batten into the “just right” position.

Once the dividing line is defined, a pattern is drawn up for the topside planking and the bottom is planned out “a row at a time”. Here the topside planking has been started and the keelson is being prepared for the garboard, the first plank above the keel.

In this one three rows of planks have been fastened on the bottom and the fourth is clamped in position. This is a good shot of the bronze straps from the inside and the 3” sided yellow cedar floor timbers.

I put this photo in to show the extent of the stationary tools I had at the time, a 36” Crescent band saw, a 6”x 20” Park planer and a General 10” cabinet saw (souped up with a 5 horse three phase motor). I think there was a small drill press around somewhere too.

Here the planking is progressing nicely, probably about four or five days in. If you look carefully at the picture above and the two below, you can see how much space had to be “caught up” aft on the bottom. This is often done as was here by using “stealers”, where one forward plank buts against two aft allowing one strake of planking to go from say 6” at the stem to maybe 14” at the stern post.

The planking is finished here. Two things to note. The topside planking is usually narrower than bottom planking because 1) It is more likely to dry out and the resulting shrinkage will be less trouble spread out over more seams, 2) It looks better and 3) The bottom has the large area differential forward to aft discussed above. Second interesting thing here is that one plank is quite a bit darker than the others. It got left in the steam box too long and became discolored on the surface. It wasn’t in long enough to damage it and the color sanded off easily. It is worth saying that all planks are steamed, even if they are easy bends. As steaming drys the wood out, this insures that all planks are dried equally.

As I said last time, I just love the stern view of this boat, It makes me think of a big mandolin. This is freshly planked and rough. It will now be faired and sanded and it will look much sweeter.

I apologize for not having more detail photos or more shots of work being done but back then I didn’t know I’d be doing this now. I have to work with the photos I have.

Thanks for checking in. As always questions and critiques are encouraged.

Next up is decking and lead keel.

‘til next time

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

17 comments so far

View Napaman's profile


5530 posts in 4554 days

#1 posted 11-15-2010 06:22 AM

This blog just gets better and better…

You have nothing to worry about in terms of the photos—-I am amazed they look so good and you took so many all those years ago…

I guess its like when you have your first child—-tons of picts…maybe your future boats will have fewer photos, lol…

I am enjoying the technical details and explanations…


-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View sras's profile


5154 posts in 3606 days

#2 posted 11-15-2010 06:25 AM

I was just thinking that you are fortunate to have this many photos! As always an interesting chapter in this story.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3494 days

#3 posted 11-15-2010 08:14 AM

I wished I could have watched the build and I would have enjoyed it too and been fascinated! Thanks very much for posting and reviving almost every man’s dream of building a boat! I believe there are plenty of us who dreamed about this.

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View shipwright's profile


8355 posts in 3274 days

#4 posted 11-15-2010 08:16 AM

Thanks. I’ve always taken quite a lot of photos, in fact I have some even older ones from my first boat in about 1971 … remember ferro-cement? I just wish I had taken more of the details. But yes I’m glad to have those that I do have. Matt, actually I have more of the more recent boats, not less. Glad you’re enjoying.

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

View Rob200's profile


313 posts in 3646 days

#5 posted 11-15-2010 09:48 AM

I wish I was there to help I want to build a boat and I will when I can come up with the money for the project

-- Robert Laddusaw and no I am not smarter then a fifth grader ( and no I canot spell so if it is a problem don't read it ))

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4569 days

#6 posted 11-15-2010 01:19 PM

Interesting and informative blog Paul. The photos are great. Not many things more beautiful then a wooden ship. These particular shots are especially exciting and beautiful IMHO. Thanks for doing this.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View JimDaddyO's profile


615 posts in 3555 days

#7 posted 11-15-2010 03:07 PM

Facinating blog. I am not familiar with all the terminology. But I can see the craftsmanship involved. Thanks for sharing!

-- my blog: my You Tube channel:

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 4250 days

#8 posted 11-15-2010 04:24 PM

Looking more impressive in every blog. Thanks for sharing.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Bluepine38's profile


3387 posts in 3562 days

#9 posted 11-15-2010 05:47 PM

Looks great, but somewhat confusing to a landlocked mountain codger. You mentioned seams, did you caulk
the seams with anything as you put the boat together, or after you were finished? I can see the need for
the “eye” and the bandsaw for the smooth tapered lines. It is done well, and yes I think everyone on this
site that looks at it will notice that rightness, anyone who has worked with wood knows how hard it is to
get a straight joint smooth and even. When you add the curve and the angle, it becomes impossible at first,
and then finally it makes sense. A good boat is beautiful and fun, the closest I came was crew on a Moore 24
one summer, and I can only imagine what this one would be like with nice wind pushing her along.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Schwieb's profile


1890 posts in 3938 days

#10 posted 11-15-2010 05:51 PM

Paul this is really neat to see the stages involved. A wood strip kayak is a long ways from a boat like this but having built one, I can appreciate the boats you built all the more

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

View shipwright's profile


8355 posts in 3274 days

#11 posted 11-15-2010 06:17 PM

Thanks all. Gus, the seams are caulked with a strand of caulking cotton, sorry I don’t have a photo but if you searched you would likely find one, driven into the seam with caulking irons and a special mallet after all planking is finished. Then the seams are filled with one form or another of putty, in this case Thiokol. The caulking not only keeps the water out, but it tightens and strengthens the whole construction. Caulking is an art in itself and most builders in the day would bring in a caulker to do this job. You could always tell a caulker … huge right arm and smashed left fingers….. just kidding….sort of.

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

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 3253 days

#12 posted 11-15-2010 08:42 PM

Having spent a few years in Cape Cod and around the water, this is one beautiful piece of craftsmanship. This is a project that I would have enjoyed to help. Thank you so much.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View tdv's profile


1202 posts in 3547 days

#13 posted 11-15-2010 09:20 PM

Brilliant job are they butted up to each other I bet there’s a lot more skill involved fitting that kind of planking than clinker. Looks beautiful

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View shipwright's profile


8355 posts in 3274 days

#14 posted 11-15-2010 09:57 PM

Trevor, In carvel construction like this the planks fit tightly on the inside and are about 5 degrees open on the outside to allow for caulking. This means of course that as the shape of the hull changes the bevel on the edge of the plank changes too. Yes, it has it’s skill set but so does clinker. just different.

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

View MichaelA's profile


778 posts in 3365 days

#15 posted 12-05-2011 07:19 PM

Shipwright (Paul) This is so interesting and so much knowledge to posses. I really believe I should never walk into a ship building shop such as this because I would never leave. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!!!!

-- The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. "Helen Keller"

showing 1 through 15 of 17 comments

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