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Week 10: Skiffs and a Drift

Imagination is a wonderful indulgence, particularly when a project starts to approach fruition. It would be no minor claim to declare imagination has been fully employed here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding over the last week. In addition to stretching lines and changing structural layouts, the Jedi masters have all opted to build crafts that are more than a little different. Five of the finished products will be classic rowing skiffs with the sixth being a true drift boat. Ready to run the Grand Canyon?

IMG_1071As you would suspect, tasking for the various components has passed from one small team to another. Milling planking seems to be a specialty for some, while shaping critical components falls to others. Teamwork is happening at its finest, particularly when running a 14’ x 14” plank of Alaskan Yellow Cedar through a band saw.

Not a bad job if you are “trailing” (holding up the end), or “catching” (holding up the front end of a plank that has just passed through the saw), but very stressful for the person tasked with “driving.” They have the nerve-wracking challenge of keeping the line, steering a 14 foot plank and owning up to the final product. I’m happy to report everyone seems to have mastered the task, even when working with planks that have been planned down to less than a half-inch of thickness.

With chines completed and molds ready for loading, it’s time to start putting together a boat one board at a time. It’s amazing how many clamps one can consume before achieving the proper fit. Did I mention that fit has to be leak-proof?

It is a boat after all.

I don’t know about you, but the sight of water seeping into your boat is less than reassuring on a delightful day afloat.

This means we spend a lot of time with planes in hand and run through several fittings before going in search of Dolfinite bedding compound. Before the environmentalists head for a phone, allow me to explain. Dolfinite—despite there being a picture of a dolphin on the can—does not contain any of our favorite marine mammal. It’s a compound intended to help ensure the water stays out of the places that would otherwise cause consternation.

Not only do we get to run chisels, planes and saws, there’s also a fair amount of putty knife time in this game. Dolfinite, that sticky stuff, did eventually come off of my hands and a few places where I decided to wipe a putty knife on my pants. Kind of leaves me wondering what will happen when I run this week’s laundry through the washing machine. If the bedding compound is supposed to protect from water, well, somehow I suspect laundry soap is not going to be up to the challenge. Alas, another pair of shorts destined to be painting clothes.

Now for the fun part where we begin attaching planking to chines, stem, and transom. You won’t find any common nails here; we’ll be using number ten brass wood screws. The home for each one is pre-drilled, counter sunk, and then tested.


Wooden boatbuilding—like the construction of Rome—is not done overnight.


With that observation firmly in hand, I have to admit we have all made remarkable progress over the course of one week. Long hours in the shop and remarkable dedication and direction from the Jedi masters means we are quickly headed to the stage where hulls can be flipped right-side up and interior work begins. In fact, by Friday, Chief Instructor Sean Koomen’s team had actually completed that feat. Pretty amazing for a group of people who have never built a boat before.


And so we head into the last week of this term. The list of tools for our next class has been distributed with another trip to Edensaw in the near future. We look forward to a completed hull and the pride of knowing our handiwork contributed to the construction of a boat that will harbor imagined adventures and smiling faces for years to come.


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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.