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Viking boat-building techniques taught on Peninsula

Check out the Pviking photoeninsula Daily News article that highlights the workshop at the Boat School From the Forest to the Sea: 11th Century Norse Boatbuilding taught by renowned boatbuilder Jay Smith hosted at the School. The workshop will introduced participants to 11th Century Boatbuilding including the technology of the period, methods of construction, and the many unique tools used in building “klinker” (lapstrake) boats before the advent of sawmills.

Read the article HERE

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The Herreshoff Pram from instructor Leigh O’Connor’s class splashed! Congrats!

“My students just finished up this Herreshoff pram last week. We launched it yesterday and had a nice day on the water. This is just one of four boats my class will be completing over a six month period.” – Leigh O’ Connor

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WoodenBoat Magazine Highlights Prothero Method

Check out the article written by Chief Instructor Sean Koomen and Instructor Emeritus Jeff Hammond on the Prothero Method in the March/April 2016 WoodenBoat Magazine.



Boatbuilder Bob Prothero, founder of Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, championed an efficient method of boatbuilding that relied on extreme accuracy in the lofting. One element of this method—and a signature method in West Coast boatbuilding—is the bending of frames to the outsides, rather than the insides, of the ribbands, as on this 36′ Carl Chamberlain-designed motorsailer…. ~Sean Koomen, “Efficiency, Accuracy, and Integrity: The elements of the Prothero method,” WoodenBoat No. 249 March/April 2016

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Marking 35 Years of Teaching


January 2016 marks the 35th year of the Boat School!

To commemorate this milestone we journey back to November 1982 when the Boat School campus was located at the Port Townsend Boat Haven and the first student built boat was launched.

The Charity Ann was a 28-foot working tug built on commission and was a replica of one used for many years by the owner’s family. It took a year and a half to complete and was built of fir, iron bark, red cedar, and redwood.


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2016-2017 Enrollment is Open

2016-2017 Enrollment is Open!!

If you (or someone you know) has dreamed of starting a new hands-on career, make sure to apply for one of the three boatbuilding programs we offer! The last two years we’ve had full enrollment and a waiting list. Students are accepted on a rolling basis so applicants are encouraged to submit applications as soon as possible.

Don’t miss your chance to begin your year of discovery!

For the School Catalogue and Enrollment Forms, visit


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Week 9: Let the Games Begin!

indexAn optimist’s cup is always half-full. A pessimist’s is always half-empty. Me? I haven’t been served yet. This is no expression of despair, just a simple recognition there is much more to come in our education as would-be wooden boat builders. To that end, the flood gates opened on the Monday following Thanksgiving indulgences.

Thoughts of turkey-induced naps and pumpkin pie lingering as fond memories, we returned to campus and a daily dose of wisdom from the Jedi masters. Have I mentioned Sean Koomen does his best to keep us all on the straight and level? Or at least on the same page?

Sean serves as the Chief Instructor and source of wisdom on everything from design to “boat sauce.” (“Boat sauce” is the secret recipe employed for providing a bright finish on projects completed here at the school. I would share the mixing—alchemy for boat builders—but have been sworn to secret under pain of keelhauling. Look it up, not a great way to pay for your indiscretion.) In any case, Sean has the challenging task of roll call each morning and then imparting wisdom to a coffee-deprived audience.

Some days the optimist in me gets half full and then there are mornings when the internal pessimist is half-empty. Then I come to a realization that my brain has not yet been served. It is, after all, only week 9. The trick is to take a lot of notes and walk back into the classroom to absorb all the blackboard drawings one more time.

week 9 1To make life even trickier, the Small Craft program students were offered a very real world challenge on Monday. Following lecture, we were introduced to a Dolphin Club Whitehall rowboat. The Dolphin Club, founded in 1877, is a San Francisco based non-profit providing public access to swimming and rowing of the local waters. Initially established as a means of indulging a rowing addicted audience, the Dolphin Club expanded to include those brave enough to swim through San Francisco Bay in 1917. As a result, the Club’s boats must not only be sea-worthy, but also capable of hauling chilled swimmers back to warm showers.

Confronted with a growth in membership and need for more boats, the Dolphin Club has come to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding with a unique opportunity—construct a skiff worthy of serving a new generation of rowers and swimmers. So, we are now in possession of Don Baggiani, a 14- foot Whitehall built in 1948 and a set of lofting diagrams. Weighing in at a mere 207 pounds and featuring somewhere in the vicinity of over 1000 fasteners, this lapstrake constructed vessel is going to cause more than a few challenges.

Back to being an optimist.

Down in the Westrem shop, we have started construction on the strongback and molds for our modified skiff, based off of William Atkins’ BABY LOU design. Wait, let me take a step back and fill you in. I forgot to mention smaller boats are constructed upside down. (Not to be confused with right-side up.) This means we need a frame to hold the “molds” up off the floor—or suffer more time on hands and knees. The trick is to get dimensions right and then sacrifice four 10 foot 2 x 6 framing timbers. More sawdust time!
week 9 4    week 9 2
Then comes the move to constructing “molds.” Recall we designed and lofted to “stations.” Now we are physically constructing stations that will serve as internal contact points at key points for the hull to come. Just looking down the resulting set up you can see the vessel to come.

Boatbuilding for the class of 2016 has truly begun.

More measuring, milling and mulling later, we have the lines and shape of what has become wistfully referred to as “Thin Lizzy.” At 12 feet long, she has a 3 foot 8 inch beam and only draws about 2 and-a-half inches. Should be a delight to row, once there is a bottom, sides, and frames, not to mention a stem, transom, seating and oars. Yes, one member of our group is building a custom set of oars. The rest of us pursue various elements as they come up.

Suffice it to say, I have now been served my cup. A day spent milling, pushing a number 4 plane and discussing potential lines for the planking leaves a sense of satisfaction that appeases the optimist and vanquishes everyone’s internal pessimist. Think I will go home and work on more dovetails.

eri profile


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not
scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling
carpenter, and would-be writer.


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Week 8: We Get to Start All Over Again…

Einstein_tongueA wise man once told me: “All progress is incremental—until it isn’t.” I had to think about that observation for a few days. This was not one of those mumblings about “one step forward, two steps back.” No, there was more to the message. To place the philosophy in context, think of great battles or scientific discoveries. Everything inches forward, and then suddenly an amazing transition or breakthrough takes place. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo or Einstein and the theory of relativity would be good examples.

Week 8 of boat school (despite the fact it only lasted 2 days because of Thanksgiving) very much proceeded down that philosophical path. If you recall from the last posting, we are all engaged in the art of lofting a full-sized version of a Herreshoff classic. This seemingly endless process came to fruition for my group on Monday morning. We stood back and admired our handiwork…for about 30 seconds.

That’s when the Jedi masters pitched another challenge to the would-be wooden boatbuilders.

Imagine spending close to a week-and-a-half on your hands and knees very carefully measuring points, pounding finishing nails, stretching batons and then drawing lines; only to be told the canvas would need to be repainted. And sooner would be better than later. With heavy heart, I went in search of more white paint, a roller, and pan.


Some people argue this kind of rapid erasure of the past can be cathartic. In other words, painting over the just-completed lofting would release us of the tensions built up over days of drafting this craft. I’m not buying that psycho-babble. It was a little painful to make all our sweat and toil disappear beneath a new coat of exterior house paint.

IMG_3678Then we were informed the next challenge is to loft one of the six small skiffs our class of 2016 will be constructing in the coming weeks. A chance to draw a whole new set of lines! (I remind you we are only at Week 8). While the Herreshoff is a pretty boat, it is not a task befitting the many amateurs like myself. Oh, I am certain we would make a worthy attempt, but there are many more lessons to come.

Instead, we are now in the process of lofting a sailing/rowing dingy close to 12 feet long and four feet wide. Needless to say, the table of offsets and other lofting guides are not as detailed as those provided for the previous work. And surprise surprise, we have become much more adept at this whole process. Yes, the wise man was right


“All progress is incremental—until it isn’t.”

We’ve learned a great deal about lofting over the last couple of weeks. Gee, maybe that is why they call this place the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Learning is taking place before our eyes.

With the new layer of paint in place, and only a little on my hands and knees, we set about the process of laying out a grid sufficient for the task at hand. The trick here is that the boat is to be modified. Instead of stations every 24 inches, there are now stations every 28 inches. Furthermore, the bow design became an instructor’s option. We are back to that lesson Jeff Hammond tried to drive home.


Each wooden boat is slightly different—a reflection of designer, drafter, lofter, builder and materials.

By the time we departed for our turkey dinner destinations on Tuesday afternoon, there was something starting to resemble a new boat on the floor. The basic lines are in place and the interior stations are starting to take form. We did learn about lofting. But, my damn knees are now really sore. It will feel good to sit down and stuff myself with all the traditional fixings. Now, if I could only just quit dreaming about the Herreshoff laying beneath all that new paint.


eri profile
Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering
in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of
Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.


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Week 7: Lofting, Lofting, Lofting…the perils of a 6′ x 18′ canvas


Painters, at least in the world of fine art, like to refer to their targeted surface as a “canvas.” Not surprising, in the old days canvas was stretched over a frame—normally square or rectangular—and became the surface upon which to design and paint a masterpiece. As you might recall from last week, we’re not working on canvas (its door veneer), but the artist’s terminology still is appropriate. When you have this much time into a project it’s “art”…or torture.


The latter set of sentiments depends on personal opinion. There are clearly students who find the lofting process a lot of fun. Wandering through the shops, I find boats drawn with multiple colors, carefully marking wood beams to reflect end grains. Then there’s the “survivalists.” This last group is ever so carefully marching through this exercise, but with much more expenditure of blood, sweat and toil.

I suspect some of this pain comes from our morning lecture. Jeff Hammond likes to stroll through his instruction as though lofting is just another trip to the grocery store (he’s been doing it for 34+ years). Some thought is involved in planning meals for a coming week, but the rest is automatic—purchase milk, eggs, butter and bread.

Ho hum.

Well, ho hum for Jeff, not so simple from my perspective.

At this point we have managed to plot out and draw in lines for a half-breadth, plane form, and even sketch a transom. Victory!

Not yet.

Turns out there are “developments.” Developments mean drawing in dimensions for half rabbets, beards and potential ribbing. What was an already confusing collection of lines is now becoming a very complicated set of construction plans. My head hurts just standing back and looking at the 6 x 18 foot canvas. Hard to imagine the old-timers used to follow similar procedures for building a 50 foot yacht.

Every morning in the shop starts with a routine intended to facilitate progress.



(1) Find a collection of pencils
(2) Locate the pencil sharpener
(3) Stuff same and large erasure in coat pocket
(4) Grab hammer and bucket of nails. (Hammer and nails? Yup. Need to pound in a finish nail at critical points to line up a baton—no one free-hands a 16 foot line, or a 5 foot line for that matter. I bet we have driven over a thousand nails at this point in the design.)
(5) Now pick up the much soiled set of instructions and begin plotting another dimension for a boat builder.

Did I mention knee pads and socks?



IMG_3579With all this detail work laid out on shop floors, the last thing one wants is muddy foot prints across a canvas. Shoes and boots get shed at the front door. Some students spend their days in socks, others opt for slippers, moccasins, and even boat shoes. All in the name of keeping the canvas relatively clean. As for the knee pads, try spending six hours a day on your knees. Nice to have something soft between the floor and aging bones, even if you just turned 20.

And so we proceed through laying out lines for a design that likely amused no small number of sailors over the last 100 years. In essence, we are making the old new again, burning through a lot of number two pencils and at least 3 pounds of erasure along the way.

With coffee cup in hand, a stroll through the shop at the endo the day shows progress. Head cleared, it’s time to assume the “God’s eye” view. That is to say, you walk to baseline at the center point of plane form and look down. Very slowly you gage your masterpiece.

Are the lines flowing to fair? Does the half-breadth communicate a perspective from bow and stern? Can you still find the aft and forward points? And what about that pesky sheer line—is it lost in the butt lines, half rabbet and beard? Does all that make sense?

Surprisingly, it does in my head, at least for the moment. I’m told we get to repeat the entire exercise when constructing skiffs by the middle of December. Think I will head over to the store for another collection of pencils, erasers and finish nails.

eri profile


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop
when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid
sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.


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Week 6: Your Boat Has Come In…well at least figuratively

Perception is everything. Trust me. I have an old friend who argues: “Reality is perception and perception is reality.” In other words, how you see the world is arguably how the world operates. This bit of philosophy works at the micro-level, but what happens when you scale up to whole societies? Then you are at the messy game of politics and policymaking—at lot of fudging and working on smoothing off edges. The art of compromise.

My long introduction to the fact we are now at lofting. Lofting, for those of us new to boatbuilding, is the art of taking a design (recall we accomplished the scale model a couple of weeks ago) and turning it into a full-sized craft on a shop floor, in pencil, and a lot of erasure marks.

Door skin is laid
…and painted

The first step was to take out all the work benches and tool kits. A lot of groans as students hauled the collection of saws, planes and chisels back to one’s vehicle. Then it was time to drag off the work benches (500lbs a piece) and prepare the shop floors for a skin of door sheeting.

Door sheeting is the veneer one finds on the surface of most modern interior closures within a house. It comes in 4×8 foot sheets and is approximately an 1/8th of an inch thick. Works well for providing visual barriers, an appearance of fine finish, or a smooth surface for pencils and an occasional crayon. (Your children will draw on doors—an inevitable consequence of turning three years-old. Or so my mother tells me.)

Now, back to the project at hand.

We laid out the sheets on the shop floor and proceeded to very carefully line up the edges and ends so as to provide a baseline (almost as precise as that found on the desk-sized drafting paper). A few pounds of staples and paint later, the appropriate palate for lofting a 16 foot sailboat was available to 30 teams of students.

12240017_992791627410583_3880902524942339757_nTime to draw stations, grids, diagonals and butts. (Yes, butts…another set of grid lines, not a bad joke.) At this stage we have a full-sized version of the drafting station that once measured 11-24 inches. As you can imagine, the batons and drafting tools have all had to scale up as well. Instead of plastic rulers and fancy French curves carefully stowed in a pocket, the lofting job requires 20 foot strips, tick marks spread along an 8 foot plank, and a lot of endlessly sharpened pencils. Oh, did I mention the nails?

Once the lines are read off a table of offsets or derived from previously crafted measurements, one must lay out batons to “connect the dots.” This requires a bucket of finish nails and more than a bit of hammer work. In other words, don’t try to loft at home, your significant other will not be impressed with the sea of holes left in a hardwood floor. Add to this the fact you are compelled to wander about in socks so as to avoid marring previous lines and, well, this is not a project for one’s living room.

And so we proceed in vanquishing the mystery of lofting. As best my unpracticed eye can tell, the class of 2016 is well on its way to crafting a full-sized 16 foot sailboat. The Jedi masters, however, want to be sure all tricks of the trade are passed on to a new generation, cueing Jeff Hammond and his thirty-plus years of experience.

12247132_992791000743979_6135557801778063541_n 12249855_992791410743938_3134648699768245386_n


Now we are back to my observation on perception and reality. While the perfectionists among us would like to have the entire lofting process precisely match the offsets and lines indicted on the scale plans, Jeff is quick to remind us each wooden boat is a reflection of the lofter and builder. In other words, no 16 footer in the shops is going to be exactly the same. Somewhere in this process human interaction with pencils, paper, nails, door veneer and batons is going to result in slight deviations. To say nothing of then going into construction with a less than perfect medium—wood.

It’s more than a little humbling to keep this in mind after having precision driven into the brain via endless dovetail practice, but reassuring for those of us who can swing a mean paintbrush while struggling with straight hand-saw cuts. So on to the lofting we continue. A figurative exercise that could produce that elusive target—a floating object lovingly referred to as a wooden boat.

Eric, the author, can be seen on the right.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.
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Week 5: Hands on a Boat! Blending Instruction and Instinct

About the time I was lamenting absence of contact with nautical craft, we get a reprieve. Escape one came with a trip to Port Townsend’s “Boat Haven.” A working shipyard with an interesting collection of commercial, military, and recreational craft. If it floats—regardless of hull material—a boat in the Northwest is likely to be found in the Boat Haven at some point or another. This is a field trip for adults absent the ubiquitous yellow school bus.

Snooping around Edensaw Woods

Adding further intellectual amusement to our days at Port Hadlock, we were subsequently offered the opportunity to wander through Edensaw Woods and the Port Townsend Foundry. Edensaw Woods is an “adult” store for woodworkers. Opened by a pair of Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding graduates, Edensaw claims to have approximately 1 million board feet of lumber on hand and provides access to a sea of tools. Throw in access to their millwork shop and…well…you have a collection of awestruck students.

The Port Townsend Foundry is a story in and of itself. Opened in 1983, the Foundry specializes in casting marine hardware. These are artisans of the metal world; keeping in mind many of their models are first developed in wood. In essence, becoming a Foundry specialist means you will have to master some of the same skills we are honing on a daily basis. An eye-opener for people who thought wood was just a quaint construction material employed in homes and floating objects.

Thinking of floating objects, escape from the drafting wizards meant we were dispatched to construct a half-plane model of the hull so laboriously sketched out on each desk in the classroom. Sounds simple. Take the plans you have just developed, select an appropriate 10 feet of 1 x 11 inch pine, and then draw each of the water line breaks on a stacking basis to arrive at a three-dimensional artifact of the drawing you have come to loath.

Sounds simple—execution is another story.

The lines for each of the eight pieces you are about to sketch and then cut from the pine planks are resident on those carefully drawn drafts. Just pick up a pair of calibers and start transferring the dimensions from paper to wood. Then casually wander over to a band saw and set about cutting out each of the pieces. (As you might suspect, I am using the term “casually” quite sarcastically here…the sawing process is mentally and physically challenging…no one wants to have to cut a second set of waterlines…even when they are only 16 inches long.)

Now for the fun part. Stack the resulting pieces together so they may be glued and carved into a model reflecting your drawing. No mean feat. Welcome to the common toothpick. What quickly becomes apparent is that stacking all that lumber and glue is a slippery affair unless you figure out a means of keeping the various levels attached while going through an assembly process. This is where the toothpicks come in.

As you are going to have to carve the hull shape into this collection of pine slicings, screws are out. So for each layer a couple of holes are drilled to insert the toothpicks and then glue is applied. Works like a charm, but I never thought I would be using my claw hammer to drive toothpicks into lumber. Back to that whole thing about being a boat school where one is in danger of learning new things here.

IMG_1008 IMG_1012

Once the basic shape is glued and clamped it’s time to work on the next skill. Dovetails.


I am no “natural” at dovetails. The Jedi Masters (aka instructors) torture us with a film of the dovetail savants. There are people who seemingly cut perfect dovetails without employing measurement or marking. Not me. At this point I must have cut 50 dovetails and the glue is not yet dry on the half-plane model. Practice, practice. Homework for the evening. I just wonder what the neighbors think when I sit in the shop and turn perfectly good lumber into scrap.

Back to the boat. Once glue has set and the resultant product is clamped into place it’s time for the draw knife, spoke shave and hand plane. All that sharpening time is now going to pay off. I will get to spend the next eight hours carving the rough cut form into a hull form worthy of running hands over a baby’s bottom.

Yes, you read that correctly. A well-formed half-plane hull model should feel as smooth as a baby’s behind. It’s an instinctive thing, not easily explained. For some reason, many of us just come to the realization the hull shape is right because it feels right. Some things in life defy science and mathematical explanations.


Don’t laugh. More than one old master of this craft built a model and then backed the design off onto paper after sensing the dimensions were perfect for sliding through water.

And with that we come to the end of another week at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Oh, before I depart to work on more dovetails, a positive note to keep motivation in proper trajectory. The livery class has now provided all of us an opportunity to employ rowboats constructed by previous students. Suffice it to say there is nothing more satisfying than messing about in boats—off to row.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.
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Week #4: Drafting Blues

12190032_985773431445736_1938638718682860227_nNo one ever said boat school would be all sawdust and hand tools. Oh, you would like to believe that was the case, but truth of the matter is new designs require drafting…and drafting means sitting at a desk while figuring out how to create a three-dimensional model on a two dimension surface. The computer guys have figured out how to accomplish this task with a relatively simple set of keystrokes. We are doing it with pencil, compass and a table of offsets.

Enough to keep even the most grizzled carpenter humble.

Think of it this way. Take the blue print for your home. Set it on plane form (what it looks like from the side), then add the front view. So far so good. Then add a perspective pulling in the rear shot (where the bar-b-que grill will go along with your hammock and lawnmower.

Not done yet.

To make life more challenging, tip the entire design onto its left front corner and then draw lines for the basement and roofline from a gopher’s perspective. Did I mention it all has to stay on one sheet of paper measuring 18 x 24 inches? Daunting was the first word that came to my mind. I think some of my fellow students had equally mind numbing terms passing through their cerebral cortex.

IMG_3185 12193490_985773484779064_3333570916060574757_n IMG_3184

Coffee and lunch become the mental health break. Coffee is an excuse to walk back to the pot and look over everyone’s shoulder. Ah, that’s how you derive the following measurements. It’s also an excuse to see just how good some of the classmates are at waging battle with paper and pencil. Suffice it to say, more than a few of my cohort should become architects. I would just be happy to pass civil engineering.

Alas, I forgot to mention what we were drafting. A classic hull for a 16 foot sailboat, drawn over a century ago be people most Americans will never come to know. The lines are remarkable, performance was likely capable of delivering endless smiles, and the entire process was accomplished without wind tunnels, water tanks, or computer models—those old guys were smart in a means that simply does not translate into today’s society.

Unless you are on the far edge of programming cellphone apps or still trying to create new furniture out of wood, absent a 3D printer.

This all begs the question, did we accomplish the mission? Yes! Some of the work will almost certainly land up behind glass in a picture frame for others to admire. Mine will become a sketch for a model that leaves a thousand compass pin pricks in the outlines. Regardless of ultimate disposition, the lesson came across loud and clear, here is how to envision a boat before turning to timber selection.

In my own humble observation, more “visionaries” would be well-suited to a lesson in working through this exercise in imagination and exacerbation. Who knows, it might have save the Ford Motor Company from the Edsel. A story for another day.

Completed draft in hand, we are back to the shop. Time to construct the classic half-plane form model one can find in endless antique stores. My bet is most of those “antiques” came off a basement bench and never resulted in a finished craft. Our task is less benign, but equally as dusty.

So we reach the end of week four and lean into the next set of skills. I, for one, am wondering when I will finally cut a set of dovetails that will allow for me to construct a box sufficient for hauling tools into a shipyard—less set my hands on an actual floating boat.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.
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Week 3: Move Along…Nothing to be Seen Here

Welcome to week three of wooden boat school. By now you’ve been entertained with joints of all variety, made a few hand tools—including a mallet sufficient for whacking any chisel, and struggled through a variety of power tool lectures that leaves one wondering if any of these devices may be employed without risk to life or limb…or at least all the digits on either hand. (More than one instructor has threatened that graduation is dependent up leaving a year from now with the same number of fingers as when you started. If the number was 10 on day 1, it better be 10 on day 365. Same is true if you enrolled with nine digits.)

Mast_BoomWith that bit of wisdom firmly in hand—pun fully intended—we are encouraged to learn the fine art of making square timbers into spars. (For those of you not afflicted with a sailing addiction, the spar—boom or mast—is a stick upon which a sail is attached in a manner sufficient to create proper form for lift on a vertical plane. Aircraft depend upon a horizontal lift pattern—sailboats work on a vertical. In essence, you are “flying” sideways along the water. Ok, ok, enough of the nautical, back to woodworking.)

Just when you thought power tools are dangerous, welcome to the draw knife. Featuring a blade students have been encouraged to hone down to shaving quality, a draw knife will make short work of pine and fir in a manner of minutes. It also creates a pile of shavings that beg for a bonfire. Given Port Hadlock’s history, we are strongly discouraged from considering the option of burning—but a bag of the material did make it to my backyard. No need for gasoline when granted access to this kind of material.

So there we are, taking a perfectly good 4×4 and turning it into a rolling pin via the sharpest hand tools one can accumulate. Sounds simple. Take a sequence of measurements that turn the square into an octagon, then 16 sides and, finally, 32 that are shaved into a smooth feature perfect for rolling pie crust or pizza dough.

Ah…the draw knife

Right. Sounds simple. Execution is an entirely different manner. Particularly when sandpaper is off the agenda.

The class whizzes pull this off in a manner of hours. The rest of us get to ponder what constitutes circular and why the damn timber will not roll easily over a table top, less pass with the Jedi Knight (aka instructor) standing at the bench in front of us neophytes. Suffice it to say, much pine was left on the shop floor and more than one 4×4 went into the scrap bin as a failed rolling pin.

Mast-DimensionsFrustration aside, this was not a gesture of futility. Many of the finest tall ship sticks in the world are still working with timber spars and similar masts. Someone has to retain the skill necessary to manufacture replacements or we will all be condemned to fiberglass and aluminum. (Hmmm, perhaps “condemned” is too strong a term—what I meant to say was “constrained.” Must have been a Freudian Slip—my subconscious effort to preserve the world of wooden boats when confronted with the reality of modern convenience.)

In any case, something approaching round finally came from my knotty 4×4. It rolled across the table saw with minimal wobble and was suitable for squishing spiders and other insects that meander through the shop.

Such are the days of learning to recreate skills so common to those who resided in this area just a scant century ago. Fortunately the Ford 150 does not need a saddle or to be brushed and shoed on a regular basis—I would never make it to class on time if that were the case.

On to the next week of challenges—drafting up lines for a sailboat. Perhaps I can glean some of the secrets that made the Herreshoff name famous. Sketching has to be easier than sharpening and planing a 4×4 day after day.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.


For more on the Herreshoff family and their boats, I strongly recommend reading: Roger C Taylor, 2015, L. Francis Herreshoff Yacht Designer, Mystic Seaport, Mystic Connecticut. A thoroughly engaging text, the story is woven together with a wonderful collection of pictures and the designs for a number of craft familiar to all of us who wander the sea.

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Week 2: Time to Return the Favor

I was once asked why spend time on “free” projects when there is so much work to be accomplished at a billable rate? The answer—at least for me—is relatively simple.  Without the generous contribution of time and money from no small number of “strangers”, I would not be granted the privilege of residing in the American northwest, to say nothing of attending a boatbuilding school.

So I find myself in the company of fellow military veterans, working at the Port Hadlock Community Boat Project. For those of you who have not had the chance to wander the campus, the Community Boat Project occupies a space just above the large boat workshops.  Providing a workspace for high school students, artisans seeking to share their skills, and a collection of the curious, this is a haven for people who enjoy wood, water and good company.

The trick, of course, is finding funding and ensuring basic labor and maintenance is accomplished on a schedule that meets program requirements. Occasionally, this means recruiting volunteers to haul trash or move lumber.  On other days it means standing on a ladder or scaffolding while assembling a covered space to store or construct the next project.

As the pictures reveal, we learned a lot in two days of work.
As the pictures reveal, we learned a lot in two days of work.

Confronted with the forthcoming winter—also known as the “great northwet” in this part of the country, the Community Boat Project requested assistance from vets attending the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. A few of us have practice in general contracting—others are just learning to swing a hammer.  Ultimately, it makes no difference.  You will learn to construct and assemble on the fly.

Tear down the old lean-to. Build arches for a new storage area and then stretch canvas and plastic to keep out most of the elements.  I use the term “most” very loosely.  Oh, you can keep the rain off topsides and block a majority of the prevailing wind, but, there is no eliminating the humidity and cold.  Mix the last two in this climate and there is space for everyone to experience the joy of arthritis.  Just ask the twenty-somethings who are standing next to us condemned to be labeled “baby boomers.”

Enough whining.

To keep this project in perspective, consider the option of cutting 17 foot long rafters, hauling them up 20 feet into the air and then assembling in a 15.10.18_CBP-3manner that hopefully will not blow away in the next wind storm. Add to this a covering that is 32 feet wide and about 50 feet long.  Maybe I should have taken the optional course on sail making.

Fortunately, the whole plan came to fruition. Even with a few stumbles in measurement and sawing—Japanese saws prevailed—the structure went up in record time.  It gives one a greater appreciation for what a barn-raising would have been like in the Midwest back at the turn of the century (think 1890) or what might happen on an Amish farm any given Spring or Summer to this very day.

With dogs underfoot, bagels in the belly, and hammers in hand, we partnered the boatbuilding school’s talent with local volunteers in a manner befitting the task at hand. The shelter is up and no one went home with hurt feelings.  In other words, the contribution of time giving to a new generation of woodworkers was worth every minute.

All of which leaves me asking, what are you doing to return the assistance and opportunities provided over a course of a lifetime—be that 20 or 70 years.

The talents found at a boat school may be quite different from those found in a kitchen or sewing room, but all are equally valuable when it comes to enabling those who have not the same chance to pick up the skills we have come to master.

With that said, it’s time to pack my lunches for the next week of lessons, tools, and wizened insights from the Jedi masters.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.



The Community Boat Project’s mission is to build a stronger Community by intergenerational Maritime Education.
To give youth a “sense of place” by connecting them to the Environment, the Economy, and the People of their region.

They are a partnership between the Puget Sound Voyaging Society, Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Port Townsend School District (#50), Chimacum School District (#49), and Jefferson County 4-H/WSU.

To learn more about the Community Boat Project, visit or at

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Week 1: How I Spend My Week…Not As Simple As You Think

Ah, we made it to week two of boatbuilding school. The morning lecture is in danger of imparting wisdom, while the remainder of any given day has been a lesson in relearning the art of simplicity, or so it would seem.  Joining disparate planks is hardly a new avocation.  Want a chest, house, or ship to come together?  Outside of plastics and Three-D printing, the time-tested solution is cutting timber to appropriate dimensions and then securing planks to one another.

This seems a relatively straightforward process, until someone takes away the power tools and renders Mr. Edison—the man who brought us saws that don’t make you sweat—a pleasant memory that will not be indulged anytime in the immediate future. Confronted with a request to create half-laps, mitered joints, dove tails and a scattering of variations of the same, the dash is on to master chisel, plane and Japanese saws.

I like to think I am a relatively patient person—at least when it comes to woodworking. Rather than demand an expediency afforded by the latest laptop, router and wizards at Google, I am satisfied with assembling projects large and small via imagination and a table saw.  Alas, the latter has been removed from my life, at least for the time being. Joints that would require 15 minutes and some careful adjustment of the blade and table fence now burn up three hours of my day. To be forthcoming, I have rendered a hefty white pine sawdust and firewood scrap assortment while in search of a perfect straight line and a “simple” flat surface.

15.10.11_How I spent my week
           Behold the first week projects.

Another note of wisdom, BEWARE THE CHISEL. Having spent no small amount of time preparing the chisels via 500 grit sandpaper and a wet stone, these tools are ready for a close shave. Timbers are less cooperative, particularly when you add knots and a grain that does not match across the width of a plank.  The seemingly sharp chisels are now blunt instruments that, when even slightly misapplied, become a great way to cut nifty slices on the end of one’s fingers. Despite this fingernail art, no band aids or blue paint tape (a general contractor’s solution to on-site emergencies) on my fingers, yet. Oh sure, there are a few odd slices and indentations in my fingernails, but nothing worthy of a trip to the medicine cabinet or—worse yet—an emergency room.

Having managed to complete the week’s tasks in a semi-timely manner—the bevels took me four tries and more than a few choice of under-the-breadth comments—it was time to step back and contemplate what had been accomplished. A self-critique of my own work suggests there is reason aplenty for more practice.  Standing in a space that rests over waters adjoining our Pacific coastline, I can think of no better place to indulge in this endeavor.


But before I wax poetic, back to the lessons learned. As much as I would like to think years of power tool exposure would have taught a few valuable lessons—14 inch band saws do not come from the store preassembled—the safety gurus lead a how to in handling seemingly benign hand tools followed by  a lecture and quiz  to demonstrate mastery of a drill press and band saw.

Think I passed.

So far I can drill holes about where they should be located and the band saw has a blade rotating with cutting teeth pointing in the right direction. Time to take a break and see the world.  Off to Canada for turkey with family and a chance to wander the marinas of Vancouver.  You can take the kid out of boat school, but you can’t take boats out of the kid.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.


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Day 1: When Old is New Again

Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987.

Looking around the classroom, I had recollections of a mosh-pit at a Nirvana concert I attended back in the late 80s. “Seattle chic” was all the rage. You know the look; Black knitted watch cap, beard that was trimmed sometime last summer, flannel shirt, pair of dungarees (color not important), but no fashion designers, and working boots. Very fashionable with the college co-eds intent upon making a “statement.” Standard attire for this set.


Welcome to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding class of 2016. In our midst stand recent high school graduates, college success stories, more than a few veterans, the odd cardiologist, veterinarian and a few wayward souls for whom I have no explanation. Sixty-two strong, we represent more than former day laborers, fishermen, general contractors, and fifty-somethings seeking an “encore career.” (I kid you not, this is the latest catch phrase for those of us who turned on, tuned in and dropped out—after competing round one, two or three in the world of gainful employment.)
Not exactly what one expects. Well, on second thought, exactly what one expects when entering into a world that makes little sense to people who seek to make a career of sitting behind a keyboard and hoping the service sector will continue to blossom. Can’t blame those folks. Good common sense dictates a computer cubical, air conditioning and an anatomically correct chair which is preferable to standing in a shipyard mulling over a challenge the Vikings could likely comprehend.

Row, row, row your boat…

I’m with the Vikings. As, clearly, are many of my classmates. Hell, half of them look like they just stepped off an oar-powered long ship. (Not that I am one to talk. Been a while since my chin saw the sun or a barber clipped my hair.)

Appearances aside, a quick round of introductions reveals what a true wooden boatbuilding school is going to draw. A crew of wood-working enthusiasts of varying skills and temperaments who all share a single desire—get a lot better at a skill that does not involve computer coding, a restrictive dress code or the BMW 700 series to impress cubical counterparts. (I lied about the computer coding—seems even woodworking has dropped into the digital world, the rest is cold-hard truth…trust me.)

Having stood in front of a classroom on a few occasions, this lot has to be a daunting proposition for the faculty and staff. It may be, but as the old adage goes, never let them see you sweat. However, there’s no evidence of a bit of hesitation which is always reassuring when thinking about going back to school. Who wants a faculty that openly asks questions about their own capabilities? Not me. Certainly not my 61 other counterparts.

But, keep in mind the faculty has leveled this playing field. Most of us have mastered a variety of power tools and learned no small number of bad habits. You want a half-lap joint? No sweat, give me a tape measure and table saw—takes about 15 minutes. Not so here. Rather than indulge our rip-saw fantasies, the whole student body has been out shopping for Japanese saws, planes, and spoke shaves. Yup, spoke shaves.

Seems the plan afoot is to help us learn the art of wood working back at a stage your grandfather or great grandfather would have understood—nay, had to practice. Add to that the complications of boat design—this is a boatbuilding school after all—and the time spent framing square homes is going to encounter a new reality. Curved is the new square.


 “I’m standing on a whole new planet, one that drops off
the horizon 12 miles out from a coastline.
And this is just day one.”


With that I invite you to join us on a one year adventure that will certainly feature band aides—damn chisels are sharp—failure, frustration, and a lot of learning. Along the way you may pick up a few tips and offer insights necessary to ensure this odd lot steps out into the modern world with a sense of craftsmanship vaunted at many business schools but only longed after at Harvard.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.
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Congratulations Class of 2015!


A big CONGRATULATIONS to the forty-seven students who walked through graduation on September 16th, 2015. It took a great deal of hard work to reach this goal and they’ve accomplished it! Never stop learning, exploring, growing and challenging yourself grads. Best wishes as they start a new chapter and become the newest members of our growing alumni association. View photos of graduation HERE
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2015 Diploma Students Graduate from Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is proud to announce that seven of its students completed their 9-month diploma boatbuilding programs and graduated on June 19. They are Jacob Eastlick, Thomas Gerald and Matthew Ryan (Contemporary Wood Composite Boatbuilding), Joanna Abeli, William Holt, Kelson Mills (Traditional Large Craft) and Joseph Caldwell (Traditional Small Craft). These students completed an intensive training experience which required them to attend school 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday for three quarters. The boatbuilding skills they learned will help launch them into a variety of maritime and woodworking trades, including boatbuilding and repair, yacht interior construction, and fine woodworking.

Executive Director Betsy Davis stated, “We wish our graduates all the best as they launch into their new and exciting careers. They have passed a rigorous hands-on program at the Boat School and we are exceedingly proud of their accomplishments.”

The remaining 46 students at the School will continue for summer quarter and graduate with their associate degrees in mid-September.

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is one of the premier accredited educational institutions of its kind and is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). The ACCSC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency. The school’s mission is to teach and preserve traditional and contemporary wooden boatbuilding skills while developing the individual as a craftsman.

For information please contact:  Betsy Davis, Executive Director, 206-390-0381  [email protected].

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Rebuilding FELICITY ANN: April 13-17, 2015 Blog Post by Tatyana Faleolo-Nolan

Tatyana Faleolo-Nolan

Weekly Blog Post April 13-17, 2015

By Tatyana Faleolo-Nolan

This week in the Hammond shop, the Felicity Ann crew has been working on a number of projects. At the start of this week we were all separated into different projects, Jo has been working on center line blocking, John is working on sheer blocking, and I have started the breast hooks forward and aft. I have made spiling patterns for both breast hooks and proceeded to cut them out of a piece of sapele (with some help from John). John joined me in working on the breast hooks and took over the one for the bow and I’ve been working on the one for the stern. Instead of cutting notches into these, (like we did with the deck beams) we reversed the concept and took material off of the clamp so the breast hook would sink into place. It took less than a day to plane down the clamp so the breast hook would sit flat.

Jesse and I found out that we needed a thicker piece of sapele so it matches up with the two deck beams in front of it. For now the breast hooks are being put on hold. I started to help John with the sheer blocking and together we managed to cut out every piece we needed for each place in between a spur beam. I got moved to a different project and now I’m working on the center line blocking on the aft deck beams. Before the week ended I managed to finish cutting out the carlin notches on each deck beam. John is moving along fast with placing the sheer blocking, and Jo is close to putting on her piece of Purple Heart on her center line blocking. To be continued…

-Tatyana Faleolo-Nolan

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is everyone’s wooden boat school!