Port Hadlock Report Card  

By Pete Leenhouts - Port Ludlow, Washington - USA



The Traditional Small Boat Class at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock WA is building two 12-foot Grandy dinghys. When last we looked in on our class, they had just finished lining out the hulls with battens in order to determine plank and frame locations.

click to enlargeMatt uses vertical cedar battens to determine frame locations. The horizontal battens running fore and aft show us where the plank edges will go. Frame locations are marked in pencil on the keel, while plank edge locations are marked in pencil on the molds.

The class began planking the two skiffs with 3/8-inch cedar planking in early February. Since the boats were being built upside-down at this point, the first planks to go on were the garboard planks, those closest to the keel. The process used to determine the shape of each plank is pretty much the same as that used during installation of the garboard plank.

First, a spiling batten of thin cedar was placed on the boat, and a spiling block used to transfer the shape of the keel to the batten. The spiling batten was just an old piece of thin cedar roughly the size of the plank. It was painted white so we could see the pencil marks more clearly. The spiling block was just a small block of wood. It was used to transfer the keel line to the spiling batten and to transfer the pencil mark which reflected where the upper edge of the horizontal framing battens crossed each mold.

click to enlargeSean (left), watches instructor Tim Lee assist Jason and the port planking team wrap a steamed cedar plank around the molds. Sean's left hand is on his white-painted spiling batten, which is laying up against the keel.

Once the shape of the plank was transferred to the spiling batten, the batten was laid on a piece of 3/8-inch planking stock and the marks transferred from the spiling batten to the plank stock. Both planks, port and starboard, were cut out on the bandsaw at the same time, since they begin as mirror images of each other.

click to enlargeEd is checking to ensure the pattern as drawn on the 3/8-inch cedar planking stock is roughly fair. It doesn't need to be perfect at this point, because we will carefully fit the plank to the boat after it has been cut out and steamed. The construction diagram for the skiff is taped to a piece of thin plywood and propped up on a bench for easy reference by the student boatbuilders.

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Sean is getting out the planks on the 14-inch bandsaw.

After the planks were cut out, they were steamed for 20 minutes in the steambox (at 180 to 190 degrees F) and then clamped to the boat so each plank takes up a part of the curve it will have when permanently fastened to the boat.

While the plank was being steamed, a planking lap was cut at the bow of the boat on the previous plank, and a dory lap was cut at the transom end of the previous plank. There was no room for error here - a mistake would mean taking off the previous plank and doing it over, so each student made time for plenty of practice on scrap before trying his or her hand on the boat.

click to enlargeSean cuts a dory lap on the transom end of the previous plank. These laps allow the plank being added to the boat to lie closely to the previous plank, sort of like a clapboard lies on the side of a house. Paring chisels, planes, and cranked-neck chisels are favored for this kind of precision work.


click to enlargeWhile cooling on the boat, the steamed transom end of a plank is shaped to the necessary curve with a caul shaped like the curve of the part of the transom over which it will be fastened.

The plank was carefully shaped to the curve of the boat and the lines marked on the molds during the lining out process (previous article). Our goal was to do this during one fitting, but these early planks, as did most of the eight planks on each side of the boat, took several fittings as each student learned how to work to the close tolerances required by instructor Tim Lee.

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Instructor Tim Lee and Adam consider plank shape at the mid-section to ensure the actual plank closely matches the desired shape.

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Alicia and Michelle shape the bevel on the edge of a plank with a handplane.

Once the plank was properly shaped, dolphinite, a bedding compound was carefully smeared on the lap edge of the previous plank (or, in the case of the garboard, along the edge of the apron which lies over the keel). In the case below, you can see that the plank was shaped a bit smaller than it should have been, as indicated by the clearly visible planking edge mark on the mold just to the right (above) the plank.

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Dolphinite on the edge of the plank.

The new plank was carefully and securely clamped to the boat. Holes were then drilled through the planks in-between the future location of the frames...

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Laura drills through the planking for the copper clench nails

...and the planks were nailed and clenched together. Clench nailing required some physical flexibility to insert the copper nail in the hole while holding the clenching iron under the boat and against the nail point. Then the student tapped the nail head in order to drive the nail point against the clenching in order to bend it over towards the planking before driving it home along the grain line. We practiced clench-nailing scrap before being allowed to do so for real on the boat.

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A clenching iron. This one is actually intended for auto-body work, but works well for clenching copper nails. There are many different shapes which work well.

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Jeff clench-nails a plank (the first broad) to the boat.

While teams of students were planking the boat, others were getting out the frames from just-felled black locust.

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Matt uses a circular saw to get out framing stock from locally-sawn black locust timbers.

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Laura uses the router to chamfer the edges of the framing stock so that the frames will bend more easily without splitting after steaming.

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End of day in the Westrem Small Boat Shop at the
North West School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Port Hadlock WA.

Planking should be done by the middle of March, after which the boats will be turned right side-up so that they can be framed.

Additionally, the class is beginning to loft a 17-foot Whitehall pulling boat; I'll cover that process in the next installment of my Report Card on the Traditional Small Craft Class.

Should you have the chance to visit the Olympic Peninsula, the North West School of Wooden Boatbuilding is located at 42 North Water Street, Port Hadlock, WA. The school welcomes visitors Monday through Friday 8am -5pm for escorted tours through all of it's shops and facilities. The school also offers short courses ranging from a weekend to two weeks from spring through the summer and fall. The school's web site at https://www.nwboatschool.org/ provides further details.

Pete Leenhouts
Student, Traditional Small Boat Class
North West School of Wooden Boatbuilding
Port Hadlock WA